The Production

Nancy Drew Arrives in Hollywood

Where Nancy Drew goes, mystery follows. And, for more than 75 years, this young heroine's fans worldwide have been eagerly going along on the adventure--exploring every dark path and secret staircase to find the clues that will solve the crime and confirm Nancy's reputation as everyone's favorite teen detective.

"Young people identify with Nancy. They want to do what she's doing," says producer Jerry Weintraub. "She's smart, courageous, self-assured, and she can hold her own in any situation just by being herself. For generations, her stories have offered drama and suspense, as well as fun. Nancy is always where the action is, and that's why she never goes out of style."

"I think it's fun for kids to see someone their own age solving mysteries in an adult world and doing so many cool things," adds Emma Roberts.

In bringing Nancy Drew to the big screen, Weintraub and director Andrew Fleming sought to retain the timeless quality and appeal of the popular series while introducing Nancy to a new generation of movie fans by relocating her to Southern California and giving her another exciting case to solve. At the same time, Nancy must deal with the challenges that any 16 year old would face as "the new girl in town." Her confidence is tested from the start by a tough reception from her peers in the fierce clique culture at Hollywood High while, privately, she wonders about her feelings for the boy she left back home in River Heights, now that they've been separated by so many miles.

It's all a little distracting, even for someone as famously focused as Nancy Drew.

Says Fleming, "It creates an interesting juxtaposition and some natural humor to take her out of her comfort zone and throw her into this unfamiliar world, since Nancy Drew is the classic American girl, a combination of high spirits and hometown values. Everything is faster, louder and crazier in Los Angeles than what she's accustomed to. It's an invigorating challenge to her coping skills, and ultimately brings us back to the heart and soul of who she really is."

As fans will attest, states Weintraub, "The essence of Nancy Drew is that she is always true to herself, no matter the circumstances."

The film offers an original story, written for the screen by Andrew Fleming and Tiffany Paulsen. True to form is Nancy's uncanny ability to attract a mystery, and her unswerving commitment to solving it, no matter what. In this case, however, pursuing that passion puts her in the uncomfortable position of keeping the truth of her activities from her father, widowed attorney Carson Drew, whose job is what has relocated them to Southern California.

Carson is proud of his daughter's accomplishments but worries for her safety. "In River Heights, he can live with it because it's a small town and they know the police chief personally, but in L.A. it's a different game and he's understandably nervous about her pursuing an investigation here," Weintraub explains. "Besides, he wants her to focus on having a good time and just enjoying being a teenager for once. So they come to California with the understanding that she will take a break from the detective work."

Unfortunately for Nancy, prior to making this promise to her Dad, she had already selected the Draycott Mansion as the place for them to stay while in Los Angeles. "Because he feels a little guilty about uprooting her from everything familiar, he lets her pick the house for them to live in," Roberts says. She then pauses before adding, "That was his first mistake."

In fact, Nancy chose the house specifically because of the tantalizing mystery it holds: the unexplained death of its former owner, glamorous bygone film star Dehlia Draycott--a fictional incident that, Fleming says, "is an amalgamation of various strange Hollywood tragedies and rumors that have circulated over the years, which gives it a ring of familiarity."

Within hours of their arrival, some of Nancy's personal items go missing from her room, the eerie sound of footsteps lead nowhere and a distinctly menacing caretaker makes it clear that he doesn't appreciate their company. If Nancy honors her promise not to investigate the strange goings-on at Draycott Mansion, it could mean turning her back on the greatest mystery of her life.

Fleming concedes, "As any Nancy Drew fan knows, she just won't be able to help herself. She has to get involved."

Casting: Old Friends Join New

"The challenge of this kind of project is that it all hinges upon finding that one young woman who can be smart and courageous, funny and endearing, and make it all seem completely natural," says Fleming, who, together with Weintraub, conducted an extensive search to find his Nancy Drew. What made Emma Roberts the standout favorite was her approach to the role. "Rather than playing the idea of who Nancy Drew is, as a character, she played it as if she were simply a teenager trying to solve a mystery, a fiercely independent young person actually saying and doing these things."

