Much as Paul Thomas Anderson knew he could make ”Magnolia” in the wake of his hit ”Boogie Nights,” Crowe figured he had ”a credit line of one movie” to play with, and set out to shoot a labor of love. To occupy the center of the thinly fictionalized story of his own coming of age as a teenage rock journalist in 1973, he found newcomer Fugit and courted Sarah Polley as groupie Penny Lane and Brad Pitt as guitarist Russell Hammond. Both got cold feet. Officially, Pitt wasn’t sure his role was fully fleshed out, and his reps deny the rumor that DreamWorks played him cheap with a $5 million offer soon after ”Meet Joe Black” tanked. Crudup (”Without Limits”) stepped in as the magnetic mystery man seemingly destined to break the heart of Penny, leader of the Band Aids, a group of ”joy junkies” (as Crowe calls them) who follow his band Stillwater. Polley reportedly doubted she could fulfill the director’s need for Penny to light up every room; Hudson, who got the part, recalls Crowe telling her, ”I’ll never make you look silly — just go for it.”
Almost famous for hanging on to the moniker ”Untitled Cameron Crowe Project” (”The Uncool ”and ”Something Real” were also floated) the film finally drew its title from a sign on the bus that transports the film’s classically dysfunctional fictional band. Speaking of classic dysfunction, a tardy and flighty Bijou Phillips, cast as one of the groupies, made few friends on the set, according to an insider. Some of her lines went to supporting players Fairuza Balk and Olivia Rosewood. GOOD SIGN This is the movie that could make Hudson and Crudup major stars. THEN AGAIN Can DreamWorks fill seats with a highly personal $60 million ’70s period piece that lacks marquee names?