Many of us are familiar with Tommy OHavers work as writer and director of the gay indie hit Billys Hollywood Screen Kiss (which launched the careers of Sean Hayes and Brad Rowe). But many people are surprised to find out he directed the kids flick Ella Enchanted, a musical romp starring Anne Hathaway, Hugh Dancy, and Cary Elwes. Hathaway plays Ella, a young woman who, at birth, is given the dubious gift of obedience by a neer-do-well fairy named Lucinda (Vivica A. Fox). Ella goes through life obeying whatever is commanded of her, and the situation gets worse when her father remarries, to an evil woman (Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley) who has two equally evil daughters. So Ella leaves home in search of Lucinda to remove the gift, and along the way she gets tangled up in some royal affairs with the soon-to-be-crowned-king (Dancy) and his wicked uncle (Elwes). We chatted with OHaver about the DVD, which hits stores August 25grilling him about Hughs shirtless scene, the campy moments you didnt see, and taking Anne to gay bars in London.
On the commentary track, it sounds like you guys are having a blast. Was filming that much fun?
We had a great time shooting the movie. Everybody got along famously in Ireland. Part of it was that we were all sort of strangers in a strange land. Plus, when youre making a comedy, its important to keep your set light and happy. That comes through in the film.
Very convenient for Hugh Dancy to need to take his shirt off for Anne to patch up his wound.
That was the beefcake moment.
A good moment to have.
It really was. Hes a very sweet guy. Very intelligent.
But whats up with his pleather pants?
To be honest, some of the costumes I look back on now and I wonder, Why did I allow that to happen? With those pleather pants in particular, I went in to look at them and I said to the costume designer, Ruth Meyers, I dont know about those pants. But Hugh had been brainwashed by her or something, and he said, I love em. So I said, OK, you can keep them. Afterwards he was like, Why did you put me in those pants? And I said, You were the one who wanted to wear them! Im being hard on Ruths costumesI love a lot of the stuff!
Did you know Anne was a good singer when you cast her?
Yes. Id seen her on Broadway in Carnival at Lincoln Center. Anne was incredible. She was just perfect. I really liked her in The Princess Diaries, but seeing her on stage in Carnival made me think, This is our girl. She has an innocence, but she also has a vivaciousness.
I love that Ab Fabs Joanna Lumley costars. Were you a fan?
Yeah, obviously. I really wanted her to be the wicked stepmother from the outset. Because we were shooting in Ireland and cutting in England we needed to use a certain amount of British actors. It was the perfect opportunity to bring in people like Eric Idle [who plays the narrator] and Joanna Lumley who I have always loved and who are great comedians and get to work with them in person. It was a really selfish decision.
On the commentary track, Anne says she grew up watching Ab Fab. I cant imagine a child growing up with Ab Fab.
That was pretty great. Annes pretty sassy and shes really gay friendly. I think she has a lot of gay fans because of The Princess Diaries. One night we went to some gay bar in London and all these guys were like, Its the girl from The Princess Diaries! And they hung out with her all night long. Did anybody talk to me? No.
OK, Minnie Driver is adorable in the movie, as the fairy/housekeeper. But her characters such a wuss!
Shes great. But the character was really meant for an older woman, and [the producers] wanted Minnie Driver. I think both Minnie and I were equally surprised. In the end, we had a great time. She was somebody who I was worried was going to be a real bitch, but she was incredible. She, Joanna, and Vivicaeverybody was incredible. Nobody came to the set with any attitude.
Are you still in touch with any of the actors?
I talk to Hugh and Anne quite a bit. Hugh and I became really great friends. Whenever he comes out to L.A. I see him. We usually just sit at the Four Seasons and get drunk, because he likes to drink about as much as I do.
Was there anything particularly gay that got cut out of the film?
There were a few great, campy jokes that did get cut out because the studio really wanted to focus on the younger audience and were afraid of anything that was too adult. Miramax isnt used to putting out kids movies, and anything that was too edgy, they were scared of. Theres one joke that was great. When Anne is tied up to the tree and Lucinda the fairy appears. She says, Lucinda you gave me a gift. And Lucinda responds, Oh, thats right. The obedient one. And then she said, And apparently a submissive as well. That had to go. That was my favorite line in the movie.
Any interesting hidden Easter Eggs we can look for?
There are some faces hidden in the film. Theres one in a tree. Two in the book. Theres another one in the elf village. Its [producers] Harvey and Bob [Weinstein]. Just kidding. Its nobody. It was something we put in for the kids.
The film has so many great musical numbers. Was it originally conceived as a musical?
I came in and did that. I wrote in the elf village and I wrote in Somebody to Love (which Anne sings to a rowdy bunch of giants). Harvey liked it so much he said lets do another one at the end. Its a bit weird that Anne and Hugh would sing Dont Go Breaking My Heart after they just got married, but it was a fun number. Harvey does have a good sense of style, and he really appreciates a lot of my aesthetic.
Was it like getting to do the numbers in Billys Hollywood Screen Kiss only with a lot more money?
Exactly, which I loved. I look at the musical numbers as what in an action film might be a big explosion or a big chase sequence. And when youre shooting them, everybody loves working on them.
With Jim Fall doing Lizzie Maguire, Angela Robinson doing the Herbie remake, and you doing Ellawhats up with queer directors making kids films?
I guess were all just young at heart. For me, some of my favorite movies are Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Mary Poppins. So I wanted to take the opportunity to do my own version of those films in a way. I really like dealing with genres and doing whatever I can to reinvent them. Id love to do a horror film next.
What are you working on now?
Magick is next. Its a movie about a guy and girl who switch places from the neck down. So its a guy walking around with a girls body. And a girl walking around with a guys body. A lot of potential for some perverse jokeswhich will be good. Its with Dreamworks, and Robert Zemekis is producing. Its not just a Freaky Friday or The Hot Chick. Its more like a Back to the Future adventure.