EMMA ROBERTS (Nancy Drew, Aquamarine) stars in the comedy Wild Child as 16-year-old Poppy: a self-obsessed, incorrigible brat who lives a pampered life in her L.A. world. Though she's handed credit cards with unlimited balances and surrounded by countless hangers-on, Poppy can't escape the mounting frustration she feels with her family situation. And she makes sure that everyone knows it.
After an over-the-top prank pushes her father, Gerry (AIDAN QUINN, television's Canterbury's Law, Dark Matter), one step too far, Poppy is shipped off to an English boarding school. Finding herself in a foreign world of early curfews, stern matrons and mandatory lacrosse, the Malibu princess has finally met her match: a school of British girls who won't tolerate her spoiled ways.
Under the watchful eye of the school's headmistress, Mrs. Kingsley (NATASHA RICHARDSON, Evening, The White Countess), and surrounded by a new circle of friends, Poppy begrudgingly realizes her bad-girl behavior will only get her so far. But just because she must grow into a fine young lady doesn't mean this wild child won't be spending every waking hour shaking up a very proper system…
Two Generations of Bad Girls: Wild Child is Born
Screenwriter Lucy Dahl based her script for Wild Child on two quite different eras in her life. As a girl, she attended boarding school in England, and as an adult, she lived in Los Angeles and became the mother of teenage daughters. As she observed the behavior of her children and their school friends, she grew fascinated by their culture...and the similarities of young women across generations.
When imagining Wild Child, Dahl drew from a difficult time in her life about which she is not so proud. She relates, "I wrote the screenplay based on my antics when I was at school. I did actually set my school on fire, and I was expelled. I did have a real Mrs. Kingsley [the headmistress], and she was lovely."
Her mentor's feelings toward Dahl changed the day she learned what happened. Notes the screenwriter: "She was just so disappointed when she found out that I had done it. I called my Dad the day afterwards--because we didn't get caught right away--and I said, 'Someone set fire to the school last night!' My Dad called Mrs. Kingsley and said, 'There's a maniac in your school! You've got to find her and get her out.' He was a bit embarrassed when he found out it was me."
Lucy was not the only Dahl in her family who was prone to acting up and upon whom the characters of Poppy and her clique were based. As she recalls, "I wrote it when I had teenage daughters in L.A. Girls at that age can be so horrible to each other. I've seen it and been the mean girl myself, and when you get older you just think, 'Girls, girls, girls...don't do it!'" Naturally, with all difficulty, there was humor to be found.
Working Title Films' Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner responded to the coming-of-age tale and dark humor in Dahl's script. Offers Bevan, "Wild Child is a fun and fresh departure for us, being the first film we have made specifically for teenage girls. We were drawn by Lucy's sparky screenplay and the opportunity to show off the talents of a new emerging group of young actresses, led by Emma Roberts."
Bevan and Fellner asked producer Diana Phillips to work alongside them for the film. As an American living in London and the mother of three daughters, Phillips had a solid understanding of the issues young girls faced as they grew up...and what it felt like to be a fish out of water.
Based on his longstanding relationship with Working Title, prolific editor Nick Moore was brought on to the project as a first-time director. This was the next logical step for the man who had edited a string of commercial and critical hits--including Notting Hill (starring another famous Roberts), About a Boy, Love Actually and Nanny McPhee--for the studio.
As Phillips suggests, Moore's reputation as an established romantic comedy editor made him a natural fit to helm his own film. "Nick brings so much to the film from his perspective as an editor. His reputation as an amazing editor, much deserved, really does show up in his plans and preparations for the shooting."
With its comedy, heart and universal themes of growing up and loss, Wild Child's script struck a chord for Moore. He also saw in Dahl's work an opportunity to create a film that would appeal to both American and British filmgoers, as well as audiences across the globe.
The filmmaker liked the throughline of teenagers coming to terms with the people they are becoming. He especially enjoyed Poppy's arc of growing closer to her father again after her mother's death devastated their family. "There's a good moral story in there," Moore provides. "Poppy wasn't bad; she was a bit lost and needed to find herself." He admits, however, "I also like to be cheered up by movies; it's important to send people away feeling positive. If you're crying a little and then a joke comes along, the joke's all the better. Or if you're laughing and then there's an emotional bit, it feels sweeter."
With the script set and the director chosen, the filmmakers would begin the search for a spoiled Malibu princess and a band of girls brought in to her life to, alternately, tempt and save her.
