Geena Davis Was Hollywood’s Resident Badass, But Then She Practically Vanished From Our Screens

Geena Davis Was Hollywood’s Resident Badass, But Then She Practically Vanished From Our Screens

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Thelma & Louise actress Geena Davis was one of Hollywood’s most celebrated leading women. Then, suddenly, she was gone from screens and premieres, seemingly having retired from the spotlight. So, what exactly happened to make Davis disappear? Well, it appears that there’s a pretty sad reason for her fall from A-list status.

An Explosive Entrance

It may surprise you to know, however, that Davis became an actress practically by chance. She was actually working as a model, in fact, when she was cast in her first film: 1982’s Tootsie. And fortunately for the fledgling star, the comedy flick was a hit. Not only did it become the second highest-grossing film of the year, but it also picked up no fewer than ten Oscar nominations.

Short But Sweet

After that success, Davis was handed the role of Wendy Killian in ’80s sitcom Buffalo Bill; she even wrote one of the episodes. But, sadly, while the series was well-regarded by critics, people just weren’t tuning in. Ultimately, then, Buffalo Bill ran for only two seasons before being canceled.

Stampede Productions/NBC

Too Successful?

At around that time, Davis also experienced strife in her personal life. She had wed restaurant businessman Richard Emmolo in 1982, but the couple had split after only a year of marriage. After that, the pair had filed for divorce. And as Emmolo explained in a 2001 interview with the Daily Record, Davis’ success with Tootsie was partly to blame.

Splitting Up

Emmolo explained, “After Tootsie, Geena’s agent sent her to Hollywood. She got a co-starring role in the TV sitcom Buffalo Bill, and I moved out to LA to be with her. I loved her, but I hated Los Angeles, and I wanted to go home to New York. Eventually, Geena said, ‘I want to stay out here… without you.’”

Lucky Number Two

Davis would find love again, though, after meeting Jeff Goldblum on the set of the comedy Transylvania 6-5000. The two also teamed up once again for 1986’s The Fly. And mere months after the horror classic hit movie theaters, Goldblum would become the actress’ second husband.

You May Know Her From…

Davis’ career went from strength to strength during that period, too. In 1988 she appeared as one of the leads in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, which became both a commercial and critical hit. Her starring role in The Accidental Tourist even saw her go on to receive a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. So, by practically anyone’s standards, Davis had made it in Hollywood.

An Iconic Film

Then, in 1991, the star’s arguably most famous movie, Thelma & Louise, hit screens. The acclaimed road trip movie would go on to earn her yet another Oscar nod – this time for Best Actress. And Davis, herself a feminist, would muse on the film’s message to People that year.

Well Said, Geena!

The actress explained to the magazine, “99 percent of all other movies are about women either having shallow, one-dimensional caricature parts, or they’re being mutilated, skinned, slaughtered, abused and exploited with their clothes off.” So, even if Thelma and Louise was “man-bashing,” she added, “it couldn’t even begin to make up for all the anti-woman movies people don’t even talk about.”

Unfortunate Circumstances

In the same interview, Davis spoke about her divorce from Goldblum. Apparently, the former couple were still friends, with the two speaking on the phone and seeing each other “occasionally.” Nevertheless, Davis added, “I’m sure we’re both pretty sad. We certainly had high hopes, every good intention. It’s upsetting.”

Seated Firmly On The A-List

And, professionally, Davis continued to shine, adding A League of Their Own to her resume in 1992. Yet again, the film was a box-office smash, eventually becoming the tenth highest-grossing film of 1992. Davis racked up another awards nomination, too, after being recognized in the Golden Globes’ Best Actress category.

After The Peak…

Not long after that success, though, the spotlight that had shone on Davis for years seemed to begin to fade away. First, she wed her third husband, Finnish film director Renny Harlin, in 1993. Then she began appearing in the movies he made. And, unfortunately, this second decision turned out to be a major career misstep.

Too Much Geena?

