The Devil Wears Prada oral history: Cast reunites to dish on making the best-dressed hit
If looks could kill, then for 15 years The Devil Wears Prada has been a serial threat.
Director David Frankel's adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's Faustian yarn — inspired by the author's time working under Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour — emerged as a modern classic through its mélange of impossibly chic clothes, scorching dialogue, and pointed portrayal of women in power. In time, the movie has become a beacon for gender parity, too, with its ice-queen Runway editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) occupying a delectably unapologetic position of power in a male-dominated world and, as a Hollywood antihero, a rare kind of leading lady. The film struck a chord with its feminist-tinged, broadly appealing story, and has endured largely thanks to the spectacular chemistry among Streep, Anne Hathaway (who plays Miranda's assistant-turned protegée Andy Sachs), and scene-stealers Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, and Adrian Grenier.
For the first time since the film's release in June 2006, EW has gathered those stars (and more) for a fierce reunion as they dig their heels into Devil's legacy.
With a killer title and 50 pages of a manuscript, Weisberger's book was optioned by Fox 2000 in 2002, and work on the film began before the novel was published. Producer Wendy Finerman and Fox hired writers Peter Hedges, Howard Michael Gould, Paul Rudnick, and Don Roos to shape the story, but their relatively conventional script wasn't clicking.
DAVID FRANKEL (DIRECTOR): Something in me reacted against every beat of the screenplay at the time. It was a revenge story. It was very satirical. I just felt like I couldn't do it, and I did everything I could over the next few weeks to worm out of the meeting.… I presented my vision for the movie, which was that Miranda is the heroine, not the villain, of the piece and that this was a coming-of-age story for Andy learning what it took to be great at something.
The studio agreed with Frankel's vision, and in 2004 the director hired Aline Brosh McKenna (who would go on to pen 27 Dresses and the story for Cruella) to write a fresh screenplay, with the mutual goal of positioning Priestly as a celebration of unapologetic women instead of a one-dimensional villain.
LAUREN WEISBERGER (AUTHOR): What they were [originally] missing was the sharp humor.… It trended toward what you'd expect from…the typical chick flick, like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It wouldn't have been a stretch to see it going in that direction, but Aline took it to a whole different level of smart, sharp, irreverent humor.
Casting began, with Michelle Pfeiffer, Glenn Close, and Catherine Zeta-Jones all discussed for the role of Priestly, but a call from studio head Tom Rothman secured Streep in 2005, and she met with the team at her New York home to discuss the script.
MERYL STREEP (MIRANDA): I wasn't interested in doing a biopic on Anna; I was interested in her position in her company. I wanted to take on the burdens she had to carry, along with having to look nice every day.
ALINE BROSH McKENNA (SCREENWRITER): It was important [for us] that she not just be a difficult boss but that she embody a certain value around people being expendable in service of what, to her, is a greater goal, and that she venerates fashion and the magazine.
EMILY BLUNT (EMILY): [Miranda] gives us a character who a lot of us can aspire to, to be uncompromising, tough, real, honest, to the point, and not have to contort and dance to get your point across without hurting or offending anybody, which I think men have a much easier time with.
STREEP: Absolute power corrupts absolutely…. I liked that there wasn't any backing away from the horrible parts of her, and the real scary parts of her had to do with the fact that she didn't try to ingratiate, which is always the female emollient in any situation where you want your way — what my friend Carrie Fisher used to call "the squeezy and tilty" of it all. [Miranda] didn't do any of that.
With Streep locked, Hathaway — who said on RuPaul's Drag Race earlier this year that she was the "ninth choice" for the part — campaigned for the role of Andy, though the studio wanted an established dramatic actress over Hathaway and her then teen-oriented filmography. Rachel McAdams, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Kate Hudson, and Kirsten Dunst were considered, but Hathaway persisted.
FRANKEL: We started negotiating with Annie to make a deal, and that didn't go well with the studio.… We offered it to Rachel McAdams three times. The studio was determined to have her, and she was determined not to do it.
ANNE HATHAWAY (ANDY): It spoke to me. It made me feel. It was about a subject that I take very seriously, but in such a wonderfully joyful and lighthearted way.
ELIZABETH GABLER (FORMER FOX 2000 PRESIDENT): I remember her sitting on my sofa in my office and explaining why she wanted to do this, why she had to play this role, and giving script notes about the third act. When I look back on it, it wasn't exactly what we ended up doing, but her sensibilities were completely aligned with what we ended up doing…. Annie never gave up. She never stopped campaigning, calling, she came into [Fox executive] Carla Hacken's office and wrote in her zen garden, "Hire me."
