Mean Girls may now be one of the Internet’s favorite movies — just look at Twitter whenever the film airs on cable — but it was anything but a surefire hit while in production.
“It was my first movie. I was pretty young,” Rajiv Surendra, who portrayed mathlete Kevin G. in the film, tells EW. “[The hair stylist] had worked on really big films that had been shot in Toronto. I remember asking her, ‘How do you think this movie is going to fare?’ and she said, ‘Come on. It’s called Mean Girls and it’s starring Lindsay Lohan. It’s going straight to DVD.'”
Not exactly. The Tina Fey-penned razor-sharp satire — which was a success right out of the gate when it was released April 30, 2004 — achieved legendary status, launching its stars, including Lindsay Lohan and Rachel McAdams, into the stratosphere, while coining catchphrases that dominated pop culture conversations then (“So fetch!”) and now (“You go, Glenn Coco!”).
In honor of the film’s 10-year anniversary this month, EW spoke with some of the cast, as well as the movie’s director Mark Waters, to find out the story behind casting the Plastics, filming the hilarious talent show, and just how often the actors are still confronted with their most iconic lines. (Hint: Think double-digits…a week.)
Reading the Script: An introduction to Tina Fey’s brilliance
Director Mark Waters: I read this script and thought, “This is the best script I’ve read in God knows how long.” It was originally called Homeschooled. But, it was basically the idea: Who wouldn’t know about Girl World? Someone who had been homeschooled their entire life.
Rajiv Surendra, Kevin G: I remember that it was the first time that I had read a script and laughed out loud. I was still living with my parents. I was a kid. So I got the script and excitedly went to my room and shut the door and jumped on my bed and started reading, and I actually was laughing out loud. I distinctly remember reading the line between the two Vietnamese girls. They’re arguing back and forth and in the script it said “subtitled: n—a please” [laughs], and I just, I lost it. So funny.
Jonathan Bennett, Aaron Samuels: The first time I actually read the full script was when I was on the plane flying to Toronto to shoot it. I was excited to book the job regardless, but once I finished the whole thing, that’s when I realized the true brilliance of Tina Fey’s writing.
Waters: One of the most notable things about [the original script] was the rating. It was a balls-out R-rated movie. Regina George cussed like a sailor. She had more F-bombs than Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. And I thought, “This is incredibly bold and daring, but how is anybody going to be able to make this?”
Surendra: The rap was actually a little cruder than it appeared in the movie. I think the day before we shot it we got a request from Paramount to edit it. My rap originally had a line that was great; I loved it. It was: “It ain’t no trick/ I am this slick/ All the 9th grade ladies/ Wanna suck my — WHAT” [laughs], and they cut that out.
Waters: We had to go back to the MPAA several times. They kept wanting to give us an “R,” and we had to kind of keep peeling things back and eventually got to the final version, which made [PG-13] by the skin of our teeth. … The “wide-set vagina” [line] is one I have a special affection for because that’s the line we had to throw ourselves in front of the train tracks with the MPAA [for], because they didn’t want to let us keep that line. We made a whole stink about them being sexist because Anchorman had Will Ferrell walking around with an erection. Like, you really think a teenage girl speaking about her anatomy [is the problem]? We threw everything at them, and they finally said, “FINE! You can keep the line.”
Assembling the Perfect Cast
Alongside casting director Marci Liroff, Fey, Waters, and producer Lorne Michaels were all involved in the casting process, which featured a lot of Plastics role swapping. First, Lindsay Lohan was considered for Queen Bee Regina George. Then, once she secured Cady instead, Amanda Seyfried tested for Regina, before, according to Waters, Michaels saw Seyfried’s audition and said, “What about the dumb girl?”
Waters: Lindsay has this great aggressiveness to her. It’s what I liked about her in Freaky Friday [which Waters also directed]; it’s why I cast her. She just seemed like she had the soul of a street fighter.
