Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is a sweet-minded tale of the naivety of youth, of music that defined a generation, and of a lifestyle that seemed to be the answer to life’s mundane moments.
The film’s cheeky groupie, Penny Lane, was right: Why hang out with regular friends when you can tour the nation with famous rock stars?
Based on Crowe’s actual experiences as a young writer, Almost Famous centers around a 15-year-old music fanatic who goes on tour with America’s craziest rock bands of the era. He gradually becomes part of the inner circle, documenting every little detail, and — most importantly — “making sure they look cool.”
It’s been more than two decades since the film was released—time to see what the cast has been up to and uncover some wild behind-the-scenes stories.
Almost Famous is Cameron Crowe’s baby, his passion project, the story of his life in a film. The movie, which is technically fictional, is inspired by Crowe’s experiences as a young journalist on the rise. Like the film’s young lead, William (Patrick Fugit), Crowe was a wide-eyed music fanatic who went on tour with rock stars and documented their berserk lifestyle.
It’s evident through and through how personal the film is to Crowe. He manages to capture the air of that specific era, and his love of music shines in every scene. Almost Famous hits close to home, making the story so much richer and more authentic.
Stillwater’s lead guitarist and songwriter, Russell Hammond, was a crucial character in the film, and finding the right actor to play the part was imperative. It couldn’t have been just anyone. It couldn’t have been just any guy with a mustache and a bit of charm up his sleeve. Luckily, Crowe found just the right man.
Billy Crudup. He brought wit, arrogance, and just the right amount of delusional attitude to the film. Of his time on set, the actor told The Independent: “It’s infectious getting to see somebody who is on the cusp of young adulthood try to manage such an exotic and thrilling atmosphere, in all the ways we want to imagine the Rock N’Roll lifestyle.”
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Billy Crudup playing rock god Russell Hammond. But, surprisingly, there was someone else on Crowe’s mind – Brad Pitt. Pitt even worked with Crowe for months on the part. He was already in it to win it… until he wasn’t anymore.
He finally admitted, “I just don’t get it enough to do it,” which utterly broke poor Crowe’s heart. The director said he wept after Pitt walked out. After pulling himself together, Crowe realized: “In the back of my brain, I knew that he had never fully fallen in love with the character.”
Stillwater’s lead guitarist, Russell Hammond, was inspired by the Eagles’ lead guitarist, Glenn Frey, who actually told Crowe once, “Look, just make us look cool,” when they were discussing an article he was writing about them. As a music journalist, Crowe got to hear firsthand the wacky, arrogant lines muttered by real rock stars.
Hammond isn’t all Glenn Frey. There’s also a bit of Robert Plant (Led Zepellin) and Gregg Allman in his character.
When talking about Crowe, Glenn Frey shared that the young journalist was “like a little brother” to them on tour.
Glenn Frey even admitted to teaching young Cameron Crowe some real (and oh so important) life lessons. Like how to keep a buzz without losing your mind and ruining your night. Ahh… the valuable lessons they forget to teach us in school.
He told Crowe: “If you want to craft a buzz correctly, you walk into a party, you drink two beers quickly. Then you drink a beer every hour and 15 minutes after that. You’ll always have a buzz, and you’ll never get too embarrassing.”
Almost Famous is full of memorable stars, yet the real showstopper has got to be Kate Hudson. Her bubbly, passionate character, Penny Lane, robbed the hearts of Russell, William, and probably every young viewer who watched the film.
With her innocent, sweet, and infectious smile, Kate Hudson nailed the part. But you’ll be surprised to find out that she wasn’t at the top of Crowe’s list. Other gals considered for the role include Kirsten Dunst, Christina Ricci, and Natalie Portman.
Rock god Russell Hammond is based on Glenn Frey, wide-eyed William Miller is based on Cameron Crowe, but who is wild child Penny Lane based on? As it turns out, her rowdy character and charismatic behavior were inspired by several notorious groupies of the ‘60s.
The most famous one being Pamela De Barres, the unhinged teen who wrote the memoir I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, published in 2005. Pamela toured for nearly ten years with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, Mick Jagger, and Jimmy Page.
Remember that loud and crazy house party where an acid-tripping Russell Hammond threw himself into the pool? He jumped from the rooftop like a maniac, but not before yelling “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!” As it turns out, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant actually said that.
Plant yelled that out while peeking over the Sunset Strip at the famous Riot House. After the film was released, Plant attended an early screening of it, and during the infamous pool scene where Russell insists that he never said, “I am a golden god,” Plant chuckled and said, “Well, I did.”
