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New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

New York Cool - Interview


Wendy R. Williams Talks With the Cast and Creative Team of Hairspray: Nikki Blonsky; Amanda Bynes; Zac Efron; Elijah Kelley; James Marsden; Brittany Snow; Director Adam Shankman; Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadon.

Hairspray Press Roundtable
Regency Hotel
June 17, 2007

 

(Opposite photo of Nikki Blonsky and Zak Efron by Wendy R. Williams)

Hairspray, the new remake of the Broadway musical which was itself a remake of the 1988 John Water’s movie, is an absolute hoot and is going to open big and stay big. It is heartfelt, fun and just subversive enough to supply loads of laughs. I saw the film and then attended the press round table where we were able to interview the young cast (no, we did not get Travolta, Pfeiffer, Walken, Janney or Queen Latifah).

Here is my review: (Be sure to scroll down for the interviews with the young stars and the creative team.)

Adam Shankman’s
Hairspray
Opens Friday, August 20, 2007


Starring: John Travolta; Michelle Pfeiffer; Christopher Walken; Amanda Bynes; James Marsden; Queen Latifah; Brittany Snow; Zac Efron; Elijah Kelley; Allison Janney; Taylor Parks; and Nikki Blonsky.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Tracy Turnblad (played by darling newcomer Nikki Blonsky) is a “big” little girl with big hair and an even bigger heart. She lives in John Water’s 1960’s Baltimore with her even larger shut -in mother Edna (played by John Travolta in a fat suit) and her loving but strange father Wilbur (played by the loving but strange Christopher Walken). Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton (the adorable Amanda Bynes) attend high school where they are among the misfits – Tracy because of her size and Penny because she is quashed by an over-protective mother (the always hysterical Allison Janney) who won’t even let her watch the local teenage dance TV show, the Corny Collins show. Tracy and Penny “love” the Corny Collins show and Tracy’s biggest dream is to be one of the show’s dancers.

Cute little Tracy (with the blessing of her father and the trepidations of her over-protective mother) catches the eye of Corny Collins when he sees her dancing at a high school dance. Corny decides to cast Tracy as one of the dancers, much to the chagrin of the show’s producer Velma Von Tussle (played by the always amazing Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Amber Von Tussle (the third of the adorable teenage Hairspray actresses, Miss Brittany Snow).

Once Tracy is on the show, she wows the TV audience with her take-no-prisoners dancing style; Tracy also catches the eye of local heartthrob Link Larkin (played by teenage heart throb Zac Efron). Tracy also shocks Mrs. Von Tussle (who did not like Tracy’s size to begin with) when she announces that she (Tracy) would like for every day to be Negro day. (Negro Day is the one day a month when the show features black dancers and performers).

Tracy then befriends the local Negros: Motor Mouth Mabel (played flawlessly by Queen Latifah); Seaweed, a charismatic dancer who quickly falls for Penny (played by Elijah Kelly); and Little Inez (Taylor Parks), Mabel’s daughter whose dancing rivals Tracy’s in style and enthusiasm.

So the die is cast and change is about to hit Baltimore. Nikki, her newly energized mother Edna, Amanda and the troupe of amazingly talented black dancers led by Motor Mouth Mabel want to integrate the Corny Collins show. And in this goal, they have help from Corny himself; Corny isn’t a racist and he can see that adding black dancers would be good for the show. Velma is totally opposed; she is both anti-fat and racist and her only goal is to make a star of her Mini-Me, her bland and blond daughter, Amber.

Hairspray (the 2007 ) works. It is charming, good hearted, big and wonderful, just like its star, little Tracy. The film is not quite as subversive as the original 1988 John Water’s Hairspray film mostly because John Travolta plays Edna as an
almost-real-woman in contrast to Divine’s subversive over-the-top Edna. But real or not, he is very funny and the scene where Travolta and Walken dance in the backyard with a backdrop of hung laundry is simply wonderful.

