It is safe to say that Shakespeare never imagined his comedy "Twelfth Night" set against a high school football rivalry, but writer-producer Ewan Leslie--a self-proclaimed lifelong Shakespeare fan--tells how the Bard's comedic play about mistaken identities, romantic triangles and even a bit of gender-bending became the inspiration for "She's the Man." "I was in London a few years ago and saw Sam Mendes' brilliant production of "Twelfth Night" at the Donmar. I'd read the play and had seen the movie version, but when I saw Sam's production, it really crystallized for me. I've seen other classics contemporized for today's audiences in films like 'Clueless' and '10 Things I Hate About You.' It seems to me that stories like these transcend eras; the basic premise is so strong, it doesn't matter when or where it takes place. What we did was take the idea of the love triangle between Viola, Duke and Olivia and transplanted it to a modern-day American high school."
He goes on to explain, "The main reason I set the story in a high school is I think there can be a little more androgyny at that age. You know, not all boys are shaving by the time they're 16 or 17."
Leslie ultimately collaborated with screenwriting partners Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith on the final screenplay. He notes, "Karen and Kirsten wrote '10 Things I Hate About You,' which was based on Shakespeare's 'The Taming of the Shrew.' They also wrote 'Legally Blonde,' so we knew they were really great at capturing that young female voice."
Leslie, who serves as President of Production at the Donners' Company, gave his script to producer Lauren Shuler Donner with the good news that Amanda Bynes, one of today's hottest young actresses, was already attached to star. Shuler Donner recalls, "On his own, he had gotten the script to Amanda, who signed on. I said, 'Great. Let's go sell it.' It was the easiest movie project I have ever gotten going."
Shuler Donner says they met with several prospective directors to helm "She's the Man," but Andy Fickman emerged as the obvious choice. "Andy impressed everyone in the room. First of all, his 'Reefer Madness' was very well done. He is also very funny and incredibly smart and had great ideas on how to make the movie. Andy not only 'got' the material, but he also saw the potential of the sports angle to give it cross-over appeal to guys as well as girls."
Fickman offers, "I immediately responded to the script. It genuinely made me laugh out loud, and 'Twelfth Night' is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. Adding to that, I have always loved movies like 'Tootsie,' 'Mrs. Doubtfire' and 'Victor/Victoria.' This gave me an opportunity to have some fun with that type of genre."
The director adds that knowing Amanda Bynes had already been cast in the central role of Viola was another major benefit. "I have an eight-year-old son, so I have spent a good many hours watching Amanda Bynes on Nickelodeon and have become a huge fan of hers. I had a meeting with her and, from the start, we clicked on everything."
Having been involved in "She's the Man" from the beginning, Amanda Bynes had seen elements of the story and characters evolve, but the basic concepts that drew her to the project remained unchanged. "I loved the idea of doing a modern version of 'Twelfth Night,' and I especially loved having the chance to play two different characters, with one being a boy. It's rare that you get to do something like that," she remarks. "In fact, 'Tootsie' is one of my favorite movies--I even had a dog named after Tootsie--so to actually have an opportunity to play this kind of role was really exciting. It was very well written and I loved Andy Fickman. It all seemed too good to be true; I felt grateful to be a part of it."
"Amanda is a great actress and an incredibly gifted comedienne," Shuler Donner states. "You believe her--no matter what character she's playing, she plays it with a wonderful finesse. She can be very physical and she has impeccable timing. She's really quite amazing."
With Bynes as Viola, the filmmakers brought together an ensemble cast of relative newcomers, together with several comedy veterans. They consider one of their greatest "finds" to be Channing Tatum, a young actor whose career is definitely on the rise. Tatum was cast as the object of Viola's affections, Duke Orsino.
"Yes, Channing--if only he were better looking or a nicer guy or a better athlete... I worry about his future," Fickman jokes. "Seriously, he wowed everybody when he came in to read, and it was a joy working with him. At one point, we thought we might need a stunt double and a soccer double for the role of Duke, but Channing is a natural athlete. That's him doing all his own stuff. He gave so much of himself every day. Really, there is something special about him."
Tatum says that the athleticism of his role was among the film's biggest draws for him. "I love physical roles because it allows you to bring something else to your character besides what's written in your lines. It helps put you into character. Playing a jock, you get to be really physical, but playing Duke, I also got to be the exact opposite of a jock."