FRANKEL: Meryl was eager to make the movie, and she said "let me meet with her." Brokeback Mountain was about to come out. Annie had a wonderful, small role in that. And Meryl watched that scene from the movie, she met with her and called up Tom Rothman at Fox and said, "Yeah, this girl's great, and I think we'll work well together."
HATHAWAY: I patiently waited until it was my turn, and I got the call. It was the easiest yes in the world. I remember the moment I found out I got the part, I just ran screaming through my apartment. I had a bunch of friends over at the time, I just jumped up in the living room and screamed, "I'm going to be in The Devil Wears Prada!"
A fear of Wintour (whose representatives did not respond to EW's multiple requests for comment on this story) cast a shadow over preproduction, and the studio went out to multiple designers — all who refused to appear in the film, though one prominent supermodel, Gisele Bündchen, signed on for a small role.
McKENNA: I had enormous trouble finding anyone in the fashion world who'd talk to me, because people were afraid of Anna and Vogue, not wanting to be blackballed. There was one person who spoke to me, whose name I will never divulge, who read it and said, "The people in this movie are too nice. No one in that world is too nice. They don't have to be, and they don't have time to be." After that, I did a pass to make everyone a bit busier and meaner.
GABLER: There were also people working within the Hollywood agency system that had loyalties to her that felt we were doing something that was detrimental or insulting to her. I never had any direct conversations with people, it was always getting back to me. We just worked around it. The fact is that Meryl Streep wanted to do the movie. That put that discussion at rest, because she was so admired and respected that for people to say Meryl is doing this role, she was going to do her own version of this role, she wasn't going to play a parody of anybody.
FRANKEL: The Met Ball meant that the Metropolitan Museum wanted nothing to do with us; because of Fashion Week, Bryant Park [didn't either]. Even these iconic apartment buildings we saw as possibilities for Miranda's apartment, the co-op boards wouldn't let us in. We went for weeks being unable to secure locations!
GISELE BÜNDCHEN (SERENA): You just knew the people that worked at Vogue were dedicated and professional. Anna was the final word, and everyone wanted to please her…but that's true for everything. Who doesn't want to please their boss?
WEISBERGER: The scenes where the driver calls and she's coming into the office and the entire office breaks into an absolute panic. That is the regular day to day craziness that I think was important to maintain…. There were a lot of things that skewed very close to reality.
FRANKEL: The only contact we had with Vogue was Jess Gonchor, the production designer, who snuck into their offices to get a look at Anna's office.… He was able to re-create the office so authentically that I was told Anna redecorated hers immediately after the movie came out.
WEISBERGER: They got it really, really close.
As Hathaway and Streep locked their parts, relative newcomer Emily Blunt had just been passed over for a role in Eragon when she got the call (while inside a nightclub, she recalls) to play Miranda's senior assistant, while Stanley Tucci joined the weekend before his first scene on a Monday morning, after Frankel considered 150 other actors for the role of Miranda's loyal, quick-witted art director. With a cast in place, table reads began.
McKENNA: I freaked out realizing how funny [Emily] was when she [read] it with her accent. I grabbed her and…we went to a coffee shop, went through the script, and peppered it with Britishisms. She told me how she would say certain things.
BLUNT: There's something a bit more imperious that I thought'd be interesting.… It was appropriate for her, and something a bit more cutting about it that I found funny.
HATHAWAY: I'd read the script so many times, and I was expecting [Meryl] to come in imperious, loud, and barking orders, and [she] said [her] first line in a whisper and I almost fell off my chair.
STREEP: It was a direct steal from the way I saw Clint Eastwood run a set. He's someone that guys really respect, and he never raises his voice, ever; the one time that he did, it so terrified people for two weeks, they were traumatized. In drama school [a teacher] said, "How you play a king has nothing to do with you — you're just you — it's how everybody else in the room acts when you enter it that makes you the king." It was all up to them to have this reaction. I could just speak and be slightly nastier than I normally am.
McKENNA: In the table read, I'd written a line in the last scene in the limousine, "everybody wants to me," and [Meryl] changed it to, "everybody wants to be us," because there was the sense that it's about the mores of an entire world; It's not about one woman and her values.
STANLEY TUCCI (Nigel): I was cast at the 11th hour…. but it was just such a beautiful piece of writing, and there's no way that you could ever say no to such a thing. It was gorgeous. On a structural level, as a script, you could certainly visualize it as a film, but the script had pace to it, and it touched you emotionally. It's the perfect Hollywood movie.
FRANKEL: Stanley came in for his first fitting the afternoon before he worked. He had a couple of hours. He loved the script, but he was trying to find the character with no prep or rehearsal. Pat gave him a ring.
