Robert Downey Jr. Almost Had Brad Pitt's Breakthrough Role

Robert Downey Jr. and Brad Pitt were destined to be major movie stars. That much isn't in doubt. No matter what movies eventually launched their stars into Hollywood's galaxy, they'd eventually become global superstars, thanks to their collective charisma and screen presence. But while Downey likely launched his career with star-making turns in late-80s hits like The Pick-Up Artist and Less Than Zero, we're now learning he almost won Pitt's breakout role, which might have delayed that dude's gradual climb to stardom.

Vulture has the scoop on a new book on the filming of Ridley Scott's crowd-pleasing 1991 road drama Thelma and Louise entitled Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma and Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge. And in the posted recollection, they talk about how the casting of the role of J.D., which eventually went to Pitt, shuffled through the hands of a number of the hottest young men in town at the time. George Clooney, Mark Ruffalo and Dermot Mulroney all auditioned. Billy Baldwin had the role, then passed for Ron Howard's Backdraft. Then they learned that Robert Downey Jr., himself already an established star, said that he would do it for "whatever we have in the budget." The excerpt continues:

Downey was then twenty-five and already a certified star, but [assistant casting director] Ira [Belgrade] had his doubts. 'Isn't he too short? Next to Geena?'Ridley scotched the idea over the phone. Now they had to scramble.

As the story goes, the scramble led to Brad Pitt coming in and auditioning with Geena Davis, to mine for chemistry. They had plenty, with Davis admitting to actually flubbing lines and almost destroying Pitt's audition, through no fault of the young actor's. I wonder why she was so flustered? Probably because Pitt looked like Brad Pitt, circa 1991.

History tells us that this was a win-win for everyone involved. Thelma and Louise launched Brad Pitt to stardom, as he transitioned from Ridley Scott's drama into hit movies like A River Runs Through It, Kalifornia and True Romance. Downey, meanwhile, moved to Chaplin instead of Thelma and Louise, and that collaboration with Sir Richard Attenborough earned the actor his first Oscar nomination (he'd earn a second in 2009 for Tropic Thunder).

Can you imagine Robert Downey Jr. as J.D., opposite Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, in Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise? I don't think it would change the dynamic of that movie too drastically, but it'd be a domino effect that would have affected an umber of movies that came in Thelma's wake. Revisionist history at its finest.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.