The Big Picture
- Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. chat with Collider’s Perri Nemiroff about making the 2024 Mean Girls movie.
- The duo walked her through the casting process, including finding the right actor to fill Lindsay Lohan’s shoes by taking on the role of Cady Heron.
- They also break down some of the most challenging scenes to film and explain why a very popular song from the Broadway show couldn’t be included in the movie.
The pressure is sky-high on any adaptation, but directors Samantha Jayne and Arturo Perez Jr. opted to double it up on their narrative feature debut. They signed on to make a new Mean Girls movie that had do the 2004 original justice and the beloved Broadway show, too.
Their film largely sticks to the plot of the iconic original. Cady Heron, here played by Angourie Rice, moves to a new school. Initially, she’s warmly embraced by Janis (Auli’i Cravalho) and Damian (Jaquel Spivey), but when she catches the attention of The Plastics, particularly the clique’s queen bee, Regina George (Reneé Rapp), Cady finds herself torn between exposing Regina’s “mean girl” tendencies and becoming a “mean girl” herself.
In celebration of Mean Girls’ January 12th theatrical release, I got the opportunity to have an extended chat with Jayne and Perez Jr. about making the transition from indie filmmaking to directing a studio movie, what it was like finding an actor for the role of Cady capable of filling Lindsay Lohan‘s shoes, what popular musicals they’re eager to bring to screen next, and loads more!
You can read the full conversation in the interview transcript below:
Cady Heron is a hit with the Plastics, an A-list girl clique at her new school when she makes the mistake of falling for Aaron Samuels, the ex-boyfriend of alpha Plastic Regina George.
- Release Date
- January 12, 2024
- Samantha Jayne , Arturo Perez Jr.
PERRI NEMIROFF: I remember reading all the articles when you first booked this gig and some referenced a presentation that made all the difference. Can you walk us through that presentation, and did you ever find out what set your presentation apart from the other pitches they got?
SAMANTHA JAYNE: I think in our first talks with Tina overarchingly we spoke about, as super fans ourselves, the desire to make this surprising. It has to be, because the original is the original. Don’t touch the original. The Broadway version is fantastic. How can this new iteration be fresh and kind of pertinent to audiences now? So it has to offer something new while still paying respect to those before it.
ARTURO PEREZ JR: On a practical level, I think Sam had this amazing idea. I remember she was coming home from yoga and she called me, and she was like, “I have the open. I see it, I see it, I see it!” It’s basically exactly how we shot it.
JAYNE: It is what we shot, which is a testament, also, to Tina and her openness to hear our ideas and collaborate. But just the concept of Janis’ garage – her being in her garage, and that garage transporting us to the story. And then also starting quite lo-fi, you know? I think what made me excited – I’m a huge fan of musicals and yet when you see a movie musical, typically there’s this big, sweeping overture over the opening cards and it’s this big pomp and circumstance. These are two high school kids trying to figure out how to …
PEREZ: Make a movie! [Laughs]
JAYNE: Make a movie! They’re just going to be bullshitting about how to set up a tripod. [Laughs] That just excited us. And then kind of opening up the story from there and expanding it from there just to establish the scope of the movie all contained within this cold open excited us.
I love well-crafted oners and the one you have at the beginning of this film is spot on. Excellent.
PEREZ: Ah, cool! Thank you.
You mentioned that that stayed intact from your original pitch, but things always evolve along the way when you’re making a movie, so what would you say is the biggest difference between how you first pictured this film turning out when you first booked the gig and the final film that everyone is going to get to see now?
PEREZ: Not much, honestly. Again, a testament to Tina and Jeff who have held this story and this project in their hearts for so long, their openness to want to crack it open a little bit, and to go for it. There’s a couple of scenes that changed throughout, but overall …
JAYNE: I think our initial approach was we wanted to keep this really grounded and tactile. You wanted to feel that you’re in a real high school that you could have gone to so that when you go into these kind of subjective reality sequences, you are able to really lose yourself in them and go very singularly into these characters’ inner worlds. So it’s keeping it intimate in a way, which I think could be difficult for a big studio movie like this to stay intimate, but that was really important to us, just to be able to dive deeper into these characters and be in their perspective. So I think we were able to …
PEREZ: … hopefully do that.
Because you brought up the studio, I’ll go there next. When first-time narrative feature filmmakers jump into a big studio movie, some might suspect the studio is pulling most of the strings. Can you give us an example of a time when some of the folks at the studio gave you just the support you needed and it helped you bring your vision to screen the way you wanted?
