15 years after the movie grossed millions, the cast and crew reunites and talks about filming it

The Big Chill

Blame The Big Chill. Blame it for the unstoppable plague of soundtrack albums. For chatty rip-offs like thirtysomething. For giving the baby boomers one more reason to act smug and self-obsessed. Hell, blame The Big Chill for Bill Clinton. Watch the movie today and you’ll detect a trace of Slick Willie in yuppie princes like Kevin Kline’s track-shoe tycoon and Tom Berenger’s sellout TV star.

Then again, you might also detect a trace of yourself. (For some of us, Jeff Goldblum’s portrait of a wormy magazine hack cuts just a wee bit close to home.) The Big Chill — a droll ballad of codependency in which seven friends come together after the suicide of another — shocked Hollywood by grossing $57 million in 1983.

Its soundtrack logged 161 weeks on the Billboard pop chart. Its title became shorthand for Reagan-era angst. As Columbia rereleases Chill this month to celebrate its 15th anniversary, here’s an oral history of how a talk-show host, a board game, Motown soul, Princess Leia, a baked turkey, and a gator-hunting unknown named Kevin Costner went into the making of a megahit.


Lawrence Kasdan (writer-director): I was thinking that I’d like to do something about the people that I’d gone to school with, my generation, and the difference between being in college, where it’s very easy to do a lot of the things you want to do, and being out in the world, where it gets more difficult.

Michael Shamberg (producer): One of the things that fascinated Larry was movie executives who were our contemporaries in Hollywood who had a ’60s background. He was wondering, How did these guys who were so radical end up in the establishment of the movie studio system?

Barbara Benedek (coscreenwriter): Larry was a friend, and my husband had become his lawyer. Larry just called up one day and said, ”Do you want to write a movie with me?” I didn’t know enough to say anything other than ”Sure!”

Kasdan: This was the first film she worked on.

Benedek: He wanted to collaborate with a woman, and he thought I was funny.

Kasdan: All the studios wanted to be in business with me, because Body Heat had been very well received. But when we wrote this movie, they didn’t quite get it. It’s the only movie I’ve ever gone around and pitched. Literally 17 times we pitched it to various studio heads.

Marcia Nasatir (executive producer): I was then the president of Carson Films, which was Johnny Carson’s film company…. I said to myself, ”If I can’t get this picture made, I shouldn’t be in the movie business. Because this is what a screenplay is supposed to be.”

Kasdan: Columbia didn’t even want to make it.

Nasatir: The boss, Frank Price, didn’t like it well enough to commit. With my tear-streaked face, I said, ”Look, I hope that it would be a leap of faith, that you’d make the movie because you believe in Larry’s talent. He is, after all, part of the Spielberg-Lucas generation.”

The Big Chill
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