Long before Brad Pitt was outcool-ing Leonardo DiCaprio (and the entire audience) in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, he was turning down a ton of roles. (No surprise there.) Those roles included what was eventually an iconic turn by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, and now, Cameron Crowe is opening up about another role that Pitt decided to slide past. On a Cadence13 podcast, “Origins,” Crowe visited to celebrate on an episode called “Almost Famous Turns Twenty.” The director revealed that Pitt had crushed hopes and dreams that he’d rock out as charismatic Stillwater lead guitarist Russell Hammond.
Billy Crudup went on to play the role, but Crowe revealed to host James Andrew Miller that he cried after learning Pitt’s decision regarding the semi-autobiographical picture. Pitt was Crowe’s first choice and had even read for the role alongside Natalie Portman (as Penny Lane, who Kate Hudson eventually played, leading to an Oscar nomination), but it simply didn’t come together with the Se7en star. Via Radio.com:
“I wept. I knew that [Brad Pitt] had never fully fallen in love with the character. He had fallen in love with the idea of the character. But maybe there just wasn’t enough on the page. He told me that [the salary] wasn’t the case. I think it was probably half and half. I think he was also uncomfortable with the age difference between Russell and Penny Lane.”
Crowe also revealed that Frances McDormand’s role, that of Elaine Miller, nearly went to Meryl Streep, but clearly, everything worked out well for the movie. McDormand and Hudson both got Academy Award nods, and so did Crowe’s screenplay and film editors Saar Klein and Joe Hutshing. As for Pitt, he’s also doing fine. One can speculate all day about the reasons that he turned the role down, but I like to imagine he was still tired out from a certain cartoonishly violent Meet Joe Black scene.