PEREZ: I mean, kudos to them that they let us do this. [Laughs]
JAYNE: They let us do the tech days.
PEREZ: Yeah. The thing is, what we tried to do was so ambitious, so the only way that the studio was gonna let us do it, I thought, they never actually verbalized this, but Sam and I would be like, “We’ve got to help them understand.” No matter how many times you talk about it, you even have to know how you’re gonna shoot and how you’ll do it. So we did a lot of previs. We shot this movie before we shot this movie, you know, on an iPhone.
JAYNE: But just like, us and our first AD acting it out.
Oh, I must see that footage one day!
PEREZ: Yeah, I can send you some.
JAYNE: He plays Karen so many times!
You can’t tease it and then not share it.
PEREZ: I’m serious. We can give you a couple of clips.
JAYNE: The reveal into “World Burn,” it’s just Art sitting there. It’s so funny! But that’s what we would do, and then we would do it and we’d be like, “Oh, great! They do it so much better than we did!”
PEREZ: Then the other thing that we needed to do, there was a couple of extra ambitious things, like a couple of really difficult parts, and the studio did give us the support to have, in the end, I think it was three-and-a-half tech days where we had the full crew and we could practice stuff.
JAYNE: And Ari Robbins, who was our steadicam operator, he was able to have his steadicam or Trinity on him and be able to practice those movements. It’s a whole different ball game shooting it on the iPhone as opposed to this Trinity that has a huge back arm that could knock this over. You just have to negotiate the space completely differently. So being able to iron out the kinks as much as we could and, on the day, just execute was so helpful, and them giving us the ability to do that really, really helped us with our tight schedule.
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Is there any particular shot where that came in handy the most?
PEREZ: I think so many, but mostly I think “I’d Rather Be Me.” That oner we got to practice in the space, which is great. But it was also a crazy one with lots of moving parts and pieces.
JAYNE: Auli’i was a champ.
PEREZ: Yeah, she was a champ, and also Ari Robbins. Ari Robbins, who’s the single best camera operator in the world, this movie would not be possible without him. I think there’s only one person that could have done this movie and made it look like this and feel like this, and then Auli’i. They were dancing together. They were dancing together across space, and feeling. I remember before Janis went out there on that take that we took, I was just like, “Do this for all of the art freaks. Do it for the art freaks.” And she was so pumped up.
She is incredible.
PEREZ: Oh yeah!
And it’s not like I didn’t know what she was capable of before seeing the movie, but every single time it was focused on her, it truly took my breath away.
PEREZ: But each of them are superstars. I think that it’s gonna be one of those movies where people are like, “Wait, all these people were in this movie?”
Just like the 2004 film.
PEREZ: Truly! Maybe even more. [Laughs] I don’t know.
JAYNE: It was so hard to choose takes sometimes because they would just offer so many amazing variations, especially Jaquel [Spivey]. Everything that guy can do with a fan. You give him a prop and he’ll do 20 different equally hilarious things, and you’re like, “You’re making this so hard for us!” He’s so good.
PEREZ: But each of them brought so much to the table, so much to the table.
I’m gonna have to follow up on that now. Can you give us an example of two different versions of a take where it was especially challenging choosing between them?
JAYNE: I feel like his, “She doesn’t even go here.” He did it like five different ways and they were all hilarious. We ended up with the one where he just kind of sinks down and disappears in the crowd, but there’s one, I loved it so much. He was like, “She doesn’t even go here,” and then he looks around and goes, “What?” I just died. I just died at everything he did.
PEREZ: He is so, so talented.
I loved how those iconic lines felt highly reminiscent of the 2004 film, but everyone delivers them in a way that makes them their own. It’s a challenging balance to hit, so I was very impressed by that!
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I have an overall ensemble question for you because, again, every single one of them is incredible. Of all the main roles in this movie, which was the easiest to cast, where it felt like the right person just magically appeared? But then I also want the opposite. Which role took the most legwork during the casting process to find the right fit?
JAYNE: I’ll start with who magically appeared, who’s Avantika. She auditioned and, first of all, whip smart. She goes to Colombia for anthropology. She’s a genius. Her vacant stare as Karen is just this hilarious thing where she, as an actress, has this total self-awareness. I had this acting teacher once who would say, “I’ve never met a dumb good actor,” and that is 100% the case for Avantika. She is just so, so good with comedic timing. When she auditioned, I literally screenshot her and kept her on my desktop as, “We have to get her. We have to get her.”