Casting the Film
When it came to selecting the lead role of Poppy, it was important to find a young American actress who could play a self-obsessed, pampered southern California socialite, as well as convincingly carry off a gradual transformation into a considerate, fresh-faced English schoolgirl. In popular teen actress Emma Roberts, Moore and the producers found the perfect blend. With a resume that includes Unfabulous, a successful Nickelodeon television show about the trials of a teenage girl, as well as the big-screen adaptation of Nancy Drew and the comedy Aquamarine, Emma Roberts was just the young woman for the part.
Phillips says, "This movie wasn't going be made unless the perfect Poppy was found, and Emma stood out as a movie star. She was incredibly natural. She's a real professional and has had her own TV show for a few years. It was the perfect movie for Emma at this stage in her career, and she's proven to be incredible."
For the performer, Poppy was the type of girl she'd often seen while working in Hollywood. Roberts was delighted at the chance to take the fake-tanned, bleach-blonde brat on the journey from the comforts of her swank Malibu home to the perceived confines of an English boarding school. The actress liked that Poppy, for the first time, would be forced to become accountable for her actions.
Roberts offers: "When she first gets to England from L.A., Poppy is a spoiled L.A. girl who just doesn't want to be bothered with anything; then she starts a transformation when she gets there. She's kind of mean but nice, deep down. I loved the character and the story. I have never played a character like Poppy before, so it was really cool to play someone different."
Aidan Quinn was cast as Poppy's long-beseiged father, Gerry. After reading Dahl's screenplay, the father of two girls knew he wanted audiences to not only laugh through the film, but also find the humanity he saw in it. Quinn provides: "I hope the audience gets wrapped up in the emotions of the story and the feeling of what it is to be a teenager that's troubled--then finds her way through it with friends, family and a degree of discipline and direction."
Asked to portray the glamorous, yet formidable, headmistress Mrs. Kingsley was British performer Natasha Richardson. Too, Wild Child would not be the first time Richardson had worked with Quinn, her co-star in the critically-lauded adaptation of Margaret Atwood's landmark "The Handmaid's Tale."
Richardson wasn't only impressed with the screenplay, she was keen to work with a first-time director who was receptive to the feedback that she and her fellow performers offered. The actor enjoyed the fact that Moore married his skills as a seasoned editor with a receptiveness to input from cast and crew. Indeed, Richardson felt those attributes contributed to the relaxed atmosphere on set and allowed for better comedic performances.
The students at Abbey Mount School for Girls are supervised by the diminutive but strict Matron, played by Scottish actress Shirley Henderson. Poppy valiantly battles against Matron's rules and finds herself head-to-head in a losing battle with the disciplinarian.
Henderson has spent much of the past decade as a boarding school student herself, though as a young girl who has been long-departed. As the ghostly Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter film series, the actor was well familiar with the trials of filming academy life. This production, however, reminded her of just what it felt like to be a student. She recounts of her time in school, "I used to get in to a lot of trouble because I was very small and very young for my age. I always used to stand up for myself and just quietly got through it." Just like Poppy, Henderson admits, "I wasn't a fan of school; it wasn't my favorite place to be, but I just put my head down and got on with it."
Along with the adults in Poppy's world, it was as important to find the correct ensemble of young British actresses to play alongside Roberts. As her fellow classmates, they needed to be a group of girls that a young audience would identify with and believe would actually populate the academy.
Director Moore says, "Finding the girls was tough. These are parts for young girls, and so the actresses wouldn't have necessarily had very much experience on screen. The important thing for us was to make sure that there was a group that you believed. We flew Emma over for a few days and had a whole bunch of girls try out. We tried different combinations until we felt we had the best ensemble."
The casting process led to the mates with whom Poppy begrudgingly shares a dormitory room. Before becoming friends with them, the young American is the bane of existence to the mature Kate (Kimberly Nixon), easily flustered Drippy (Juno Temple), computer savy Kiki (Sophie Wu) and practical lacrosse player Josie (Linzey Crocker).
Poppy's arch nemesis, the Head Girl named Harriet, is played by Georgia King. RUBY THOMAS and ELEANOR TURNER-MOSS portray her sidekicks, Jane and Charlotte. Finally, RUSTY O'HARA was cast as Harriet's much-abused school minion.
When it came to selecting the actor to play Poppy's love interest, Mrs. Kingsley's son Freddie, the production turned to Alex Pettyfer, star of the spy thriller Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. Pettyfer was chosen as the perfect young man to turn Poppy's head. Unfortunately, he also happens to be the object of Harriet's unrequited affections.
