Thanks to the efforts of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and now, Anna Faris, adult-oriented comedy is no longer a boys club -- at least for this year. And at a time when women are gaining some kind of parity within the corporate and political worlds, why not with trashy comedy?
Though the feature The House Bunny may lower an IQ or two with its abundant flaunting of T&A, its fairy-tale story of the good bimbette who embraces an outre sorority as its house mother, designs some radical make-overs, and crushes their rivals -- the popular Sosh sisters of the beautiful and snooty Pi Alpha Mu -- prompts both laughs and groans. This flick is no proto-feminist tract.
As the house bunny in question, the Baltimore-born actress Faris channels a ditzy Marilyn M. and iconic humor queens from other eras, such as Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, to update the archetype/cliche of the seemingly clueless but formidable sex kitten. The film has a treacly sweetness that offers more of a fable than a raunchy telling of a former bunny set loose on the world.
Inadvertently pushed out of the safe confines of the Playboy Mansion by a scheming rival, the innocent Shelley Darlingson (Faris) sets out, not to wreak erotic havoc but rather to find another place to belong. More self-help advice-monger than sex counselor, the preening Shelley stumbles along until she find herself on a college campus and discovers that this one woeful sorority lacks both a house mother and the 30 pledges it needs to survive before being ousted.
While growing up in a Seattle suburb, the 31-year-old Faris felt more in common with her fellow misfits who populated the Zeta Alpha Zeta house, rather than her sex bomb doppelganger. Ironically, she never set out to be a comedy queen. Yet once she was a hit in the Scary Movie parodies, she did a string of them, from a guest stint on Friends, to Waiting, Just Friends and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Except for a small part in Brokeback Mountain, Faris has provoked more laughs than anything else in her career so far. But in order to better manage her job opportunities, she has ventured into producing as well -- one of the many things she discussed during a recent round table.
Q: You conceived the idea for "House Bunny" and you're one of its producers. Where did you start -- with the character or the situation? Was Marilyn Monroe an influence or inspiration for this?
AF: Marilyn Monroe is definitely someone I admire and I have since I was a little girl but the Marilyn Monroe joke came later in the process.
I started with the situation. I initially had an idea: what happens to the Playboy Bunnies when have to move on from this sort of protected, contained life style where you're at parties all the time and that's your job?
I wanted to have her go on a really dark journey, where she was a drug addict and moved back to her small Christian town. Turns out that's not as commercial as becoming the house mom of a sorority [laughs], but I'm really happy with what we came up with. I pitched the character to the writers of Legally Blonde and then they wrote the script and figured out the rest of the plot points. They weren't buying the drug addict who moves back home.
Q: Was that meant to be a comedy as well?
AF: In my twisted mind, yeah [laughs].
Q: What was the feedback like from the Playboy Bunnies?
AF: We screened the movie for Heff [Hugh Heffner] and the Bunnies; they all seemed to really love it. I don't think any of them are going to tell me, "Oh, I hated that."
They're really supportive, and really excited; it was really fun working with them. I was anticipating that the experience of being at the mansion would be a highly competitive environment between the women, but from my distant observations, I didn't see that at all.
Everybody was so friendly and nice and supportive, much more so than actresses can be with each other, which was interesting and really refreshing. I have a whole new respect for those girls.
Q: Now you're wearing the Playboy necklace on the cover of the magazine, but not as a centerfold...
AF: They were kind enough to give me a few; but I don't think they were that expensive [laughs].
Q: Do you think too much is still being placed on that myth about the dumb blonde?
AF: One of the things that comedy has given me over the years is a really good ability to laugh at myself and to not take things that don't really matter too seriously. Having done the Scary movies and the other comedies that I've been a part of, I feel like very little offends me anymore. I'm really grateful for that because I think I was an uptight little kid. I'm happy to feel that I can really laugh at myself.
Q: How important do you think it is for someone to try and develop their own material?
AF: I felt like there's such a boys club with comedy in Hollywood. That's what they do -- what Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell do. They develop and create their own comedies, and I would really love to be a part of that as well. I did get a little tired of feeling like I'm waiting around for somebody to cast me in their comedy. That would happen at times, but usually they were the straight girl roles that aren't as much fun to play. I felt like it was necessary to take some incentive with my own career.
Q: Are you going to do more of it in the future?
AF: I feel very fortunate with this one. I certainly wasn't very powerful in the whole process, but it makes me feel that, if I did it once, maybe I can do it again.
