You know the mighty mighty Toros like you know your own high school fight song — They’re sexy! They’re cute! They’re popular to boot! — and maybe even better, considering how often the original movie still airs on basic cable 15 years after its release.
But once upon a time, Bring It On was just a low-budget teen comedy with an uninspired working title (Cheer Fever), a largely unproven cast (Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union), and a whole lot of jokes about spanky pants. EW recently reunited the film’s stars — including Dushku, Bradford, Union and Kirsten Dunst, the only cast member, Union recalls wryly, who didn’t expect to be “back in the unemployment line” after shooting wrapped — to reminisce about the pom poms, the off-set parties, and the time they may or may not have gotten arrested in Mexico.
Here are excerpts from those conversations:
JOINING THE CHEER-OCRACY
KIRSTEN DUNST (Torrance Shipman) [I was shooting] in Prague, and I remember not turning it down, exactly, but not being super sure about it. I was like, ‘A cheerleading movie?’ It sounded like it could have been just a cheesy teen movie, but what sealed the deal for me was talking to the director, Peyton Reed, on the phone — he was just so smart. I agreed to do it mostly because of Peyton.
ELIZA DUSHKU (Missy Pantone) I was a tomboy growing up and kind of an anti-cheerleader in real life. But I begrudgingly showed up for the audition, probably a little hungover. There were girls doing flips in the lobby, and I kind of cringed and dodged them and went in, and I guess Peyton just found that hilarious. He asked me if I could do a split, so I got onto the ground into a split, and that was it.
GABRIELLE UNION (Isis) I actually didn’t have to audition. I had done a lot of teen-oriented films — 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That, Love & Basketball — and I had a recurring role on 7th Heaven… A lot of those leader-type popular-girl roles, so I think I was on their radar.
JESSE BRADFORD (Cliff Pantone) I was 20 or 21. You see the words Cheer Fever [the original title], and as a dude I was kinda going, “I don’t know, is this for me?” But then I met Peyton, and it was so clear to me that he was a smart guy and that he had a vision.
UNION At the table read, they asked what I thought would make the character more realistic and relatable. Luckily, the writers and Peyton were super open. There was a line where Isis says [screeching] “Whatty what! Meow! My nails are long, sharp, and ready to flash!” It was reminiscent of a bad blaxploitation film. They were kind enough to take that out.
BRADFORD Let the record state that I bought that Clash T-shirt off of eBay, because I was worried that somebody was going to try to put me in a reproduction that was too big or whatever… But Cliff is probably the most accurate version of the real me that I’ve ever portrayed on camera.
DUSHKU That fake-dreadlock hairstyle [in the tryouts scene] was my idea. The hardest thing was getting the cheer faces. I was kind of a scowly kid. I’m a perfectionist, so I got the dance moves down, but they had to really teach me to just keep that grin.
DUNST You definitely had to always smile really big. It’s like Miss America.
UNION I played soccer, basketball, and track, and nothing can prepare you for what cheerleaders go through. Those rehearsals were some of the lower points in my life — I questioned my very existence. Everything hurt. That’s probably why there are a lot of close-ups of me, not wide shots. [Laughs]
DUNST I always thought Gabrielle was such a good dancer! Well, she’s good at smiling and faking it, then.
BRADFORD Did we hook up? Well, there was certainly a degree to which, walking around that set, I felt like a very lucky guy and got to meet a lot of very pretty girls who were interested in talking to me. [Laughs]
UNION We were really close to Tijuana, we were away from home, we had money — you know, at the time, a $100 per diem is quite a bit.
DUSHKU There are some rumors online about our extracurricular activities, but I maintain that I always showed up to work on time. Without having to be yelled at by a producer.
BRADFORD I would love to set the record straight about that, if you want the truth — or maybe the truth with some omissions. First of all, it was Rosarito, not Tijuana. It was me, Eliza, Rini Bell, and this dude Lance, one of the male cheerleaders on the Toros. I’m gonna blur the details of how and why, but needless to say, we got arrested. We had to go in front of a judge — I use that term loosely here — and explain what happened, and he let us go… They said that one of the producers, Max Wong, had to bail us out, but I don’t think any of them knew what happened until well after the fact.
DUSHKU Thank God for those little disposable cameras that nobody ever really developed, so we never ended up on TMZ.
UNION First rule of Fight Club, don’t talk about Fight Club. There were a lot of adventures, I will say that. [Laughs]
DUNST I had no idea everyone was out partying! I was just happy that it was the summer and I didn’t have to do schoolwork. I had everyone over to my house and had a pool party once, but my mom was there.
DUSHKU She was a precocious teenager, Kirsten, so she was pretty on it and had a good time keeping up. Even though we were a bit older, she got the humor and madness.
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WHAT A FAN WANTS
DUSHKU When I lived in L.A., wonderful, enthusiastic gay men would come up to me and reenact cheers. Like “That’s all right, that’s okay, you’re gonna pump our gas one day!” People do the middle-finger tattoo smear, which is odd because they’re giving me the finger.
UNION I get lines from the spoof — “It’s already been broughten.” I don’t remind them that that actually wasn’t in our movie.
DUNST That wasn’t? [Laughs] I thought it was.
UNION I get a lot of Natina [Reed]’s lines: “Let’s beat these Buffys down,” or “You been touched by an angel, girl,” but I don’t mind. [Reed, a.k.a. Isis’ fellow Clover Jenelope, died in 2012.] Even when I’m promoting different movies or my TV show, people still want to talk about Bring It On. When I run into Katie Couric, it’s the first thing she talks about.
DUNST I had no idea [until the anniversary] that Rihanna was in the second movie [Ed. Note: Actually, the third — 2006’s Bring It On: All or Nothing, starring Hayden Panettiere and Solange Knowles]. She was a judge at a cheerleading competition. I was like, “Oh, no wonder when I see her around, she’s nice to me!” [Laughs]
BRADFORD When people come up to me, it’s all Bring It On — with maybe Swim Fan being a close second and Hackers after that. I walked into a bar, and some hipster chick went, “I got the door, Tor,” which is a Richard Hillman line. And I was like, why would you just say that twice and then walk away? [Laughs]
DUNST People want me to do the cheers with them… And “I’ll get the door, Tor” — that’s one of my friends’ favorites.
To continue reading more from the cast reunions of Bring It On, as well as those of Misery, Felicity, Family Ties, The Rocky Horror Show, and Muriel’s Wedding, pick up the new issue celebrating Entertainment Weekly’s 25th anniversary, on newsstands Friday, or buy it here.