If Cameron Crowe had had it his way, Almost Famous would have been named Untitled. Thankfully, DreamWorks asked him to change it. But then, he named it even something more cringeworthy – Uncool. Fortunately, they shut it down again.
In 2014, Crowe revealed a long list of names he came up with, including Stillwater, Song for Penny, Superstar and Original Cover. “A lot of bad alternatives are listed here,” he said of his list, “Luckily, we ended up with one keeper.”
Patrick Fugit landed the central role of newbie journalist William, at just 15 years old! He didn’t even intend on applying for it. In fact, he only rolled into the auditions because he was driving his good friend to the auditions.
He then ran into Cameron Crowe, who questioned him about his music taste, asking him what he thought about Led Zeppelin. “I was like, ‘Nah, I’m not too familiar with him,'” Patrick 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.”
It feels like no other actress could have pulled off Penny Lane’s shaggy coat and trippy sunglasses. But at first, Crowe wasn’t entirely convinced she was Penny material. Kate told Entertainment Weekly that when she asked for an audition, he was hesitant.
After agreeing to give her a shot, Crowe made Kate audition repeatedly until he was perfectly sure she was the one. She revealed: “I auditioned again, and then again and then again, and finally, Gail, the casting director, said to Cameron, ‘OK, enough, we’re not auditioning Kate anymore, just hire her!’”
Kate Hudson worked with designer Betsy Heimann on Penny Lane’s iconic fashion items. “I made decisions,” Kate declared, “such as to wear a sheer chiffon top without a bra.” She told Vogue Australia that she would never wear something like that, but Penny definitely would with her freedom and spunk.
“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,” she explained. Hudson had a blast trying on all those different colors and textures.
Patrick Fugit admitted to having a serious crush on Hudson at the time of filming. The blonde beauty was four years older than him and, according to him, way out of his league. “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,” he revealed.
Hudson wasn’t his only 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,” he laughed.
During an episode of The Tonight Show back in 2018, Jimmy Fallon, who starred in the film as the Stillwater’s corporate manager Dennis Hope, revealed that he had a massive crush on Hudson during shooting but said he was tragically friend zoned.
“We were, like, super good friends,” he explained. They used to go ice-skating together in Central Park, and after a couple of get-togethers, reality dawned on him. “We ice skated maybe three or four times around the rink,” Fallon revealed, “And then I go, ‘So, what are you doing now?’ She goes, ‘I’ve got to go because I have a date with Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes.'”
At the center of the movie was a made-up band named Stillwater, a rowdy rock group with even rowdier groupies accompanying them on tour. Despite being a fictional band, Stillwater had some memorable music prodigies involved in their creation.
Cameron Crowe’s ex-wife, Nancy “Whiz Fingers” Wilson from the band Heart, is a guitar playing legend and helped him out by creating high quality tracks. English rocker Peter Frampton also pitched in and added his melodic touch to the group, helping the actors learn how to play their instruments.
Not only did the music have to sound good and professional, but Stillwater’s musicians also had to be believable in their performances. Getting up on stage to strum, play the drums, and grab the mic was hard work for the actors who didn’t necessarily have any past experience with playing music.
For the four band members to seem authentic, the actors practiced for four hours, five times a week for six whole weeks. The dedication paid off because by the end of the sixth week, they were starting to feel like actual rockstars instead of just Hollywood actors.
Even though Stillwater isn’t an actual band, that doesn’t mean that their music isn’t worth listening to. The film released a lot of great tunes. It was Crowe’s way of fully immersing the audience in this incredible era of rock. Huge names like Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and Fleetwood Mac all took part in creating the soundtrack.
As a result, the movie’s music budget, which is usually around $1.5 million, skyrocketed to a whopping $3.5 million. According to Crowe, it was worth every penny. There was virtually no way of creating a movie centering around a rock band without investing in the musical side of it.
One of the most iconic scenes in film is probably the “Tiny Dancer” sing-along on the bus. After a nasty brawl breaks out between the bandmembers, they drive down the road in their tour bus in total silence. That is, until Elton John’s Tiny Dancer starts to play on the radio.
That’s when their hearts soften, their ears perk up, and their strong voices belt out the words. As fun as it is to watch this moment on screen, it wasn’t as fun to shoot it. According to Crowe, he had the cast do the scene over and over again so many times that by the end, actor Noah Taylor (the band’s manager) refused to do it.