Surendra: I auditioned for the part of Damian first. I didn’t hear back for Damian, but then they called me in for Kevin — a part that was originally written for an Asian person. So I went and auditioned for the casting director, and I just could not remember that rap. I kept screwing it up. So I think after about the third try I just said to them, “Looks like that’s the best I can do!” [laughs] I left and thought, “Well, I blew that one.” And surprisingly they called me back.
Daniel Franzese, Damian: I waited a really long time and didn’t hear back, and then they called me on a Sunday and said, “Monday we’re going to fly you into L.A., you’re going to have dinner with Lorne, Tina, and the cast. You’re going to the table read but you don’t have the part yet.” And I was like, “Okayyyy.” So, I quickly packed my bags and went to Los Angeles. I remember them picking up me, Amanda Seyfried, and Rachel McAdams at the hotel and us excitedly driving in a limo together through the Paramount gates.
Bennett: I was a recast. What had happened was I went to the screen test with Lindsay and I remember Mark commenting on how I was able to make Lindsay blush on camera, like actually blush on cue. And I felt like, “Oh, okay, this is my job.” And then I got a phone call saying it wasn’t, that they were going with someone else, and then [this other actor] went to the table read and apparently wasn’t that great. I got a phone call saying, “Hey, you leave tomorrow, pack your bag. You’re going to Toronto, you got the job.” You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I heard that.
Franzese: I just really went for it at the table read. I sat next to Lizzy Caplan [Janis Ian], who I adore; she and I got along really well and played off each other. I really tried to kill it; I made Lorne Michaels do a spit take, spit out his water. Even when my character wasn’t onscreen I was still in character, really trying to give 100 percent.
Waters: Daniel was just making baskets from all over the court; getting laughs on every single line. And when it was done I just looked at Lorne and Lorne is like, “Yes. You found Damian.” And it was done.
Bennett: [I think] the reason this movie did so well is because they cast this at a time when Hollywood was still good. If Mean Girls was cast today, it would not have been as successful. Because you wouldn’t just get these actors that were good and came in and were the characters. There would be some type of reason, because so-and-so’s Twitter followers has more than someone else or whatever, the new way that Hollywood is managed. Some of these projects [don’t] turn out because they don’t cast them right. Mean Girls was cast based on the right things, and that’s why it did so well.
In October 2003 the cast assembled in Toronto for a 40-day shoot.
Bennett: The first time I worked with Lindsay was day one of filming. It was the [first] math scene and she had gotten pink eye and wasn’t able to come to set, so I shot my coverage of that with her stand-in. Lindsay was only 17 at the time when we were shooting it. I was 23, and she was just this teenage girl. She was great to work with.
Lindsay is her own country. She’s not [just] an actor; she’s a whole thing. So when you’re on set with her it’s so fun because when she walks in the room, it’s just this dynamic energy that everyone feels. Being my first movie, I was nervous as hell. It’s my first experience working with someone, and then to have to play the love interest of this person who is so dynamic and such a presence was very, very intimidating. I was scared sh–less the first few days.
Surendra: The very, very, very first scene that was ever shot for the movie was the scene where I walk up to Lindsay and give her my card. Lindsay wasn’t feeling well that day and because they were covering me, they allowed her not to show up on set. So, the very first scene of the movie was me speaking to her and she wasn’t there. That was really, really hard because I think everybody was working out their kinks. Everybody was green. I remember saying that line, and it coming out like my voice cracked. [laughs] My voice was really high because I was kind of nervous. And Mark was like, “Hey, can you do it again but this time can you bring it down like three octaves?”
Bennett: After day three, we all went to dinner with my mom and Lacey [Chabert, Gretchen Wieners], and I think Amanda and Daniel and Lizzy. Basically, the whole cast went to dinner with my mom and Lindsay came as well, and that was the night. That was like, “Okay, we’re all a family now. It’s all good.” … The whole cast was in one hotel for five weeks in Toronto. Every day, we’d get off work, go to dinner. We all hung out constantly.
Surendra: I first bonded with Rachel, because Rachel was Canadian as well. Everybody else was American. We kind of clicked right away [about that].