But there are so many wonderful moments in this film: Michelle Pfeiffer is amazing as the snooty racist Velma and her costumes are sixties marvels. And Nikkii Blonsky was an incredible find for the role of Miss Tracy Turnblad.

Director Adam Shankman created some wonderful dance numbers and managed to hit exactly the right tone with film; the film is campy and fun but always manages to keep one toe on the ground. The costumes and sets are candy-colored marvels. Hairspray, with its message of tolerance and hope, is a film that is truly fun for the entire family.




The Interview with Nikki Blonsky and Zac Efron

Question about how they felt about being in Hairspray:

Nikki Blonsky: This has been a dream come true. I saw Hairspray [the Broadway musical] when I was fifteen [and loved it]. This is a movie that is going everywhere with a message that being different is okay.

I was just a seventeen-year-old-girl with a big dream and Adam Shankman became my Corny Collins.

[Regarding the high ratted hair] I loved it. With my hair [ratted up] finally reached five feet tall.

Question about what they were doing before they began filming Hairspray:

Nikki Blonsky: I was in high school. I went to a high school called Great Neck South in Great Neck, New York. It had the best theater and music program on Long Island.

Zac Efron: I attended Arroyo Grande High School [in Arroyo Grande, CA 93420] and I did a lot of community theater.

[Zac was also one of the stars of High School Musical.]

Question about the casting process:

Nikki Blonsky: There were lots of call backs. In the third month of call backs, I was watching High School Musical and told my brother, “Why don’t they just cast that kid?” And then I found out that they did [cast Zac Efron to play Link].

Zac Efron: That role [Link Larkin] was me. I love singing and dancing parts. I enjoyed playing Link and enjoyed playing my role [Troy Bolton] in High School Musical because they are both nice guys.

Question about what kind of high school experience they had:

Nikki Blonsky: My high school was great. I was involved in musicals. But junior high and elementary school … not so much. The girls were very mean to me. I have gone back and met some of them and I do believe that everyone deserves a second chance…but I know who my true friends are.

Question about your dance training:

Nikki Blonsky: I was not a dancer before Hairspray. I just shook what my Mamma gave me.

Question about what it was like to work with Queen Latifah:

Nikki Blonsky: That’s my girl. She is one of my idols – a beautiful woman who is proud of who she is.

Zac Efron: She is so totally cool; she has all the jive.

Question about working with Travolta:

Zac Efron: He is also totally cool and has the confidence to just go for it.

Question to Zac about working with Vanessa Anne Hudgens on High School Musical:

Zac Efron: I love working with her. I like working with girls who have charisma, like both Vanessa and Tracy.

[On another note] Brittany Snow really does talk like the original Amber [in the John Water's Hairspray movie].

Question about what you are going to do next:

Zac Efron: I am working on High School Musical II and maybe even III. We have the same director and it is going to be great. I am also talking about redoing Footloose, but I don’t want to attempt to remake what was a great Kevin Bacon movie. We will want to put out own spin on it.

But if I am offered a gritty role in a gritty movie, I would love to do it.

Nikki Blonsky: [Speaking about future roles]. With me it is all about the character but right now I am writing for a possible album.


Elijah Kelly and Amanda Bynes
Photo Credit Wendy R. Williams

The Interview With Elijah Kelly and Amanda Bynes

As Amanda Bynes and Elijah Kelley entered the room, they told us that they were not well rested because according to Elijah they had been, “out partying last night…..I mean celebrating the movie.” Amanda told us that she was a little late because she had to find grapefruit juice for Elijah.

Question about how you got the part:

Elijah Kelley: I auditioned, several times. But I think I got it because I was a combination singer, dancer and actor.

Question about how they found the experience of being in Hairspray:

Amanda Bynes: It was my most strenuous role so far. But it was the most fun – I loved the people and the message. I am a big fan of Cry Baby and a big fan of John Waters. I did see the play. Both Elijah and I saw the play.

Adam Shankman has an edgy John-Water’s-type sense of humor. You will see that when you interview him.