Unlike other characters in the movie, Lester Bangs was an actual person who wrote for Rolling Stone Magazine. According to The New Yorker, Bangs was “a wreck of a man right up until his death in 1982.” He was an out-of-control addict who chugged alcohol, cough syrup, and other questionable substances.
He helped young, inexperienced William set out on his career path, and even though his part in the film was relatively minor, the man who played him, Philip Seymour Hoffman, brought his character to life. Amazingly, he had only a few short days to prepare himself for the role.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, the man responsible for playing larger-than-life music critic Lester Bangs, had a fixed schedule that allowed him to work on set for no more than four days. Unfortunately, he was sick with the flu for the entire period.
Even though he was battling the flu during the four days he spent on set, he still managed to deliver an iconic performance. He was totally f**king exhausted, dehydrated, and obviously very nauseous and had to step away basically just to vomit during takes,” Patrick Fugit (William) told Entertainment Weekly: “He was sort of silently sweating and just crushing the scene after scene.”
Another Crowe-related artifact in the movie is the Guess Who tee Lester Bangs wears the first time we’re introduced to the rock critic. This shirt was given to Crowe during his days as a teenage rock journalist. The scene shows Lester saying one of the best quotes in the whole movie:
“Jim Morrison is a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me The Guess Who. They have the courage to BE drunken buffoons, which MAKES them poetic.” The Guess Who was a rock group from Canada that released several psychedelic rock hits in the late ‘60s – early ‘70s.
The scene where William Miller is dragged into one of Stillwater’s pre-performance huddles was inspired by one of Cameron Crowe’s actual moments on tour with the band he was following. Directing the moment was nostalgic and sweet for Crowe.
The memorable moment is based on an occasion when Eddie Vedder pulled the young journalist into one of Pearl Jam’s pre-performance huddles before going on stage during their Lollapalooza show in the early ‘90s. What a great throwback!
Patrick Fugit once told Vulture that everyone on set viewed him as a little cutie pie. He shared that some actors were “hell-bent on corrupting” him. Like Bijou Phillips, the girl who played Band-Aid Estrella. As it turns out, she lured him into breaking the rules several times.
“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 revealed, “She’s like, ‘Hey, are you going to set?’ I was like, ‘Yeah. She’s like, Hop in, I’ll take you.’” So, Fugit jumped in, and — surprise surprise! — they never got to the set. “We went driving down Sunset Boulevard in a stolen golf cart…Bijou got in some sh*t for that one.”
Before Zooey Deschanel landed the role of Anita, Kate Hudson was the one set to play William’s rebellious sister. The two competing girls went to high school together, a fact that Crowe had no idea about until both starlets joined the cast.
“She was a year older than me,” Zooey Deschanel shared in a talk with The Hollywood Interview, “We had a couple of classes together. We had math because I was a year ahead in math. But we did do a play together, Man of La Mancha.”
Nowadays, Almost Famous has achieved cult status among many music fanatics. But at the time of its release, it was a box office failure, grossing only $32.5 million in America and an additional $14.8 worldwide. A bad result, considering the movie was made on a $60 million budget. Ouch.
Compared to Crowe’s previous film, Jerry Maguire, which took in $273.5 million worldwide, Almost Famous was a flop. Crowe tried not to take it to heart, despite how much he believed in the film and how close he felt to its storyline.
The members who made up the movie’s fictional band Stillwater went through a rigid workshop, which they called “Rock School.” It was led by musicians Peter Frampton and Nancy Wilson, who co-wrote all of their songs together with Crowe.
“For a number of weeks, the band rehearsed to playback,” Jason Lee, the guy who played lead singer Jeff Bebe, shared in a talk he did with Entertainment Weekly. He added that all the while, he let his “hair grow longer and longer.”
Actors Patrick Fugit and Anna Paquin (who played wild child Polexia Aphrodisia) were still in high school at the time of filming. They were the youngest ones on set, and, according to Paquin, “spent a lot of time trapping in a tutoring trailer.”
“Everyone else was grownups, or at least over 18,” she told People Magazine, “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.”
Frances McDormand, who played the supporting role as William’s mom, is one of the biggest names in the cast. The Oscar-winning actor stole the show in every scene, reading her lines out with tremendous character and oomph. Like a lot of aspects in the film, her character was based on Crowe’s own mom.
During shooting, Crowe tried to keep his mom away from McDormand because he didn’t want her to see how she was being portrayed on camera. That didn’t work too well for him though, because the two women insisted on bonding. He would often see them having lunch together, giggling and gossiping all the way through.
