Will Gluck says that after he made the poorly reviewed, little-seen high school cheerleader comedy Fired Up! he swore he'd never return to the world of lockers and proms and report cards again. But that was before he got a look at Easy A, a script by Bert V. Royal that he says gave him a chance to add his own comedic stamp, telling a story about a girl (Emma Stone) who's both undergoing the rigors of high school and perfectly aware of all the movie characters who have gone through the same things before her. Olive Penderghast wishes her life were more like an 80s movie like Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club, and while pretending to sleep with guys and becoming the fake-harlot of high school isn't exactly something Molly Ringwald would have done, in a roundabout way it gets her the 80s happy ending she always wanted.
Easy A is an uncommonly clever, tender and well-acted high school comedy (if Emma Stone doesn't become a star after this movie, there is no justice), and I was eager to talk to Gluck about how he pulled it off when the odds of any high school movie feeling fresh or original are so low. Gluck talked about what he added to the script both in his writing and on the set, why he likes writing female protagonists when nobody else does, what he's bringing from this movie to his next film Friends With Benefits, and the one thing he would change about Easy A given the chance. The movie opens September 17.
When you signed on to direct, what changes to did you make to Bert Royal's script?
The script was great, but I wanted to put my stamp on it, my tone of comedy on it, and make it PG-13. But more importantly it evolved when we started casting each actor. When we got each actor involved I did a pass for them. The other thing is that the way I work, I sit right by camera and just keep rolling and rolling. I change a lot, change a tremendous amount during the actual shooting.
What would you describe as your comedic style that you brought to it?
I like to deconstruct things, deconstruct genres and stories. By not parodying them, but kind of an homage to them. That's why this movie is all about the 80s movies, and she makes her life into an 80s movie. I like being very self-reflexive. I never like to break the fourth wall, but I like to get pretty close to it.
So you made Olive into more of a self-aware character?
Bert did this great thing that she talks to the webcam. That kind of breaks the fourth wall without breaking the fourth wall. It's a great device. There are very familiar stories in life that people go through and they comment on how familiar this stuff is, but in movies for some reason characters are dense to that. It's like they're the first guy ever to go out with a girl. I like in my movies for them to be conscious that they're not the first people to go through this. It's just that we're going to watch their particular journey.
Is that what appealed to you about tackling a high school comedy, even though it's been done a million times before?
I guess so, yeah. I swore after Fired Up! I would never do a high school comedy again, but this script came in and it was special. This movie is about reputation, and that never goes away. It's so heightened in high school.
You've said you like writing female protagonists, when a lot of people avoid doing that. What do you like so much about writing women?
I like doing smart stuff, funny stuff and sweet stuff all together, like in the same sentence. Someone like Emma Stone can do that. It's more of a surprise when they do it, and I like surprising people. Especially when you have an actress like Emma Stone. Maybe I like writing Emma Stone protagonists.
The movie's attitude toward sex is really non-judgmental, and never suggests that her sleeping with guys would be bad if she were actually doing it. That seems really modern as well.
I get a lot of questions about, is this a pro-abstinence movie? I say, no, not at all. This movie is a pro mind-your-own-business movie. Do your own thing, just don't make it define you.
How did you balance between her life falling apart as a result of telling these lies, but also not judging her for doing it?
I kept saying, I'm not choosing a side. I'm just presenting it. The only thing where I think I erred, and if I could do it again I would, I think I went too hard on the Christian evangelicals. I never intended to make a comment about a specific religion. I was commenting on evangelicals and zealots. I was commenting on the adjective, not the noun. It doesn't matter what they are. It's just when you're 16, 17, holier than thou and think you know what's going on, that's all it is. It has nothing to do with what group they're with. It's easy to make a Jesus joke. I would take that back if I could do it again.
All the stuff about rumors spreading quickly and people taking small things seriously is only getting more and more heightened with the rise of Twitter and Facebook. Did you feel that coming as you made the movie?
Yes, I felt that coming. In the movie all the extras, almost all of them went to that high school. And all they would do all day is text and tweet to each other. Fast forward a year, the movie I'm shooting right now [Friends With Benefits], we shot in New York and now we're shooting in L.A., and we would go to a location with Justin Timberlake and Woody Harrelson and Mila Kunis, and within minutes there are hundreds and then thousands of people to watch it. That is from this new technology. You can't hide from immediacy. With rumors, everything you type now becomes legitimate for some reason. You read it online, you read it in print, you think it's real. And that really screws with people I think.
Olive is someone who I kind of wish I had been in high school rather than someone I actually would have known. Do you see her as more of a fantasy figure than being realistic?
Yeah. In all of my stuff I do heightened reality. I want the characters to speak and be like we wish we were, like what we wish we said. And that doesn't mean they're perfect by any means. I don't want them to be perfect behaviorally, I just want them to present themselves in a nice, funny, pithy fashion, while still making huge mistakes. She makes a lot of mistakes in this movie, but she does it with her head held high, and she does it realizing she's making mistakes. Self-awareness goes a long way.
Does Friends with Benefits have that same heightened reality?
I wanted to do for 50's movie, like Hepburn and Tracy movies, like I did for 80s movies with Easy A. This is a big time Hepburn and Tracy movie, big New York, big LA, big production value movie .But they're conscious they're going through the same thing. We now have seen so many movies and gone through so much stuff we know the story, and it's very much like that.
It seems like you really want to stick with making these intelligent comedies rather than branching out into something different.
I am. I do want to do comedies. I say to my friends, if you ever see I'm doing a World War II movie, shoot me in the face. I like doing character movies. I like doing movies about personal situations, that's what i love about dealing with things. I don't like superhero things, I like real-people things.