Franzese: Me and Lizzy [bonded right away]. After every shoot, we were in each other’s trailers and in each other’s hotel rooms. We just hung out the entire time. We were really, really close, during that shoot especially. We just made each other laugh all the time.
Bennett: I remember the exact moment [I knew the film would be a hit]. It was about two and a half weeks into filming and we were shooting the slo-mo walk of the girls down the hallway, and Lindsay falls into the garbage can. And I remember them yelling “cut” and everybody just cracking up at the monitor. I remember Tina and Amy [Poehler] and Mark all kind of looking at each other; something just came over everyone. … “We have it.” Watching Lindsay fall into the trash can, it was like, this is it.
NEXT: The film is released, and a phenomenon is born
North Shore High School Winter Talent Show
The film had many iconic scenes and lines, but arguably one of the most memorable sections of the film is the Winter Talent Show, which featured Christina Aguilera covers, not-at-all appropriate raps, and a sexed-up Christmas song that would change the way viewers looked at “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Waters: [The shoot was relatively smooth, but I remember] the “Jingle Bell Rock” scene was concerning because we didn’t have time to rehearse enough. We had to do all this choreography, but because Lindsay was a minor, we had no time. We’re doing this kind of fly-by-night thing, but then we realized, “It’s a high school talent show. It’s OK if it’s sloppy!” In a weird way, that aspect of it was what made it work.
Franzese: One of the most fun scenes to shoot for me was when I was singing “Beautiful” at the pageant because when the camera is on me and you see me singing, besides the crew the only person in the audience was my mom. And then when it turns around and you see the audience, that was the next day and I sang it again. Mark Waters and the crew kept cracking up so I had to do so many takes. When the shoe hit me in the face they would be laughing so I’d have to do it again.
“Beautiful” was what we were initially going to [perform], but there was some problem with the rights. I was supposed to sing the entire song, but they wouldn’t let me. So Tina gave me a list of other songs that were like [Whitney Houston’s] “One Moment in Time” to choose from to sing, but I was like, “Ooh, but I really want to [sing ‘Beautiful’] because I want to do the ‘Don’t look at me!’ thing.” Because that was an idea I had because I had listened to the album and Christina says that on the album. So I asked, “Can I say ‘Don’t look at me,’ and then look away at the piano?” and Tina Fey was like, “YES! Of course!” So then they [re-asked] the writer, Linda Perry, and because my character was gay they allowed me to sing it, which was really cool, because that’s the type of people that song was written for.
Surendra: Amy is a rapper. She loves to rap. So for Kevin G’s rap she kind of gave me moves. She said, “I think you should do this and do this.” Tina, Amy, and Lindsay filmed that rehearsal in their hotel room, and they gave me the video. I wasn’t sure if they were giving it to me as a joke or if they really expected me to take tips from that. I kind of watched it and was like, “Okay, yeah, I’m going to do my thing.” Shortly before shooting the rap, [Tina and Amy] again gave me some of their suggestions. And I realized, “Oh, they’re really serious about this. This is a big thing for them.” I thought [the rap] was just going to be a little bit of comedy, but it has turned out to be such an iconic part of the film. I realize the foresight Amy had.
Lacey Chabert, Gretchen Wieners: Amy is so hilarious. I remember the one time we [couldn’t keep a straight face on set] was when the dog was supposed to be biting her fake boob. They had put dog food underneath her Juicy pink “cool mom” sweatshirt. So, the dog was having to nibble on her fake breast and [Rachel and I] were dying laughing. I could not keep a straight face. And of course Amy’s performance was just hilarious.
Franzese: One scene that sticks out to me is “I want my pink shirt back!” [because] that was my idea. We were rehearsing the scene because the timing had to be right with the car in the cul-de-sac, and I was like, “Mark, I really want to say ‘I want my pink shirt back.'” Well, I wanted to say, “I want my pink shirt back, bitch.” But then he was like, “What if you say it twice, like a George Costanza thing?” And I was like, “That’s even better!” When people yell, “I want my pink shirt back!” to me, I get excited because I know that’s one of the one few lines I came up with.
