Pam Tillis travelled to Hollywood Tuesday (June 4) for the premiere of the film Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Starring Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd and Ellen Burstyn, the film was directed by Tillis’ longtime friend, Callie Khouri. It opens nationwide on Friday (June 7).
“I knew her when she was waiting tables,” Tillis tells CMT.com. “I was showcasing at the Exit/In and she was waitressing there, and we just hit it off. We were running buddies while she was here, and then after she moved to L.A., I used to go out there and stay with her when I recorded out there. I watched her work her way up from nothing. She’s really a self-made person.
The women strengthened their bond further during their time together on the coast. “I remember when I used to stay with her in this dumpy studio apartment in West Hollywood, because I didn’t have any money either,” Tillis recalls. “One time, she took out a funky old shoebox and said, ‘I’ve never showed you these.’ She started reading me these short stories, and I didn’t really know she did that. I was struck by how good she was at dialogue, so it’s not surprising that it went more in that direction, because that’s really the thing that stuck out.”
Khouri is best known for winning an Oscar for best original screenplay, for 1991’s Thelma & Louise. Occasionally, it has been reported that Tillis was the inspiration for the character Thelma Dickinson, played by Geena Davis in the film. True?
“Only loosely,” Tillis says with a laugh. “You know, we never blew anything up, but the spirit was there, definitely. She gave her a Southern accent. At one point, she said, ‘Could you come out here and teach Geena [Davis] to talk with a Southern accent? But they got it worked out, so I never went. She gave her my middle name. She said Thelma’s middle name was Yvonne, so I thought that was cool.”
While Tillis did appear on the Thelma & Louise soundtrack, she’s not on the Divine Secrets album, as the film draws heavily on music from the Cajun and blues music of Louisiana. Nevertheless, Tillis takes pride in watching her friend’s latest accomplishment.
“I’m so tickled I can’t even stand it,” Tillis admits. “I mean, I’m so excited about this movie, you don’t even know.”