Teen comedies have been around since Frankie and Annette played beach-blanket bingo in the early ’60s. And for the most part, they’re as disposable as a tube of Clearasil. But every once in a while, one sneaks up and comes to symbolize a generation of kids — how they talk, how they dress, how they see the world. Amy Heckerling, who directed 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, already knew something about that when she decided to spin Jane Austen’s Emma into a cotton-candy confection about Bettys, Baldwins, and a ritzy, ditzy Beverly Hills rich girl named Cher Horowitz. Still, no one — not even Heckerling — predicted that the little $15 million high school satire that every studio in town had passed on would become so much more than just another teen comedy. When Clueless opened in July 1995, it was a modest hit, landing in second place well behind Apollo 13. But over the past 17 years, it has snowballed into a coming-of-age classic, launching a thesaurus full of quips like ”As if” and ”Whatever.” The movie’s cast of fresh-faced unknowns are all grown up. Many of them are now parents themselves. But when they reassembled in July for a class reunion, it was clear that — unlike for some of us — high school was the best time of their lives.
Amy Heckerling (Writer-director) Originally, it wasn’t called Clueless. It was Clueless in California. Before that, it was I Was a Teenage Teenager. And before that, when I first pitched it as a TV show, it was called No Worries. Twentieth Century Fox said they wanted a show about teenagers — but not the nerds. They wanted it to be about the cool kids. The most successful character in anything I’d ever done was Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times. People think that’s because he was stoned and a surfer. But that’s not it. It’s because he’s positive. So I thought, ”I’m going to write a character who’s positive and happy.” And that was Cher.
Twink Caplan (Associate producer/Miss Geist) Amy and I were best friends. She’d put me in her film Look Who’s Talking. When we showed No Worries to Fox, it was obvious they didn’t get it. They thought the script needed more boys in it. They were afraid that if they focused on girls, we wouldn’t get any guys to see it. So it went into turnaround. It was dead.
Heckerling I remembered reading Emma in college and being struck at how much it reminded me of old TV shows like Gidget. There’s something so basic about it. I knew it would be set in Beverly Hills because it’s a hyper-pastel fantasy place. I hung out at Beverly Hills High School for research. And the one thing I observed was these girls in a constant state of grooming. Anyway, after a couple of [teen-targeted] movies like PCU and Airheads came out and didn’t do so well, Fox got scared. Everybody in town pretty much passed on it. Then it somehow made its way to [producer] Scott Rudin, who had a deal at Paramount. He got it. There wasn’t any mandate to get a big star. The feeling was that I would find people.
Caplan We auditioned everybody. It was like it was Gone With the Wind and everybody wanted to be Scarlett. I remember Reese Witherspoon came in to audition to play Cher.
”Heckerling” A casting-director friend was pushing me to get the girl from The Crush, but I really wanted the girl from the Aerosmith videos. Then I saw The Crush and realized they were the same girl.