Courtesy of Fandango
On a sunny southern California day, I ventured beyond the normal confines of LA traffic up to the normally quiet hamlet of Ojai. Usually the most excitement the New Age-y Ojai scene sees is when someone’s chakras go out of alignment, but recently it has also been home to the set of Easy A, a new teen comedy poised to launch the eminently likeable starlet Emma Stone fully into the public consciousness.
Stone, best known for her scene-stealing supporting performances in movies like The House Bunny and Superbad, is finally getting her shot at the lead as Olive, a quirky, below-the-radar high school girl who finds her life utterly changed when a rumor about her losing her virginity spreads and she decides to run with it. Easy A is based (very) loosely on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (it’s more a modern, comedic takeoff), and is set in Ojai. Hence the day spent in the sweltering Nordhoff High School gym when anyone knows that there is a reason un-air-conditioned schools are out for the summer.
In between takes, we chatted with Easy A’s stars, as well as director Will Gluck, all of whom agreed that the film’s script by screenwriter Bert V. Royal is stellar. Gluck’s previous credits include Fired Up, and he swore he’d never do another teen comedy again—until Easy A crossed his desk. "When I finished reading the script, I didn’t even consider it was a teen comedy because the subject matter was so very much adult, it just happened to take place in a high school," he told us.
Gluck was shooting three scenes that day—all of which revolved (not surprisingly) around the gym, which was kitted out pep-rally style complete with clapping extras in the bleachers. In an interesting twist, Gluck was using the real local cheerleaders, pom team, and marching band play themselves behind the leads, which—in combination with the fact that the high school had the same colors as mine—made the whole set so realistic that it was giving me some fierce (and not entirely welcome) flashbacks. If only their cheerleaders were a little heavier and had perms, I would swear I’d traveled in time.
In one scene, the mascot—named Woodchuck Todd and played by Gossip Girl’s Penn Badgley—had to dance and perform a stunt. Despite the fact that he was wearing a giant, furry woodchuck costume, Badgley was completely lovely and totally game, which is pretty impressive given that fact that if we were hot just sitting around in normal clothes I can only imagine how he felt running and jumping while dressed as a giant woodland animal. At one point during shooting, he slipped and sprawled out, banana-peel style, flat on his back. The crew panicked, but Badgley popped right back up again. "It’s a fun, ridiculous thing to do," he said when I asked him if how he felt in the costume "It’s absolutely absurd and it looks…absolutely absurd!"
One of the things that he pointed out—and that was noticeable in the scenes we saw—is that at present, Easy A is set to be an R-rated comedy [update: it was finally rated PG-13]. "What we’re making I think is a pretty accurate portrayal of teenagers—just the way they talk, the way they are, their sex lives," Badgley said. As a result, the dialogue in the scenes we saw shot was, as Badgley says, both quite realistic and funny.
That Badgley’s character is in the woodchuck costume at all is attributable to the power of queen-of-the-school Marianne, a religious girl and Olive’s nemesis, played by Amanda Bynes. "Woodchuck Todd…used to be a blue devil, the former school mascot that was eventually voted to be satanic by the conservative Christian right," explained Badgley. "They have him replaced by a more innocuous figure like a woodchuck. And the joke is that it’s really, really lame."
Badgley was alternately dressed as the blue devil, which featured his shirtless torso painted blue, a glittery cape and a tail. In fact, this was the outfit he was wearing as we interviewed him. Unable to resist, I asked him if he felt manly. "Um, you know, I felt manly until I started doing the dances. And then I realized I had a cape on and tights," he said, laughing.
Bynes was also on set, dressed as a sort of saucier version of the prissy girl, complete with shiny cross in her cleavage. "What's funny is she is a virgin and yet she wears these sort of vampy clothes that are trying to be conservative but are still sort of pushing the envelope," said Bynes, who was quite enjoying exploring her dark side. “It's really fun for me because I haven't actually gotten to play the 'mean girl,'” she explained. "It's done in a way where you love to hate her because you can't tell that she's evil because she seems so put together and sweet and charming, but it's actually that she wants to rule the school."
To complete the triumvirate was the final scene we saw, a climatic one towards the end of the movie in which Emma Stone sings and dances in front of the gym in a Moulin Rouge-esque corset, fishnets and heels, like a fiery and funnier version of Mena Suvari's American Beauty character for the new millennium. "I feel 100 percent silly," she told us on a break. "I’m just trying to act confident."
Although Stone nailed her song-and-dance number—which she did all the way through—on the first take, she had to do it over and over to make sure they got the right coverage and angles, but she didn’t flag. "I did musical theatre and I took dance lessons for 10 years…but that was all a long time ago. I’m so sore right now and I’m so out of shape. It’s just depressing. I've been squatting in that wheel barrel and I'm like, 'Ow, ow, ow.' It’s horrible. I used to be able to move!"