"A" LIST ACTING TALENT
On paper, Olive was a dynamite part: intelligent, funny, observant, surprisingly tough and heartbreakingly vulnerable. The big question for the filmmakers, then, was who could make this vital role come alive on screen. The success of the project depended on the perfect casting for Olive.
"Olive is an extremely smart girl," explains director Gluck, "but she doesn't annoy you with her smartness. A lot of people and characters that are really smart who know everything and talk like adults are so annoying that you want to punch them in the face. This is a girl who is smart like a whip, but doesn't know she's smart, and if anything, she's embarrassed by the fact that she's smart. You feel for this girl so much, because she's trying to figure out who she is."
Naturally, Gluck and the producers had no shortage of actresses who were eager to take on such a well-written role. "Everyone wanted to play the part," the director recalls. "I got calls from what seemed like every actress between the ages of 16 and 28. As soon as I heard that Emma Stone wanted to do it, I was very excited. We met really quickly, and she had no problem auditioning for me. A lot of this movie takes place with Olive speaking into her computer's web cam. After her audition, Emma went home, did a scene into her webcam and emailed it to me. I took the disc with that scene to the head of the studio and said 'This is the girl.' She was by far, always my first choice."
Stone says she had been sent the script by a friend before it had been bought by anyone, and when she read it, she knew she had to do it.
"I instantly related to the character," recalls Stone. "Olive uses all these big words and makes silly puns, and she's well aware that what she's doing is kind of dumb, but she can't stop herself from doing it. I do the same thing. There were so many things that made me feel a kinship with the character, that I felt that whether or not it was me, she deserved whoever it was that played her be willing to understand her. I think it would be easy to go very goofy with her, or read her the wrong way, and I was afraid that if it was the wrong actor, they wouldn't be true to this amazing character."
In her first meeting with Will Gluck, Stone found that the two of them were very much in synch about the character. "Will told me he wasn't looking for someone to become Olive," explains Stone. "He was looking for someone that was Olive, because Olive becomes whoever is playing her. I understood that there was no becoming this girl. You either were or weren't Olive. I'm so thankful that they gave me the chance."
With Stone in place as Olive, the filmmakers began the process of finding the actors who would surround her. When they were done, they found themselves almost overwhelmed at the level of talent who eagerly agreed to be a part of the project.
"A great script attracts a lot of great people," says Zanne Devine of the supporting cast of Easy A. "I think a lot of our actors are going to surprise people, because they're playing characters very different than audiences are accustomed to."
Co-stars Aly Michalka and Amanda Bynes, who play Rhiannon and Marianne, respectively, readily admit that the differences between their characters in Easy A and their past work are a big part of what drew them to their roles.
"Rhiannon is crazy," says Aly Michalka of the character she portrays. "She's a girl who is very aggressive and passionate about whatever she believes in, or whatever her opinion is. She is definitely very foulmouthed and will say anything that's on her mind, which can sometimes be either offensive or abrasive, but she always means well. She just doesn't really have any sort of a filter. But she loves her best friend Olive, and like best friends sometimes do, she loves to give her a hard time and push her buttons."
Known primarily to younger audiences for her work on the Disney Channel sitcom Phil of the Future and as a platinum selling recording artist with her sister as the pop-music duo, Aly and A.J., Michalka enjoyed pushing the envelope with Rhiannon. "I love that she's a strong character. She's similar to me in that she's a great friend, and very loyal, but we're definitely very different in the way we speak and handle ourselves. Rhiannon also dresses a lot more provocatively than I do. She wants to get attention from people and wishes she was twenty-five, even though she's still a teen."
When it came to the tightly wound, evangelical Marianne Bryant, Amanda Bynes found inspiration in a character very different than the kind of young woman she typically plays. "I'm used to playing the goofy, funny girl," says the actress, "and Marianne is the very religious, uptight girl who thinks she rules the school. A lot of her actions come across as kind of mean, evil and totally judgmental, but she thinks she's coming from a good place, because she claims to be doing the work of God."
Bynes says that although Marianne's actions are kind of questionable, there was still something likeable and relatable about her. "Everybody has met that girl who is a 'type A' personality, and just wants to be right, be better than everyone and always wants to one-up everyone," says Bynes. "She's a fun character to play."
In directing the actresses, Will Gluck found it easy to forget his talented cast weren't simply wonderful actors, but stars to the world outside a film set. "We got a good reminder when we were shooting on the street and there over 100 kids mobbing Emma and Aly, trying to take their pictures and get autographs," recalls Gluck. "They've established themselves so well in their characters that you sometimes forget they have such a big following."
Two other actors with big fan bases were also more than happy to take on new character challenges with their roles in Easy A.
For Penn Badgley, best known for his role of Dan Humphrey in the hit series Gossip Girl, playing the part of 'Woodchuck Todd' was so tempting, he arranged to fly between the west and east coasts to accommodate the shooting schedules for both the film and his series.
Laying out the role's particular appeal to Badgley, Gluck explains, "The first time we meet Penn, his face and body are all painted blue. The second and third time you meet him, he's in a woodchuck costume. The sixth time you meet him, he's wearing a lobster hat. It's not what you expect from Penn Badgley."
