How White Chicks went 'A Thousand Miles' to become a surprise summer classic
Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Terry Crews, and Vanessa Carlton look back on the outrageous 2004 comedy.
The theaters may be empty and the popcorn machines may be lying dormant, but it's still summer movie season — which is why we're looking back on classic moments from years past as part of EW's Retro Summer. From improvised dance moves to awkward lip-locks, here are the behind-the-scenes tales from a few of our favorite hot-weather hits.
"You know who loves White Chicks the most? White chicks."
That fact might be what Marlon Wayans is most proud of when it comes to his outrageous 2004 comedy, which he wrote, produced, and starred in alongside his brother Shawn. Conceived one sleepless night by Shawn and directed by their older brother Keenen, White Chicks starred Shawn and Marlon as Kevin and Marcus Copeland, two FBI agents who, in order to save their jobs, go undercover as socialite sisters Brittany and Tiffany Wilson.
The gig wasn't easy for anyone, between the heavy prosthetics (for the actors and their characters), unwanted admirers (for Marcus), and five Razzie nominations (for Worst Picture and Worst Actresses, among others). But the Wayans family got the last laugh, as White Chicks made $113 million at the worldwide box office and became a summer cult classic.
After a successful five-year run with their WB sitcom The Wayans Bros., Shawn and Marlon made the jump to the big screen in 2000 with the Keenen-directed Scary Movie, followed by the 2001 sequel Scary Movie 2, both of which they had a hand in writing. With the family moving on from the franchise, they were in the market for a new project.
MARLON WAYANS: Shawn called me up at like 2 in the morning.
SHAWN WAYANS: It was like 5 in the morning. I was up. I didn’t sleep a lot back then.
MARLON: Shawn don’t smoke weed or nothing, but he’s drinking a lot of green tea back then. And green tea makes him sweat and think of stuff.
SHAWN: I was in my robe, walking around my house one night, and the idea hit me. I read an article about Paris Hilton and Nicky Hilton. They were on the cover of FHM. They were getting in fights and stuff and acting real rowdy and raunchy. And I just thought it would be funny for me and Marlon to play two white girls like this.
MARLON: He tells me in my sleep and I’m like, “Go to sleep, you’re sleep-deprived. What do you mean play two white women?” I hung up on him and called him back the next day, and we got together and he throws this article down, like, “This is what we should do.” And I was like, “Okay, you were high.” I’m like, “How?!” And we went through it and started talking about it, and then we realized it could be done. I think Some Like It Hot just crystalized it for us, like, “Yeah, we could do this.”
SHAWN: We called Keenen up and at first he thought I was high too. When he woke up and we all got on the phone, it started to get clear and we kicked it around. They thought it was an interesting, fresh idea. And it was crazy, I agree.
THE KEY CASTING
Surrounding Marlon and Shawn would be a collection of past or future familiar faces, including Busy Philipps (Dawson's Creek), Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), John Heard (The Sopranos), and Frankie Faison (The Wire), but the most significant casting would be for the role of NBA player Latrell Spencer, a.k.a. "Buffy the White Girl Slayer." And they'd turn to an NFL-player-turned-actor who was still trying to find his place in Hollywood.
TERRY CREWS: I remember auditioning for the movie, but what was wild was it was a Wayans day. I actually had auditioned for My Wife and Kids earlier in the day. So Damon and his sister Kim and the family was all over that first audition. I really wanted it — and I bombed. And when I say bomb, just like cataclysmic, like my hands were shaking, I did all the lines wrong, and they looked at me with such pity, like, “Oh, this poor guy, he’s melting.” I got in my car and drove across town for my White Chicks audition, and I didn’t care anymore. It was kind of like, “Maybe this is not for me." I’m sitting there thinking, “A TV show, that’s a lock, and I don’t even know if this movie is any good.” I had a bad attitude and I didn’t care. So I just let it all loose, there was no inhibition and no pressure, because I've got nothing to lose. And everything just clicked. Two days later my agent was like, “You did not get My Wife and Kids, that didn’t work, but you got White Chicks!” [Laughs] Clearly they didn’t have time to talk to each other.
