It’s been 15 years since Almost Famous, one of the finest films about the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, graced our cinema screens. Directed by Cameron Crowe, the film follows 15-year-old aspiring journalist William Miller as he blags his way on tour with fictional ‘70s rock group Stillwater. The film deals with the consequences of fame, but how did its cast handle their moment in the spotlight?
Patrick Fugit (William Miller)
Patrick Fugit had the toughest job of anybody on Almost Famous. With only a handful of TV movie credits and a failed audition for the lead role in Donnie Darko under his belt, he was tasked with leading this sprawling rock ‘n’ roll epic at the age of just 17 (playing a 15-year-old). Although it remains his biggest role, he’s shown enough talent to build a steady career with recent roles in Gone Girl and Alex Ross Perry’s new psychological drama Queen of Earth, alongside Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. Patrick is also part of the folk rock band Mushman and was studying flamenco guitar for a song in his 2006 film Wristcutters: A Love Story. We can only assume he’s finished now.
Kate Hudson (Penny Lane)
Kate Hudson didn’t have many credits before being cast and faced a lot of competition for the part from the likes of Brittany Murphy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kirsten Dunst, and Sarah Polley. Her biggest part of late has been in Glee as no-nonsense dance teacher Cassandra July, and she’s also pursued musical interests in her romantic life as well as on screen. She was married to Chris Robinson, lead singer of The Black Crowes, from 2000-2007, and she was also engaged to Matt Bellamy, lead singer and guitarist of Muse, until 2014. She has a son with Chris named Ryder Robinson and another with Matt named Bingham Bellamy. No comment.
Billy Crudup (Russell Hammond)
Billy Crudup (pronounced Croo-dup) came to Almost Famous with a very successful theatre background. He had won the Outer Critics Circle Outstanding Newcomer Award for his performance in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia on Broadway (1995), and in later years he earned a Tony nomination playing John Merrick in The Elephant Man. His film career flourished after Almost Famous, leading to roles in Tim Burton’s Big Fish (2003), Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Watchmen (2009) as Dr Manhattan. However, his career could have developed very differently. He declined an audition for James Cameron’s Titanic, and he only got his role in Almost Famous after Brad Pitt turned it down. Instead we got Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, Brad Pitt in Fight Club and Billy Crudup in Almost Famous. We’ll take it.
Zooey Deschanel (Anita Miller)
Almost Famous was Zooey’s first major film role and it’s led to a sparkling career for the human embodiment of the manic pixie dream girl. She has appeared in Christmas classic Elf (2003) and (500) Days of Summer (2009) alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but nowadays is best known for her role as the lead in zany sitcom New Girl.
Jason Lee (Jeff Bebe)
Oh Jason Lee, where do we begin? He’s one of those actors whose personal life is far more fascinating than his film roles. In fact, it’s easy to argue that his performance as Stillwater’s singer/guitarist was as good as it got for Jason Lee. He appeared in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky and Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001, followed by a vocal appearance as Syndrome in The Incredibles (2004). Like several of his co-stars he found sitcom success as the lead in My Name is Earl (2005-2009), but since then his biggest roles have been in a succession of dire Alvin and the Chipmunks sequels.
The real oddness begins in his personal life. He was a successful pro skateboarder in his teens, transitioning to an acting career thanks to appearances in music videos, such as Sonic Youth’s ‘100%’ directed by Spike Jonze. But that’s nothing compared to the fact Lee is a committed Scientologist, so committed that his first wife Carmen Llewlyn’s scepticism towards the religion led to their divorce. Things only get more surreal from there, with Lee later having a son whom he named Pilot Inspektor. You read that correctly. It was inspired by the Granddaddy song, ‘He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot’. Obviously.
Anna Paquin (Polexia Aphrodisia)
Not many actresses win an Oscar for their first ever film role, but that’s exactly what Anna did aged nine in Jane Campion’s The Piano (1993). She followed it with a role in beloved family film Fly Away Home (1996) – and get this trivia fans, the film was Oscar-nominated for its cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, father of Zooey. Paquin subsequently became well-known for playing Rogue in the X-Men series and Sookie Stackhouse in the True Blood TV series. She has been married to True Blood co-star Stephen Moyer since 2010 and they have two children together.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Lester Bangs)
The greatest actor of our generation. He had the flu for the entirety of his shoot on Almost Famous and still nailed one of his most memorable roles as rock journalist and mentor Lester Bangs. His CV is an embarrassment of riches: Capote, Doubt, The Master, Synecdoche, New York, Mission: Impossible III, Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia, The Big Lebowski. Take a bow. Rest in peace.
Rainn Wilson/Jay Baruchel/Kevin Sussman
Last but not least, these three comedy stars have roles in Almost Famous that are so tiny you may not have even noticed them. Wilson plays Rolling Stone journalist David Felton, and later became famous with his role in The Office; Baruchel plays a teenage fan and went on to star in This Is The End (2013) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010); and Sussman is most famous for his role as comic-book store owner Stuart in The Big Bang Theory.
All in all, Almost Famous gave a start to an impressive number of actors who are still successful today. Even Patrick Fugit managed to avoid the curse of the child star and lead a reassuringly normal life. Three cheers for Cameron Crowe and casting director Gail Levin! We leave you with the finest scene of many. You know the words.