“It Was the Perfect Time in History for the Movie”: An Oral History of ‘Freaky Friday’

“It Was the Perfect Time in History for the Movie”: An Oral History of ‘Freaky Friday’

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Disney’s 2003 version of Freaky Friday almost looked very different.

Annette Bening and Michelle Trachtenberg were first cast as mother and daughter in the remake of the 1977 film that saw Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster switching bodies on Friday the 13th. But Trachtenberg couldn’t get out of her commitment to shoot Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Bening dropped out shortly before production began.

Producer Andrew Gunn recalls that Nina Jacobson, then president of Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, happened to see Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies on TV and suggested her for the updated role of the therapist mom Tess, who gets trapped in the body of her teenage daughter Anna, an aspiring musician, after they each open a magical fortune cookie.

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And while Lindsay Lohan’s audition for the part of Anna hadn’t been stellar, she had already proved herself in Disney’s 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. The pair clicked. According to director Mark Waters: “(Curtis’ casting) ended up saving the movie because her energy and also her chemistry with Lindsay … the two of them have a lot of aggressive energy, and aggression is funny. They were not scared to get into it with each other.”

Buena Vista released the $26 million film 20 years ago on Aug. 6, 2003. It made $160.8 million worldwide, earned positive reviews from critics ­— who praised Curtis’ and Lohan’s performances — and is now considered a cult classic. In May, Disney confirmed a sequel is in development, and Curtis and Lohan are in talks to return.

Here, many of the key players reflect on the anniversary for The Hollywood Reporter.

JAMIE LEE CURTIS AND LINDSAY LOHAN’S CASTING ENDED UP SAVING THE MOVIE”
Gunn and Waters recount the making of the film, while the cast reflects on their auditions.

ANDREW GUNN, Producer: (Disney executive Nina Jacobson) called me and said, “I want you to make movies for me.” And I was like, “heart attack. Yes!” So, it was Christmas, and I came back in the new year, and I said, “OK, there’s two movies in the library that I’d like to try to do something with.” And she said, “OK, what?” And I said, “Freaky Friday and Witch Mountain.” And she was like, “Eh. I don’t know.” Freaky Friday had like two or three years before been a Disney Channel movie. But she was like, “OK, you can try to do something with them.”

(Disney executive) Kristin (Burr), Heather (Hawk, the screenwriter) and I just used to sit at Starbucks and either do notes or spitball ideas (for the script), and then Princess Diaries came out in 2001. That sort of showed the studio like, “Oh my god, we can make these movies,” ostensibly like girls and their mom in quotes, movies, like that’s the audience, but they can be really successful and really good. And so then it became, “Hey, what’s going on with Freaky Friday?” And that accelerated us.

MARK WATERS, Director: I met with the producer Andrew Gunn and Kristin Burr from Disney. I think they were taking the meeting almost as a courtesy because I was in movie jail at the time. I was kind in that place where like, “God, I’ll never get hired again.” Plus, I was kind of willing to tank the meeting because I didn’t think the script was any good, but I liked the idea. It was Freaky Friday, and I had fond memories of the old movie.

The script they had at the time was about a girl who wrote for the school paper, who wanted to get an interview with Gwen Stefani at the House of Blues, and her mother was a psychiatrist. The first thing I said was like, “Why are you making this version of the movie? You have a nerd daughter and a nerd mom, and they’re basically switching places and age in nerdom. You gotta have the rebel daughter and the straight-laced mom, and then it’s gonna be interesting.” I pitched the whole thing, literally what the movie became. … I left thinking, “Well, I’m never gonna hear from them again.” And then they called me in to meet Nina Jacobson, and she was like, “Yeah, we like your version. Let’s make it.”

GUNN: Originally, it was going to be Annette Bening and Michelle Trachtenberg, (who was starring on Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time). They wouldn’t let her try to work around her TV schedule. So, she was out. And so then we were screen-testing all kinds of people against Annette. Then really close, like while we were prepping, Annette said, “I can’t do the movie.” And I freaked out.

WATERS: (Annette Bening) was the first person I sought out. Like, when I read the part (of Tess), I pictured her, and she was interested. Ultimately, I think we kept on making promises that the script was going to get better and better, and she felt like we were really close to shooting, and it still had not gotten good enough. So, she was kind of anxious about it. And that’s when she decided to step away.

