In Columbia Pictures' teen comedy "Can't Hardly Wait," an all-night graduation party becomes a raucous rite of passage, as sensitive romantics, would-be homeboys, geeks, jocks, and misunderstood dream girls find their true hearts faster than you can say "American Graffiti meets Clueless."
If the film, which opens Friday, is not on your list of summer must-sees, you're probably outside Hollywood's most hotly courted demographic: the teens and twentysomethings who turned low-budget fare like "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" into blockbuster franchises. ("Can't Hardly Wait" cost a modest $10 million, and marks the directing debut of its writers, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont.)
"Can't Hardly Wait" is more John Hughes than John Carpenter, but it does borrow a star from "I Know What You Did . . . "--Jennifer Love Hewitt, 19, who within a year has gone from sensitive TV actress ("Party of Five") to movie scream queen to budding mogul (she'll write, co-produce and star in the New Line comedy "Cupid's Love").
Recently, Hewitt and five of her "Can't Hardly Wait" co-stars teamed up poolside at Beverly Hills' Four Seasons Hotel, for a session that--like the party in the film--swung from chaos to moments of reflection, with questions answered by flying chips and unprintable can-you-top-this bons mots. ("Our last interviewer was so disheartened she said, 'I can't use any of this!"' beams one participant, Seth Green. "She finally left the room.')
Joining Hewitt: Ethan Embry, 20 ("That Thing You Do!"), whose wide-eyed energy, flying hands and high decibel laugh suggest a personality bolder than the lovesick high school grad he plays onscreen; Charlie Korsmo, 19, "Hook" and "Dick Tracy's" child star grown up to be "Can't's" vengeful science nerd (Korsmo is actually a 4.0 MIT physics major); Peter Facinelli, 23 ("Dancer, Texas"), a soft-spoken brunet with a Cruise-like grin, who plays the film's heavy--a dense high school football star; Lauren Ambrose, 20 ("In and Out"), an opera-singing redhead cast as Embry's pal; and Seth Green, 24, a diminutive wisecracker offscreen and on, best known for his work in "Austin Powers" (he was Dr. Evil's cranky son) and TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
Question: Jennifer, you just came from the set of "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer"--what torments were you going through?
Hewitt: I was being beaten in a rainstorm and dragged by my neck, getting bruises.
Korsmo: That's what happened to me last night, too! (Group laughs.) You better move the mike away from me.
Q: And Seth, you're shooting a movie ["Idle Hands"]--what were you doing?
Green: I'll show you, man. (reaches into bag)
Embry: He's got a tape of him and Pamela Lee.
(Green displays photo of him, zombie-white, a beer bottle jutting out of his forehead.)
Green: This is like the first five minutes of the movie.
(Hewitt tries on Green's purple-lensed sunglasses and starts giggling--a condition that continues for most of the interview.)
Q: I'm guessing you could relate a bit more to your characters in "Can't Hardly Wait."
Korsmo: The only character I identified with was Lauren's character. And I read for it!
Facinelli: A lot of teen movies dealing with teen love are sappy. This isn't sappy. It's great to put all these [characters] who barely talk to each other, throw them into a room and see what happens.
Ambrose: I was shocked that they could make the tone of the film work, because there's such broad comedy and real character stuff.
Q: I heard the movie went through some changes to get a PG-13 instead of an R.
Embry: There was a problem because everybody was walking around with alcohol in the movie. They could walk with it but when they were verbally acknowledging it, cheering it, that was bad.
Hewitt: [The MPAA's] big thing was, they wanted to give it an R because there was no parental unit at the party. Well, who would have a high school party and have your parents there?!
Facinelli: They had to cut out one character, Crying Drunk Girl, who was really funny--she was subtitled because she was talking gibberish, she was so drunk. Total ratings casualty.
Green: And now the pot brownies are just bad brownies . . . .
Ambrose: It makes no sense. No sense!
Facinelli: No, people get it. Some stuff was cut, but I don't think it hurt the movie.
Q: How much do you think movies are reflecting what teenagers really feel? It's certainly an audience Hollywood's going after . . . .
Green: It's a market that hasn't been tapped in a few years. There's a lot of kids now and they're hungry for it.
Ambrose: Well, duh! Who goes to movies? They can't go to bars. (laughter) I'm serious!
Green: You can only see "The English Patient" so many times before you wanna see a bunch of kids at a party.
Q: How much input did you have in the script?
Embry: They gave us a lot of freedom. We did a week's worth of rehearsals. [But because of the multiple stories] I never worked with Peter, I never worked with Seth, I never worked with Charlie. Jennifer and I, we only worked together in the same scene twice.
Green: Peter bumped into me in one scene. We had a moment. (nods at Hewitt): She's like sleeping back there. I'm worried.
Ambrose: Jennifer, are you like really bruised?
