It’s the 20th Anniversary of everyone’s favorite ’90’s teen classic, the one that taught us it’s okay to be a confused, hymenally challenged teenager who can’t drive because as long as you stay true to thyself, at the end of the day your smokin’ stepbrother will still have the hots for you.
What better way to celebrate Clueless than with writer/director Amy Heckerling, who was rollin’ with her homies, a throng of dedicated Clueless fans, at Strand? Heckerling appeared at the bookstore Monday for a Q&A with Jen Chaney, author of As If: An Oral History of Clueless. Here’s what Heckerling, who despite creating the definitive Valley girl is a New Yorker through and through, had to say about the making of the movie and her plans for future Clueless projects.
1. When Heckerling first saw Alicia Silverstone, the young actress was giving the finger in an Aerosmith video.
“Well the first video I saw was ‘Cryin’,’ with Alicia being upset, wearing a plaid shirt and going into a coffee shop,” said Heckerling. “And her purse was stolen, and a bunch of bad things happened to her, and then she’s standing on a ledge over a bridge—I don’t know if this rings a bell with anybody.” (Based on the laughter of the crowd, it did.) “Then she jumps down, and then she is actually bungee chord jumping and she gives the finger and she’s happy. I thought, there’s something about her that my heart just goes out to her. There was something so endearing about her.”
Hollywood is known for the rearview mirror philosophy, Heckerling said. “So if a movie with three girls made money then they would look for the next three girls movie,” she explained. “It’s better to be behind than ahead of the curve.” Based on the performance of films that studios thought were similar, no one wanted to touch a movie named “Clueless.”
“That [title] sounds like young people and not intelligent, and there had been a couple of movies with that sort of theme—one was Airheads, which was a very funny move. It was with Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi and Brendan Fraser, and they were musicians and they were kind of, like, stupid the way they went about doing things,” Heckling said. “I thought it was really charming, but it didn’t perform the way the studios wanted it to perform.”
Another unfortunate dud was the Jeremy Piven and David Spade comedy PCU. “That was kind of like young people acting kind of snarky and it was, again, a funny movie, but these movies were not making the kind of money the studios wanted.”
“When it got to Scott Rudin, finally, [Rudin had produced Sister Act and went on to produce The Truman Show and No Country For Old Men] he read it and he got it, and then when word got out that Scott was going to be producer there was a bidding war. So their deep beliefs in not wanting to do it suddenly changed into wanting to do it.”
3. The full title was originally Clueless in California.
You know, like Sleepless in Seattle, but people kept dropping the end part, said Heckerling, who explained that she gave different titles to various edits of the script to make it easier to keep track of which version was which. Other potential titles: No Worries and I Was a Teenage Teenager.
4. Heckerling is happy with her choice of Paul Rudd to play Josh—she just wishes he’d had longer hair.
She saw Rudd’s audition and immediately loved him. “He was the only one where I was like finally because I wasn’t liking anybody for the part,” she said. But she was obligated to see other actors before she could give him the role. “So I was still casting, and he cut his hair, and I saw him at a restaurant and I said, ‘What did you do?’ And he said, ‘What?’ and I said, ‘You cut your hair! I wanted you to be Josh, and I didn’t want your hair so short.’ He said, “I didn’t hear anything, so I assumed I didn’t get it.’ And I said, ‘These things take time. I can’t just say, ‘Oh, you’re cute, you’ve got the part.’”
Needless to say, he did get the part, though Heckerling still wishes his hair were longer. “I mean, you see him in Ant-Man, his hair is longer and he looks great, right?”
5. Grand High School, where the movie was shot, was “kind of a depressing place.”
“There had just been a shooting there, actually,” said Heckerling. To make matters worse there had also recently been an earthquake that hit both the mall where they were shooting and Cher’s fancy mansion, which was in need of repairs.
6. If there was one scene Heckerling related to, it was the one with Cher’s freakout on the highway.
“I’m a nervous driver, and I don’t drive on the freeway,” Heckerling said. “But every now and then, you find yourself on a street or a ramp or a lane where you cannot stop and turn around, and it’s going onto the freeway, and then you go, like, ‘Oh my fucking God, I’m going onto the freeway,’ and there’s nothing you can do about it except to keep holding the wheel and screaming until you get off. It’s very frightening to me.”
“You don’t know if that’s, like, too stupid and doesn’t happen to anybody else, but I have to assume that the dumbest shit that happens to me probably happens to other people. So I thought, ‘You’re a young person learning how to drive, and it’s terrifying, and that probably makes sense there.’”
7. That Paulie Shore dig was really meant for Chevy Chase, despite (or perhaps because of?) Heckerling directing Chase in European Vacation.
The head of Paramount Pictures at the time, Sherry Lansing, asked Heckerling to change the joke. “We showed it to the studio, and there was this one line where Cher was like, ‘Looking for a great guy in a high school is like looking for meaning in…’ and I had ‘in a Chevy Chase movie,’ because I’m not a fan,” Heckerling said. “But in any case, Sherry Lansing said, ‘Chevy is a nice guy, and he’s big with these charities, and a friend. Can you not do that?’ So I said OK, and I thought, looking for meaning in whose movie? And Paulie Shore had a lot of crazy movies that people might think they can mock because they’re Paulie Shore movies—they’re not very deep. But they were fun. And I felt bad because I like Paulie Shore, but she’s the studio head and she likes Chevy Chase, so…”
8. Heckerling has no desire to do a Clueless sequel.
“The thing about coming of age is when you come of age you’re done,” she said. “And with finding the love of your life, you’re done. So those stories have natural endings, and after that you always go, ‘What, they’re going to start fighting, and what then?’ You know, I didn’t want to do Look Who’s Talking Too because it’s like, he’s said the words already so that’s done. But they said, ‘No, you’ve got to do it because of X,Y and Z,’ and it’s a long story. I had no choice. But they want what they want, and if you did something that they liked a certain way they want it again.”
9. But she’s pumped for the musical.
Heckerling says the jukebox musical will feature songs from the ’90s reworked to fit the storyline, and the people behind it know what they’re doing. “The woman who did Rock of Ages [Kristen Hanggi] is the director, and I wrote what they call the book—and I feel phony saying that—but I wrote the play, or whatever, that you use.” It’s from the producers of Jersey Boys, so “they know how to do this shit,” she added. She said they’ve done a couple readings, but she gave little indication as to when we can expect to see it on stage.
“They just keep saying, ‘No, Broadway’s different. It’s a different pace.’ I’m like, ‘We have to find the best Cher! What if she’s not good?’ and they’re like, ‘No, there will be many Chers.’ I’m like a whippet when you come home, jumping up and down on you, and they say, ‘No, no, no, because if it doesn’t work that’s the end of it, but if it works it just goes on and on.’ So they tell me, ‘Calm down and don’t worry about it. Just make it work.’”
10. Truthfully, during filming Heckerling always felt like Clueless was “two steps away” from being a musical anyway.
“If I could pick a world to live in, I could live in Bye Bye Birdie. It’s just fun,” she said. “When making the movie I kind of felt like, then they’ll say that, and that happens, and that happens, and I always felt like, and then they’ll burst into song! But they couldn’t.”