‘Golden Girls’ Icon Estelle Getty Shocked Casting Crew When She Tried Out for Role

by Megan Molseed
(Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

When Golden Girls showrunners were looking to fill out the unique cast of characters on the iconic 1980s and 1990s sitcom series, they decided to start at the top by casting the role of the eldest Golden Girl, the fearless and cheeky Sophia Petrillo.

However, when setting up the casting call for the beloved character, the producers of the series had no idea what they would soon encounter in auditions. Then, long-time actress Estelle Getty decided to try for the role.

And, showrunners note, Getty’s tryout was so spot-on for the cantankerous Sophia that it was almost scary.

According to a recent tell-all Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai, producers of the show had initially sought to fill the role of Sophia on the series because they believed that the role of “feisty octogenarian Sophia Petrillo” would likely “be hardest to find.”

Estelle Getty Was Far From The Vision, But She Was The Perfect Sophia

According to the unauthorized tell-all, before Estelle Getty’s audition, Golden Girls creators had initially envisioned the character of Sophia to be “a big, fat Italian mama with a bun.”

And, the author of the book, Jim Colucci said the 61-year-old Estelle Getty wasn’t even gunning for the role of Sophia when she auditioned for the sitcom series.

Initially, the actress planned to try out for the role of Dorothy Zbornak. This role, however, was eventually filled by Bea Arthur.

But, once she tried out for Sophia, Estelle Getty didn’t have an issue with playing the elder Golden Girl. In fact, she was ready for the challenge.

“Age and ethnic she could do,” Colucci writes of the actress in the book. “She had played those things before.”

‘Golden Girls’ Star Wows In First Audition

According to Colucci, Golden Girls showrunner Tony Thomas remembers the day Estelle auditioned for Sophia. Thomas’s co-producers were out of the office that day. So he was initially the only showrunner to witness Getty’s portrayal of the feisty Golden Girls grandmother.

“Estelle came in to see me,” Colucci writes of Thomas’s recounting of the event.

“And it was actually frightening,” the narrative continues. “You don’t expect to hear the words jump off the page that way. It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is everything we wanted!’”

Colucci notes that after watching the performance, Thomas was convinced that he had found the perfect Sophia. In fact, the producer was certain his fellow Golden Girls showrunners would want to see Getty in action as well.

“He set up a callback for Estelle to come in to see his fellow producers,” Colucci writes in the recently released memoir.

Colucci also notes that Thomas was certain Getty was perfect for the part. He even told his colleagues Susan Harris and Paul Junger Witt “if you don’t like her, do it again. Don’t let her out of the room until you’re satisfied, because she’s the one.”