"We didn't discover Emma Roberts, but we discovered her for 'Nancy Drew,'" says Weintraub of the young star who recently wrapped her third starring season on Nickelodeon's "Unfabulous." "She was exactly the right person. We couldn't have imagined a better actress for this role. She really is Nancy Drew."

"Nancy is pretty fearless," Roberts says. "Even if she's scared, she pretends not to be, because she has to hold it together until she gets to the end and solves the mystery." On another level, the actress believes Nancy Drew's ability to solve crimes is dependent upon "her attention to detail," and incorporated that awareness into the role. "She looks in places where nobody would think to look and really listens to what people say. She pays attention to mannerisms and body language."

Overall, Roberts sees Nancy as someone who expects the best of people but is never shocked to encounter the opposite--in other words, "nice, but nobody's fool." Faced with an unkind reception from the girls at her new high school, says Roberts, "It hurts her a little, certainly, but Nancy knows that even if you look for the best, some people just aren't very nice, so her response is to simply focus on her own interests and not let it get to her."

Of course, the more she ignores their games, the more it bugs them, which is a part of the enduring Nancy Drew personality that fans have revered for years. Notes Fleming, "She's all business. Nancy is worried about the case, weighing information, going over details. What she's not worried about is what the kids think of her. She isn't obsessed with the latest trend or what everyone else is wearing. I think people are drawn to her because of her genuine enthusiasm for what she's doing."

One person who would agree with that assessment is Ned Nickerson, Nancy's almost-maybe-sort-of boyfriend, a character from the book series played here by Max Thieriot. Ned drives Nancy's beloved roadster from River Heights to Los Angeles for her birthday and becomes involved in her ongoing investigation of the Draycott mystery--not to mention her unpredictable social life. Hints of their burgeoning relationship are woven throughout the story as they realize the easy camaraderie that began in grade school could possibly be developing into something else.

Channeling his inner teenager for a minute, Weintraub explains, "She likes him but doesn't know that she likes him. He likes her, but he's not sure how she feels, and neither of them know what to say or do about it because they're both kind of shy. I may have grandkids older than these two now, but I still remember what that was like."

Adds Fleming, "Max and Emma have the kind of chemistry onscreen that can convey that sweetness and discovery, often in very brief moments and without dialogue. That's a part of casting that's impossible to fully predict and very often comes down to a hunch."

Thieriot understands that his character's concern about Nancy's trip to Los Angeles is that she might find more enticing pursuits--namely, other guys--and forget all about him. "He really gets nervous and imagines the worst case scenario, not just the boys she'll meet at school but possibly celebrities that he assumes are walking around everywhere." So acute is his anxiety that he starts to believe Nancy might actually be interested in her new friend Corky, a fast-talking 12 year old with an out-of-control crush on her, although Corky is clearly not boyfriend material... or is he?

"It's understandable," Thieriot defends Ned. "He sees his almost-girlfriend hanging out with this other guy all the time. On the one hand, he can't really believe she likes him because he's so young--but still, you never know. So Ned and Corky end up developing this rivalry where they pretend to get along, and all the time they're literally pushing and shoving each other out of the way for her attention."

"Corky is comic relief," says Fleming. "He develops a crush on Nancy, which is endearing and very funny, especially the way Josh Flitter handles it. He has a natural ability to be funny. He has a lot of laugh-out-loud lines and opportunities but he never just goes for the joke; he plays it for real."

Originally, the Corky character was meant to be older, but was rewritten to accommodate the 12-year-old Flitter, who made an indelible impression on Jerry Weintraub during an appearance on "The Tonight Show," following his star turn as a pint-sized caddy in "The Greatest Game Ever Played." Says Weintraub, "I saw him on Leno and he was out-of-this-world funny and just a great kid. I fell in love with him. I said to Andrew, 'we gotta write something for this kid. He's fantastic. He's a home run.'"

