Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Jodi Lyn O'Keefe

Nasty Girl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy She's All That on DVD.

Outside of the horror genre, we haven't had a good high school movie since John Hughes stopped making John Hughes movies and started making endless sequels to Home Alone. She's All That, the new movie written by R. Lee Fleming Jr. and directed by Robert Iscove, isn't great, but it does leave a mark.

The "high school" genre has evolved a lot over the years. Up until the 50's, high school movies mostly had adults playing high school kids. In the 50's, the "juvenile delinquent" genre was invented with movies like Rebel Without a Cause, High School Confidential!, and The Blackboard Jungle. Then came the musicals, like West Side Story, Rock 'n' Roll High School, and Grease (again with adults cast as high school kids). In the early 80's, high school kids were reduced to sex maniacs in movies like Private School, The Last American Virgin, and the Porky's trilogy. But writer/director John Hughes finally hit the mark with Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), all of which were funny but earned their laughs through showing teens' genuine fears, curiosities, and anxieties.

The last ten years has seen a sporadic continuation of the Hughes-type movies, like Heathers (1989) and Clueless (1995). Now She's All That is a textbook capturing of the basic elements of the genre, clearly labeling it as a genre. We have the basic plot, a cool high school senior (Paul Walker, Pleasantville) makes a bet with the prom king (Freddie Prinze Jr., I Still Know What You Did Last Summer) that he can't turn the school geek (Rachael Leigh Cook, TV's Dawson's Creek) into a prom queen by the end of the year. We have the "makeover" scene where Anna Paquin (Hurlyburly) glamorizes Cook, and which invariably includes the line "do you really need to wear those glasses?" (taken straight from Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, and other movies). We have the bonehead dad (Kevin Pollack) who grows a brain just in time for the climactic heart-to-heart talk with his daughter. And best of all we have the beautiful, wicked prom queen (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) who gets her comeuppance in the end.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jodi about the new movie.

Twenty-year-old Jodi lives in San Francisco, working on the hit TV show Nash Bridges. She plays Nash's daughter Cassidy. Jodi is tall, nearly 5'10", and snappily dressed. She's been doing interviews for over 8 hours but is still excited, energetic, and positive.

Jodi began her career as a model at age 8. "My cousin was a model, and my sister had been a model for four years in Europe. I never wanted to do it until my little cousin started and she was having a ball. And my aunt, a dance teacher/photographer, is a really wonderful woman. She took some pictures of me and sent them to a bunch of agencies and I got a yes response from a bunch of them." From there her modeling agency merged with another talent agency and she got an audition...accidentally. Before anyone knew what had happened, she was cast on the daytime soap Another World.

Jodi prefers acting to modeling. "For the first time in my life, instead of 'stand there--shut up--look pretty', somebody actually said, 'what do you have to say?', and that blew my mind. I actually found my voice." After the soap, she won the role on Nash Bridges, then made her movie debut last year in Halloween: H20 opposite Jamie Lee Curtis. Now she plays the evil prom queen, Taylor Vaughan, in She's All That.

"I'm nothing like Taylor Vaughan. She's a bitch, but she's kind of part of her own environment. She is the comic relief in this movie. And the fact that she's funny, and the fact that I pitied her quite a few times, made me want to do this role." Jodi was never the prom queen type in high school. She identified more with the geek, Laney Boggs, played by Cook. "I remembered what a hard time I had in high school. I transferred into a new school, from public to private -- Catholic school. And it was really hard for me. I didn't have anyone. I was definitely more of a Laney. So I actually got Taylor from about seven girls who really didn't like me, who were just basically like Taylor."

"I went to a prom when I was a sophomore with a senior boy that I had a huge crush on, but the girls weren't happy with me because I just took away another senior eligible bachelor. Sophomore year turned out a little different for me than Freshman year because puberty kind of came and hit me like a truck... out of nowhere. So that prom was a little [disappointing] because I felt really out of place. I felt like they really didn't want me there." Jodi never went to another prom. She finished up high school through correspondence. As a result her grades went up and she learned how to budget her time. "It's probably the best thing that happened to me," she says.

Playing an arch nemesis would seem to be the ultimate revenge. "It wasn't really, [but] it made me feel a bit better about myself. It was like, 'let's see what it is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Let's go back to high school for a little while and see what it felt like to be on the other side.' And you know what? It didn't feel that great. I had fun doing the movie, but I'm just not very good at being that mean. During that one scene, where I had to spill that drink on Rachel, my hands were just shaking. They had to do the take like ten times. And of course the whole time I just kept apologizing to her over and over again. And she kept saying, 'it's in the script, don't worry about it, don't worry about it.'"

Jodi is very excited about her acting career and is dying to try everything. "This whole comedy thing is new for me. Comedy is where it's at. I'm having so much fun; I can't tell you...Just to laugh like that, and to get people to laugh like that." She plans to work as hard as she can for a while, then go to school (either Berkeley or Mills College) to study Marine Biology. "People tell me 'you can't be a marine biologist if you're an actress!' I can do whatever I want to! I'm fascinated by science and math." But for now it's business as usual back on the set of Nash. "Being too busy is a blessing. I wake up every morning and say, 'I'm a lucky girl.' Because this is all new for me. This is incredible."

Jodi's final comment on She's All That: "Whether you're in high school now, or you've been to high school, or you're going to high school, it's very realistic. There are these stereotypes. They are there. It's just so present. I think it's kind of everyone's high school experience. I think it's going to completely bridge the gap. I'm sure older people are going to like it, and I think it's going to be cool for kids who haven't gone yet. Either it'll scare them to death or they're gonna have new hope when they get there. It's one or the other. I hope they're not gonna run into any Taylors."

(January 24, 1999)

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