Other staff include DAISY DONOVAN as the nice-but-naïve sports teacher, Miss Rees-Withers; Nick Frost as Poppy's genius hairstylist, Mr. Christopher; JASON WATKINS as the incompetent French teacher, Mr. Nellist; and SELINA CADELL as the dizzy drama instructor, Miss Loughton.
On the other side of the pond, Poppy's American friends and family were rounded out by LEXI AINSWORTH as her younger sister, Molly; SHELBY YOUNG as Poppy's boyfriend stealing ex-best friend, Ruby; and JOHNNY PACAR as the former love of her life, Roddy.
Malibu to Hertfordshire: Shooting the Comedy
In order to create Poppy's move from a Southern California high school to a British boarding school, filming crisscrossed England's countryside, as well as the city of Los Angeles. The shots of key interior scenes took place at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire; Robin Hood's Bay, near Whitby, North Yorkshire; and in the historic village of Haworth, situated at the edge of the Pennine Moors in West Yorkshire. This region was made famous by authors who long ago documented the angst of young women--the prodigious Brontë sisters--and is now known as Brontë Country.
In the center of Haworth on Main Street, the exteriors and interiors of local businesses were transformed to accommodate filming. These included the vintage clothing and accessories shop The Souk, which became the charity shop where the girls rummage for fashions for the dance; the Rose & Co. Apothecary, which became the liquor store where Poppy charms her way into buying a few bottles; and Emma's Eating Parlour, which became the site of Poppy's transformation into a lovely brunette, Christopher's Salon.
The majority of the exterior and interior school scenes were filmed at Cobham Hall in Kent, chosen as the setting for the fictional Abbey Mount School for Girls. Today, Cobham Hall is an independent boarding and day school for young women. It is steeped in history and set in 150 acres of Grade II-listed parkland in Kent.
Dating back to the 12th century, Cobham Hall was given by Henry II to a French knight. On two occasions, the manor house was visited by Elizabeth I, and Charles I spent a night of his honeymoon at Cobham. Charles Dickens often passed through the park on his way from his home at Gad's Hill Place to drink ale at the Leather Bottle Inn in Cobham village--frequently stopping to visit his friend, the Earl of Darnley. The Hall has been home to everything from a priceless collection of old masters to recuperating Australian servicemen in the First World War.
Roberts felt right at home on the storied grounds. Her comfort level even allowed her to nod off while she was supposed to be faking rest during the shoot. She laughingly recounts, "I actually fell asleep in one scene. We were lying in bed and before I knew it, they were cueing everyone and said, 'Linzey?' and she had to wake up, then 'Kim?' and she had to wake up. Then it was, 'Emma? Emma? Emma?' I just woke up and said, 'What happened? What happened?' They knew I fell asleep so easily; it was so embarrassing."
The Honor Court where Poppy is given the chance to clear her name and key classroom scenes were filmed by director Moore and cinematographer Chris Seager at Balls Park in Hertfordshire. The mansion, a building of great architectural interest and beauty, was erected by Sir John Harrison in 1640 during the reign of Charles I. It is situated in more than 100 acres of parkland on the outskirts of the county town of Hertford.
A private residence in Malibu became the location for Poppy's beachside home. There, she would torture dad Gerry's love, Rosemary, with an outrageous welcome to the family. Additional Los Angeles filming took place at the landmark Fred Segal shops and in Paradise Cove.
All of the girls had the opportunity to bond during the rehearsal process when they learned how to play lacrosse and dance to a routine that involved krumping. As producer Phillips recalls, "We were scared to death of the lacrosse, because not only did we not know anything about the game as filmmakers, not one of us had ever played it, and none of the girls were lacrosse players. We were very conscious we needed to shoot it authentically and believably, so we went to the experts and did a lot of training with real lacrosse players. In fact, the girls can play; they've all grasped it beautifully."
Production wrapped, Nick Moore took off his director's cap and headed to a place where he was very familiar: the editing bay, with Wild Child's editor, Simon Cozens.
While he had been advised not to "pre-cut" the film in his mind, he found that old habits die hard. Of that shooting challenge, he reflects, "There were times when I thought, 'I'm sure I'm not going to use this shot, except for that word. Why don't we just shoot that word?' But you can't; it's not fair on the actors. I remember being on set of a film I was cutting and there was an emotional scene on a wide shot. Halfway through the dialogue, the director cut it and I thought, 'Poor actress!' I tried not to do that with my first film as a director."
