Inside the secrets of ''Ya-Ya Sisterhood.'' ''Thelma & Louise'' screenwriter Callie Khouri gets her ''Ya-Ya'' out and -- finally -- lands a directing gig
Maggie Smith, Ellen Burstyn, ...
Credit: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: Michael Takett

Callie Khouri’s hands are callused, and her feet are blistered. Her back is sore from sleeping on the ground, and her legs ache from walking miles out of the wilderness, where she has spent nine days on a raft, battling the Colorado River’s roaring rapids. And this would be her idea of a vacation.

It’s little wonder, then, that the 44-year-old screenwriter has been able to navigate the treacherous waters of Hollywood. And that, after 11 years of stymied efforts, she has finally directed her first movie, an adaptation of Rebecca Wells’ best-selling 1996 novel ”Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood,” starring Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Maggie Smith, Fionnula Flanagan, Shirley Knight, and Ashley Judd — a story about female friendships and familial bonds that, she says, originally seemed ”just a little too precious for me.”

Sitting in a posh Manhattan hotel dining room, sporting a perfect blond coif and navy blue pantsuit, Khouri looks more like a Wall Street banker than the writer who drove female stereotypes right off a cliff. But she’s the same filmmaker who in 1991 let loose a feminist rebel yell with the radical buddy picture ”Thelma & Louise,” which made it all the way to the cover of Time. While that film won the first-time scripter an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a reputation as the go-to script doctor to punch up female characters, it didn’t earn her the one reward she craved. ”I wrote [‘Thelma & Louise’] to direct it,” says Khouri, who had previously produced music videos for the likes of Alice Cooper and the Commodores. ”But then Ridley [Scott] wanted to do it, and what are you going to say? ‘I know you’re a genius and all that, but I’d rather maybe not get this made and [try to] direct it?”’

Khouri spent the next few post-”Thelma” years settling into life with her husband, screenwriter David Warfield (”Kill Me Again”), and scripting ”Something to Talk About,” the 1995 Southern comedy-drama that starred Julia Roberts as a two-timed wife. Again, Khouri asked to direct. Again, she was passed over. ”Lasse Hallstrom wanted to do it, and Roberts had approval,” Khouri says. ”He was on her list, and that was that.” Adds ”Ya-Ya” producer Bonnie Bruckheimer: ”I think Callie realized that her fame and her forte was writing, and that’s what people wanted her to do. And I think she felt that when the time was right, she would get her directorial debut.”

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
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