Question about whether they would like to be cast in the Broadway show:

Amanda Bynes: Not right now.

Elijah Blue: Perhaps later.

Question to Amanda about why she took standup comedy lessons:

Amanda Bynes: I took stand up comedy lessons at the Laff Factory when I was a child [starting at seven years of age]. I was one of ten picked to actually perform at the Laff Factory [when she was nine] and that is where some producers from Nickelodeon saw me.

Would I ever do it [stand-up] again? Probably not.

I got into performing standup because my Dad was interested. He was incredibly funny. Once [before Amanda enrolled in the comedy class] he was supposed to perform stand up one night and he chickened out so I said I would do it [study standup]. I look up to my Dad. He is a retired dentist and he is always doing things like throwing a tin of floss into my purse.

Question about the racial themes in the movie:

Elijah Kelley: Adam Shankman got an email from someone who had brought their children (twelve and eight) to the movie and [was grateful] that the movie bought up a discussion of the line between black and white [in the sixties]. This is a subject that is near and dear to me – to exploit the ridiculousness of inequality.

Amanda Bynes: The movie has a great message for kids today.

Question about how they got into the business:

Elijah Kelly: I grew up in the South watching actors like Amanda and Will Smith on TV. I always wanted to be an actor and right after high school, my parents quit their jobs and moved with me to LA.

Amanda Bynes: I had a following from my role on Nickelodeon. But as far as growing up in the public eye, I grew up in a house in Ventura, California. Nickelodeon was a cable show and I was not that big of a star.

Question about working with Queen Latifah:

Elijah Kelley: I strive to have her career. She told me that people in Hollywood will try to change you to make you fit into their idea but she refused to change and [instead] made herself acceptable.

Question about working with John Travolta:

Amanda Bynes: I was very excited to work with John Travolta.

Elijah Kelley: I have actually turned down four or five movies with Travolta. They just need to get it right. [This was a JOKE so please don’t quote it out of context.]

Question about what is next for them:

Amanda Bynes: I am working on Sydney White.

Elijah Kelley: I am working on a movie about Sammy David Jr.


James Marsden and Brittany Snow
Photo Credit Wendy R. Williams


The Interview with James Marsden and Brittany Snow

Question about what it was like working on the film:

James Marsden: [Speaking about how much fun it was to work on the film]You know something is wrong when you are doing Hairspray and the director tells you to tone it down. That is what happened when I was dancing with Queen Latifah in the end.

Brittany Snow: I have been singing and dancing since I was three. But it was difficult because I was the mean girl and I had to dance with a mean look on my face.

But it was actually fun to play the mean girl.

The period seemed realistic to me because I “grew up’ in the 60’s when I was on American Dreams. Hairspray is the 60’s but turned up.

Question about how familiar they were with Hairspray:

James Marsden: I saw the Broadway show days before we started filming. The producers of Hairspray took us to see the Broadway show and told us that we were going to do the show but it would be our own and different. We were going to make it real.

Question to James Marsden about the tone of the film:

James Marsden: I play my character like Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest thrown together with Velveeta cheese poured over the top.

Question about what your high school experience was like:

Brittany Snow: I had a terrible high school experience [Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida]. I was very shy and way too skinny and the girls picked on me and made my life horrible. That is why I went into acting.

Question about what they are working on next:

James Marsden: I am playing Prince Edward in [the Disney movie] Enchanted. Not often that you get to upstage the naked cowboy by riding on top of a bus through Times Square while wearing tights.

Brittany Snow: I am in Prom Night which is sort of a remake of the Mark Wahlberg / Reese Witherspoon movie Fear.


Adam Shankman
Photo Credit Wendy R. Williams

The Interview with Adam Shankman

Question about the opportunity to direct the film:

Adam Shankman: It was a dream come true to direct this film. I am a choreographer at heart and I was around when they were writing the songs. The choreography poured out of me so fast my assistant could not keep up. It was like having sex for the first time in four years. I love this movie.

Question about whether you had to cut any scenes in your movies.

