‘Slap Her … She’s French !’
(Director – Melanie Mayron)
Starla Grady (Jane McGregor) has it all. The most popular girl at Splendona High School in Texas, she is a beauty pageant winner, the head cheerleader and dates the school’s quarterback, Kyle Fuller (Matt Czuchry). Nothing is going to stand in the way of Starla’s quest to fulfill her life’s ambition: to become the most popular morning talk show host in America…that is until Genevieve LePlouff (Piper Perabo) enters her perfect world.
Faced with a failing grade from French teacher Monsieur Duke (Michael McKean) and being suspended from the cheerleading squad, her parents Bootsie (Julie White) and Arnie (Brandon Smith) suggest hosting a foreign exchange student from Paris to help her. Starla is reluctant, however, until she needs to garner audience sympathy at a pageant. When she announces that her family will be the first in town to offer their hospitality to a student from overseas, Starla walks off with the crown yet again.
Timid and mousy, Genevieve arrives in Spendona complete with horn-rimmed glasses and beret. Her sad tales of misfortune and lost love soon win her sympathy from the Grady family and their friends. Professing undying admiration for Starla and her wonderful life, Genevieve is only too happy to be at her beckon call and listen to her most intimate secrets. Ed Mitchell (Trent Ford), the school photographer, is the first to notice a hidden beauty under Genevieve’s unassuming disguise and her picture is soon gracing the cover of the paper with an article about her tragic past. An article that was supposed to feature Starla and her generosity is instead devoted to “All About Genevieve.”
Before Starla realizes what is happening, Genevieve has usurped her best friends Asley (Alexandra Adi) and Tanner (Nicki Aycox), her boyfriend, her parents, her spot on the cheerleading squad and her position as the most popular girl in Splendona. She even goes so far as to orchestrate Starla’s arrest for drugs and attempted murder. Everything seems lost until Starla is helped by an unlikely pair of supporters, her younger brother Randolph (Jesse James) and the photographer, Ed Mitchell. These three team up to expose Genevieve as the conniving, back stabbing liar that she has always been.
’Slap Her…She’s French’ stars Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly), Jane McGregor (MTV’s Live Through This), Trent Ford (Gosford Park), Michael McKean (Best In Show), Julie White (Six Feet Under), Brandon Smith (Lonesome Dove) and Jesse James (As Good as it Gets). Directed by veteran actress Melanie Mayron (‘thirtysomething’), the film was written by Lamar Damon and Robert Lee King.
Melanie Mayron made her directing debut on the set of her hit ensemble show ‘thirtysomething’ and later marked her feature directorial debut with ’The Babysitter’s Club.’ Television credits include the remake of ‘Freaky Friday’ and ‘Toothless,’ a two-hour premiere film for The Wonderful World of Disney, starring Kirstie Alley and Lynn Redgrave, for which Mayron garnered a Directors Guild Award nomination. Additionally, she has directed episodes of ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ ‘Nash Bridges,’ ‘Arli$$,’ ‘The Larry Sanders Show,’ ‘Providence’ and ‘Ed.’ Mayron also directed the pilot and several episodes of ‘A State of Grace’ for ABC Family. She is currently co-producing the film ‘Let It Ride’ with Gale Ann Hurd.
As an actress, Mayron, a native of Philadelphia, studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and is best known for a series of lauded performances in highly visible projects: Claudia Weill’s critically acclaimed ‘Girl Friends,’ for which Mayron was nominated for a British Academy Award; Costa Gavras’ controversial ‘Missing’; and opposite Vanessa Redgrave in Arthur Miller’s ‘Playing for Time.’ She starred on Broadway in Herb Gardner’s ‘The Goodbye People’ and later created the role of Isabelle Off-Broadway in Susan Sandler’s ‘Crossing Delancey.’ Additional work includes ‘Ordeal in the Arctic’ with Richard Chamberlain; ‘Other Women’s Children’; ’Drop Zone’ with Wesley Snipes; the independent film ‘Sticky Fingers’ with Helen Slater, which Mayron also co-wrote and co-produced; as well as the award-winning short ‘Little Shiny Shoes.’ She has also been seen in ‘Mad About You,’ ‘Wasteland’ and most recently in Paramount’s movie ‘Clockstoppers.’
Taking some time out with the lady herself, as we quietly sat comfortably in the plush surroundings of the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan, I first wondered where her inspiration for this Anglo movie theme had originated ? ”Well, the Producer sent it to me and the idea of putting Texas and France together seemed kinda outrageous … so I just had to do it !”
Did it turn out just as you had planned in your head ? ”You know, when you have something on paper and you read it and then you see it all active and filmed and done you never know what the reactions are gonna be and you always hope for the best. We finished it last September and got distribution and they were looking for a date to release it and so now it seems like a while ago since I saw it. But I just saw it a few nights ago and so far now I’ve seen it twice with an audience and I was just crackin’ up ! But, it’s not at all what I would have pictured, but then again I don’t know what I would have pictured. Who knows, but it’s kind of edgy, kinda cuttin’ and doesn’t really fit into that huge pool of the sappy teen movie genre.”
