Despite its heavenly title, ”Charlie’s Angels” (opens Nov. 3) has had a devil of a time getting to the big screen. Problems with casting, an unfinished script, and on set squabbles made the sassy retooling of the jiggle TV series gossip column fodder even before production began. ”The rumors not only took us out of our microcosm of work, it hurt our feelings,” says Lucy Liu, 32, who plays computer geek/ superbabe Alex Munday. ”You take it personally no matter what.”
Hurtful or not, many of the nasty rumors were more fact than fiction. The production — based on the 1976 to ’81 private eye series that originally starred Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jackson — ran into snags almost as soon as Ed Solomon (”Men in Black”) and Ryan Rowe (”Tapeheads”) submitted a first draft of the script to Sony Pictures in 1998.
First, there was the question of who’d portray the feathered hair heroines. Though Drew Barrymore was an eager recruit, begging to take on the roles of both star and producer (”Drew was not the obvious choice to be an Angel,” admits producer Leonard Goldberg. ”You think of someone who looks more like Catherine Zeta Jones”), casting the other two crime busting babes was not only expensive but time consuming. ”Cameron Diaz’s agent told us maybe 30 times she would never be in the movie,” says Goldberg, who produced the original ”Angels” TV show with Aaron Spelling. It took a two hour cell phone plea on the importance of girl power from Barrymore and a hefty (and budget inflating) $12 million payday to change her mind.
Liu came on board only after Zeta Jones, Jada Pinkett Smith, Ashley Judd, Thandie Newton (”Mission: Impossible 2”), and Angie Harmon (”Law & Order”) reportedly passed on the gig and production had been delayed by several weeks. The producers also tried to woo the original TV actresses to appear in a quickie cameo, only to discover two of the TV Angels had other ideas. ”Farrah wanted to be with Charlie, and Kate wanted to play the villainess in the movie,” says Goldberg, who adds that even the ever persuasive Barrymore couldn’t sway the actresses.
Behind the scenes, the situation was equally hairy. Prospective directors Frank Coraci (”The Wedding Singer”), Alexander Payne (”Election”), and Baz Luhrmann (”Romeo + Juliet”) all turned down offers to helm the film before music video director McG (a.k.a. Joseph McGinty Nichol) convinced Barrymore to hire him. Unfortunately, he had to start work on his feature debut without a script. Despite the last minute hiring of writer John August (”Go”), production began with nothing more than a ”very clear idea” of what the movie should be and an opening sequence. ”We did not have a resolved script pretty much the whole way through shooting this thing,” says McGinty. ”So the three Angels and myself got together, huddled up, put our arms around each other, and focused.” Of the finished product, he admits: ”The plot isn’t going to change the world, and it’s not the most introspective film in town.”
With the story in flux, heated debate over the direction of the film ensued, and the rumor mill was soon churning out horror stories. Once it was revealed that Diaz had top billing over producer Barrymore, accusations of diva-dom were leveled at the ”Something About Mary” star. ”I get to have my name with the producers, and frankly I wanted to be [billed] between the ladies,” says Barrymore, 25. And the Angels were said to be close to blows over everything from the script to trailer size. ”The rumors that we’re scratching each other’s faces off and that we’re forced to wear turtlenecks says that the friendship and love we have for one another is a lie,” says Diaz, 28. ”That’s what hurts.”
Though the heavenly trio says they’re the best of friends, no one denies that Liu had a spat with costar Bill Murray, who plays Angel mentor Bosley. ”Yes, they had an absolute argument,” says producer Nancy Juvonen. ”They got mad at each other about what was happening in a scene, but they hugged and made up.” Liu also admits that the tension may have been exacerbated by her grueling schedule as she tried to balance ”Angels” with her role on ”Ally McBeal.” ”I’d go to work and they’d just prop me up and give me In N Out burgers,” she says. ”Sometimes we would get done at 4 a.m. and I’d have to be at ‘Ally McBeal’ at 6.”
Critics are wondering if Sony, already saddled with a year full of box office disappointments like ”28 Days” and ”Girl, Interrupted,” will recoup its $92 million investment. But Barrymore says she’s proud that she and her costars ignored the nasty rumors, choosing not to comment on the film until after it was completed. ”People may still think it’s crap,” she says, ”but the important thing is that instead of talking about the movie, we gave the audience something they can enjoy.” So THAT explains the Angels in wetsuits scene.