MARLON: Nothing was unexpected from Terry. After he shot that scene with his shirt off, blowing the whistle, we knew why we hired Terry in the first place. We knew how much fun it would be and what kind of person he was versus what your image of him would be. You see this big, buff black dude who looks scary as hell, but he’s a teddy bear.
SHAWN: And he sings Vanessa Carlton songs.
CREWS: I based Latrell on people I knew, football players and athletes that were just like that. They were all about themselves and getting women and they had all the techniques. I actually ran into some of these people and I was like, “Dude, you know that was you, right?” And they were like, “Hell no! No, man!” [Laughs] The mannerisms, phrases, it all came from my experience in professional athletics, because I’d seen it so much.
While Marlon and Shawn would find it easy to channel the personalities of Tiffany and Brittany, looking like them was another story.
MARLON: Shawn and I went out and did research, and we’d sit with some of our white girlfriends. He picked his prototype, I picked mine and found the voices.
SHAWN: We drank, we talked, we hung out a lot and worked on our characters for a couple weeks.
MARLON: Shawn is probably one of the most handsome black men I’ve ever seen. Like, this is a handsome, handsome man. But as a white woman… [Laughs] He’s not flattering as a white woman. He wouldn’t cut his goatee off because he was like, “Look, when they take this makeup off, I’m going to be fly.” And so they would put the makeup over his goatee and it would make his mouth stick out that much more. He looked crazy.
SHAWN: You know who really freaked out — our children. They came to see us, and they were standing by us and didn’t know it. Then we started talking in our regular voices, and it was hilarious. Marlon and I would pretend to kiss in front of them and then they would be like, “What the hell is going on with our dad?”
MARLON: Seven hours of makeup every day, and then we’d work. And not only was the makeup uncomfortable, the wigs was uncomfortable — you’re spitting the hair out of your mouth when you’re really spitting hair out of your mouth. But then after you put these uncomfortable clothes on, these uncomfortable shoes, they’d put these blue contacts in your eyes that feel like scratchy rocks, and so that really made the claustrophobia that much more claustrophobic.
SHAWN: It felt like the old Coke bottle caps were glued to our eyelids. It ruined your mood. Because up until then Marlon and I had grown accustomed to, “Okay, we did the makeup, we got down in size, our hair,” we started to be okay with that. But one thing that never changed was when it was time to put those contacts in, it just killed our personality. Now we was on the clock to shoot the scene, get it over with, and get these f—ing contacts out of our eyes.
MARLON: It was the most uncomfortable movie ever.
That painful transformation would be just part of the pressure put on Marlon and Shawn during the winter shoot in Vancouver, Canada, as they balanced hours of makeup with their regular acting duties, rewriting on the fly, and serving as hands-on producers. All their work earned the admiration of their cast — maybe even too much in one case.
CREWS: I’ve got to give credit to Marlon and Shawn, because it was torture. They would spend hours and hours in that makeup, and they would do two or three scenes and then it would take hours and hours to take it off. Sometimes they would just leave pieces on; I saw their faces breaking out. It was a total miserable experience. I thought they were going to go crazy. By the end, they were just frustrated. What Keenen used to always say to both Shawn and Marlon was, “Hey, you wrote it.” And they’d be like, “Man, I can’t do this anymore,” and Keenen was like, “You wrote it!” I would just sit back and laugh.
SHAWN: We were still writing with our dresses on.
MARLON: When we do movies, the script is a blueprint, we always want to top what’s on the page. And so Keenen allows each actor to bring something to the table because after we get it in the can, let’s try and top it. It was a lot of fun kind of competing and improvising and throwing things out there that somebody else wasn’t expecting and trying to stay in the moment. Sometimes we’d be on set and me and Shawn would be like, “Yo, Terry say this."