Adam Shankman: There was a big dance number in The Wedding Singer that was dinged by fourteen year old boys at the preview and we cut it. [That was unnecessary because] What fourteen year old boy would go see The Wedding Singer anyway?

But my motto in directing films is to entertain and get out.

We did cut a scene where Edna insisted on being arrested with Motor Mouth Maybelle. It was a great scene but we did not need it for the arc of the film. It was more about Tracy’s story line.

Question about casting Travolta:

Travolta was already in talks when I came on the project.

Question about the other casting choices:

Adam Shankman: We choose Christopher Walken because of his dancing skills and also because Travolta wanted a really good actor to interact with. We chose iconic people in the industry to become iconic people in the movie.

With James Marsden, I wanted a young Dick Clark.

[On a side note] Buddy Dean [the Corny Collins Show in the movie was based on the actual Buddy Dean Show in 1960’s Baltimore] was a racist. The networks wanted to integrate and he didn’t. [In the movie, Marsden’s character, Corny Collins, wants to integrate the show and Michele Pfeiffer’s character, the show’s producer Velma Von Tussle, is opposed.]

Question about whether there was really a Negro Day on the Buddy Dean Show:

Adam Shankman: Buddy Dean allowed black singers but no black dancers.

Question about why the film was made in Toronto and not Baltimore:

Adam Shankman: The reason the film is not in Baltimore, and the Baltimore Film Commission knows this, is that there are no sound stages in Baltimore.

Question about what he is working on next:

Adam Shankman: I am working on a film called Bedtime Stories.


Craig Zadon and Neil Meron
Photo Credit Wendy R. Williams

Interview with the Producers Craig Zadon and Neil Meron

The charming Hairspray producers entered the room and spoke quickly, finishing each other sentences. They quickly told us that no one who is in the movie today was on board when they first came on board because of really bad scheduling conflicts. They told us that they spent $75,000,000 on the movies and that no one would finance that if they tried to make the movie with a Broadway cast.

Craig Zadon: People would say why don’t you use Babe Neuwirth? But no studio would go for a strictly Broadway cast.

When we made the movie, we reinvented it as a movie and did not try to replicate the Broadway show.

Neil Meron: The first choice was the choice to use Adam [Adam Shankman, the director] and then it was on to the cast.

I read a book one time where Richard Rodgers is quoted as saying that a really great musical is one where no one piece stand out. All parts need to come together.

Craig Zadon: A lot of it is tone. We live in a world of heightened reality. In the Broadway show, the wigs reached the ceiling. We told the hair designers to create authentic hair styles and then give them to extra pumps from the bicycle pump.

Question about casting a newcomer, Nikki Blonsky, to play Tracy Turnblad:

Craig Zadon: We did worry about that, casting someone who had been scooping ice cream the year before. But when we had our first read through, Nikki belted out “Good Morning Baltimore” in front of Michelle Pfeiffer and John Travolta and she just sang full out. We also did a screen test with Nikki and she lit up the screen. You really can’t tell how someone is going to look until you do an actual screen test. Casting directors give us videos, but you can’t tell from that.

Question about working with Queen Latifah:

When we made out our cast list, we had only one name next to the character of Motor Mouth Mabel; we had no second choice. And she signed on without reading the script; she trusted us that much since we had worked with her on Chicago.

With John Travolta it took a year and two months to decide to do the movie. Queen Latifah said yes without seeing the script.

We cast the movie in two tiers. We had movie stars to play the adults and talented unknowns to play the kids.

Question about why the movie cost seventy-five million:

Neil Meron: It was all the dancers and all the rehearsal. Producing a musical is the same as working on an action film. There are so many moving parts. We really worried about the dancer getting hurt.

Craig Zadon: The last people we paid were the actors. We were very hard and told them, this is all we have. They got hardly any money and then they had to come to Toronto for two months of rehearsal and four months of shooting. They all did it because they loved the film.

Many thanks to the young cast and the creative team of Hairspray for talking to www.newyorkcool.com.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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