Q: You pitched the film in character, costume and all?
AF: Yeah, at our pitch meetings. That was something that I've never done before. The two writers would sit on either side of me on a couch; they would tell the story, and I would be in character and throw out lines and jokes. Sometimes it really didn't go so well [laughs], but sometimes it did. It was a great learning experience for me. It was like putting on a little performance and selling something.
Q: What was it like actually casting Heff in the movie?
AF: Heff was a great sport. With that scene where he is eating all the ice cream, we were in his bedroom, it was like a 110 degrees, and he had to eat a lot of ice cream. But he was great about it. He was always in a good mood, and said "Let's do it again." I think he's hysterical in the movie because it's so clear that he can't be anyone but himself. I love the captain's hat. It was awesome.
Q: What was it like to work with all the other girls in your cast?
AF: That was one of my concerns before shooting the movie. I thought: "Are the girls going to be able to lose their sense of vanity and wear the unattractive wigs and all the piercing?" But they were amazing about it. They looked forward to those days. Some of them only had to spend five or ten minutes in hair and makeup and that's why they liked it so much. I was really proud of them.
That was something that Keenan Ivory Wayans taught me back in the early days of Scary Movie -- the idea that there is no vanity in comedy. I was really proud that they seemed to embrace that idea so much.
Q: Oh yeah, there's definitely no vanity in the movie. You are running around half naked, perfectly toned. What do you have to say about the Anna Faris blonde bombshell?
AF: I think that Shelley's sexiness was innocent and silly. It's not any kind of sophisticated sexiness. I wanted to create a character where, although she wore really skimpy clothes, it didn't seem like she was sleeping with half the town or that she even knew how to be savvy in a true sexual way. That's why she never got the centerfolds and she was only in small pictorials. If you add too much sexuality and vanity it can really take away from the comedy.
Q: Was this the first time you did a nude scene in a movie?
AF: Yes, and it wasn't supposed to be me. I originally had a body double. But then the body double had some complicating factors. It was sort of a last minute thing where I was like "Oh, I'll go ahead and do this." And...I was really uncomfortable [laughs]. There was this crew that I've been working with and kind of knows me when I put on my producer hat, and suddenly sees me naked. It was a little humiliating.
Q: What did you learn about yourself making this movie?
AF: I thought a lot about how every character I've played really does change me in certain ways. You know, when you're playing somebody that's so happy and such a cheerleader and so optimistic all the time, I felt like a goofier person. I felt like I could laugh at myself a little more easily. I felt a little sexier, a little more comfortable with my body, which was kind of cool because I always played girls that were the sweet, girl-next-door type. Shelley is clearly not the most intelligent girl, but I think there is an idea that intelligence comes in many, many different forms.
Q: What's with having Shelley lower her voice and sound like Harvey Fierstein [or the possessed girl in The Exorcist] every time she meets a new person?
AF: I wish I could take credit for that. It was something the director came up with on the day. We both thought, "this is just something too weird to make it into the movie." But it was fun to do and did really did kind of scare the girls, which was fun for me [laughs].
Q; And what was the significance of having one of the outre sorority sisters being pregnant in the film?
AF: One of the writers, when she was in a sorority, had a pregnant sorority sister. There is still a bit of a stigma of getting pregnant in high school or college. I think we sort of wanted to touch on that a little bit. Katharine McPhee was so excited to be pregnant. She was all for it. So we were like, "Great."
Q: You were fantastic in the Gregg Araki's "Smiley Face" but no one saw it.
AF Well, thank you, so glad you saw "Smiley Face." I had the best time making that movie.
Q: By comparison, this is such a commercial movie. It's no wonder you want to take more control of your career and develop you own properties.
AF: I wanted to be a part of movies that felt a little more commercial as well. I feel really fortunate to be able to do both. Each movie is a learning experience; between Adam Sandler [whose production company, Happy Madison, made this film] and Sony. That is the goal: to make something with a broad, mass appeal, which is exciting for me.
Q: Will there be a sequel?
AF: I don't know. I would love to play Shelley again. Maybe that's when we can do that drug addict [laughs].
Q: How do you imagine Shelley when she's older, into her 80s?
AF: I imagine she is just loving and is motherly and good-hearted. Maybe she's still single. Maybe she's still the house mom.
Q: And what's next?
AF: I have a movie with Seth Rogen called Observe and Report.
Q: Are you naked in it?
AF: Almost. We have a love scene in it, but there's not a lot of love involved -- I can tell you that [laughs].