"It really does run the gamut," agrees Badgley, "and that's one of the reasons I wanted to play the part. Ideally, for most of the film, you don't really know what my character is doing in the movie, but it all makes perfect sense at the end. I had a lot of fun being the strange, irreverent guy who does these seemingly inconsequential things throughout the movie, but what made me really want to play the role, was the substance and importance of the character. It's not necessarily a complicated role, but it's one that could be easily misconstrued and played inappropriately if taken in the wrong direction."
Adds Gluck, "There are certain guys in high school that can be the mascot, can hang out with the athletes, can hang out with the nerds. Todd is the kind of guy who straddles all those different subsets of high school and kind of skates through."
"Yeah, he just does it," agrees Badgley. "But I think it's more than just being an agreeable sort of character. He's like 'I'm a teenager, I'm living in Ojai, I'm just waiting to go to college and for my life to begin.' I think that's the way he feels, and he's having fun while he does it. If everyone else thinks he looks like an idiot for doing what he does, it doesn't matter. Even though everything I'm doing as the character is theoretically really dumb and humiliating, hopefully I'm doing it with enough dignity that makes it sort of cool."
For Cam Gigandet, the role of Micah was a far cry from his portrayal of the vampire who hunts humans for sport in the box-office hit Twilight. "I think if there's anything that connects the two characters," offers Cam, "is that at the end of the day, they both make decisions that are not very nice, and they might have somewhat of the same morals."
The actor was already involved in the Screen Gems production of The Roommate when he heard about the Easy A production. He read the script, and instantly knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. "The script was absolutely hilarious, and comedy in general isn't something that I've really gotten to play a lot of," says Gigandet. "I knew I could have a ton of fun with it."
Daniel Byrd sparked to the role of Brandon because it was a chance to play vulnerable and witty as a high school outsider. "He can't relate to his peer group as a majority, so he's become a bit of a loner. Because of that he's developed a sort of sardonic, cynical attitude toward his immediate environment and the world at large. Then Olive comes along, they meet in detention, and find that there's some common ground there in their sensibilities. They feel they're stuck in a pool of dumb people, and they wonder why nobody gets it like they do."
Byrd and Stone showed immediate chemistry when Byrd read for the part, and after working with her has nothing but praise. "All my scenes are with her, so if she'd been a diva, it really would have made this job a job," explains Byrd. "But she's that rarity in this business, a talented, successful, pretty actress who is completely unaffected by her success. She's just a really grounded, happy, outgoing person. It's just been fun times together."
In addition to attracting some of the hottest young actors to the production, the script also drew a remarkable array of Academy Award nominees and Emmy winning talent to fill the key parts of the adults who surround Olive and her friends.
Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow filled the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Griffith, the high school English teacher and his guidance counselor wife, while Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci brought to life Olive's parents, Rosemary and Dill Penderghast. Also joining the cast was veteran actor Malcolm McDowell, as the high school principal, and Saturday Night Live cast member Fred Armisen as Pastor Bryant.
"We were incredibly blessed to get the caliber of talent that we did," says Gluck. "They all responded to the script in that no matter how small the part, it was different than the material they're usually given."
Patricia Clarkson corroborates Gluck's sentiments about the appeal of the script. "It was genuinely funny and original," the actress says. "All of the characters are so well drawn and very humorous, and not just the leads, but those of us who are kind of on the periphery as well. In a lot of these movies, the characters of the parents are kind of dull. I think we have something to contribute to the film."
For Stanley Tucci, the pull of the parents' roles lay in their post-modern attitude toward raising children. "The parents have great affection for one another, which they display openly in front of the children, and which is probably the healthiest thing that any two parents can do, because it allows children to understand what love is," says Tucci. "Also there's trust there, and I think they feel that once you impart that to children, that the kids really can be okay on their own. There's not a cynicism to them, but a profound sense of irony. They don't take everything too seriously. They take only really, really crucial things very seriously."
"We were thrilled when Patricia and Stanley agreed to do the movie," says producer Devine. "The fact that they're playing Olive's parents just makes it even better. Not just that they're in the movie, but in that way of explaining where did this girl come from? Who or what shaped her? When the answer is Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci, it makes perfect sense."
As for Thomas Haden Church, when he read the screenplay, he responded quickly to its take on the whirlwind nature of adolescence. "It had a very strong emotional voice, and a very unique perspective," says the actor. "It's sort of the thing that everybody is peripherally aware of -- what goes on in high school with cliques, and the politics and hostility and criticism and all the things that are crammed into three or four of your formative years. And yet there is an emotional compendium that nobody really comments on. I think that's what this movie does. Olive goes through such a crush of judgment and pain and elation and discovery, which I found so refreshing. Even though my involvement in the film is fairly brief, the character has impact, and that's all I really care about. If I'm in a movie for five minutes or fifty minutes, it's qualitative for me as opposed to quantitative."
Lisa Kudrow had only a brief shooting schedule, too, to film her small but crucial role, but producer Devine was especially excited about her involvement. "She did a phenomenal job," says Devine. "She was funny, and brought a fresh, unique energy to the part, and therefore to the movie. It was just wonderful seeing her playing off of Emma and Thomas."
Of the film's stellar cast, Devine adds, "All of these actors just raise the level of the film in so many ways."