In 2004, ABC Family premiered the TV movie I Want to Marry Ryan Banks. It stars a post-Alias Bradley Cooper as a talent manager who convinces his friend/falling star client Ryan Banks (Jason Priestley) to do a Bachelor-type reality show to rehab his image. The twist: The sane, likable contestant Ryan is supposed to choose, Charlie (Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Emma Caulfield), falls for Cooper’s character instead.
If you’ve seen the movie — penned by Chad Hodge, the future creator of NBC’s The Playboy Club who is currently developing the Twin Peaks-esque limited series Wayward Pines with M. Night Shyamalan for Fox — odds are you’ll be thrilled to hear it’s debuting on Hallmark this Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET. And after reminiscing with Hodge, we can confirm that you are not alone.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Are you aware of how much people love this movie, or did our interview request come as a complete shock?
CHAD HODGE: Your email was forwarded to me, and I laughed because I have had that conversation with so many people — people I know and people I don’t know. I’ll be out at a bar with friends, and they’re like, “That’s the guy who wrote I Want to Marry Ryan Banks.” And it’s like, “You wrote that movie? I’ve watched that movie 19 times.” I love that of all the things in my career, this is the thing that everyone’s obsessed with.
I imagine it’s women like me, in their mid-30s.
Totally. And women in their mid-20s: Girls who were in high school and sick with a cold for three days probably saw it, and they’ve just been watching it ever since. I don’t know. It’s so funny. Girls of every age. Or gay guys, of course.
I just now saw that it was released on DVD last August. I did not know this.
I did not know this, because they retitled it. It was only after a little while that I realized, “Ohmygod, wait, that’s my movie. Reality of Love.” [Laughs]
Take me back to when you wrote it.
I had written a movie for ABC Family before this called This Time Around with–
Carly Pope, Sara Rue, and Brian Austin Green. I also loved that one.
[Laughs] Those were the days. I was basically a staff writer on Veritas: The Quest, a very short-lived ABC action-adventure Indiana Jonesy-type show, and I knew Linda Mancuso very well. She’s not with us anymore, but she was the head of ABC Family. We would develop ideas together, and they had this whole new mandate to do original TV movies, and they needed them quickly. They had found a script, This Time Around, that someone else had written, and then I rewrote that as almost a page-one rewrite. I wrote it in three weeks, and then it was, like, shooting three weeks later, and then it was on the air three weeks after that. They were like, “That did really well. Let’s do another one. You got any ideas?” And that was at the beginning of reality TV, and I thought it would be really funny to do an exposé of these ridiculous shows. It’s a love story, but it’s also sort of TV about TV. I had this idea: What if it’s something like The Bachelor, but we did a sort of Cyrano thing with it? The girl who everyone in the country thinks is falling in love with the movie star Ryan Banks actually is falling in love with the guy behind-the-scenes. So Cyrano meets The Bachelor. They were like, “Great! Let’s do it!” And again, I wrote that in three weeks, and it was shooting three weeks later, and then on three weeks after that. It was the best thing ever: I don’t think I got any notes on either of these scripts. It was brilliant. [Laughs] It’s never been as easy since. And they very graciously flew me to the set to be there for, like, three days. I was writing on another series at the time, Tru Calling on Fox with Eliza Dushku. We actually brought Jason Priestley on to Tru Calling after doing this movie.
Why Bradley Cooper? It was obviously an excellent choice.
I knew that he was gonna be a big movie star. I mean, it was sort of obvious. He was so great in Alias. His star was on the rise. He was my first choice for this. It was like, “Can we get Bradley Cooper?” I remember having such a good time with him on the set. He’s the nicest guy in the world. If you ever meet him, there’s this character that he does: He’s a devil trying to have a normal date with a girl, but he can’t hide the fact that there are horns popping out of his head. It’s so ridiculous and one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
And Emma Caulfield was just coming off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I think I saw her audition on tape, and I was just like, “That’s perfect. She’s the one.” It’s very hard to find someone who you would believe would be the one to make it all the way to the finals in a reality show competition world and also be completely lovable, and amazing, and funny, and endearing.
You never wrote another TV movie after I Want to Marry Ryan Banks. I know they’re not considered the highest art form, but when they’re done well, they’re totally fun. Would you ever do it on the side again?
They are so fun. I would totally do another one because they take three weeks to write if no one’s messing with you. [Laughs] And because of these two movies, I was able to buy my first house, which I still am in today. I didn’t get paid a lot to write those scripts, but the residuals — they rerun them a million times to this day. I was so excited to hear it’s gonna be on Hallmark on Saturday night. I would definitely do them again, if it was the same situation and the ability to work freely. It’s the way that a TV writer can get a movie made, you know. TV writers, all they want to do is write a movie. So this is the way that you can really get it done quickly. It’s so satisfying to be able to write a movie, and then it’s shooting, and then it’s on the air, and so many people see it. The conversation I’m having with you right now — you were however old when you saw it, and you’re still excited about it, and that makes me so happy.
Now you’re working on Wayward Pines (conceived as a 12-episode TV series based on Blake Crouch’s novel Pines, about a secret service agent who travels to an Idaho town searching for two missing agents and realizes he may not get out alive). What’s the status of that?
I’m basically writing the bible of season 1. If and when we do this show, it’s going to be straight to series. We’re not going to shoot a pilot, it would be straight to 12 episodes. I’ve written a second script, and I’m putting together what episodes 3 through 12 are gonna be. Hopefully we’ll be shooting it later this summer. We shall see.
Do you like plotting 12 episodes upfront like that?
[Wayward Pines] could not be more different than I Want to Marry Ryan Banks, but the process of being able to work in a clear, unfettered vacuum like I did with those movies has happened again here. I think it’s produced good results. I wrote the pilot on spec last year. Sold it to Fox. And then wrote the second episode, and came up with episodes 3 through 12 over the course of six weeks, and I’m putting together this bible on my own. Of course there’s going to be a discussion with the studio and the network and all of that, but it was just really lovely to be able to have the time to figure out the whole season, because then you go into production relaxed. You know what it is. You’re not panicked. You can breathe.