CREWS: It was bizarre. I remember my first day is my character's introduction and I came out and I had my suit on, and it was the first time I was supposed to see them and it was just horrifying. [Laughs] All I could think was that the best acting I could ever do is trying to convince people that this dude was a woman. And it was just weird because they were in there, but they weren’t in there. It was miraculous how detailed it was. It really was like a freaky thing, because you knew it was Marlon, you knew it was Shawn, but I had to push all that out of my head. I was like, I’ve got to be the guy who makes the whole audience believe that they’re women because if I don’t sell it, it won’t work. I actually began to refer to Marlon as his character. To me, he’s a blond white woman. When he was in his thing, I was like, “You look so cute!” I would say stuff to him like that and he’d be like, “Shut up, man."
MARLON: We hung with Terry the whole time. What was great is that Shawn and I had no time at all during the movie, but we found time every night or every weekend to hang out with our cast, and I think that was the fun of the movie because we all became like a clique. I remember one time we were in the club and we were rehearsing the dance number and we actually did it in the middle of the dance floor at a real club, a real dance battle with us and them.
CREWS: There was a moment that went too far that they didn’t put in the movie. Well, there were lots of moments that went too far. The scene where I slipped the mickey into his drink, and you think about how horrifying that is right now, but there was a scene where I was dancing with him and I was picking him up and basically manipulating him. And they were like, “Oh, that’s way too much!” [Laughs] He was like backing up on me and I like literally was taking him off his feet, and it was way too much. It was assault on the dance floor. So many things went that far. But the fact that Marlon and Shawn were willing to go that far with me made it what it was. Any bit of self-consciousness, any bit of “nah, that’s not going to work,” it would have killed the spirit.
MARLON: It almost killed us, but we pulled it off. We pushed our call time the entire movie; we were producing and wanted to get it in at a number, but we had no turnaround. We slept literally two hours a night for 65 days. And we were playing two black men playing two white women and we were filming like it was supposed to be summer in the Hamptons but we were really in Vancouver for the winter, which was freezing as hell. We were showing skin, and it was so cold out there.
SHAWN: It was freezing out. And the chase scene, I wasn’t even wearing shoes. We took the soles from the bottom of like some kung fu slippers and put them underneath me, but I was in stockings running after that guy. So it was very uncomfortable. It was so uncomfortable that the first day I got makeup put on I was so thrown off that I shot one scene and then I came over to my brother and said, “How much longer I got?” He looked at me and said, “N—, you just got here. You got all day.” That’s when I realized, “Oh s—, what did we get ourselves into?”
CREWS: You know what’s weird, I’m going to tell you this and I haven’t told this to anyone: I actually fell in love a little bit. Like I was actually having feelings for this character. As an actor, you can’t really separate it. When it was over, there was a bit of grief, like, “Where is she?” [Laughs] I actually fell in love. Oh man, I’m probably telling too much, but I really was that far in, and that’s why I think it worked so well.
THE UNLIKELY PERFORMANCE
Two years after 21-year-old singer Vanessa Carlton reached the top five of the Billboard charts with her debut single, "A Thousand Miles," the pop track would gain a second life — and new legacy — thanks to White Chicks. After planting the seed with an earlier scene, the film's second use of the song would cement its unforgettable status: Marcus (as Tiffany) puts on “A Thousand Miles" to cool Latrell's affection, but the plan backfires when the basketball superstar delivers an all-out sing-along.
CREWS: I remember they gave me “Satisfaction,” by Benny Benassi, and “A Thousand Miles,” by Vanessa Carlton, and I listened to those songs for weeks — and I mean nonstop. Because the filming was so grueling, there was a lot of wait time, so I’d often be in my hotel room for two straight days before I filmed again. So I’d just spend those days pretending that I was doing the scene.
MARLON: "A Thousand Miles" was a popular song at the time, but it wasn’t huge.