The first film on which Davis worked alongside Harlin was 1995’s Cutthroat Island – a production that was troubled practically from the start. Initially, Michael Douglas was cast alongside Davis; before too long, though, he quit, allegedly complaining that Davis’ character was getting more screen time and attention. So, Douglas was ultimately replaced with Matthew Modine.

Unusual Demands

But things only got worse during filming. For example, a tank for the actors to film water scenes in was flooded with sewage at one point. During another incident, Harlin fired his chief camera operator, with multiple other people then deciding to walk off the set in protest. And, apparently, the director wanted his stars – even his wife – to do their own stunts if possible. As a result, Davis is said to have ended up injured.

Bigtime Disappointment

Crucially, though, Cutthroat Island utterly underperformed after its release – enough for the film to be awarded a Guinness World Record for biggest box-office bomb. The adventure movie was such a disaster, in fact, that it actually stopped Hollywood from greenlighting any more pirate movies for a while.

Was It The Hair?

The next Davis/Harlin production didn’t do well, either. This was 1996’s The Long Kiss Goodnight, in which Davis starred alongside Samuel L. Jackson. And though the thriller received fairly good reviews, it, too, proved to be a flop with audiences.

Breaking Away

So despite Davis’ long record of awards and hits, her career appeared to be affected by the commercial duds she made with Harlin. Arguably, she was no longer considered “bankable” by Hollywood. And for two years or so, she was pretty much absent from the big screen.

No More Action

Davis reflected on this troubled period in a 1998 interview with The New York Times, saying, “I don’t go back and second-guess my choices. It’s all about making endless choices – large and small. You have to keep moving on. The only thing I had planned for my next parts was definitely not doing action.”

That Certain Number

Then, in 1999, Davis appeared in a role quite unlike those she had previously taken on. In Stuart Little, she portrayed a sweet housewife and mother – not a pirate or a gun-wielding woman on the lam. And perhaps that had something to do with Hollywood itself. According to Davis, good female roles had proved harder to come by after she had turned 40.

Choosing Wisely

In a 2016 interview with Vulture, the star explained, “Film roles really did start to dry up when I got into my 40s. If you look at IMDb, up until that age, I made roughly one film a year. In my entire 40s, I made one movie, Stuart Little… I was getting offers, but for nothing meaty or interesting like in my 30s.”

An Unusual Hobby

Yet Davis did have other things to occupy her during that time in the career wilderness. Most notably, she took up archery – even practicing with her bow on the Stuart Little set. And the actress turned out to be very good at the sport, too.

Not Quite A Bullseye

In 1999 Davis was actually at a level that enabled her to compete to get into the U.S. Olympic archery team. Sadly, though, she didn’t succeed in the end. Apparently, the star felt that the weather had affected her performance – and the more than 50 photographers looking on hadn’t probably helped, either.

A Fresh Start

But there was happier news on the horizon. In 2001 Davis married for the fourth time to surgeon Reza Jarrahy. The couple would also go on to expand their family with the birth of daughter Alizeh in 2002; twin boys Kian and Kaiis arrived two years later.

An Honorable Attempt

Now a working mom, Davis subsequently turned to television to find good roles. And to begin with, it seemed as though she had found a great part that would show off her range. In 2005 Davis portrayed the first female President of the United States in the ABC series Commander in Chief, even going on to earn a Golden Globe for her performance. But although the show debuted to good reviews, the ratings soon plummeted – meaning Commander in Chief was canceled before it even got a second season.

Ultimately No Cigar

In her 2016 Vulture interview, Davis said of Commander in Chief’s axing, “I was devastated. I still haven’t gotten over it. I really wanted it to work. It was on Tuesday nights opposite House, which wasn’t ideal. But we were the best new show that fall.” She added, “I put a lot of time and effort into getting [Commander in Chief] on another network, too, but it didn’t work.”