Making the character younger added a dimension of humor to the story and created a situation a great many people can relate to, as Weintraub notes. "He's like any 12 or 13-year-old kid who admires someone a little older and then tries to meet her on that level. He thinks he's succeeding; he's putting his best foot forward, and he doesn't understand that he has no chance at all--especially a kid like Corky, who's full of confidence and thinks of himself as sophisticated beyond his years. It's funny, his hitting on her and following her around, but it's also kind of sweet."

"Corky is a typical L.A. kid, 12 going on 25," says Flitter. "In order to get Nancy's attention, he pretends to be interested in the things she's interested in, primarily solving this mystery. He has no idea what he's doing and he almost gets himself killed, but he wants to be there. The rest of the time, he's trying to push the hometown boyfriend out of the picture."

True to character, Flitter offers, "I'm not trying to brag, but I do have most of the funniest lines."

All this brewing social drama is just what Nancy needs, according to her father. Starring as Carson Drew is Tate Donovan, who states the worried father's case: "He's proud of Nancy and her accomplishments but really just wants her to be a normal teenager. When the movie opens, she's sliding down a rooftop and almost falls to the ground, and this is on the eve of the two of them traveling to Los Angeles. Carson is wary about the big city combined with his daughter's curious nature."

At the same time, cites Fleming, it is undeniably the values Carson himself has instilled in Nancy that make her what she is. "They embody many of the same qualities, like kindness, courage and a sense of fair play, because she is a reflection of him, and this is largely why she gets so involved in pursuing crimes and trying to set things right.

"In this case," Fleming continues, "there is an additional conflict that tests the loving and respectful bond between father and daughter. When he lays down the law that she cannot do any detective work in L.A., at a point when she's already become involved in the Draycott case, she finds herself withholding information from him--at least (she assures herself) temporarily. It's tough for her, but relevant to our theme of Nancy growing up. One of the normal things that kids her age do as they discover their independence is avoid telling their parents the whole truth."

Chances are, if Carson knew that Nancy's prime motivation in this latest investigation was to help Jane Brighton, a struggling single mother, he would be sympathetic.

Rachael Leigh Cook stars in the catalytic role of Jane Brighton, an unassuming young woman living with her daughter in a Los Angeles apartment when Nancy Drew appears at the door with information that could possibly change her life completely. "Traditionally in Nancy Drew stories, Nancy is guided not only by the lure of a good mystery itself but, more importantly, by a genuine desire to help someone in trouble or put together the pieces of someone's life, and this time is no different," says Fleming. "Jane Brighton is that person in our story, and Rachael gives the role the heart it needs. It changes the tone of the case from Hollywood history to a more personal, immediate drama."

Rounding out the main cast in key roles are veteran star of stage, screen and television, Barry Bostwick ("Spin City") as high-powered Draycott estate attorney Dashiel Biedermeyer, who might have a lucrative legal assignment for Carson Drew; Marshall Bell ("Deadwood,") as the mansion's reclusive caretaker Leshing, who has an unnerving habit of appearing when and where he's least expected; and ALMA Award winner Laura Harring ("Mulholland Drive"), seen in flashback sequences as the enigmatic actress Dehlia Draycott. Caroline Aaron (Broadway's "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean") adds a note of humor as eager real estate agent Barbara Barbara, and Emmy Award winner Pat Carroll ("Caesar's Hour") is the Draycott estate's gossipy landlady.

Daniella Monet ("Zoey 101," "Simon Says") and Kelly Vitz ("Simon Says," "Eye of the Dolphin") appear, respectively, as the inseparable Inga and Trish, Hollywood High's self-appointed queens of fashion and arbiters of the social scene. Not knowing what to make of Nancy Drew's unself-conscious individualism and classic-with-a-twist outfits, they try to make her life miserable with taunts and pranks intended to send her running back to River Heights. "Clearly," says Fleming, with a laugh, "they don't know who they're dealing with."