GUNN: (Nina) called on the weekend and said, “I was just watching True Lies on TV, what about Jamie Lee?” And it was like, “Oh my god, that’d be great.” It’s always weird how things come together.

RYAN MALGARINI, Harry: We all knew it because it was big news. It was the first day of filming, and they were like, “Yeah, we’re gonna get someone else to come into play your mom in a couple of days. And you’re like, “OK, cool.”

LUCILLE SOONG, Pei-Pei’s Mom: I think Jamie Lee Curtis was much, much more suitable than Annette Bening for that part.

WATERS: (Curtis’ casting) ended up, I think, saving the movie because her energy and also her chemistry with Lindsay … the two of them have a lot of like aggressive energy, and aggression is funny. If you’re kind of playing comedy in a way that’s shy and non-confrontational, it’s never that good. But the two of them were not scared to get into it with each other, and that made it really work well.

Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis in FREAKY FRIDAY.

Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday.

Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

GUNN: Annette and I sort of talked a lot about the movie (three years later), and Annette was the first one to say, “Jamie was so much better in that movie than I would have been.” Annette is the most amazing, classy woman, and it’s true. It would have been just a different movie.

WATERS: (Casting) Mark Harmon was interesting because Tom Selleck was attached to play that part when Annette Bening was attached. He was very upfront with me. He called me when Annette dropped out, and he said, “Look, I was excited about the project, but I was really excited about the opportunity of working with Annette. So, I’m gonna back out.” And I was like, “Oh, I understand. No hard feelings,” and then we went out for Mark Harmon. As far as an older man, he was still considered to be like a heartthrob because women adored him.

Lindsay was another one that was interesting. We tested all these great young actors, and people did a decent job playing kind of the mom part. I wouldn’t even say Lindsay was our best audition, but Lindsay just had star presence.

Ryan Malgarini was just great. He was just so fucking funny. He just looked super young for his age. It’s always a benefit when you’re casting a kid, where you cast somebody who’s, like, 8 years old to play a 6-year-old, so you get that intelligence, but he still looks like a kid.

MALGARINI: I remember the audition oddly enough. Spencer Breslin was there, and Angus T. Jones was there. I was kind of starstruck by them, and I think Daryl Sabara was there too, which is really funny. I’m also namedropping those people to see who I beat out. (Laughs.) They handed me the script, and my grandparents and I, like real weirdos, sat outside of the audition room afterward and saw if anyone else had a script, and nobody did. So, we were like, “I think that’s a good sign.” And we got excited. I really did like the idea of playing a spoiled little brat. I was a sweeter kid and kind of shy, so it was fun for me to feel like I could kind of mouth off a little bit.

I remember auditioning and then just fast-forwarding to that table read and just mispronouncing a couple words because I was 10 and still learning to read. The first time I heard that Lindsay Lohan was going to be in the movie, I remember asking which twin was going to be the actress, and then they were like “No,” because Parent Trap just came out, and I was like, “Oh, that’s one person?! She’s a really good actress.”

CHAD MICHAEL MURRAY, Jake: I came in thinking, “OK, it’s all about performance, all about performance.” But it genuinely had nothing to do with what came out of my mouth. I got the job based upon Lindsay’s reaction. So, he read her and was like, “OK, which guy is going to make Lindsay get the uncomfortable nature that we want her to have onscreen? You know, because this is supposed to be Jake, he’s supposed to be this guy — the guy she’s got this crush on.”

When I heard Jamie was coming onboard, I really got excited because I grew up loving Jamie Lee Curtis. I grew up watching her on True Lies, and my dad just had the biggest crush on her. She’s just fantastic in everything she does. She’s just Hollywood royalty, in my opinion, and she’s the epitome of what a movie star is. She’s a lifer. It was a great person to watch, and now looking back at that age, I can sit there and just appreciate so much of what she was and what she did for everybody.

ROSALIND CHAO, Pei-Pei: I saw the part, and at first I thought, “Oh God, I don’t want to do you know, the whole Chinese (thing).” I just had feelings about it, but then I always try and flip the script, and I thought, “Wait, what am I talking about?” I grew up in a Chinese restaurant. My dad really was that guy. “Oh, look. You so handsome. I haven’t seen you for a long time. You so big.” He had an accent, but he thought he had no accent.