He needn't have worried, as all the girls of Wild Child had quite a good experience in what was the first film for most. Concludes Roberts of her time on the shoot: "It's been really fun working with a U.K. cast and crew. I've always wanted to visit England. Everyone made fun of me though, because I say things differently," she laughs. "But they're all coming to L.A., so then, we can make fun of them…"
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
NICK MOORE (Directed by) has had a long-standing relationship with Working Title Films, having edited the commercial and critical hits Notting Hill, About a Boy, Love Actually and Nanny McPhee.
His other credits as editor include the multi-award-winning The Full Monty, for director Peter Cattaneo, for which he received a BAFTA nomination; Little Man, for Keenen Ivory Wayans; Freedomland and Christmas With the Kranks, for Joe Roth; Along Came Polly, for John Hamburg; and David Leland's The Land Girls. The films he worked on as an assistant editor include Never Say Never Again, Empire of the Sun and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
LUCY DAHL (Written by) has previously sold original screenplays to Working Title Films and Fox Searchlight. She is currently adapting "Girl of the Moment" for Fox Atomic.
Wild Child is her first feature and is inspired by her own childhood experiences at boarding school, combined with her children's teenage experiences in Los Angeles.
Dahl currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, John LaViolette; her children Phoebe, 19 and Chloe, 17; her stepchildren Olivia, 16, and Lulu, 14; her dogs Topsy and Sherman; and her pet pig, Francis Bacon.
Working Title Films, co-chaired by TIM BEVAN and ERIC FELLNER (Produced by) since 1992, is Europe's leading film production company, making movies that defy boundaries as well as demographics.
Founded in 1983, Working Title has made more than 85 films that have grossed over $4 billion worldwide. Its films have won four Academy Awards® (for Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking, Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo and Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth), 26 BAFTA Awards and prestigious prizes at the Cannes and Berlin international film festivals. Bevan and Fellner have been honored with two of the highest film awards given to British filmmakers--the Michael Balcon Award for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema at the Orange British Academy Film Awards (2004) and the Alexander Walker Film Award at the Evening Standard British Film Awards. They have both been given the title of CBE (commander of the British Empire).
Working Title enjoys continuing creative collaborations with filmmakers Richard Curtis, Stephen Daldry, Edgar Wright, Paul Greengrass, Joe Wright and the Coen brothers and actors Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson, among others. Its additional successes include Mike Newell's Four Weddings and a Funeral; Richard Curtis' Love Actually; Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot; Roger Michell's Notting Hill; Mel Smith's Bean; Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter; Peter Howitt's Johnny English; Joel and Ethan Coen's The Hudsucker Proxy, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou?; Chris and Paul Weitz's About a Boy; both Bridget Jones movies (directed by Sharon Maguire and Beeban Kidron, respectively); Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice and Atonement; Kirk Jones' Nanny McPhee; Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead; Paul Greengrass' United 93; and Mark Mylod's Ali G Indahouse.
Recent releases include Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth: The Golden Age, starring Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen and Geoffrey Rush; Joe Wright's Atonement, adapted from the book by Ian McEwan and starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Romola Garai; Steve Bendelack's Mr. Bean's Holiday, starring Rowan Atkinson; Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; and Joe Carnahan's Smokin' Aces, starring Ryan Reynolds, Alicia Keys and Jeremy Piven; and Definitely, Maybe, a romantic comedy from Adam Brooks starring Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin and Rachel Weisz.
The success of Billy Elliot on film has since been repeated as a musical on the London stage, where it has been running to packed houses since its opening in 2005. Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Lee Hall reunited with Sir Elton John composing the songs. The Olivier Award-winning production marked Working Title's debut theatrical venture (co-produced with Old Vic Productions), and it has recently opened a second production to rave reviews in Sydney, Australia.
Working Title currently has six other films in postproduction--Beeban Kidron's Hippie Hippie Shake, starring Cillian Murphy, Sienna Miller, Emma Booth and Max Minghella; Joel and Ethan Coen's Burn After Reading, starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich; Paul Greengrass' untitled Green Zone thriller, starring Matt Damon; Kevin Macdonald's State of Play, starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Robin Wright Penn and Helen Mirren; Richard Curtis' The Boat That Rocked, starring Bill Nighy and Nick Frost; and Joe Wright's The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Catherine Keener.
THE ART OF ORIGINAL FILMMAKING