Having so many young actors in the cast, including a leading lady who is in nearly every scene but can only work limited hours, required a feat of scheduling that the director calls "putting a puzzle together, blindfolded. This was by far the biggest challenge and it shaped the organization of production." Navigating around Roberts' school hours and end-of-day "pumpkin time," after which she could not work, meant "filming as much as possible around her, then working furiously for the middle of the day. It was a sprint."

The Draycott Mansion and Getting Nancy Around L.A.

The showpiece set of "Nancy Drew" is the fictional Draycott Mansion, a home that, even in its current rundown condition, suggests its former glory as the home of A-list film star Dehlia Draycott in the 1960s and 70s. Reputed to be haunted since her death, the house has remained on the rental market and still contains her original furnishings, personal belongings and film footage stored in the attic - all of it rich with clues to the past.

Says Fleming, "The house is a big element in the movie. It had to be a place that could only exist in Hollywood, one of those former movie star homes that have a lot of history. Jerry and I agreed that we were going to have to build the interior from scratch. There was no other way to get it right."

Weintraub enlisted, as production designer, award-winning art director Tony Fanning, with whom he worked on "Ocean's Twelve" and the upcoming release "Ocean's Thirteen."

Fanning's research turned up the work of famed Hollywood interior designer William Haines, whose rooms, Fanning says, "felt like movie sets. They were very glamorous, in that period style, which is exactly what Andrew wanted. He had specific ideas for the colors. It needed to feel dated, so we cast a sepia tone over everything, with metallics and reflective materials in the walls to give it a silver screen quality. There were moments, when the set was dressed, when you could look at it and think you were watching an old movie. Then a character would step in and immediately make it contemporary and vivid."

Fleming also worked closely with his longtime collaborator, director of photography Alexander Gruszynski, to achieve the subtle and moody lighting perfect for this atmospheric space. In keeping with the story's Hollywood history element, they opted to film in widescreen.

Logistically, the house needed to accommodate the numerous hidden tunnels and false walls that Nancy's investigations reveal. "That was the fun part of the design," Fanning recalls. "Nancy keeps hearing people in the house but can't find them, and then she discovers a secret passageway and a hidden staircase and follows them to their source."

All that attention to covert entrances and exits inspired production pranksters to play a trick on their star. As Emma Roberts recounts, "In one scene, Nancy finds a projection room in the mansion by opening a hidden panel in an adjoining room. She opens it carefully, like a little window, and peeks inside. While we were shooting the scene, one of the guys put on a mask and stuck his face right there where the panel opens. I really screamed."

Finding an exterior for the house that could look appropriately neglected proved especially difficult, considering that any inhabited home of such grand proportions would likely be very well kept. The production found a residence in La Canada that offered sufficient foliage and then created, says Fanning, "that overgrown look Andrew wanted by adding to it and decaying the house and grounds. We filled up the front with a lot of wild-looking plants that weren't quite green."

Additional Los Angeles area locations included the historic El Pueblo de Los Angeles on Olvera Street, where Nancy inadvertently interrupts a movie set, as well as Los Angeles City Hall, Griffith Park, Chinatown, St. Luke's Hospital in Pasadena, the track and exteriors of Hollywood High School and poolside at the landmark Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. South Pasadena represented Nancy's Midwestern hometown of River Heights, and classrooms at Long Beach Poly High substituted for Hollywood High interiors.