I don’t want to reject that. I wanna embrace that. My dad and all his charm, when customers came in, he could charm anybody — people who were kind of racist because a restaurant was in Orange County — and by the time they would leave, they would be saying, “Oh, you make the best pancakes. Your restaurant is the best.”

Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan and Lucille Soong in FREAKY FRIDAY.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Lindsay Lohan and Lucille Soong in Freaky Friday.

Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

CHRISTINA VIDAL, Maddie: I went in (to audition) a couple of times. I think they had me sing as well, but they knew I could sing because the director knew me from Taina. I didn’t hear anything for what felt like a month. I thought, “Oh, well you know, that would have been cool.” And then all of a sudden, out of the blue, I get the call that I booked it. It was just one of the best times of my life.

We did a table read, and then we did rehearsals in a studio in North Hollywood called AMP. We rehearsed a lot together — me, Lindsay and Haley. We would also have private guitar lessons where we would learn where to put our fingers and what strings to hit at what point, so that it kind of looked like we knew what we were doing.

GUNN: It wasn’t like anybody was expecting huge things from us, and it wasn’t until the first test screening … We thought the movie was amazing, but I’ve been there before when you think it’s awesome, and then you test it in front of an audience, and it’s like, “Why aren’t they laughing?” But the screening was so good, and we came out, and the score was so high, and then it was just sort of like, “Oh my god. Could it really be that good?”

WATERS: It scored in the 90s. After it was over, (Disney CEO) Mike Eisner, Nina Jacobson, (Walt Disney Studios chairman) Dick Cook, were all like, “Well, we love it, so do you want more money?” And I was like, “Well, I have this idea for an ending.” We didn’t have the current ending where you call back Rosalind Chao’s character, and she comes and tackles the grandma. I had this idea for this ending, and I said, “Well, the ending as it is now is not as funny. I had this idea for this funny gag, and they were like, ‘Yeah, here’s half a million dollars, go shoot it.’”

(The original ending) was like (Harry and grandpa) opened up the fortune cookies, and then you cut to the wide shot of the wedding, and it’s shaking, and you hear them yell “Earthquake,” and that’s it. It just ends with an earthquake, as opposed to them stopping from opening the fortune cookies in a kind of comedic body slam. Body slams are always funny.

“QUENTIN TARANTINO WAS, LIKE, FAN-GEEKING ME.”
From first onscreen kisses to the iconic House of Blues scene, the producer, director and stars look back on their time on set.

GUNN: We were in the Palisades at Paly High (on our first day) and doing exterior high school stuff. Sometime during that week, somebody from the high school tried to steal something out of the camera track. That was the biggest scandal that ever happened on the movie.

MURRAY: I loved all this stuff that we did at Pacific Palisades. All the school scenes were fun because we were all young kids kind of goofing off. It kind of feels like a field trip a little bit.

VIDAL: Lindsay, Haley and I were just friends immediately, so it was just like going somewhere to hang out with your friends, and there were cameras rolling.

Haley Hudson, Lindsay Lohan and Christina Vidal in FREAKY FRIDAY.

Haley Hudson, Lindsay Lohan and Christina Vidal in Freaky Friday.

Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

MURRAY: My first day of filming was nerve-wracking because I was working with Jamie, and we were shooting in a coffee house. I just remember watching Jamie as close as I could, trying to learn as much as I could from her to see what she was doing and just trying to make sure that I didn’t screw up. We did that, and then we did the coffee-sitting scene where we’re we’re kind of leaning forward and having a little flirtatious moment.

GUNN: We sort of wonder if we were doing the movie now, would we be able to do the whole Jamie-Chad Michael Murray weirdness, or would people just sort of say that’s completely inappropriate? Hopefully, everyone would still see the comedy of it. But other than that, there was never anything that the studio was like, “Hey, we’re concerned about this.” Or “don’t do that.” I think partly because we were just too small for a lot of that concern.

MALGARINI: I met Jamie Lee Curtis that first day, and I told her, “Oh! I remember you from True Lies.” I don’t know if you’ve seen True Lies, but there’s a very risque scene in that movie. That must’ve been super awkward for her for this 10-year-old kid to be like, “I remember seeing you in lingerie.” I remember her reaction being like, “Oh, great. Awesome. Cool.” I just laugh about thinking about how awkward that must have made her feel, or maybe not, who knows? She’s a very confident person.