Shuler Donner affirms, "There is something unexpectedly soulful about Channing, which was perfect for the part of Duke, because he's got such a macho look but turns out to be quite sensitive."
As a girl pretending to be a guy, Viola is put in a unique position to see the sensitive side of Duke when she--as a he--becomes Duke's roommate at Illyria Prep. Thinking he is confiding in Sebastian, Duke reveals how inept he feels around girls, especially the beautiful Olivia. The problem is that the more Duke talks about Olivia, the more Viola finds herself falling for Duke.
Amanda Bynes admits that having to fall for Channing Tatum as Duke was hardly an acting challenge. "It was not a hard job to pretend I like Channing," she smiles. "He is definitely easy on the 'peepers,' and he is also one of the sweetest guys I know. He was so much fun to work with and just to be around, so it was easy to pretend to have a crush on him. I felt such a bond with him, and I know we'll be friends for a long time."
Tatum couldn't agree more. "I love Amanda to death. She is just the most adorable thing you can imagine. It was so much fun being on the set with her; she was just hysterical--whether she was a girl or a guy."
Duke asks Viola--that is to say Sebastian--to help him get a date with Olivia, which is the last thing Viola wants to do. She needn't worry. The more Sebastian--that is to say Viola--talks to Olivia about Duke, the more Olivia finds herself falling for Sebastian, who she thinks is the first "guy" to whom she can truly relate. If she only knew…
Laura Ramsey, who stars as Olivia, attests, "Sebastian and Olivia have this connection, so Olivia is falling in love with Sebastian, but really it's Viola disguised as her brother…and I have to say, Amanda was good-looking as a guy. I could see how Olivia could be attracted to her, I mean him."
Leslie notes, "The role of Olivia was another key part of the casting, because she's the other side of the romantic triangle. You have to believe that Duke would be obsessed with this girl, and that she could fall in love with Viola as a boy. Laura Ramsey was perfect because she is obviously beautiful and she and Amanda had real chemistry. We also wanted somebody petite next to Amanda, which helped Amanda play a boy so convincingly."
The real Sebastian is played by James Kirk, who says his character and Viola have more in common than their birthday. "Viola and Sebastian are opposites in many ways, but they both share the same passion for the things they want. They are going to follow their dreams no matter what it takes. For Viola, it's soccer. For Sebastian, it's his music, so he is determined to go to London to fulfill his dreams."
Viola is equally determined to play soccer, so when her own school, Cornwall High, cuts the girls' soccer team and the guys' soccer coach refuses to allow the girls to try out for his team, Viola hatches a plan to enroll in her brother's place at Illyria Prep and win a place on their soccer team in time to help Illyria beat their arch rival: Cornwall. For Viola, it's a matter of pride...and perhaps a little revenge against her now ex-boyfriend, Justin, who is Cornwall's goalie.
Robert Hoffman, who plays the role of Justin, explains, "Justin told Viola that she was better than half the guys on his team, but when she tries to confront him about that in front of his teammates, Justin isn't cool about that. He betrays her and denies ever having said it, which really upsets her. Justin says, 'Girls can't play against guys,' but really he knows Viola is good, and he doesn't want a girl showing him up."
To transform herself into her twin, Viola seeks out the help of her best friend Paul, who happens to be a hairstylist at a high-end salon. "Paul is Viola's go-to guy," says Jonathan Sadowski, who plays Paul. "He's the one she goes to for help and advice, but this is a first for them."
Sadowski adds that the scenes in which Paul is trying out different looks to turn Viola into Sebastian were tremendous fun to shoot. "If you know Amanda, she's such a girlie girl, so it was fun watching that transformation. It was just hysterical. I can't say enough about what a good sport Amanda was, and working with Andy was great, too. He gave us a lot of liberty on the set, so you never knew what was going to happen next. I can't wait to see the outtake reel."
There is one major obstacle in Viola's plan to take her brother's place at Illyria, and her name is Monique. Monique is Sebastian's girlfriend, who initially has no idea that Sebastian is in London with his band, let alone that his twin sister has borrowed his identity. There is also no love lost between Viola and Monique, who is played by Alex Breckenridge. "Nobody really likes Monique," Breckenridge comments. "She thinks the world revolves around her and everybody should kiss her feet, especially Sebastian. I think she just goes out with him because he's cute and in a band…and she can boss him around. It was a fun character to play, because she is literally the complete polar opposite of who I am really."
