LOS ANGELES—Anna Faris has always looked younger than her age. When she played a teen eight years ago in her first film, Scary Movie, she was 24 and had already graduated with a degree in English literature from the University of Washington. Three years later, she played an unwed mother on the series Friends.
However, having been in Hollywood for a few years, she had some idea of how cruel the town can be to a woman as she gets older. As she was about to turn 30, she wrote down some ideas for a screenplay about an orphan named Shelley Darlingson who becomes a Playboy bunny and lives in Hugh Hefner’s famous mansion until her 27th birthday, when she receives an eviction notice. The notes for The House Bunny were turned into a screenplay and, eventually, a film that will be released tomorrow.
In an L.A. hotel room, Faris says the idea for the film came out of her own curiosity about the options available to women who have spent their youth focusing on using their looks to their advantage. She says that Playboy bunnies seemed to be an appropriate model.
“I thought, ”˜How do women like that re-enter the real world when it comes time to move on?’ So I pitched the character to writers I knew, and they [Legally Blonde’s Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith] wrote the script, and the next thing we knew we were shooting at the Playboy Mansion.
"I found that I didn’t have to do much to prepare emotionally to play Shelley, but I guess she has always been in there somewhere. I got some hair extensions and wore a lot of padded bras, but that was the extent of my prep.”
In the film, Shelley leaves the mansion and sets out to find another “family”. She walks onto a university campus and discovers that one of the sororities needs a house mother. She applies for the job but soon discovers that the sorority is filled with young women who have low self-esteem. Despite opposition from the university, she stays on, assuming that her social skills and knowledge of fashion will help the women to overcome their collective lack of confidence.
Faris says she had her own self-esteem problems when she set out to sell studios on the idea that she should play the lead role. “I thought that people in the studio world wouldn’t necessarily want me in the role, so that was intimidating. When we went to pitch it, I would be in character so they could see that I already had a strong vision of who Shelley was, but when we started shooting at the mansion I kept saying, ”˜I don’t belong in this crowd. All these girls are really hot and confident,’ and I felt really self-conscious.
"When I floated the idea past my mom, who is really conservative, she said, ”˜You are doing what?’ Of course, now she is saying, ”˜I am so proud of you,’ which is nice.”
After the film was written and Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company, had agreed to produce it, Faris and director Fred Wolf set out to find actors who would start out homely and then clean up well.
(The group includes Superbad's Emma Stone, American Idol runner-up Katherine McPhee, and celebrity daughter Rumer Willis.) Faris says she was concerned that it might be difficult to find women who would be happy to look their worst.
“All of the girls gave up their sense of vanity for this movie, and they were all game and eager to be vulnerable on-camera. They approached it with enthusiasm. There was no time when I had to say, ”˜Do it for the movie. You are going to be hot later on.’ Everyone was so excited to play these characters. We all became really close, and we fell into the roles we played. It was great to feel like we were making a movie with so many good film roles. It felt rare and special.”
Although Faris starred in four popular Scary Movie films, she is not at the level of actors who can come up with an idea and then get the film made. She admits that she did it because she wants a lengthy career and felt that the roles she has been taking might limit those opportunities.
“I wasn’t getting a chance to play the roles I really wanted to play,” she says. “But I had no idea how difficult it was to make a movie and to put all the pieces together. I know that without my writers I would be still twiddling my thumbs, thinking, ”˜Where would that bunny go?’ I think that I was really naive to believe that anything goes smoothly.”