SHAWN: It was popular but it was pure. And I used to listen to it because I thought it was funny. [Laughs] And everyone had heard it, so we all picked it.
VANESSA CARLTON: I wouldn't have allowed the song to be used if I was going to be reduced to just being the white girl playing the white girl song. Because that's not what this is, and that's not who I am. And of course the Wayanses know that on some level.
CREWS: I was so ready that I did the whole thing in one take. When I was done, Keenen was like, “We don’t need to do it again," and I was actually like, “Are you sure?" They were like, “There’s nothing else we can do.” Every move you see, everything had been choreographed to a T. I was doing that in my hotel room for weeks, and I remember sitting there thinking about the head move, because it was like “da da da” and all of a sudden I was like, “Oh man, wait until they see this!” [Laughs] And I actually thought it would be too much, and I tend to think that. I used to not get roles so many times because casting agents used to say that I was just too big for movies, because I would just overdo it. But with this there was no overdoing it.
MARLON: Obviously Terry was literally in his room singing to himself in the mirror for the entire movie until we filmed that scene. [Laughs]
CARLTON: I thought it was funny. I can't remember which order it was but I met the Wayanses at an event and they said they were a huge fan of the song, and either they thanked me for allowing them to use it or they asked me if they could. Either way, the whole reason why they used the song is because they like the song. And the whole point of the joke with Terry is that it's a song that literally everybody loves. Despite that song having such a classical piano part, it's somehow totally genre-crossing. I mean, with Abe Laborial Jr. on drums? There's no way it won't make every head in the room the move!
MARLON: It was just absolute hell for my character.
CREWS: When I say we played that thing like one time, everything was real. Like, he didn’t know I was going to touch his cheek. He goes, “[Squeals].” But when I put him in the car and ad-libbed all that, like, “Watch those marshmallows," he was mortified because I really was into him. Everything was played perfectly, all of his reactions. Marlon, I’ve just got to give it up to him, he’s one of the best actors I’ve ever seen. Every time we did something, he gave me exactly what I needed.
The Wayans trio of Shawn, Marlon, and Keenen would make two more movies together (Little Man and Dance Flick), but White Chicks is their defining movie — and a perfect artifact of the early 2000s.
MARLON: You know who loves White Chicks the most? White chicks. That’s how you know it’s a good movie. For us, I think a good joke in comedy is when the people you make fun of laugh the loudest. And what’s beautiful is that we’re equal-opportunity offenders. It was a great exploration of gender, of race, of pop culture, and done with kid gloves so everybody could laugh. And I think that’s what makes it a cult classic to this day.
CARLTON: People bring it up [to me] all the time.
MARLON: We felt like we did the impossible. Considering all that Shawn and I were going through in terms of doing that costume and seven hours of makeup and working 16 hours after that, we still found time to write like four books, a children’s cartoon. We were busy but so productive during that time, and still managed to have fun. And watching the audience laugh like they did and to see them still laughing 16 years later, it makes you feel good about the effort that you put in.
SHAWN: And we were in wonderful hands. Keenen is amazing and steered the ship and made sure everything came out excellent. It was the '95 Bulls.
CREWS: We were a family. To this day, that’s probably the best filming experience I’ve ever had, next to my cast on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was just beautiful from start to finish. I didn’t want it to end. I would go home and get depressed. I literally missed everybody, all the ladies, Shawn, Marlon, Keenen, the crew. We knew we were making something super-special. My life changed forever.
CREWS: We got to get a 2. I’m staying ready to this day. If we can get White Chicks 2, I would jump into that so fast. Think about it, White Chicks was pre-Kardashian. There's so much to mine.
SHAWN: We would love to make a sequel.
MARLON: I think the audience wants it.
SHAWN: We’re getting death threats now if we don’t make a sequel.
MARLON: [Laughs] From white chicks! They’re writing us letters.
SHAWN and MARLON: [White girl voices] “We are so frickin' pissed!”
MARLON: There’s so many white girls having BFs all over the world.
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