Quoted as the “veteran actress and director …” what would you say has been your acting pinnacle of work to date ? ”Oh God, let me kill myself now,” she sarcastically jokes. ”There are a couple of projects that I have been in that were really fantastic to be a part of. Obviously, ‘Thirtysomething’ was great on television, but the film ‘Missing’ by Costa Gavras, that was something major. Actually, it was the only film that the State Department ever made a comment about, a disclaimer about. There was also a project called ‘Playing For Time’ which was a TV special about the women in Auschwitz where I had the second lead alongside Vanessa Redgrave. We both had to shave our heads and it was actually a film in where I got a role kinda like Piper where I was very different in the beginning and then I turn.”
You still do some acting, as in the recent ‘Clockstoppers,’ but why take such small roles ? ”Well the night before whoever they were gonna get couldn’t show and Gayle Ann Hurd called me at five o’clock and asked me to come and do this part and I was like yeah, sure and it was great ! I was in the middle of editing so it was a quick escape. I mean, I love acting and once you’re an actor you never stop wanting to act: ‘Oh, you want me ? Oh sure, what’s the part because there’s no part too small’ I’d love to be in your film, dear darling ! Of course I’ll be there !'”
Why choose two lead actors that hadn’t made any real ‘Hollywood’ headlines – indeed one even making her debut screen appearance ?! ”Well, the producers wouldn't give the money for the film without someone recognizable. Before they cough up the money these days they want some guarantee and they were constantly asking who they were gonna get. And, they loved Piper and thought she would be stunning as the foreign exchange student and for an actress it’s like a dream role. Because you start one way and you go completely to another place. So, once she said she’d do it, then came the role of ‘Starla’ where we just said ok, well let’s cast for it ! Because as far as they were concerned they were gonna finance the film with just Piper on board and so Jane auditioned out of Vancouver and she was just, like perfect ! She’s an actress that has great comic timing, and she has the right look for that cheerleader-type of girl, but she had that authority of like you could buy her being this nice person the one day and then the other person the next. There’s like a lot of colors that the characters had to have and that’s the secret. It’s not like every young actress walking in is gonna have all of them.”
Did Piper speak French prior to the movie ? ”Yes, she spoke fluently which was great ! We had a dialect coach so he could catch any slip-ups. He was looking at the French accent and the Dallas accent and he was standing with head phones on next to us all the time !”
Describe the movie in three words ! ”A good fun time”
Was the movie always going to be called ‘Slap Her … She’s French’ ? ”The only thing that I heard was that at one point it they were considering calling it ‘All About Genevieve’ like ‘All About Eve’ the movie. Which is kinda what this movie really is, but they didn’t.”
Have you ever been called French and slapped ? ”No, but they were saying to me on the set, ‘Slap her, she’s Jewish’ everytime I wanted to do another take !”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets on ‘Slap Her … She’s French’ ? ”This movie was plagued with production problems from the beginning to the end. They just kept coming. We started the film too late, we filmed in Dallas and I did not know about Dallas weather and that it would not be warm. We filmed the football scene in the movie from five o’clock at night to five o’clock in the morning and it was in the low twenty’s and people were leaving all over the place ! We didn’t have the money to pay the extras, but the first night 300 showed up and it went down to 30 by five in the morning ! So, while we had them all there, we just shuffled them around all night in the stands, but I still wasn’t able to get all the long crane footage that I’d so wanted. But we got some other big footage from other movies that we borrowed and we had to end up using that !”
Nothing went wrong with those cheerleading dances ? ”Nothing went wrong, no, the only thing that went wrong was the music that they had rehearsed to - that we shot to – we found out later cost too much ! It was a Chicago song so then we had to re-cut what we could get from ‘Bust A Move’ and then we had to re-cut it again for another song we'd done but couldn't get ! In the end the editor had a real tricky job because it wasn’t the right beat ! And both numbers were two different songs that it turned out we couldn’t get with two different timings that then had to be fit to ‘Bust A Move’ ! You see, there’s a secret that I haven’t told anybody ! Nobody !”
What are your memories of playing Marsha in the infamous ‘Car Wash’ ? ”Marsha was one of my favorite roles. I loved the set. I love Marsha. I loved that movie ! It was great time and even Jay Leno had a little part in it ! I remember I was talking to him one day and I was completely in awe of the entire days filming there.”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets ? ”It was weird making ‘Car Wash’ because most films have actors and extras for the background. But, in ‘Car Wash,’ because we were all working at the Car Wash and because we all had parts there were no extras ! I would be background for scenes that were going on right outside the wash area and vice-versa ! And also the whole movie was one day in the life of a Car Wash so we had the same outfits on for like eleven weeks. I remember that the clothes kept shrinking or if they didn’t shrink I was eating so much in-between takes !”
Are you currently co-producing a new movie called ‘Let It Ride’ ? ”Yes, with Gayle Ann Hurd. It’s a true story about two Baccarut dealers in a high-roller Bacarat hotel in 1991 who were football buffs and they each made a $10 bet and they got six other dealers to go in to bet on Monday Night Football. Well, they won and they all decided to let it ride and they had the whole thing down about football betting and they bet all this money and let it ride for the entire season and it’s got a great, really profound ending,” she laughs.
Why should people see 'Slap Her ... She's French !' above all the other choices that constantly fill our movie theatres ? ”I think it’s just a good, fun movie. I think it’s smart, I think it’s fun, I think it’s a little outrageous and I think it says something about family and there’s a lot of levels to this movie.”
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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