In the sexy comedy, THE HOUSE BUNNY, funny girl Anna Faris (Scary Movie) charms as Shelley Darlington, a Playboy Bunny who teaches an awkward group of college girls about the opposite sex - only to learn that what boys ultimately want is what's on the inside.
Shelley is living a carefree life until she gets tossed out of the Playboy Mansion. With nowhere to go, fate delivers her into the lives of a group of socially challenged university girls, who will lose their campus house if they can't attract new members. In order to accomplish their goal, Shelley needs to pull out all her playmate tricks and give them a crash course in the ways of makeup and men. Meanwhile, Shelley learns the hard way that she needs some of what the girls have - a sense of individuality. When sexy meets smart they all learn to stop pretending and start being themselves.
ABOUT THE FILM
"What happens to the people who have lived in the surreal Playboy Mansion world, where it's parties and fun all the time? And why do they leave that world - do they get too old, or are they simply ready to move on to a different phase in their lives?" asks Anna Faris, the star of Columbia Pictures' comedy The House Bunny, which focuses on Shelley, a Bunny who is facing that exact crisis.
Screenwriters Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz - previously the screenwriters of the hit movie Legally Blonde - were, first and foremost, intrigued by the possibility of working with Faris. "We had just seen Just Friends and we both really enjoyed her performance in that movie," says McCullah Lutz. "So we called and set up a meeting to have coffee."
"We kind of stalked her, basically," laughs Smith. "And she didn't know it."
At the coffee meeting, the writers and the star discussed an idea for the character of Shelley - the Playboy Bunny who changes her life. "Shelley has spent her whole adult life living in the Mansion, but when she gets booted out, she's completely adrift. We took that idea and spent a few months ruminating over where she would land, and we finally came up with the idea that she should enter the world of a sorority - a misfit sorority that desperately needs her help," says McCullah Lutz.
When Shelley first meets the girls, they are in danger of losing their house, due to a dearth of pledges. "Shelley has this idea that if she changes the Zetas into super hot girls, then they will be able to get guys - and if they can get guys, they can get pledges and keep their house," Faris explains.
"She teaches the girls how to be cool and cute and popular - that's definitely true - but for Shelley, it's all about self-confidence," McCullah Lutz continues.
But the Zetas are not the only ones who make transformations. At the beginning of the film, most people - including Shelley herself - see the Bunny as "just a Bunny." According to McCullah Lutz, "Shelley defined herself as a Bunny and thought that was all she was capable of. She only defined herself in terms of her value as an object for male eyes. But then she learns she has more inherent talents and a bigger purpose in life than just being a Bunny," the writer says.
"It's not just a message for girls, but everyone learning to accept themselves and love themselves for who they are," says Faris. "When we first meet Shelley she may think she's the hottest girl, but she learns to realize that how you look is not important - it's about how you look at yourself."
After Smith and McCullah Lutz worked out the story beats and the characters, they took their act on the road, pitching the story with Faris. "It was the best way to pitch. When you have the actual movie star in the room with you, the studio sees the movie coming alive. It's much better than having them listen to Kirsten and I try to do the parts," says McCullah Lutz.
The trio landed in the office of producer Heather Parry, who works at Happy Madison Productions. Parry - a fan of Anna and of the Legally Blonde writers - liked the idea, and took it to Adam Sandler and his producing partner Jack Giarraputo. They had already worked with Faris on the comedy The Hot Chick and were huge fans of the actress, and brought it to their home studio at Columbia Pictures.
Parry says that although The House Bunny is Happy Madison's first female-driven comedy, it shares the same underlying comedy goal. "It's funny and it has heart," Parry says. "Every girl goes through a time in her life in which she tries on new looks and new attitudes - and The House Bunny looks at that time in a really funny and charming way."
To direct the film, the producers tapped Fred Wolf. Producer Allen Covert says that the Happy Madison team had known Wolf for years, since he had written for Sandler at 'Saturday Night Live.' "You might not think that Fred would be the type of director to helm this female driven comedy, but when he was at 'SNL' he transitioned from the Sandler-Farley-Spade-Schneider years into the Molly Shannon-Cheri Oteri years - all of a sudden, that show had a lot of women cast members. Fred's strength as a director for this film was his background writing for and working with female comedians."
"It can be hard out there for girls," says Wolf. "They're constantly bombarded by messages - how to dress, what makeup to wear, but also how to behave and how to think. I grew up with three brothers and come from the primarily male-dominated stand-up world, but now, I have two young daughters and I have found how important it is for them to shrug off those messages and believe in themselves and love themselves for the people they are inside. I hope this movie contributes a little to helping them understand how important that is."
ABOUT THE CHARACTERS
To play the hapless sorority sisters of Zeta Alpha Zeta, the filmmakers turned to a group of young stars on the rise.
At the center of the group is Natalie, the president of the sorority. Though Natalie is super-smart, she's also more than a little clueless. She likes boys, and she wants boys to like her, too, but she has no idea how to approach the opposite sex, or, once she approaches, what to say.
Emma Stone, who had a co-starring role in last summer's hit Superbad, takes on the role. She says, "Natalie might be a little uncomfortable, but she has a heart of gold - and she certainly sees through Shelley's bunny exterior to understand Shelley's heart very well. They end up becoming close friends because of what they see in each other."
Parry notes, "We'd just seen an early screening of Superbad, so we were excited to have Emma come in and audition. She first read for one of the Phi Iota Mu girls, and then read the part of Harmony. Only after she left did we think, 'You know, she'd be great as Natalie.' She'd already left the Sony lot, so we made her turn around and come back. She was nervous - she'd parked somewhere restricted and the whole time was afraid that her car was going to get towed. It worked out for her - she got the part."
