Bend It Like Beckham director, Gurinder Chadha, sits down to talk boys, bras and bands in her latest pic ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’.
If you are, or live with, a tween/teen girl, chances are you know Georgia Nicolson, the star of Louise Rennison’s hugely popular books series ‘Confessions of Georgia Nicolson’ (think Adrian Mole for girls). Now Gurinder Chadha, the acclaimed director behind such girly classics as ‘Bend it like Beckham’ and ‘Bride and Prejudice’, is bringing the first two books of the series to the big-screen. In the film, re-titled ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’, we follow the 14-year old Georgia and her posse (the Ace Gang) as she strives to achieve her two main goals – to bag a gorgeous boyfriend and to throw the greatest 15th birthday party ever. Movies.ie sat down with the Kenya-born, British director to discuss girly flicks, British pics and the fate of her long-awaited ‘Dallas’ film.
Q: This is your third chick-flick in recent years, what keeps you coming back to the genre?
Well when Paramount sent me the script over, I read it (and the books) and thought I could turn it into something. They had the project for about fives years and couldn’t get the script right – their original version was quite a bizarre take on being an English school girl written by two American guys. I felt the books were very reminiscent of my own childhood. Girls of a certain age all go through the same stuff: body issues, wearing a bra for the first time, fancying boys and breaking away from your parents. It’s the same for every generation and I thought, we don’t make genre films in England, here’s an opportunity to make a British high school movie.
Q: You are credited as writer/producer/director on the film but how involved was the author Louise Rennison?
The script was a collaborative effort between Paul [Chadha’s husband Paul Mayeda Berges] and I. We had some initial discussions with Louise but at a certain point you have to separate. Mainly because the film is the film and the books are the books. Also, Louise is prolific. I think in the time it took us to make the film, she had written two new books!
Q: And what does she think of the film?
I think Louise was very excited to see what direction we’d take it. During filming, I think it was hard for her, as it would be for any author. The books are based on her experiences and family, so to see her world in someone else’s hands can’t be easy. Now that she has seen it completed though, she’s very happy with it but it is different to her books.
Q: And how do you think fans of the books will react to the differences?
Well we held two test screenings for fans and their parents. We did one in Wimbledon on Mother’s Day and another in California. They both went fantastically well. The Wimbledon one, which was first, was amazing. All the girls were completely with the movie. They really related to it. We discussed it with their parents too; they seemed to appreciate it. Not only because it reminded them of their own childhood, they also thought we got the pitch right, in terms of self-appreciation among teens. I think we were nervous about how it would go down in the States. We weren’t sure what the film’s appeal would be because it’s a very British film and sometimes that doesn’t work across the Atlantic. Thankfully, they loved it. They seemed to really like the fact that girls over here in Europe were going through exactly what they go through in America.
Q: There were some particularly strong views of the film on the web, care to comment?
Well that was to do with some changes we made to one of the characters- Ellen. As much as we tried to stay true to the spirit of the books, we were also trying to update it to reflect contemporary Britain. I didn’t want to have an all white cast because that’s not how it is in the UK. So we decided to cast Ellen as an Indian girl and give her an Indian name. We discussed it with Louise and she agreed. There was no reason why Ellen couldn’t be Indian. When we went back to editing I decided to change her name back to Ellen because, really, there is no reason a British-Indian can’t be called Ellen… So I do appreciate their comments. Had the Internet not been there, we wouldn’t have known about this, it was great to get their input. After all these people are huge fans of the book and they should quite rightly be protective of it.
Q: Given the fact this is a teen comedy, were you nervous of working with precocious bratty teens?
That’s something you try weed out in the casting process. Nobody wants to deal with people who aren’t professional but we also wanted proper teenagers. I think that was especially important when casting our lead Georgia Nicolson. After I saw Georgia Groome in ‘From London to Brighton’ I was keen to see her audition. But when she came in the first time, I was a bit disappointed. She seemed too young for the part. So we took a break, I had my twins, and four months later she just seemed ready, more mature.
Q: You’ve mentioned the fact this is a very British movie? Is that something important to your films?
I’m British so naturally that’s an important part of the films I make. I’m not anti-Hollywood in any sense, if anything I’m pro-international cinema. I love the fact you can go to a multiplex these days and see films from across the globe. Back in Britain though, I think we have some great talent- the likes of Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz), Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow) and Shane Meadows (This is England), I just wish we were making more films.
Q: After ‘Bride and Prejudice’ you were expected to direct a $70 million remake of the Eighties television series ‘Dallas’ with John Travolta to play J.R., what happened to the project?
Oh Dallas, Dallas! I just wish I could get that the script I’d supervised made. Honestly the script we had was so funny. In the end, I think some people in the studio just didn’t get it and realistically, unless you are in your late 30s on, you don’t really know the show (laughs). So I had a choice, leave ‘Dallas’ and go on to ‘Angus’, or stay and see if it eventually got made. I decided to go with the ‘Angus’.
Q: So what’s next (please say a return to ‘Dallas’)?
(Laughs) Never say never, but it certainly won’t be my next film. I’m writing a British comedy at the moment and I’ve received several American scripts to work on. There’s also a chance we’ll be doing another ‘Angus’ movie.
‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ is in Irish cinemas Friday.