Highlighting The Imbalance

Behind the scenes, though, Davis began working on a project intended to highlight the gender imbalance in children’s entertainment. The actress sponsored a study at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, and interestingly the results of the survey showed that there were far more male characters on TV than female ones.

Advocating For Action

So, Davis collaborated with a non-profit called Dads and Daughters in a bid to increase the number of female characters on kids’ TV. In 2007 the star even launched a venture of her own: the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Its aim? To work towards better representation of women in the TV and movie industries – particularly when it came to productions aimed at children.

“Shocking, Isn’t It?”

And a 2017 interview with the Los Angeles Times saw Davis speak about how women are depicted in popular culture. Apparently, while the actress had been filming A League of Their Own, members of the media had come to the set to speak to the cast. Davis added, “I noticed immediately that [the reporters] all asked at some point, ‘Do you think this is a feminist movie?’ Sort of conspiratorial, like, ‘I’m not really saying this out loud’ sort of a thing, and like, ‘Wouldn’t it be weird if you actually said yes?’”

But How Much Has Changed…?

Davis went on, “Are things much better now? No, although I don’t think they’d whisper the question. But as far as the perception of [A League of Their Own] – when it came out, I noticed there was so much prognosticating that this would change everything.” Even so, the star continued, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Be Careful What You Say

Regarding her own career, though, the veteran actress said, “I even felt some compunction to not complain about not having enough parts, saying, ‘Oh, I’m just taking a vacation or a break’ or ‘I’m just really fussy.’ Which I am, but don’t ever admit that there aren’t enough parts, or you might seem unpopular.”

An Unusual, But Popular choice

Yet in recent years Davis’ career appears to have gotten back on track. In 2016 she played a major role in the TV version of The Exorcist, which seemed to have earned enough positive reviews to put the star on Hollywood’s radar once again.

Kind Words

Davis was also singled out for her performance in critically acclaimed 2017 sci-fi flick Marjorie Prime. Most notably, Vanity Fair praised the actress in its review of the movie, saying, “Lois Smith, Tim Robbins, Jon Hamm and especially Geena Davis shine in an artsy meditation on life and technology.”

Something From The Past

Then 2019 saw the debut of documentary This Changes Everything, which put a spotlight on the work done by Davis’ institute. At around the time of the movie’s release, the actress sat down with The Daily Beast to talk about women in Hollywood and the effects of the #MeToo movement. And, strikingly, she mentioned one uncomfortable incident in her past that had involved veteran director Sydney Pollack.

Unusual Requests

As Davis went on to explain, most of her time on screen during Tootsie had been spent “in her bra and underwear.” At one point during filming, she had also been asked to sit on Pollack’s lap to rehearse a scene. And while this request was relevant to a particular part of the movie, Davis still believed that there had been “no way to say no.” She also hadn’t known at the time “what [was] allowed or not allowed.”

Beloved Characters Once Again

However, in a 2019 conversation with Vogue, Davis considered the roles that she had been getting. Not long before, she had been cast in the female-focused wrestling show Glow, and it appeared that she was delighted her character was popular.

We’re Not Quite There Yet

Davis also told the magazine that back in her early days, there’d briefly seemed to be a “wave” for female actors. She explained, “When Thelma & Louise came out, the press all said, ‘This changes everything now. We’re going to see so many more movies starring women about women.’ And I was sure that would happen… until it didn’t. Everybody seems very eager to think we’re done, but it absolutely isn’t.”

Forced To Listen

Yet Davis recognized that there were risks to speaking out in the film industry. She continued, “I think my peers and I always felt like you shouldn’t complain… You can think of some examples of people whose careers really suffered when they became outspoken.” Now, though, people finally seem to be sitting up and paying attention.

An Activist Spirit

You see, in October 2019 Davis received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award – an honorary Oscar – in recognition of her work relating to women in the film industry. Then, months later, The Casting Society of America announced that the star would be honored with the Lynn Stalmaster Award for Career Achievement. Why? Well, for her contribution to gender equality, of course.