PEREZ: I think the hardest one is, I would say, Cady probably because, first of all, who wants to go up against Lindsay Lohan? It’s not going up against, but you’re gonna inevitably be compared because she did such a good job, and same with the musical. What Angourie brought to this role was so brave and so intimate and personal and alive.
JAYNE: Her eyes just say everything.
PEREZ: I love her performance so much. If you follow the Plastic journey, you feel the Plastic journey. You feel going from innocence to Plastic and back, and she does that so well.
JAYNE: You really believe her. We needed that groundedness, and she really brought that authenticity to the role. She really made it hers. All the actors made it theirs.
They do. And Angourie has a grounded warmth to her that helps make the role what it should be, and what it’s always been — an in for the audience.
PEREZ: We all joke around, everybody’s got a little bit of some of them in them. We’ve got a little bit of Gretchen in us, we’ve got a little bit of Regina in us.
JAYNE: It depends what shoes I’m wearing, you know?
PEREZ: We’ve got a little bit of Janis, you know.
I’ll follow up on that. When you first watched the 2004 film, which character resonated with you most, and now, which character resonates the most with you in your own movie?
JAYNE: I think Cady just because, I only went to a different school district once, but I always feel, I think probably as a creative person, like I’m a bit of an observer. She’s very much an observer and can kind of chameleon herself into being able to hang with different groups, which I understood. Now, I feel more like Ms. Norbury [laughs], where I’m like, “You kids stop! It’s too much!”
PEREZ: That’s really good. I wanna say that I felt like Aaron, but I didn’t. [Laughs] I probably felt like Cady because I moved around a lot. I moved around a lot, a lot, a lot, so I was always kind of the new person at the school. But I think now I feel more like Janis.
JAYNE: Totally! You’re a total Janis. You just want to fuck it up.
PEREZ: I just want to fuck it up. [Laughs]
JAYNE: And be honest, and Janis is so honest.
I feel like at a younger age it was a little more Gretchen because you wanted to be a part of things, and then I got older and I’m like, “Fuck everything. I want to be me,” just like Janis!
PEREZ: “I’d Rather Be Me!”
I’ll lean into your indie filmmaking background next. Can you give us an example of a technique you’ve used on past films that folks might not expect would carry over to a big studio movie? A simple way to accomplish something without leaning on big money or fancy tools?
PEREZ: I think the oners. I think that I came up doing one-take music videos for a French blog called La Blogothèque. We did these takeaway shows, which is basically, we went around with all the big indie artists …
JAYNE: And you’d hold the camera.
PEREZ: I’d hold the camera, or there’s different directors around the world that would do it. We did everyone from Arcade Fire to Phoenix to The Lumineers, Vampire Weekend. If you were in the indie scene, we were doing them. But it was improvised music videos, so being able to think quickly and make decisions quickly, but still with meaning, not just because it looks good or it’s a fancy shot, but because there’s a little bit of poetry behind it. I think that helped this movie a lot – not just technically, because you basically have to edit in real time. You get, like, six takes. That’s it. You don’t get more. There’s not enough time.
JAYNE: And it doesn’t work until it works.
PEREZ: Yeah, it really doesn’t work until it works.
JAYNE: Which can make some people nervous.
That stresses me out!
JAYNE: And then when it works, it’s magic.
PEREZ: It makes me excited.
JAYNE: It’s a lot of fun.
PEREZ: It almost feels like it must be like an alcohol or something.
JAYNE: It’s like a sport.
PEREZ: Yeah, it’s like a sport, but the thrill of it is really intense and the pressure, it’s sickening, but I like it!
It’s the best kind. It keeps you on your toes. It makes me think of this question. Can you give me an example of a time on set when something wasn’t going to plan, you found a creative way to pivot, and because of that, you found unexpected magic that made a scene even better?
JAYNE: Yes, I have one! Remember for the Paris airport cream?
PEREZ: Yeah! I knew you were gonna say that.
JAYNE: So originally in that flashback with Janis and Damian, you know how they put lard in the cream? Originally we had Cady for that flashback, but then there was some kind of gaff with the scheduling and she had to be in a changeover for something, and we didn’t have her all of a sudden, and we’re like, “But they’re doing it to Cady! Where’s Cady?”