MURRAY: The day we shot at the House of Blues in Hollywood, that was awesome. I mean, you’re talking thousands of extras. It was such a big production, and I just, for the first time, felt like, “Wow.” I felt cool, even though I wasn’t cool, I felt cool, because there’s just all these people, and they all want to be a part of a movie, and you get to be a character in this movie, and it’s just so it’s just such a fulfilling like, “I’m really here at this moment.”

WATERS: I love the House of Blues sequence just because it was kind of this big thing in my mind, building up to it, this thing I pitched about the Battle of the Bands. It was a lot of people, a lot of moving parts and to have it come together like it did was super cool. One time, I got cornered at a party by Quentin Tarantino, who outlined in great detail shot by shot that sequence of the House of Blues to me. He was like outlining why it was a genius scene and a perfect ending for the movie, and I was like, “This is cool man. Quentin Tarantino was like, fan-geeking me.”

(embed)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0eHUaCDsQE(/embed)

VIDAL: The most difficult for me was recording “Take Me Away” because I’ve always loved soulful music. That was my style of singing, and they were like, “So, this is a rock song. They’re a rock band, and we need you to sound more rock-ish,” and I was like, “What does that even mean? I’m just trying to sing well.” Finally, somebody was just like, “Try singing it through your nose, like being really nasal.” In my head, I was like, “That’s gonna sound terrible,” but then I was like, “OK if that’s what you guys want.” I left there a little bit upset, and it’s just interesting how it ended up being a cult classic that other real bands have covered.

MALGARINI: The most difficult scene was probably the little stunt that we did with my underwear being on my head. It wasn’t hard acting, but the physical part of the underwear because we couldn’t figure out the mechanics behind making it look like my head was being pulled up by underwear. Every time they tried to do it, it kind of hurt. Then, Jamie Lee Curtis had this idea. She was like, “Just grab on and my forearms, and I’ll just kind of lift you up with my forearms.” Me running into the door on the way back was real. I thought the door was open, and I ran right into the door, so they kept that in.

MURRAY: Probably the most overwhelming moment for me was we were shooting in Malibu for the end of the movie for the wedding, and that was a big moment because that was Lindsay’s first onscreen kiss. I didn’t know. I had no idea, and so they’re coming to me like I’m some kind of pro or something, and I’m like, “You realize you’re talking to a 19-year-old?” I have no idea what I’m doing, but sure I’ll take the lead. So, I remember everyone was nervous, and they were like, “Hey, would you just talk to her today and kind of do stuff to relax her and stuff, make a couple of jokes so she didn’t think about it?”

Finally, we got close, and Jamie Lee — just God bless her — she’s like, “Lindsay, it’s fine. It’s easy. You have nothing to worry about. Just kiss him. Just go for it. Just get it out of the way now.” And she was really nervous, and she didn’t wanna do it, and she goes, “Look,” and she grabbed me by the back of the head, and she kisses me, and in that moment, I knew I had made it. (Laughs.) I’m not gonna lie. My dad was incredibly jealous and still is to this day — as he should be. (Laughs.) But she made everyone feel comfortable and made Lindsay feel comfortable.

Lindsay Lohan and Chad Michael Murray in FREAKY FRIDAY.

Lindsay Lohan and Chad Michael Murray in Freaky Friday.

Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection

MALGARINI: I always get tagged in TikTok videos about the stunt double that I had that tackled me at the end of that wedding scene. That’s always something that comes up for whatever reason. Everyone’s always like, “That wasn’t you that got tackled?” I’m like, “No, that was an adult.” It’s really funny if you pause it, you can see before I get tackled, it totally changes to a full-on adult person.

“IT WAS THAT PERFECT TIME IN HISTORY FOR THE MOVIE.”
The team unpacks what makes Freaky Friday so special and looks ahead to the upcoming sequel, with Curtis and Lohan reprising their roles.

GUNN: It was the perfect time in history for the movie. If it was now, it wouldn’t be a theatrical movie. It’s such a different world now. There’s just something really personal about it, and I don’t think you always get to have that. The bigger the movies, as far as scale and scope and budget, I think the less personal they can become just because they’re so huge. There’s just so many things that I can sort of point to and say, “That was special.” “That was special.”