Hewitt: Yeah. (Quietly, Hewitt begins talking about one of her co-stars on "I Still Know What You Did . . . ") I don't know what his problem was. Up and down my arms I have bruises everywhere. He hit me across the face and he wasn't supposed to, I'm all swollen . . . .
Ambrose: And he just decided to? In the moment?!
Hewitt: Yeah. He thought it would look "really cool." (Thegroup commiserates--then starts passing around Seth's purple sunglasses.)
Q: So what actors do you look up to?
Facinelli: Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Green: I pretty much look up to everybody I meet. Hey, I'm little!
Embry: We all went to Vegas together to [promote the film at] ShoWest, and Nick Cage was on the plane and I freaked out.
Ambrose: I got to fly back with Frances McDormand, just chill and talk to her. She essentially rules my world.
Q: Being in movies, you're going to inspire more young people . . .
Korsmo: Take a quick look around this table and say that again!
Q: Let's talk about how you all got started. Jennifer, when you told your mother you wanted to be an actress, the two of you moved from Texas to Los Angeles. [Hewitt still lives at home with her mother.] When someone says to you, I want to be an actor, what do you tell them?
Green: "Don't step in my key light." (laughter)
Hewitt: I love being an actor. I think it's the best job in the whole wide world, and if somebody wants to be an actor they definitely should. I would just say that you have to be really determined and ignore everyone around you and make your own path and follow it.
Embry: If you really want to do it you'll do it.
Q: Charlie, as a kid you co-starred in "The Doctor," "Hook" and "Dick Tracy" . . . you partied with Warren Beatty and Madonna . . . then you risked ending your acting career to go back to school.
Korsmo: Yeah, I was missing everything. It had been three years since I'd been to school, I'd lost touch with my old friends, I missed junior high . . . the first dances, parties . . . that's why I'm a loser today!
Ambrose: That's why I love to live in Connecticut, away from it.
Hewitt: Where in Connecticut?
Green: Have you two met?
Ambrose: Pretty much, no! [Laughter; the two have no scenes together in the film.]
Green: Lauren, this is Love . . . .
Q: Did you feel like you've missed "normal" experiences?
Korsmo: No. There've been a whole lot of experiences we've been part of that we wouldn't have been part of.
Green: I couldn't have gotten so close to Michael Jackson.
Embry: I never went to high school. Really. I've been working since 10.
Green: Did you see "Greystoke"? It was based on Ethan.
Embry: I was home-schooled. But going to high school I never would've been able to travel the U.S., or been able to do acting.
Q: Are you all in acting for the long haul?
Embry: Charlie's going to Mars in a couple of years.
Korsmo: Damn straight. My big dream is to be an astronaut. If [acting] works out, fine, if it doesn't, I've got a backup plan.
Green: "Let's see, should I do this buddy picture with Marlon Wayans and Pat Morita . . . or . . . should I go on the space shuttle?"
Embry: Whenever you're an actor you have to have a backup plan.
Ambrose: No you don't because then you'll use it! My goal is to revolutionize the opera world by making it as much about theater as it is about music.
Embry: Lauren's got the raddest voice.
Green: Yeah, perform for us, monkey girl!
Q: Do you feel pressure to be role models? Jennifer's become one . . .
Hewitt: I don't think I'm as much the role model as my character is on "Party of Five," and I think Sarah's a great role model.
Q: But you as a person are looked up to by your peers . . . someone who's . . .
Hewitt: Boring. (laughs)
Green: She's the anti-Shannen Doherty.
Q: And she's about to become a movie producer. What are your different roles on "Cupid's Love"?
Hewitt: I'm executive producer, co-writer, and star.
Facinelli: And craft service. Did you go in and do a pitch?
Hewitt: Yeah. I had a solid week of wearing the business suit and not being the actress, the 19-year-old, trying to convince New Line this was a good idea. We did five pitches a day to all the executives. It was very nerve-racking. But they were very kind, very open to the idea. It's exciting.
Q: And you're now shooting "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer"--which I hear surprises you.
Hewitt: I didn't think the first one would do very well, so I'm very shocked that we're back doing another one. This one's a lot scarier, and it's not a cheesy sequel. It can stand on its own.
Q: How much do you all go to the movies?
Ambrose: Ohmigod, when I stayed out here Seth took me to some of the worst movies I've ever seen in my life.
Green: You gotta see 'em all, to have a frame of reference. "Mercury Rising" was so bad that I took a picture of Charlie and I watching the film, 'cause we were laughing so hard! When the flash went off the eight people in the theater were like "WHAT THE [expletive] . . . " [laughter] I had to take another picture because that was even funnier.
Hewitt: I cannot wait to read this article.
Green: You can't hardly wait?
Hewitt: Can't Hardly Wait. (breaks into laughter) Sorry.