PEREZ: I remember all the producers were like, “Why aren’t you thinking of something quickly?” And it’s like, “Because it’s poetry! Because it matters! Because it matters where they’re looking, it matters how they’re doing it. It matters.” And now we’ve got to re-edit it in our head because we had the whole movie edited in our head.
JAYNE: And on the phone. And then we’re like, “Ahh!” But then we realized, we’re like, “Guys, Cady is in the room, she’s just off camera, and she’s actually standing in the same exact eyeline as where Regina is in the bedroom.” So when Janis and Damian look up, then Cady looks up, and they’re all looking up to the same place.
PEREZ: Which is also like, Regina and Cady, at one point, they’re very similar.
JAYNE: Yeah, so we’re like, “This works so well!” Thank you for being in a hair and makeup changeover! [Laughs]
PEREZ: It works even better!
I love it when stuff like that happens!
Why the Song ‘Stop’ Isn’t in the New ‘Mean Girls’ Movie
Big question here because when you take on a project like this, there is sky-high pressure to meet everyone’s expectations, whether they’re fans of the 2004 film, the Broadway show, or both. Can you give me an example of something from the past versions you knew you had to uphold here, something that had to stay no matter what? But then I also want the opposite. What’s something that you knew you had to remove or change to best serve the version of the story you were telling?
JAYNE: These are great questions. So the first one is the one where we had to uphold it. It’s not one specific thing. Obviously, there are iconic lines that we all wanted to keep in, and there were nods to the original that we couldn’t live without in this Rocky Horror Picture-esque kind of way where people want us to shout out their favorite lines.
PEREZ: But not too many of them.
JAYNE: There will be riots in the streets if these things aren’t included. But I think just on, maybe a more global level, the way that Cady moves through the world and the way that she evolves is just a really important thing to connect to.
PEREZ: That can’t change.
JAYNE: Yes, there are phones now. Yes, there’s social media. Yes, there’s all new kinds of things, but there is always gonna be a new girl at school.
PEREZ: You’re always gonna feel like an outsider.
JAYNE: You’re always going to feel like an outsider until you don’t, and then you integrate the lessons and learn from it. I think Tina’s core message had to resonate in this version. That’s the thing that’s kept this so relevant throughout, which is, young people, young women especially, should raise each other up instead of tearing each other down, and that is unbelievably important. So if we can preserve that and then serve it to a new audience in a way that they can digest it and have fun doing so, we’re like, “Okay, we’ve done our job.”
Very well done in that respect. That was one of the elements of this movie that sent me out the door buzzing with energy and positivity. I really appreciated that.
So now I need the opposite. What’s an example of something you opted to remove or change because it’d best serve your movie?
PEREZ: I’m not sure if it was gonna best serve it. Ultimately, it didn’t best serve it, but the one that I was like, “Damn, we should have really kept it,” was “Stop.”
JAYNE: But the thing is, “Stop” is so Broadway.
PEREZ: It’s so Broadway.
JAYNE: And it’s so much fun, and we are obsessed with “Stop,” but it’s a tap number. It’s fun.
PEREZ: I would have loved to fuck that up a little bit.
JAYNE: Oh, I know!
PEREZ: But ultimately, because it’s a movie – nobody wants to see a three-hour movie. Like, nobody wants to see a three-hour movie. Maybe. [Laughs]
I feel like you don’t know you want to see a three-hour movie until after the fact.
PEREZ: Until after the fact, yeah! So we had to keep it tight, but I would have loved a crack at “Stop.”
JAYNE: Of course. There are so many amazing songs, some darlings we had to slay.
PEREZ: Yeah, there’s lines. There’s lots of stuff.
It’s part of the process, and that’s the only way to reinvent and deliver a version that has something new to offer!
I’ll end with a question for both of you as directors evolving your craft in this industry. What is a new tool in your directing tool kit, so to speak, that you know you can credit to working on Mean Girls that you are eager to apply to your next feature film?
PEREZ: There’s a couple of things that we’ve done in this movie that are technically innovative. Like, for example, I don’t know if this shot has ever been done, which is what we did in Cady’s cafeteria.
JAYNE: “Meet the Plastics.”
PEREZ: In “Meet the Plastics,” basically what we did is we combined a Hitchcock zoom and a Spike Lee shot into one. Maybe it has been done. I’d love to know if anybody has ever done it. That, or going from 9:16, like a cell phone, to cinemascope. I don’t know if that’s ever [been done] in one take. I don’t know. So it’s like, there’s some technical things that we’re really proud of. But I think just learning from Tina about how to collaborate and how to conduct yourself on set, how to lead in a script sense and stuff. I don’t know, there’s lots of things that I think I’ve learned from this experience.