SOONG: It’s a cute movie. Lindsay Lohan was really good at playing the mom, and Jamie Lee Curtis is always fantastic. They are good actors and a good story. Everybody can relate to that. That’s why it was so popular.

MALGARINI: Freaky Friday had all of that like punk but angst but still being cool, and it was just starting to creep into humor that was a little bit more mature, for lack of a better word. Mark Waters, I think, is what made that movie successful — and Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, the work that they did — but it all kind of stems from the director, and it’s obvious in the things that he did after Freaky Friday that he had success. He’s just got such a great feel for not only comedy but heart, and Freaky Friday had a lot of heart.

I think the music plays a lot more part in the film than I think anything. I think those songs are going to live on for a while because they kind of go hand in hand a little bit. Without that soundtrack, I don’t think the movie would have been as good. I think that might live on past the movie because the movie is great, but you can’t have the movie without those songs.

Lindsay Lohan in FREAKY FRIDAY.

Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday.

Buena Vista Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

CHAO: It’s a movie about empathy, and it helps us to laugh at ourselves. The mother-daughter movies really do hang around. The intertwining of the Chinese culture with seeing life through your parents’ eyes is great. I think that’s kind of the secret to the whole thing, seeing ourselves through the person closest to us. But it’s fun, too.

MALGARINI: Everybody can kind of connect with feeling insufficient and feeling like you’re not heard or not seen or that their side isn’t represented as well. I think a lot of people saw a lot of themselves in Lindsay Lohan. I think she represented that age so well, and that’s what, ultimately, I think is the job is for us to feel like we can see a piece of ourselves in what is being represented.

WATERS: There’s always a generation of daughters and mothers that seems to keep renewing itself. I went from people who are my peers to people who are like five to 10 years younger than me to people who are brand new mothers right now, who come to me and say, “Oh my god, I just watched that movie with my daughter.” I think that’s an amazing thing that we pulled that off.

GUNN: I think one of the fun things (to explore in the sequel) is that mothers and daughters have that kind of relationship or issue during their teenage years, but I think, the next time there is conflict is when the daughters have kids of their own. And so, it was so funny that Lindsay is having her baby and just what would Tess be like in that in that kind of relationship when she’s a grandmother? I think that would be super interesting.

Trying to find an idea that also serviced Jamie and Lindsay but also worked in all these other characters, was one of the hardest things to do, but I’m telling you Elyse (Hollander), the writer, just came up with this super funny, heartwarming idea. I didn’t know what a sequel would be 20 years ago, like it would be Harry switching with grandpa or something, but all of a sudden, 20 years later, it’s like, “Oh, actually, (a sequel) could work.” So, I think, time gives it more room to actually become something.

WATERS: I think the plot is basically about a baby boom grandmother, seeing her daughter as a helicopter mom, kind of like a Millennial mom, who’s kind of doing everything in a way that they disagree with how they’re doing things, and then they’re forced to kind of switch and walk in each other’s shoes. So, I think it’s an interesting idea. I love that Jamie’s excited about it. I wish them well, whether or not I’m involved in or not.

I doubt I am the guy that you call to be involved. Frankly, if I’m the studio, I’m like, “Let me get a young female director who’s up and coming and has a fresh voice and a fresh point of view.” That’s who I’d want to see direct the movie. I’d be happy to be involved as an exec producer or something and just to kind of like help with script development. So far, no one’s called, but I still have a good relationship with everyone at Disney.

MURRAY: When we look around, the world has changed vastly over the course of the last 20 years, and so there’s so many more social issues that could be incredible storytelling, incredible for heart. There’s just so many stories that can we could bring in from today’s culture that are not (in the original) — everything from youth speech to technology to social injustices. There’s a vast amount of material that people could really use to make this more contemporary.

CHAO: I would kill to remake Freaky Friday. I don’t love remakes usually, but this one would be really fun because there’s so many things you can do with it. I do hope they keep the sort of mystical and, of course, the Chinese element into it. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s not like we were evil. We were really trying to help. I can’t think of one bad memory of doing that movie — not one. I mean, that’s pretty damn good.

MURRAY: What I love about what we do, is it gives us a bond that can never be broken. No matter how long it’s been. We always will get to share that. So, it’s like this little adventure in storytelling that we all go on together that bond is for lifetimes.