Rounding out the younger cast of "She's the Man" are James Snyder as the scheming Malcolm, who also has eyes for Olivia; Amanda Crew and Jessica Lucas, who play Viola's friends Kia and Yvonne; Clifton Murray and Brandon Jay McLaren, who appear as Duke's teammates and friends Andrew and Toby; and Emily Perkins, who will be almost unrecognizable to fans of her "Ginger Snaps" movies in the role of the somewhat gawky Eunice, who becomes smitten with who she thinks is Sebastian.
The filmmakers also had fun casting the, relatively speaking, "older generation," including comedy veterans Julie Hagerty as Viola and Sebastian's mom, Daphne, whose dreams of her daughter as a debutante in pink satin ruffles have Viola seeing red; and David Cross as Illyria's overly dedicated Principal Gold, who constantly makes the wrong assumptions about his newest student.
Leslie says, "We are all huge fans of 'Arrested Development' and 'Mr. Show,' so we were thrilled that David wanted to play Principal Gold. Not only does he make what's already on the page his own, but his riffs and ad-libs raised the character to a whole other level."
Fickman adds, "David is completely respectful of the written word, so he would always do the first take as needed, and then he'd give me something a little different with each new take. I loved that. We were also great fans of Julie Hagerty. 'Lost in America' and 'Airplane!' are two of my all-time favorite comedies. To have her on the set elevated everyone's game, and the kids adored working with both of them."
On the rival soccer fields, Robert Torti, who had last worked with Andy Fickman in "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical," was cast as Cornwall's chauvinistic Coach Pistonek, and, in something of a casting coup, onetime soccer great Vinnie Jones was set to play Illyria's tough Coach Dinklage.
"Bringing in Vinnie Jones, who was one of the all-time great footballers, really grounded the soccer scenes for us," Fickman offers. "It was great to have him on set because he'd be the first to kind of nudge us and say, 'We'd never do that.' Then we'd make the change, mostly because Vinnie is big and imposing and could hurt me if I didn't," he jokes.
Fickman says that from the veterans to the newcomers and from the teenagers to the baby boomers, "I loved the ensemble feel of our cast. I loved the fact that, on any given day, cast members would show up on set even when they were not filming. These people had plenty of opportunities to go play when they were not on call, but every day I'd turn around and see them there. Now, admittedly, it was usually around lunch…"
The producers and cast all credit Fickman with creating a fun, family atmosphere on the set. "First of all, he's got boundless energy," Ewan Leslie states. "Whether it was 5:00 a.m. or the end of the day, he was ready to go. He created a really positive set, and everybody loved and respected him."
Shuler Donner adds, "This is the most fun I've had producing a movie, and I've produced a lot of them. Andy was a joy in that he knows what he's doing, and he has a great time doing it. That joy carried over to every member of the cast and crew."
"Andy was so great," Amanda Bynes attests. "He was there for everyone, and it's not every day that you have a director who is always in such a good mood. We were all having so much fun together, I didn't want it to end."
To foster that feeling of fun and camaraderie, Fickman brought the cast together for two weeks of rehearsals prior to the start of filming. James Kirk recalls, "We all came in for rehearsals and really got to know one another before we started shooting. We totally bonded. I think that approach came from Andy's theatre background, because, in theatre, the relationships are built during rehearsals, whereas, in filming a movie, you're usually put on the spot with total strangers. This way, we all warmed up to each other and the comfort zone was there, which made it so easy on the set."
"We spent a lot of time together on and off the set, which made it very family-like," Channing Tatum agrees. "Andy has a way of bringing that side out of everybody. It was the best because, when you were doing a scene with someone who's supposed to be your best friend, it wasn't hard to imagine."
TAKING THE FIELD
In addition to rehearsals, several members of the cast were enrolled in "soccer camp" so they would look like seasoned players onscreen. The filmmakers brought in soccer coach Bob Moles and soccer choreographer Dan Metcalfe to work with the cast and get them ready to take the field. Moles was also responsible for recruiting local soccer players to join the cast as members of the Illyria and Cornwall teams.
Collaborating with Fickman, Metcalfe designed the soccer plays and also worked closely with the cast to teach them all the right moves. Tatum asserts, "I had played soccer before but nowhere near this level. In the beginning, I thought I was pretty physically fit, but on the first day of soccer training, I was dead," he laughs. "We never stopped running. I learned a few tricks, though, like the bicycle kick, so it was cool."
