CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE DRAMA QUEEN - Q&A with director Sara Sugarman
An actress since her teens, 37 year-old Sara Sugarman's screen credits include GRANGE HILL TV series- where, as Jessica Samuels, she masterminded the infamous school uniform revolt - which was a prelude to over 40 different TV shows and a dozen stage plays.
Her film roles came in the likes of THOSE GLORY GLORY DAYS, SID & NANCY, STRAIGHT TO HELL and DEALERS. Moving behind the camera Sugarman directed MAD COWS and VERY ANNIE MARY in the UK before relocating to Hollywood.
CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE DRAMA QUEEN, stars Lindsay Lohan (FREAKY FRIDAY) as an ambitious young girl with dreams of becoming an actress, a prospect made (in her eyes at least) hugely unlikely when her mother moves the family from New York to the less starry environs of New Jersey.
Having been a child actor yourself did you find it very easy to relate to your young cast?
It probably gave me compassion for them. They're very different in America though, they're very glamorous. The kids that turned up on set on our shoot looked like you could market them and sell them. They were just really, really good-looking kids. British kids in these sorts of things are characters, aren't they? I think that's a huge difference. In terms of the creatures that those kids are in America, they're just really different. The stakes are higher. I don't know if it's the same now, but there used to be laws that you weren't allowed to pay kids under 16 because it was called exploitative. But in the States they can be on three million a picture.
The film is unashamedly aimed at the younger end of the market. Has this made you a hero to pre-teen girls everywhere?
Absolutely, I appeared on the Disney Channel a lot over here before it was released so I'm like the Stanley Kubrick for 7 and 8 year-old girls. I haven't been this popular walking down the street since GRANGE HILL, I have these little kids come up to me all the time and ask for my autograph and telling me they love the film. I've got loads of punky hair so I guess it's easy to recognise me. It's really cute actually, it feeds my ego hugely.
The film is based on a book, so did it come your way as a package with Lindsay Lohan attached already?
Actually it came to me at the last minute. I had little to do with the development process of the script, I just grabbed it and did what I could with it. For instance the school show was something I could have fun with, but otherwise it was quite a literal translation of the book.
You enjoyed that then?
It was good fun, I loved having something where you had to bother about the music and costume and hair in that way because all my other films have been done in a village in Wales, and don't have much to do with pop culture at all. But in my own life I love clothes and music and stuff, so it was great to be able to use all that, it was really important here.
How does it feel saying you have a Hollywood film under your belt?
Right now I feel that I'd rather keep it going and keep in the process and keep it real. I think I've learnt a lot, it's great fun. I sometimes pinch myself that I've done a studio film but at the same time I want to do more. This is my career now. Things change so quickly. Before this, and even during filming I was like 'oooh, I'm doing a Hollywood film, that's enough for me'. And now I'm like 'yah, that's all I'm doing'. I guess I'd like to do a mixture of studio and independent films, though it's hard to know what an independent film is nowadays. If I could do whatever I wanted I would do my Welsh films, for which you can't rely on box office, and I would do my Hollywood films. That would be my dream.
Was there someone to guide you through the very different process of making a movie in Hollywood?
I worked with two guys who were very established producers. Bob Shapiro was President of Warner Bros and Jeffrey Leider ran Warner Bros television. I suppose in that respect it was like working with Samuel Goldwyn over your shoulder. But they were good guys and knew their stuff. It was an extraordinary privilege for me to jump right into that experience. Sometimes I was puzzled. No one knows what's going to make a hit, but the emotional terrain was very different over here. I would sometimes think it was going too light or too heavy, but in the end I realised that the British sensibility is a lot darker. Then there's the sentiment, the Americans don't mind schmaltz at all. One of the biggest criticisms of VERY ANNIE MARY in England was that it was too schmaltzy but it's got me everything I've done so far over here.
Alison Pill, cast as Lindsay's best friend in this, is a real find isn't she?
She's fantastic and a wonderful girl as well. She's a proper actress. In fact she just did a film with Jamie Bell, a Thomas Vinterberg film that Lars Von Trier has written. She was auditioning for Juliet at the same time, and she's just done a play on Broadway. She was in a film called PIECES OF APRIL as well, which I loved.
Were you regarded by your younger cast members as an austere authority figure, to be obeyed at all costs?
I have absolutely no authority whatsoever. My relationship with Lindsay was like' 'shut up!' 'No you shut up!' 'No you shut up!'. We just bantered back and forth, in a very friendly way, just like two teenagers.
Have you done any mad, Hollywood style things yet?
I bought a Porsche. That's what you do in Hollywood, but I'm so not like that ordinarily. In London I had this 12 year-old Fiat Cinquecento that sounded like a really bad egg whisk. I went from that to a Porsche Carrera convertible, just because I'm in Hollywood!
Were you ever terribly daunted by the prospect, the whole machinery of making a Hollywood film?
Never, but then I have huge delusions of grandeur. I felt completely at home doing this. I just had the best time and never felt frightened at all. I don't know if that's because I've been around film sets for a long time now, it's the only place that makes sense to me. Life seems frightening, but stick me on a film set and I'm as happy as Goofy. I just had the best time.
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