The tracks William finds under the bed by his big sis were from Cameron’s actual vinyl collection. In 2000, the director spoke to Rolling Stone and said: “I shot that scene so many times with the albums in different orders, but Pet Sounds was always first. That album is the sweetest sad thing I’ve ever heard.”
To show the love he feels towards his collection, Crowe named his production company Vinyl Films. He launched the company back in 1996, and his most recent work has been a documentary about David Crosby titled David Crosby: Remember My Name (2019).
Kate Hudson wasn’t Crowe’s first pick for Penny Lane. Initially, he wanted the young actress to play William’s older sister, Anita. But after Sarah Polley (who was supposed to play Penny) dropped out, the director recast Hudson as the main lady and William Miller’s crush.
Crowe was pleased with the swap, admitting that his favorite scene of Penny’s is when she dances by herself in the auditorium to Cat Stevens’ The Wind. She slowly glides across the auditorium, hypnotizing both William and the viewers.
If you’ve happened to watch Almost Famous recently for the first time and wondered to yourself why hunky-looking Russell Hammond was a bit familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen him before. Just an older, more tailor-suited version.
Actor Billy Crudup stars as the charming President of the News Division, Cory Ellison on The Morning Show. Crudup revealed once that it took some convincing to get him to be on the show. And in particular, to land the role of Cory.
Before becoming Modern Family’s hilarious Cameron, Eric Stonestreet starred as the film’s uptight hotel concierge. “All he did was have that one line, but it was such a huge laugh in the movie,” Kate Hudson admitted in a 2017 talk on Watch What Happens Live.
The first time Hudson spotted Eric after Modern Family blew up, he reminded her that they had starred together in the film. “I was like, ‘I know, man!’ And he was like, ‘I thought maybe you would have forgot,’” she recalled.
Penny Lane has some memorable lines all through the script, but, interestingly, one of her best ones wasn’t originally on it. According to Hudson, “You are home” wasn’t in the original draft. She said she couldn’t remember whether it was her idea or Cameron’s, but, either way, it was a fantastic addition to the dialogue.
“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,” she told Entertainment Weekly, adding, “I think Cameron threw out ‘I want to go home’ to William, and I just said, ‘You are home.'”
The film ended with a heartfelt family moment. William and his family are sitting around the family table when suddenly, his mom, Elaine, turns up the speakers to play Neil Young’s song On the Way Home. Crowe revealed that there was one thing in that scene he wanted viewers to notice.
It wasn’t so much who was sitting at the kitchen table, but who WASN’T there. He told 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.”
After writing his final draft for Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe sent the script all around Hollywood to see who would pick it up. Incredibly, it landed straight in the hands of none other than Steven Spielberg, who, upon reading it from beginning to end, told Crowe “Direct every word.”
Spielberg was right to urge him to do so. The movie earned Cameron Crowe the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2000. The believable dialogue and the skillful performances won over the hearts of many all over the nation.
Hudson has gone a long way since her reign as Almost Famous’ feisty groupie, Penny Lane. She’s become a household name due to her long string of rom-coms and dramas. She was a little over 20 when she starred in Almost Famous, and today, at 42, she’s become a well-established starlet in Hollywood.
Hudson’s career has been fairly steady, but her personal life has been a bit rockier. She married, divorced, got engaged, called off the engagement, and is currently dating Danny Fujikawa, with whom she has one daughter. Hudson has two other kids from previous relationships. All in all, the actress admits that it isn’t easy to mother kids from different fathers, but, still, she loves her kids and wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Before falling in love with acting, Fugit’s first love was music. He formed a folk band called Mushman long before joining the crew of Almost Famous. But after he landed the role of William, he was thrust into Hollywood’s spotlight and tried his hands at all sorts of projects.
He hasn’t really been able to establish himself as a well-known actor around town, but he’s managed to snatch some roles through the years, his most recent one being Will in the historical drama Robert the Bruce (2019).
While Zooey’s role in the film wasn’t anything too serious, we believe she’s still worth talking about. The blue-eyed darling made a memorable appearance as William’s big sis and has since then starred as the lead in several movies and TV shows, including her most famous role as Jess in New Girl.
Apart from acting, Deschanel has a passion for music. She’s been performing for years on small stages around the world. Her voice is as sweet as cherry pie, really. It’s hard not to fall in love with this wide-eyed fringed star.