"Channing's a stud," Metcalfe says. "He'll do anything for you and gives 100% all the time. He's just a natural athlete. I was glad to find they really did pick actors who had an innate athletic ability, like Robert Hoffman, who actually has an extensive dance background. We decided to make him a goalkeeper, because we thought he'd be able to make those diving saves and make them look really dramatic. He's also a wild and crazy guy, and I wouldn't have had it any other way."
Hoffman remarks, "The most difficult thing about my role was having to dive for the ball over and over again. In between takes, the guys would drill me--they'd be shooting ball after ball, and I'd be diving, hip, diving, hip, diving, hip… I'd go home and I'd be dying. I woke up in so much pain, but I couldn't wait to get back out there."
Unlike many of the guys, Amanda Bynes acknowledges that sports were not exactly her forte coming into "She's the Man." "I've never been really good at playing sports and had never played soccer before in my life, so not only was I playing a sport I'd never played before, I had to play it as a guy. I trained for about two months, so hopefully I did the sport justice."
Metcalfe contends that she more than did it justice. "Amanda's awesome. She's full of energy and enthusiasm, but she'd be the first to admit that she struggled with the soccer. What really impressed us was her dedication and willingness to learn. She became excellent. I was especially impressed by how quickly she got it. I've trained athletes who didn't get things as quickly as Amanda did. She's a great girl."
That being said, Metcalfe had to make sure she didn't play like one. "I had to teach Amanda how to run like a guy, because guys run differently than girls do. We had to work on her being heavier in her step without putting more pressure on her knees, and to run leaning a little more forward than a girl normally would."
Soccer notwithstanding, Bynes relates that the most physically challenging aspect of her role was wearing all the accoutrement required to transform her into a boy. "One of the hardest parts of playing a guy was the extensive amounts of padding and binding and glue needed to make me look manly. In addition to the sideburns and eyebrows--which were very uncomfortable because they were glued onto my bare skin--I was bound up in like an Ace bandage."
On top of the binding that hid Bynes' girlish figure, she had to wear a heavily padded "muscle suit" to put some masculine bulk on her decidedly feminine frame. The tight-fitting suit was especially taxing on her on the soccer field. "I was playing soccer and it was like 90 degrees out and it was really hot and sweaty under all that padding. But in the end, it was all worth it."
Bynes' hairstylist, Nina Paskowitz, and makeup artist, Peter Robb King, were charged with coming up with a look that would work for both Bynes as Viola/Sebastian and James Kirk as Sebastian. The two actors went through numerous hair and makeup tests, mostly involving wigs of all lengths and styles, before they found the right combination.
Apart from hair and makeup and physical padding, Bynes accompanied Fickman on "field trips" to malls and other teen hangouts to observe how guys act in order to, as Bynes succinctly puts it, "master 'the art of the man.' It was interesting to see the differences between guys and girls, and I tried to weave them into my character."
Bynes offers, "Playing a girl pretending to be a boy, I started to see that when I was a guy, I somehow felt more confident. As a girl, you're worried about if you look bad or if your hair isn't right… It made me realize that you don't need any of that exterior stuff. Everybody just wants to be accepted and treated equally. Makeup and clothes are fun to put on and wear, but it's all just gravy. It's one of those things I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to experience on this film. I think I'll forever be better for it."
"I think one of the main themes of the movie is to be yourself," Ewan Leslie reflects. "By pretending to be somebody else, Viola finds out who she really is and learns a lot about the opposite sex. I think she had some preconceived notions about boys, the same way others did about her because she's a girl. In the end, she has the best of both--the best of herself as a boy and the best of herself as a girl--and becomes a better person as a result. I think a lot of people can relate to that idea."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
ANDY FICKMAN (Director) is an award-winning director who has helmed some of the most honored and successful stage productions in Los Angeles theatre history and whose productions have been seen on stages throughout the United States. More recently, Fickman directed "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical," the screen adaptation of his smash hit stage production. The film premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and also screened at the Deauville Film Festival, where it won the Premiere Award and was nominated for the Grand Special Prize. "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical" later aired on Showtime and was nominated for three Emmy Awards.