Not yet 16 during production, Roberts was unable to take Nancy Drew's sky blue Nash Metropolitan convertible out for a spin, although she would have loved it. "It's the coolest car," she says, echoing the sentiments of her castmates, all of whom were charmed by the Metro's unique design. "It's basically a bathtub on wheels, and pretty much the size of a bathtub inside. Max, Josh and I all had to fit in there with a camera, and it was a little crowded. Max had to fold up his legs like a crane." The vintage auto was pulled by a truck during filming. "I'm sure it looked pretty weird: a little car being hauled around the streets of L.A. by a humongous truck with cameras. We got a lot of attention," says Roberts.

Nancy Drew, Fashion Trendsetter

Many of the qualities that define Nancy Drew as a person are reflected in her look: straightforward, confident and classically inspired, but with a sense of fun and a style all her own. To achieve this, producer Jerry Weintraub turned to Oscar-nominated costume designer Jeffrey Kurland ("Bullets Over Broadway"), his collaborator on "Ocean's Eleven."

"It's a look you've never seen before and yet you think you have--a throwback in some ways to the 1950s and 60s and yet undeniably contemporary," Weintraub muses, outlining the style he envisioned for his up-to-the-minute heroine. "It's very hip and laid-back but beautiful, as relevant today as it would have been 30 years ago."

Although Nancy's clothing incorporates some charming retro elements with an undeniable "ladylike quality," Kurland says, "they are not demure. The pieces are very fitted, the lines are clean and everything is designed to accommodate her athleticism. There is nothing shy about it. The Nancy Drew books have been printed and reprinted for generations. I wanted to present a contemporary Nancy, but still have her recognized by everyone as their Nancy Drew."

Roberts' naturally long, wavy blonde hair, which she usually wears loose, was blunt-cut, straightened and dyed to a darker and somewhat reddish shade, in keeping with the original character description. Says Roberts, "We used straightener every day and headbands too, because, of course, Nancy's hair is always in place, even when she's running away from the bad guys." The headbands, coordinated to every outfit, became another piece of the fashion signature of the girl from River Heights.

Kurland outfitted Tate Donovan's Carson Drew similarly, as a tonal match to Nancy with casually conservative suits, ties, sweaters and even a dapper hat.

He had the most fun contrasting Nancy's look, which he describes as "a style that lives forever," with the exaggerated look of her flashy new classmates and the greater L.A. population, epitomized by the wardrobes of Hollywood High's fashion-too-forward duo, Trish and Inga. "Everything is extreme with the local teens. It's not earth tones but jewel tones and brighter, reflective fabrics, layers of accessories and generally just too much of everything," he says, "as if they had assimilated every possible celebrity fashion trend and combined them all into one outfit."

Daniella Monet, who plays Inga, is also a jewelry designer, and contributed some of her original earrings to the girls' wardrobes, following Kurland's direction toward "flashy and glitzy."

For Nancy's would-be beau, the too-young but ever-hopeful Corky, Kurland created a look that a 12-year-old boy might adopt if he were trying desperately to seem older and more sophisticated. That meant, to Josh Flitter's deep disappointment, no jeans. Says Kurland, "Here's a kid who's trying to hang out with 16 year olds. He thinks he's cool; he thinks he's hip. You have to make that believable, taking into account where he's from--in this case, Hollywood. He's trying to get into Nancy's good graces and, at the same time, deal with his sister and not lose his edge, so we had to find that place for him stylistically. I put him in a leather jacket and trousers, drape-y shirts worn outside the pant and even some bling. Jeans would have emphasized his youth, taking him in the wrong direction."

Emma Roberts, who also, admittedly, "lives in jeans most of the time," grew to love Nancy's trendsetting wardrobe to the extent that she could easily see herself wearing some of the pieces in her regular life.

But beyond the look, and the fact that Roberts would be happy to drive around town in a Nash Metropolitan, there was one another aspect of Nancy's lifestyle that appealed to her most during production. It was the intricacies of the Draycott Mansion that stirred the young actress's imagination and proves there's a little Nancy Drew in all of us. "I want to find a secret passageway in my own house now," she says. "Wouldn't that be fun?"

2007 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.

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