25 Years After 'Thelma & Louise,' Geena Davis Says She Wanted the Susan Sarandon Role

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Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in ‘Thelma & Louise’ (Everett)

By Stephen Galloway, The Hollywood Reporter

It’s been 25 years since Thelma & Louise, the landmark feminist film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon as two friends who go on the run.

But Davis says the film might have been very different if she had been given the role she first wanted: That of Louise, the waitress who pulls out a gun and kills a would-be rapist.

“I’d been following this [project] for a year,” she recalled, before her agents contacted Scott to ask for a meeting. “He said, ‘Yes, sure, you could come in.’ And I’d met with my acting coach. And we had decided that I should play Louise. And I wanted this so bad, and I’m just pitching my heart out, and I brought all my notes and everything about why I absolutely have to be Louise. And he finally says, 'So, in other words, you wouldn’t play Thelma?’ And there was only a very slight pause, actually, before I said: 'You know what’s so weird is, I’ve been listening to myself as I’m talking and I’m not convinced anymore. Actually, I think I should play Thelma.’”

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Davis was signed to play one or the other of the leads, with the final decision dependent on who would play opposite her. When Scott chose Sarandon as Louise, she accepted the role of Thelma.

“The first time I meet [Sarandon], it was just Ridley and she and I,” Davis noted. “We were going to get together and go through the script. And pretty much the second I met her, I was like: 'What was I thinking? How could I possibly play Louise? She’s just fabulous.’ We hung out all the time together during the shooting. Because it was mostly just us. And a lot of times you can’t go all the way back to your trailer, because you’re out in the middle of the desert or something. So we’re just hanging around in the car, talking. We spent a lot of time together.”

Davis spoke Feb. 10 at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV, where she took part in THR’s ongoing interview series, The Hollywood Masters.

The founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, she lamented how little progress Hollywood has made in finding roles for women.

When she speaks to studio and network executives, she said, “[They’re] stunned. They [had] no idea they were leaving out that many female characters, that the world is bereft of female presence. If I was going in, saying, 'You’re making less movies with a female star,’ they’d say, ‘We know that very well, and you know, we’re worried about doing anything different, because women will watch movies about men, but men don’t want to watch movies about women.’ Whatever. So I don’t say that at all. I just say, 'Whatever you are already making, you’re leaving out half of the population.’”

Asked her thoughts on the recent controversy about the motion picture Academy and its lack of diversity, particularly as it relates to women, she said: “It’s great that more and more people are talking about it. Because it’s something that people just go along with. My whole theory about why I couldn’t find any creators who realized they were leaving out female characters is because they were raised on the same ratio. I just heard someone the other day call it either 'smurfing’ a movie, which is when there’s one female character, or 'minioning’ a movie, which is when there’s no female characters. Because there aren’t any female minions. The ratio of male to female characters in movies has been exactly the same since 1946. So if you’ve ever had people say, you know, 'It’s better now, it’s all changed, it’s all different,’ it’s not, it hasn’t. Not yet.”

Read the whole transcript of Davis’ interview at The Hollywood Reporter.