Interview with Betty Thomas, "Brady Bunch Movie" director
How do you cast a movie about an icon TV family? Very carefully, "The Brady Bunch Movie" director Betty Thomas said when she was in San Francisco Monday promoting the film version of the 1970s televisoin series.
In an interview with The Advocate (the campus newspaper where I went to college, SPLICED readers) she said choosing actors to play such recognizable characters was "the most important part of the movie."
When she began working on the project, Thomas said, she was determined to cast "nobodies" so the audience wouldn't have to shake an image that came with a name actor in order to accept them as a Brady.
"There were no actors attached to this movie," she said. Often scripts are written for an actor, and the story and players come as a package, but when Thomas got the script for "The Brady Bunch Movie" it hadn't been around Hollywood yet.
But not long after she took the project Thomas received a call from Shelly Long, who is best remembered as Diane Chambers on the TV series "Cheers," and Long expressed an interest in playing the Brady mom, Carol.
Thomas said she could definately see Long in the role. "I said, 'Are you kidding? Come in here.'"
Suddenly she couldn't imagine anyone else emulating Florence Henderson, the original Carol, and adding a pinch of satire since the film is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the TV series, which ran from 1969 to 1974 on ABC.
"The voice and the eyes were the really important thing to get," Thomas said, and Long spent a lot of time perfecting the Carol character.
When it came to the father, Mike Brady (played on the series by Robert Reed), she wasn't so sure about casting Gary Cole, who she said had a "macho" image from the street-wise radio show host he played on the television series "Midnight Caller."
"He developed the Robert Reed voice exactly," she said. "He phrased the words, the sentences exactly right."
But what clinched the role for Cole was the hair, she said. "As soon as he put on that wig -- that was it."
Thomas, whose background includes a stint with Bill Murray and John Candy in the Chicago comedy theater Second City, acting in "Hill Street Blues" and an Emmy for directing an episode of HBO's "Dream On," said she "didn't want to do a movie about a TV show" until she saw how satirical the script was.
The idea that the Bradys are stuck in the '70s but living in 1995 made her take another look at the project.
She met with the producer, Sherwood Schwartz, who created the original series (and "Gilligan's Island"), and the executive producer, Alan Ladd, Jr. At the end of that first meeting, Ladd told her he knew she was going to direct the movie. Hiring her to direct after one meeting took her by surprize.
"That never happens," she said.
Thomas said she was also surprized with the amount of freedom she was given in creating "The Brady Bunch Movie." She wanted to include gay characters in the story, as the original script had done. She got that.
She wanted to balance the feeling of film with the distinct style of "The Brady Bunch" television show, so she filmed in two styles, one for inside the Brady house (stationary cameras that zoom only and don't track character's movements and flip screen edits -- both straight from the show), and another style for the rest of the world.
She got that, although, she said with a smirk, her director of photography is afraid he'll never work again.
She wanted to bring in any of the original cast that were interested in the project and she got that, too. About half the original Bradys have cameos, as do several of-the-moment celebrities like Ru Paul, who plays Jan's guidance counsellor (a part originally written for Maureen McCormick, the original Marsha, who declined).
When the movie was finished Thomas found she had included too much and left more than 40 minutes of film on the cutting room floor.
I always saw this as a 90-minute movie, she said. Anything longer wouldn't be true to the show.
This interview appeared in The Advocate, the student newspaper at Contra Costa College, San Pablo, CA.
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