Just One of the Guys at 35: Director Lisa Gottlieb reflects on the cult hit and sequel ideas
Happy anniversary, Terry and Rick!
Thirty-five years ago, director Lisa Gottlieb took a group of unknowns to Arizona to shoot Just One of the Guys, a low-budget comedy about a wanna-be journalist named Terry (Joyce Hyser) who disguises herself as a guy at a rival school to win an internship contest. She ends up dodging the advances of a flirty classmate (Sherilyn Fenn) and harassment by a relentless bully (William Zabka) to fall in love with a handsome introvert named Rick (Clayton Rohner). Despite the lack of big names — it also starred Billy Jacoby as Terry's libidinous brother Buddy and Toni Hudson as her pal Denise — the movie was a hit with teen audiences.
Thanks to the encouragement of a few die-hard fans, Sony is releasing the movie today on Blu-Ray. Here, Gottlieb — who was only in her 20s when she made the movie — looks back on making the movie that remains a cherished cult hit.
"I was approached by Columbia Pictures. There was an executive who saw a short film I made and had invited me in for a meeting. He said he's hooking me up with this producer and sending a script called Ladies Man. They felt the script was good, but it was too close to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. The guy said they owned Tootsie. He said, 'Why don't we do Tootsie in a high school?' High school films were cheap to make. They're getting a lot of money. So that was the original pitch."
"They wanted unknowns. We threw out of very wide net. We wanted them to be over 18, but we wanted them to look 16. We tested Joyce Hyser and the executives were pretty unanimous. They felt she was really beautiful. Then we dressed her up as a man. They almost bought it! I had convinced them it's about the acting, not about seeing someone on the street and saying, 'Look, that's a man.' They liked that but they also thought that she was very feminine as a woman, but she was kind of tough and street as a guy."
"We couldn't find empty high schools in Los Angeles so we shot in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. I was still a little nervous that our actors looked like they had been out of high school for awhile, even though we had Sherilyn Fenn and Billy Jacoby. So I called Mesa High School in Tempe and told them we're making a high school movie. We wanted to do some research. I told the actors to dress young, but they all just stared at me. I said, 'Okay, f— it. Let's just go.' We sat in a couple of classes. We mixed it up, talked to everybody. One thing that was very clear from the moment we got there, everybody looked much older than any member of the cast. Everyone wore tons of makeup, a lot of dressed like Madonna. Nobody questioned any members of the cast. No one said, 'You're not a high school student.' They didn't even ask me. I was probably 25 at that point."
The climactic moment in the movie is when Terry reveals her gender to Rick at the prom. That meant Hyser had to appear nude from the waist up.
"I believed that we had to get Joyce's shirt off. I don't think she could convince Rick that she was actually a woman otherwise. I wanted Rick to figure out early in the film that this person who befriended him was a feminine gay man who had a crush on him. All of that was just Rick thinking, 'I really feel for this guy. I like this guy. This guy is trying to impress me. I like this friendship, I can do it.' I wanted to show that Rick wasn't homophobic. I talked to Joyce about it and told her to keep an open mind. If it grew out of the characters, it would feel absolutely real in the moment, not exploitative. Both she and Clayton said it was a great scene and exactly what the scene had to be. I was relieved."
With a mere $5 million budget, Just One of the Guys was released on April 26, 1985. It was among the top-grossing movies in the country for four weeks.
"It knocked a bunch of action pictures down to lower numbers. We really held on and a few years after it was out, it had made close to $90 million worldwide. So it was a very profitable success. We have two great ideas for sequels. Me and Joyce and Toni came up with them. They all are dying to revisit the roles they played, but as adults whose kids are all having to deal with all kinds of gender issues. We want to do it."