Fickman had directed the stage musical "Reefer Madness," which had its world premiere in Los Angeles in 1999. The show went on to sweep the West Coast theatre awards, including the Ovation Award for Best Musical and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award and the Backstage West Garland Award for Best Production. In addition, Fickman garnered Best Director honors from all three organizations. "Reefer Madness" made its off-Broadway debut in 2001, earning two Drama Desk Award nominations.
The director scored another success with the comedy "Jewtopia," which opened in Los Angeles in May 2003 and became one of the longest-running Equity-waiver productions in Los Angeles theatre history. It was also the first play in Los Angeles ever to have 240 consecutive sold-out performances. The show transferred to New York, where it is still selling out nightly.
Fickman's other stage directorial credits include "Sneaux," starring Kristen Bell and Robert Torti, which earned Fickman an LA Weekly Award for Best Comedy Director; "The Marrieds," starring Peter Krause; "The Gift," featuring Alicia Witt in her stage debut; "We the People," which ran for two years in Los Angeles to sold-out houses; "There Will Be Penetration"; "Denying Park Avenue"; "It's Wonderful Being a Girl"; "Fortinbras Gets Drunk"; and "The Day Room," to name only a few. Fickman was also a co-founder and managing director of the critically acclaimed Fountainhead Theatre Company, which has featured actors such as Anne Heche, Morgan Sheppard, Ron Livingston and Molly Shannon, as well as writers John Lee Hancock, John Zinman and Frank Pugliese.
In 2005, Fickman was honored to be asked to direct the musical revue "Les Girls 4" for the National Breast Cancer Coalition. The show raised the most amount of money the coalition has earned since its inception.
For the screen, Fickman directed the independent teen comedy "Who's Your Daddy?," starring Ali Landry, Patsy Kensit, Kadeem Hardison and Wayne Newton. Following "She's the Man," he has several projects in various stages of development for both film and television.
Prior to becoming a writer and director, Fickman was a development executive. He held the posts of Senior Vice President of Production for Middle Fork Productions, Vice President of Bette Midler and Bonnie Bruckheimer's All Girl Productions, and Vice President of Development for Gene Wilder's Pal-Mel Productions. He also served as the associate producer on Middle Fork Productions/Columbia Pictures' film "Anaconda." Fickman started his entertainment industry career at the Triad Artists Agency, where he worked his way up from the mailroom to booking stand-up acts in Triad's comedy packaging department.
EWAN LESLIE (Writer/Producer) has been President of Production for the Donners' Company for the past two years. He is presently developing a wide variety of film projects, including "Cirque du Freak," being adapted by Oscar®-winning screenwriter Brian Helgeland; "Hotel for Dogs"; "The Secret Life of Bees," based on Sue Monk Kidd's international bestseller; "Sam & George," to star Mel Gibson under the direction of Richard Donner; and "Gregoire Moulin," with Seann William Scott set to star.
Leslie graduated from Pepperdine Law School before beginning his career in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. He moved up to an executive position at the Twentieth Century Fox-based Fox 2000, where he worked on such films as "Never Been Kissed," starring Drew Barrymore; "Soul Food," starring Vanessa L. Williams and Vivica A. Fox; and "Best Laid Plans," starring Reese Witherspoon.
Leslie then held the post of Vice President of Production for John Wells Productions. During his tenure, he developed the film version of "White Oleander," starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Renée Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn and Noah Wyle. Returning to Fox 2000, he bought and developed such film projects as "Fever Pitch," "Roll Bounce," and the upcoming "Flicka" and "Aquamarine."
He counts "She's the Man" as his first produced screenplay and his first producing credit.
KAREN McCULLAH LUTZ & KIRSTEN SMITH (Screenwriters) first partnered to script "10 Things I Hate About You," which was also a contemporary romantic comedy version of another Shakespeare play, "The Taming of the Shrew," and launched the film careers of Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Lutz & Smith then wrote the smash hit comedy "Legally Blonde," starring Reese Witherspoon, which was nominated for two Golden Globes and won multiple MTV Movie Awards.
Lutz and Smith most recently co-wrote the fantasy comedy "Ella Enchanted," starring Anne Hathaway. They are currently working on a remake of the comedy "9 to 5," and have several other projects in development at various studios.
In addition to their work as screenwriters, Lutz and Smith are both authors. Lutz wrote the novel The Bachelorette Party, which was published by St. Martin's Press in February 2005. The film version is currently in development at Twentieth Century Fox. Smith's first book, The Geography of Girlhood, will be published by Little Brown in March 2006.
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