20 Facts You Might Not Know About Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous on Its 15th Anniversary
Almost Famous turns 15 this week, which might make many of you once aspiring writers and journalists feel very old (although, I hope that many of you are doing what Almost Famous inspired you to set out and do).
In honor of its anniversary, here are 20 facts you may not know about the film, although I’m guessing many of you who are as hardcore fans of the film as many of us on staff here, you’ll probably know many of them already. It never hurts to re-know them.
1. Sarah Polley had originally been cast as Penny Lane, but she ultimately had to drop out to due to another commitment, paving the way for Kate Hudson to take the role. This may be the only time I am ever glad that Kate Hudson played a character instead of Sarah Polley.
2. Speaking of Hudson she was originally cast as William’s sister, the role that Zooey Deschanel would eventually play. It was only Deschanel’s second film role.
3. Kristen Dunst was nearly cast in the role of Penny Lane, but Crowe chose Hudson over her, but promised Dunst that he would cast her in a later film (true to his promise, he cast her in Elizabethtown).
4. Before Polley was cast, Brittany Murphy, Mena Suvari, Anne Heche, Neve Campbell, Jenna Elfman, Bridget Moynahan, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rose McGowan and Rebecca Romijn all audtioned for the role of Penny Lane.
5. Penny Lane was partially based on Geraldine Edwards, a student he met while posing undercover as a high-school student for one year, which resulted in the screenplay for Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
6. The other half of Penny Lane was based on Bebe Buell, the notorious rock groupie, 1974’s Playboy Playmate of the Month, and Liv Tyler’s mother. Penny’s dialogue was pulled from interviews that Buell made over the years.
7. Cameron Crowe actually wrote the Russell Hammond role for Brad Pitt, who was cast in the film. Unfortunately, after months of working on the film, Pitt was man enough to admit that he just “didn’t get it” and the role was recast with Billy Crudup.
8. Those who own the bootleg director’s cut of Almost Famous already know this, but the original name of the movie was Untitled, which the movie studio refused to allow. That’s why the director’s cut is called Untitled.
9. After special screening of the film for Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin granted Crowe the rights to use four songs, the first time that Zepellin had allowed one of their songs to be licensed for a movie since Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The line “I Am a Golden God.” in fact, was lifted from Robert Plant, who was sober when he yelled it.
10. Zeppelin did not, however, grant Crowe the rights to “Stairway to Heaven,” which is why — in the director’s cut — when William plays “Stairway” in its entirety for his mother — viewers are given a prompt to start the song.
11. Scarlett Johansson auditioned for a role in the film that was later cut; she would later, of course, star alongside Matt Damon in Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo.
“I auditioned for Almost Famous when I was probably 15,” Johansson says. “It was just a couple of scenes, but one of them, I remember, was the character describing Zeppelin’s ‘The Rain Song,’ and I remember listening to that song over and over trying to figure out what Cameron was getting at.”
12. Stillwater was essentially a composite of five bands that Crowe toured with as a journalist for Rolling Stone: Poco, The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. There was an actual band from the 1970s named Stillwater, too, and they agreed to allow Crowe to use their name. Russel Hammond himself is based on The Eagles’ Glen Frey, while the near fatal plane crash in the movie was based on an experience while traveling with The Who.
13. Early on his Crowe’s career, Eric Stoltz vowed that he’d be in every single Cameron Crowe film. Unfortunately, that streak was broken with Almost Famous, but not for lack of trying. Stoltz was nearly cast as David Bowie, and when that didn’t work out, there was a marquee in the film that said, “Coming Aug. 11, The Crazy World of Eric Stoltz.” Unfortunately, that shot was cut from the film.
14. Both Jack Black and Jon Favreau auditioned for the role of Lester Bangs, which would eventually go to Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman only filmed for four days, and he had the flu the entire time (which could not have bene more perfect for the character).
15. Remember when a fan asked Billy Crudup’s character, “Are you Russell from Stillwater?” and he responeded, “Well, yeah, on my better days, I am Russell from Stillwater.” That line is basically stolen from John Cusack’s character in Say Anything, when a girl in a bar asked him, “Aren’t you Lloyd Dobler?”
16. You may recall a scene in Almost Famous in which Patrick Fugit’s character, William, is pulled into one of Stillwater’s pre-show huddles. That was actually based on a real instance in which Cameron Crowe was pulled into one of Pearl Jam’s pre-show huddles during their Lollapalooza tour (Crowe followed Pearl Jam around during their early days, and made a spectacular documentary on it, Pearl Jam: Twenty.
17. Almost Famous had one of the most expensive music budgets for a film, ever. The 50 songs in the film cost them $3.5 million in licensing fees.
18. Peter Frampton served as the music consultant on Almost Famous, he wrote two of the Stillwater songs (along with Crowe and his then wife, Nancy Wilson) and taught Billy Crudup how to play the guitar. Interestingly, an 18 year old Cameron Crowe wrote the liner notes for “Frampton Comes Alive.”
19. There are two very sweet biographical notes about Almost Famous: 1) That Cameron Crowe asked his Mom not to bother Frances McDormand, who played the fictional version of Crowe’s mom. But she did anyway, and she and McDormand became good friends. Also, 2) in the film, William’s sister, played by Zooey Deschanel, drives away at the end of the film. In fact, Crowe’s sister and Crowe’s mother were estranged for years, and only reunited upon completion of Almost Famous.
20. Because it’s fun, here’s the: Before They Were Stars portion of the Almost Famous Mindhole Blowers.
Rainn Wilson (his character was loosely based on Hunter S. Thompson)
Noah Taylor (an awesome character actor best known at the moment for his role on “Game of Thrones,” Taylor stayed in character even when they were not filming).
Jimmy Fallon (he was already known for “SNL,” but nobody every remembers he was in Almost Famous).
Here’s Fallon’s audition reel:
Michael Angarano (he’s still not all that famous, but he’s fantastic and many of you may recognize him from his film roles. He played the Young William).
Bonus: Almost Famous gave Cameron Crowe his only Oscar, which he on for Best Screenplay. Here’s his speech.