"It was fun to undergo the transformation, from the grays and navys that Natalie wears at the beginning, to the hair extensions and makeup and fun costumes," says Stone. "Of course, the characters also come to realize that though all that stuff fits the look that Shelley likes, it's not really who they are."
Natalie's sorority sister, Mona, is just about the last person who you'd think would make that transformation. She has multiple piercings and adopts a very women's-studies vibe, and signs on to Shelley's plan more for the opportunity to conduct a sociological experiment than to become popular.
There was one and only one person who the filmmakers considered for the role. Kat Dennings played the part during an early table read at a time when the only other actor cast was Anna Faris. She was so great at the table read that the producers stopped looking.
Dennings knew the character immediately. "Mona has an issue with males," Dennings deadpans. "They make her very uncomfortable and she makes them very uncomfortable - mostly because she goes around wearing shirts that say 'legalize castration.'"
Making her motion picture debut in The House Bunny is Katharine McPhee. Her character, Harmony, is a very pregnant, and very flower-child, sorority sister. She is always seeing the best in people and always being shocked by how cruel others can be sometimes. As she prepares to give birth, Harmony is the classic beautiful-on-the-inside type who flowers when Shelley begins her lessons.
For her part, McPhee sees the character a little differently. "She's supposed to be this hippie chick, but I think she's just free spirited, which is definitely a side to my personality," she says.
"Katharine McPhee is obviously a great singer," enthuses writer McCullah Lutz, "but she's a good actress, too."
McPhee couldn't resist the chance to show off her pipes during a karaoke scene in the film. "I knew that the scene couldn't be like it was me singing," she laughs, "but Harmony is a free spirit, willing to try anything, and excited about life, and I think she'd definitely belt out the song to the best of her ability."
McPhee was also thrilled by the chance to sing for the film - a new version of the 80s pop anthem "I Know What Boys Like," which plays over the end credits. "I had a great time recording the song," she says, "but to be honest - shooting the movie was even better."
To play the role of Joanne, a shy girl in a back brace, the filmmakers looked to a member of the next generation of Hollywood's A-list: Rumer Willis.
"Joanne has always hidden behind her brace," says Willis. "Even though she doesn't need it anymore, it's kept her from having to show the world her true self."
"Talk about physical comedy," Covert gushes. "Rumer just ran with it the minute she found out she was going to be that person. She took the brace as a prop and used it to find the comedy and become that character."
"That brace was like my purse for eight weeks - it went everywhere I went," Willis says. "At one point, we were rehearsing - I was lying on a blanket, and I couldn't stand up. Fred comes over, and goes 'Are you serious or are you just kidding?'" the actress laughs. "I was like a turtle on its back, arms waving helplessly, until somebody helped me up."
Faris says that as filming continued, each of the girls naturally fell into the roles of the characters they were playing in the film. "I felt like a house mom," she says. "I was a little concerned initially that maybe with all the girls, some of them wouldn't get along, but everyone really did seem to love each other and everyone brought their own uniqueness to the table."
Heather Parry agrees. "They all championed one another, which can sometimes be rare in Hollywood. While we were shooting the film, Emma Stone had Superbad coming out and the girls went to the premiere to surprise her. They all became fast friends and really supportive of one another. It was the greatest thing to see."
The seven sisters of Zeta House are not the only ones to get a makeover. While Shelley's mission is to transform the dowdy damsels in distress into glamour girls, the girls help Shelley with her own transformation when she meets a guy unlike any she has ever met before. Colin Hanks takes the role of Oliver, the sweet-natured administrator of a nursing home. "Shelley instantly falls for Oliver's kindness and his charm. I always imagine that she never met anybody like that. He's not the kind of guy that hangs out at the Playboy Mansion."
And Oliver had never met anyone quite like Shelley. Hanks says, "They go on a series of dates that don't really go very well because Shelley is constantly trying to impress Oliver. First she's playing the hard-to-get girl, and that doesn't really impress him. She tries to be the super-smart-bookworm, and that doesn't impress him. What impresses him is when she starts just being herself. He sees something in Shelley that is cute and endearing and special. The way that Oliver sees her is not the way that most people see her."
Making his motion picture debut in The House Bunny is Tyson Ritter, lead singer of the band The All-American Rejects. Ritter takes on the role of Colby, the object of Natalie's affections from afar. He describes his involvement with the film this way: "Eight beautiful women every day for two weeks. Paradise!"
The Zetas are rounded out by Dana Goodman as Carrie Mae, Kimberly Makkouk as Tonya, and Kiely Williams as Lily. Also joining the cast are Beverly D'Angelo as Mrs. Hagstrom, the house mother of Phi Iota Mu, the Zetas' rival sorority, and Christopher McDonald as Dean Simmons.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
FRED WOLF (Director) made his directorial debut with Strange Wilderness, starring Steve Zahn, Justin Long, and Jonah Hill.
Wolf began his career as a writer, and later head writer, on "Saturday Night Live" from 1992-1997, and moved on to feature writing with Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, both starring Chris Farley and David Spade; Dirty Work, which starred Norm MacDonald and Chevy Chase; and Joe Dirt, another David Spade vehicle.
Wolf started his career in comedy doing stand-up and recently sold a pitch called Mad Families to Sony with Chris Rock and David Spade attached to star.
KAREN McCULLAH LUTZ & KIRSTEN SMITH (Screenwriters/Executive Producers) have been writing partners for 12 years. They followed-up their first film and solid hit 10 Things I Hate About You, which starred Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, with the box-office smash Legally Blonde, starring Reese Witherspoon.
Other credits include the Anne Hathaway film Ella Enchanted and She's The Man, which starred Amanda Bynes.
The team's next work is The Ugly Truth, set for release by Columbia Pictures for April 3, 2009.
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