TUCCI: She gave me a massive rack of rings, and I plucked that one, it was beautiful. It just sort of made sense!
Tucci honed Nigel's dry humor across improvised bits — most famously with the line "Gird your loins!" which precedes Miranda's first-entrance scene.
TUCCI: We attempted [saying] "Tits in!" That was one I made up, but every time we laughed. "Gird your loins!" is better.
BLUNT: There's [also] this scene in the closet…where [Nigel] is trying to imply that it will take a lot to squeeze Andy in these dresses. He must've done 10 versions. It was like "a little duct tape, fishing wire, Crisco," and on: "Yards of fabric and a staple gun!".... I didn't know what he was going to come out with next. I think it's when I have to say, "Oh, that, I can't even talk about," about Andy. There was not one where I got through it unscathed.
BÜNDCHEN: We were laughing a lot. [Anne, Emily and I] were giggling and talking about everything, being girls, talking about what we had for breakfast. When it was [time for my] scene, we were talking about an eyelash curler. I added a line, because it felt natural to me, and it made the cut! We did it a few times and I literally had one sentence or two sentences, but I think I added one because [Emily] was being mean [to Andy] and I thought, "She looks good!" They were like, "That's perfect!"
Costumer Patricia Field assembled the film's wardrobe — roughly 150 pieces, from Donna Karan and Prada to Zac Posen and Rick Owens, over four weeks—with an eye toward differentiating Streep from Wintour.
FRANKEL: There were [initially] no designers of note who would appear in the film. They just didn't want to incur the wrath of Anna. Some of them showed us their showrooms or gave us notes on the authenticity of the script; they just didn't want to participate. Initially, Pat had a hard time getting clothes out of a lot of the designers. I think it was Prada that helped her break the ice and said that Anna's not going to be upset.
HATHAWAY: I [remember wearing] a Chanel sample, and it had pins in it. I was pulling pins out for weeks. I'd do a take, like, "Ow!" And we'd cut, I'd fish it out. Of course they were Chanel pins, so they were impossibly chic as well.
STREEP: Pat did a miracle with this. It's like all the special effects in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible movies, this is the female equivalent of that. It was her great relationships with all the wonderful houses, the designers, the people in the fashion business that she was able to, because she's so loved. She borrowed everything; We had to be very careful not to eat spaghetti at lunch because it'd go down the front and they couldn't return it!
BLUNT: Any chance Meryl and I had, I know we were in Uggs in most of the shots from the waist up, but Annie [was running] over cobblestone streets like a sure-footed little mountain goat.
PATRICIA FIELD (COSTUME DESIGNER): Meryl told me she [wanted] to have white hair.… I said to Meryl, "I can't convince [the producers]. They have in their mind that white hair is gray hair."
FRANKEL: The first time Meryl was Miranda Priestly was a meeting with the head of the studio. Meryl channeled Miranda in that meeting, and there was no conversation about the hair; they looked into Meryl's eyes and never said a word.
GABLER: [I got an email] from Carla Hacken saying, "Don't freak out, but I just got an early look at what Meryl's hair is going to look like." Meryl and J. Roy Helland, who's been at her side through so much of her career, came up with the look, which we weren't expecting. She just said "My girls, don't you worry, this is what I'm going to do and it's going to be great."
To better fit the role of a domineering boss, Streep somtimes laced her real-life interactions with Blunt and Hathaway with ice. The latter embraced the darkness — and fused her own pathos with the material.
BLUNT: Meryl is so gregarious and fun as hell, in some ways it wasn't the most fun for her having to remove herself. It wasn't like she was unapproachable; You could go up to her and say, "Oh my God, the funniest thing just happened," and she'd listen, but I don't know if it was the most fun for her to be on set being that way.
STREEP: It was horrible! I was [miserable] in my trailer. I could hear them all rocking and laughing. I was so depressed! I said, "Well, it's the price you pay for being boss!" That's the last time I ever attempted a Method thing!
HATHAWAY: I did feel intimidated, but I always felt cared for. I knew that whatever she was doing to create that fear, I appreciated [because] I also knew she was watching out for me. There's this scene where [she says], "You're just as disappointing as the rest of those silly girls." I remember when the camera turned on me, the pressure really got to me, and I'd had such emotional fluidity in the day up to that point, but it just wasn't there anymore. I remember having the experience of watching [her] watch me, and [she] altered [her] performance ever so slightly, and just made it a little bit different, and brought more out of me and got me to break through whatever barrier I had.
