For music fans, Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film remains a touchstone, a quasi-autobiographical look at the director’s real-life experience as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone as he goes on the road with a popular rock band in the 1970s.
In the film, the fictional band was led by Billy Crudup, but in the debut episode of “Origins: Almost Famous Turns Twenty”, podcast host James Andrew Miller revealed the director envisioned a much different cast.
As Miller noted, “in the early stages,” Meryl Streep was the main choice for matriarch Elaine Miller, played by Frances McDormand. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman was in contention for the role of Penny Lane (ultimately played by Kate Hudson), with Brad Pitt in the running to play Russell Hammond, frontman of fictional rock band Stillwater (played by Billy Crudup in the movie).
“Brad Pitt was on my mind because I had a really good meeting with him around the time of ‘Say Anything’,” Crowe said. “And he was just starting out, and he just really had something.”
Crowe reached out to Pitt about the role, revealing he spent about four months working with Pitt on the role, even auditioning him with Portman.
“We kind of geeked out about music and everything and he was slowly kind of putting on the Russell Hammond persona. Really funny, really, really, funny,” Crowe recalled.
Despite all that work, Crowe was saddened when Pitt ultimately dropped out of the movie, and that he actually “wept” when he heard Pitt’s decision.
“But I think in the back of my brain, I knew that he had never fully fallen in love with the character,” Crowe added. “He had fallen in love with the idea of the character. But, maybe there just wasn’t enough on the page.”