Everett Collection
April 01, 2014 at 05:00 PM EDT

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

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