Shelley Long gets to literally act like a teen-ager in Freaky Friday, a Disney production airing Saturday as an "ABC Family Movie."
"Freaky Friday" is a remake of the popular 1977 Disney feature comedy that starred Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster about a mother and her teen-age daughter who switch bodies for a day.
The new version, directed by "thirtysomething's" Melanie Mayron, finds Long playing Ellen Andrews, a divorcee with two children, 13-year-old Annabelle (Gaby Hoffman) and 7-year-old Ben (Asher Metchik). Ellen runs a children's clothing manufacturing business with her boyfriend Bill (Alan Rosenberg) and is having communication problems with Annabelle.
Their lives are thrown topsy-turvy when Bill gives them identical antique necklaces that are supposed to bring the wearers luck. Instead, when the two have similar thoughts, each of their minds shifts to the other's body. Ellen and Annabelle have just one day--Friday the 13th--to figure out how to reverse the shift before it becomes permanent.
Long was filming "The Brady Bunch Movie," in which she plays a parody of perfect mom Carol Brady, when she began preparing for "Freaky Friday." She spent her weekends taking roller-blading lessons for her scenes as Ellen/Annabelle.
"Sometimes if I got home at a relatively early hour, I would go out with my blades," says Long, who won an Emmy for her indelible role as Diane Chambers on "Cheers." "The thing that was the most valuable was just cruising around my kitchen because I had to be on a lot of different surfaces."
Long also had to make her depiction of Annabelle compatible with Hoffman's portrayal of her teen self and vice versa. "Gaby is not a mannered type person or an actress," she says. "She doesn't have a lot of gestures or physical attitudes or postures that you would necessarily recognize on an obvious level, so we had to find what would be recognizable ... that once Ellen's body started doing them, you would realize, 'Oh wait a minute? That's the stuff that Annabelle does.' "
One thing that emerged pretty early on was a New Jersey coast accent, which was central to the location of the story, Long says. "These are somewhat subtle choices that are important."
Long says it was very strange to play just plain Ellen. "I had to admit there was a certain amount of disappointment. It just wasn't as fun because in the early scenes the mother is harried, hassled, overworked and a little starved for the kind of understanding that not only teen-agers are looking for, but moms and dads."
Though she never watched the original film, "I know from comments that Melanie has made, and some other people, that it is very much an update," Long says. "In the original, the two women are pursuing the male to resolve their problems."
In this version, she says, Ellen and Annabelle take the initiative to solve the problem "and are responsible for the resolution with the support of Bill. They resolve the problem, which I think means even more when they are able to share with each other as themselves and how much understanding they have of the other's life and point of view and feelings. Having felt so deeply about what they were going through allowed them to have that new perspective on each other."
"Disney Family Films Presents: Freaky Friday" airs Saturday at 8 p.m. on ABC.