ADRIAN GRENIER (NATE): It was a testament to Anne: [she and I were supposed to kiss in the grilled cheese] scene that she worked through, saying, "I just don't think it's right…just doesn't feel like we're at that point in our relationship. There's too much history." She was right. We forwent that intimacy for something more familial.
FRANKEL: Annie was totally committed to the dark side, to the suffering.… There's a lovely scene with Stanley, where she's getting yelled at, she's ready to quit.… We were setting up the shot, and I was like, "Where's Annie?" She was hunkered down in a corner of the set, and she had Madame Butterfly, the opera, playing in her head, going to her sad place. She said, "Just start rolling, and I'll walk in," and she came in and was really teary.
At $35 million, the film was modestly budgeted. Its climactic scenes set in Paris almost had to be shot domestically. The studio needed cuts — McKenna estimates she nixed $10 million worth of scenes, including the "Florals? For spring?" bit that Frankel saved, and an alternate ending that didn't survive.
McKENNA: We did film…. a deleted opening where [Andy went to the wrong building [for her interview], but it was always about trying to get into the movie faster. The scene where Andy missed Nate's birthday and comes in with a cupcake, we originally had 20 things there. It was going to be that they were all going to a concert and she shows up late, but that stuff was too expensive. The cheapest way that she let him down was by missing his birthday and coming into that apartment set with the cupcake. We had many versions of that. The movie used to end with a slightly more upbeat scene with Nate, more of a reconciliation. They're so young and they're choosing spouses for their life, but we know that 25-year-olds are not in that position…. I had written a more conventional ending where they run through the park together or something.
GRENIER: When that whole thing [about Nate being the "real villain" of the film] first came out, I couldn't get my head around it. I didn't understand it. Perhaps it was because I wasn't mature as a man, just as Nate probably could've used a little growing up. I was just as immature as him at the time, so I couldn't see his shortcomings, but, after taking time to reflect and much deliberation online, I can realize the truth in that perspective. Nate hadn't grown up, but Andy had.... she needed more out of life, and she was achieving it. He couldn't support her like she needed because he was a fragile, wounded boy…. on behalf of all the Nates out there: Come on! Step it up!
HATHAWAY: I don't think everybody's being completely honest with themselves about their own poutiness. Nate was pouty on his birthday because his girlfriend wasn't there! In hindsight, I'm sure he wishes he made a different choice, but who doesn't? We've all been brats at different points. We all just need to live, let live, and do better!
Frankel and editor Mark Livolsi then created a midproduction sizzle reel that calmed the studio's nerves, and allowed for Hathaway and supporting actor Simon Baker (who declined participation in this story) to film across one weekend in Paris. With production wrapped, Frankel finished what became the final cut in three weeks and Streep was among the first people he showed it to. Test showings began, with an unexpected guest popping in around May 2006.
McKENNA: Anna came to the first screening in New York. She sat right in front of me and David with her daughter and wore Prada, which shows she has a great sense of humor!
FRANKEL: I remember her daughter nudging her through the screening, like, "They got that right!… A couple years later, I was at a tennis tournament in Miami…seated behind her, and when it was over, I made the effort to introduce myself. "I'm David Frankel, the director of The Devil Wears Prada," and [she took her] hand out of [my handshake]!"
Marketed to women as counterprogramming against Superman Returns, the film grossed $124 million domestically and received two Oscar nominations.
STREEP: Because they'd given us such straitened circumstances to make the film with a smaller budget, this opened up and said that a "chick flick" can be a huge hit with a broad audience. This is the first movie [where] men have come up to me and said, "I know how you felt; I have a company, and nobody understands me. It's really hard." It's the hardest thing in the world for a man to feel his way through to the protagonist of the film if it's a woman.
TUCCI: Our society is conditioned to see the world through men's eyes in cinema and literature, and this started to make that change.
HATHAWAY: I think it set a generation up to decide, well, who am I going to be in the workplace, who am I going to be when I'm a leader?
With Prada's legacy widening (a stage musical is in the works), the team has also had discussions about a potential TV series and sequel.
FRANKEL: [The studio] didn't ask for [a sequel]. We had a meeting where we said, "What could we do if there was a sequel?" Maybe it was stupid; we felt like, No, this story has been told.… Lauren eventually wrote another book following up 15 years later. We came to the same conclusion, that just following the characters wouldn't be the same.
WEISBERGER: There have been a lot of conversations about it. I wouldn't say it's out of the realm of possibility.
McKENNA: Magazines and publishing have changed so much. This is a period of time where [Andy] took a physical book to someone's house every day so she could leaf through it. Maybe they still do that, but I doubt it. It had its moment!
The Devil Wears Prada is available now on Blu-ray and digital platforms. Watch the full cast reunion video above.