Mean Girls wrapped filming in November 2003, and was set to be released April 30, 2004. Paramount may have had low expectations, but a buzzy trailer instantly captured interest. Shocking industry analysts, the film hit No. 1 at the box office opening weekend, going on to eventually gross a total of $129 million.
Waters: We made this movie for very little money. The production budget was $22 million and opening weekend we made $24 [million]. Nobody expected us to do anything near that. We were tracking at $12 [million], and the fact that there was something that struck a chord with the zeitgeist at the time — even back then, I knew something special was happening.
Franzese: Before the movie, I did a bunch of radio stuff. And everyone was like [in a bored voice] “Oh, hey.” And then after [opening day], I couldn’t get out of there; it was like I was Justin Bieber or something, everyone was screaming. It was a moment of like, “Wow. You really like this movie.”
Bennett: It was just insane. I remember my manager at the time saw a [preview] screening and said, “Just so you know, come opening weekend, your life’s gonna be different for the rest of your life.” I didn’t really believe him, but sure enough, he was right.
Franzese: I think we’re the first teen movie of the Internet age. We’re the first one that had memes — everything has that now. But we were the first one that people really latched on to in that way. I think we, in a lot of ways, helped birth the Internet meme.
Chabert: I remember when President Obama’s Twitter put up a picture of Bo and said, “Stop trying to make fetch happen.” That was so funny.
Surendra: When I was living in Munich years ago, there was a day that I was having a coffee at a café and there were four teenage girls sitting at a table opposite me, and because I learned to speak German I understood what they were saying. I also found out that the movie Mean Girls is called Girls Club [in Germany]. One of the girls turned to the other girls and said [speaks German], which means: “Hey, that looks like the guy from Mean Girls,” and the other one goes [speaks German], “No, what would he be doing here in Munich?” I thought that was so hilarious. I didn’t say anything.
Franzese: Every Halloween, people dress up as me with the blue hoodie and the glasses. And I get people around the country sending me pictures. People dressing up as me, and an action figure — which I haven’t gotten yet — are the two things I really wanted when I was little. [laughs] When people dress up as you, that’s an item off your bucket list for sure.
Bennett: For the past 10 years, literally, I have not gone one day in my entire life without someone coming up to me and calling me Aaron Samuels. Not once. I embrace it, I’m like, “Hey, you’re part of one of the best pop culture movies ever made or probably ever will be made,” because of how brilliant Tina Fey is, and you can’t turn away from it. But not a day goes by that someone doesn’t come up and say, “Can I push your hair back?” Literally. [laughs] Not a day goes by.
Franzese: This movie has been dissected over the past 10 years [laughs]. At first, the line people would quote to me started out being, “I want my pink shirt back!” but I think it’s gone to “You go, Glenn Coco.” That’s gotten into the lexicon in a bigger way. It’s become the new, “You go girl!” On Twitter, every eight to 10 minutes somebody tweets, “You go Glenn Coco!” It’s so insane, but I love it.
Waters: The kids that were in my latest movie [Vampire Academy], they all ranged in age between 18 and 23. The 22/23-year-olds, they saw it when they were in middle school and it had a very profound effect on them. But then these other girls who are like 18, they didn’t even see it when it came out. They only saw it on video, yet they’re as attached to it as anybody. So the fact that it’s become a thing where any girl that’s hitting puberty wants to see this movie and really relates to it, that’s the thing I certainly wasn’t expecting.
Chabert: It’s unbelievable. I was so blessed to be a part of that movie, because who knew 10 years later people would still be talking about that movie, talking about it even more than they did when it came out, I feel like. I feel like it’s had a second life with another generation. It’s so funny and relatable if you’ve been in high school, or are going to high school, I think you can find something in yourself in that movie.
Want more? Check out more secrets from the set right here.