Brad Pitt Got His Role in ‘Thelma & Louise’ Because This Actor Dropped Out

Oscar winner Brad Pitt has headlined dozens of movies since his big screen debut in the early 1990s. Landing a career-making role in the Ridley Scott film Thelma & Lousie, the actor was suddenly in high demand.

Though the Ad Astra star nailed the character of the handsome hitchhiker, Pitt wasn’t the first choice to play the part of J.D. 

Brad Pitt arrives at the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland
Brad Pitt | Steve Granitz/WireImage

‘Thelma & Louise’ had a long list of candidates for J.D.

When Scott was casting for the 1991 film that starred Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, he received a flood of actors trying out for the thieving grifter.

“The J.D. contenders mostly fell into two camps,” Becky Aikman wrote in Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma and Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge. “Some adopted the spikey, tousled hair and winning charm of star of the moment Tom Cruise, while others went for the more retro effect of a shuffling, mumbling James Dean. Most feel short.”

While the potential candidates for the role were struggling actors at the time, the majority of them are now considered box office gold. Mark Ruffalo, Dylan McDermott, and Marvel star Robert Downey auditioned for the part, according to Vulture. Hollywood A-lister George Clooney also threw his hat in the ring but was rejected, which bruised his ego for quite some time.

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“The funniest thing is, I didn’t watch that movie for a long time,” Clooney said in 2011 of Thelma & Louise, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter. “I was really stuck doing a lot of bad TV at that time. … I just couldn’t watch that movie for a couple of years.”

‘Sliver’ star gets cast, then ditches the role

Up-and-coming star Billy Baldwin ended up being cast as J.D. Before Baldwin signed on the dotted line, he was wooed into taking a larger role in the firefighting action flick Backdraft. Ironically, Pitt had tried out for a part in the Ron Howard film but came up empty.

Once Baldwin was out, actor Grant Show was a potential backup but couldn’t get out of his TV contract. That’s when Pitt came into the picture – literally. The Fight Club star was fully aware that he was not the first choice.

“The weird thing was that it had gone through a few actors, and they were already shooting,” Pitt remarked, according to Collider. “I think they were desperate, to tell you the truth. They were already shooting ‘cause a week later, I was on set, working.”

Brad Pitt got a glowing recommendation from his co-star

Pitt may have had some help in landing the role. After reading with several young actors during her character’s scene with J.D., Davis wasn’t shy about telling the director who she felt deserved the part.

“Lou [DiGiaimo] and Ridley were talking about the other guys: ‘This one had a certain roughness. That one had a good look,’” Davis told Vanity Fair in 2011. “They’re not mentioning the last one! So I said, ‘Can I say something?’ And they’re ‘Of course.’ I said, ‘The blond one. Duh!’”

The Moneyball star still appreciates the faith that Davis had in him, and for Scott taking a risk on such an inexperienced actor.

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“That certainly was a precursor to where we are now, today,” Pitt said in 2020 of his Thelma & Louise role. “I’m really grateful to Ridley Scott and Geena Davis, who gave me that shot because that was the big league. I had nothing to show for myself, except for my extra work, and they took a chance on me.”