JAYNE: Yeah, it is true with Tina. Her openness to new ideas, it can only make everything better, right? And if you don’t like the idea, you don’t take it. And if you like the idea, great! It makes it better, and there’s no ego about it. And I think for us, the ego is always on the project because that’s what people are seeing, so that’s important. And I think, also, it was validating being able to – we really thought about the ins and outs and the mechanics behind the musical sequences, and we do change the aspect ratios quite a bit in all of those shifts, but we’ve always thought that if you do something intentionally and not just a trick for the sake of a trick, then it’ll feel organic. So being able to explore 12 to 13 music sequences in that kind of way and …
PEREZ: It holds up? [Laughs]
JAYNE: … it holds up! We’re like, “Okay, great. That works.”
From here, would the hope be to stick within the movie musical lane, or is there interest in exploring other genres?
PEREZ: I have two movies that I would like to do more in musicals, and then we just wrote a script that’s not a musical that’s just a hell of a good time.
JAYNE: We have a feature that’s not a musical, but it’s a really good time that we’d like to do.
PEREZ: It’s like a comedy, but it’s genre blending. It’s an odyssey. It’s an odyssey about friendship when life is telling you to grow up already. You’re in your 20s, and the house that you’ve been living in is kind of splitting up. It’s about that time in your life, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s just about friendship. It’s the kind of movie that makes you want to call all your roommates and be like, “Yo, dude, I love you.” [Laughs]
That’s a solid pitch right there. It sounds like my kind of vibe.
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PEREZ: And then for musicals, I mean, I would love to talk to Lin-Manuel Miranda and at least be able to chat with him about Hamilton.
JAYNE: We’re big fans.
PEREZ: He might want to do it, and that’s totally cool. And then the last thing is, we want to do Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, but as a movie.
Oh, I like that you’re saying these because I’m a big believer that we speak things into existence!
PEREZ: That would be my dream. It’s a musical, it’s 1000% a musical, but it just feels different, and it’s a different genre. It’ll open up the space even more.
JAYNE: His album takes you on a journey through one night in his life.
PEREZ: It’s a masterpiece. I’d love to talk to him.
Sign me up for all of that. And in the meantime, I’ll just watch Mean Girls over and over again.
JAYNE: Yes! We have been.
It’s impressive that it feels like it’s happening again. I couldn’t stop watching the 2004 film, and now I’m eager for another watch of yours!
PEREZ: Thank you so much.
Also, I hadn’t seen the Broadway show or heard any of the songs before, so the fact that I can remember so many of them after just one watch is especially impressive to me.
PEREZ: Which one did you like most?
JAYNE: What was your favorite?
I really like “Revenge Party.”
PEREZ: Ah, that was a fun one!
I got very hooked on that particular shot in the trailer, too.
PEREZ: The hallway?
JAYNE: Utopian hallway.
I like horror movies so when I saw Janis with the saw, I’m like, “What? How does that happen?” I was waiting for it the entire time.
PEREZ: Because it’s a pitch, right? It’s a pitch to Cady who is, at this point, not a Plastic. She’s innocent and she still has a big heart. She wouldn’t ever want to kill Regina, but they’re talking about killing Regina, and they know that …
JAYNE: It’s like a presentation they put together in, like, the art wing with all of their usable material. They’re like, “Let’s pitch it!”
It’s an amazing idea.
PEREZ: But it’s still all happy and colorful and vibrant for her …
JAYNE: But also, saws and body bags!
That made my genre-loving heart very full. That and the song Gretchen sings in the closet.
JAYNE: She sang that live.
Did she really?
JAYNE: Yeah, a bunch.
It adds a whole new layer to the character, and an important one at that.
PEREZ: Yeah, for sure.
JAYNE: I love the line, “Mama called me beautiful. Don’t believe that anymore.” You know, we all felt that in high school.
That is true.
PEREZ: I think at the end of the day, hopefully the message comes through, but in a good-time way. Nobody wants to be told how to act or be.
JAYNE: That’s what resonated with me in high school when I saw it. I was like, “Oh, Tina, she gets me,” and she does!
Mean Girls is now playing in theaters in the U.S. Click below for showtimes.