One of the secrets of Almost Famous is that it’s so much about the father who’s not there. I thought that would be in there if you knew what to look for.
1. The film’s original title was Untitled, which DreamWorks asked director Cameron Crowe to change. He then called it Uncool, which was again shot down. And in 2014, the writer-director revealed his list of over 40 alternate names, including Stillwater, Superstar, Original Cover and Song for Penny. “A lot of bad alternatives are listed here,” Crowe said of the list, which he provided to Empire. “Luckily, we ended up with one keeper on the list.”
2. The film is semi-autobiographical, with Crowe pulling from his experience as a young journalist covering rock music for Rolling Stone in the 1970s.
3. Patrick Fugit landed the lead role of William, which was based on Crowe, at just 15 after initially driving his best friend to audition for the film. And he recalled Crowe questioning about what music he listened to, specifically if he liked Led Zeppelin.
“I was like, ‘Nah, I’m not too familiar with him,'” Fugit told Vulture. “I was like, Led Zeppelin is the name of one person, some Swedish guy probably, I don’t know. So after he contained himself he was basically like, “All right, well, we’re going to put on some music. And I’m just going to film your response to it. We can talk about it.” (The scene in the movie of young William listening to Simon and Garfunkel for the first time is inspired by that moment.)
4. Brad Pitt was initially set to play the mysterious lead guitarist Russell Hammond, spending four months working on the character with Crowe. But the actor ultimately dropped out of the movie, a decision that Crowe “wept” over.
“But I think in the back of my brain, I knew that he had never fully fallen in love with the character,” Crowe admitted during the Origins: Almost Famous Turns Twenty podcast. “He had fallen in love with the idea of the character. But, maybe there just wasn’t enough on the page.”
5. Pitt had initially read opposite Natalie Portman as Penny Lane, though Sarah Polley ultimately was cast as the lead “Band Aid” that was based on Pennie Trumble. But the Canadian actress left the project to do The Law of Enclosures.
6. Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson landed their breakout roles as Russell and Penny, respectively after beating out several major up-and-coming stars. Christian Bale was in the running to play Stillwater’s resistant-frontman while Kirsten Dunst, Mena Suvari and Lara Flynn Boyle all read for the teen groupie.
7. While it’s hard to imagine anyone else donning Penny’s shaggy coat and tinted sunglasses, Crowe wasn’t fully sold on hiring Goldie Hawn’s daughter.
“I asked him if I could audition for Penny Lane and he was hesitant, and then finally, he was like, ‘Ok, fine,'” Hudson told Entertainment Weekly. “I auditioned again, and then again and then again, and finally, Gail [Levin], the casting director, said to Cameron, ‘OK, enough, we’re not auditioning Kate anymore, just hire her!’ And he hired me.”
8. In the film, Penny and the rest of her friends memorably call themselves “band aids,” but the real-life Penny used the term “the Flying Garter Girls Group.”
9. Hudson had some input on Penny Lane’s iconic wardrobe, working with costume designer Betsy Heimann. “I made decisions, such as to wear a sheer chiffon top without a bra,” the How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days star revealed to Vogue Australia. “I myself would never do that, but Penny would definitely have that freedom with herself, and I think it adds to the authenticity of the character if you are willing to take certain risks.”
10. The actors who made up the band Stillwater went through a workshop, which became known as “Rock School,” lead by real-life musicians Peter Frampton and Nancy Wilson (who was married to Crowe at the time) co-wrote all of the band’s songs with the director.
“For a number of weeks, the band rehearsed to playback,” Jason Lee, who played “only the f–king lead singer” Jeff Bebe, recalled in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “and all the while I’m letting my hair grow and it’s getting longer and longer.”
11. Patrick Fugit and Anna Paquin were the youngest actors on-set and “spent a lot of time trapping in a tutoring trailer,” Paquin told People. “Everyone else was grownups, or at least over 18, and we were both still in school. So we spent hours and hours doing tutoring while everyone else was essentially just hanging out, playing music and pretending to party.”
12. In an interview with Vulture, Fugit revealed Bijou Phillips, who played Band Aid Estrella, was “hell-bent on corrupting” him during filming.
“I remember one of the more egregious trespassing events was when Bijou stole a golf cart and pulled up in front of my trailer as I was about to go to set,” he said. “She’s like, ‘Hey, are you going to set?’ I was like, ‘Yeah. She’s like, Hop in, I’ll take you.’ And I jumped in and then we did not go to set. We went driving down Sunset Boulevard in a stolen golf cart, modified to look like a Mercedes, that belongs to DreamWork…on the radio in the car, they’re calling to try to get ahold of me, because somebody saw Bijou drive off with me. Bijou got in some shit for that one.”
13. Before Zooey Deschanel was cast as Anita, Kate Hudson was originally set to play William’s big sis. Deschanel and Hudson went to high school together, a connection Crowe didn’t know until after both actresses joined the movie.
“She was a year older than me. We had a couple of classes together,” Deschanel told The Hollywood Interview. “We had math, because I was a year ahead in math. But we did do a play together, Man of La Mancha.”
14. Though the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman was battling the flu for the entirety of his four days on set, he still delivered one of his most iconic performances as real-life rock critic Lester Bangs. “He was totally f–king exhausted, dehydrated, and obviously very nauseous and had to step away basically just to vomit during takes,” Fugit revealed to Entertainment Weekly. “He was sort of silently sweating and just crushing the scene after scene.”
15. Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet made his feature film debut as a very-much-over-it hotel concierge. “All he did was have that one line but it was such a huge laugh in the movie,” Hudson said on Watch What Happens Live in 2017. “And the first time I saw Eric after [Modern Family], he came up and I was like, ‘I know, man!’ And he was like, ‘I thought maybe you would have forgot.'”
16. One of Penny’s most memorable lines – “You are home” – wasn’t in the original script, per Hudson.
“I can’t remember if that was an ad lib of mine or if Cameron threw that out to me, but it wasn’t a line [in the script],” she told EW. “I think Cameron threw out ‘I want to go home’ to William, and I just said, ‘You are home.'”
17. Fugit admitted to “crushing” on Hudson, who was four years older than him, telling Vulture, “I was not slick. I was not good at concealing it, nor was I good at trying to capitalize on it. I was just nervous. So she would kind of f–k with me, knowing that I was crushing on her.”
But that wasn’t his only on-set crush. “Then I had a crush on Anna [Paquin], and then I had a crush on Fairuza [Balk]. And then I had a crush on one of the other girls that played one of the other Band Aids. I was a fickle 16-year-old.”
18. Crowe adapted the film into a musical that ran in San Diego in the fall of 2019, with Colin Donnell, Casey Likes and Solea Pfeiffer starring as Russell, William and Penny Lane, respectively.
19. During a 2018 episode of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon, who played the band’s corporate manager Dennis Hope, admitted he harbored a massive crush on Hudson during filming, but said he was friend-zoned.
But in April 2020, Hudson appeared on her former co-star’s late night show to set the record straight. “Jimmy, if you would have actually made a move, I would have totally gone there,” she explained. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why has Jimmy never made a move?’ And then I just kind of realized, ‘Oh, he’s not into me like that.'”
20. The film’s original ending wound up on the cutting room floor, but featured a poignant family moment: William’s strict and overprotective mother Elaine surprising her kids by playing Neil Young’s “On the Way Home” at the breakfast table.
But what Crowe really wanted to focus on was who wasn’t at the table during the scene, explaining to Entertainment Weekly, “One of the secrets of Almost Famous is that it’s so much about the father who’s not there. I thought that would be in there if you knew what to look for.”