Nobody expected a whole lot from Clueless when it was released in July of 1995. It appeared on the surface to be yet another teen comedy, largely indistinguishable from the hordes of others Hollywood had unleashed over the years.
But critics praised the movie, proclaiming it to be much smarter than it looked. Then audiences outside the core teen demographic started buying tickets for it, too, thanks to stellar word-of-mouth. In the end, the movie became a sleeper hit, evolving into a certified genre classic over time.
Written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who loosely based it on Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, Clueless made Alicia Silverstone a household name. She plays Cher, a popular, fashion-obsessed rich girl who joins together with best friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) to make over frumpy new-girl-in-school Tai (Brittany Murphy). The eternally optimistic Cher also finds love, in the form of her ex-step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd)
By all accounts, everyone in the cast got along and enjoyed working together. That doesn’t mean the film’s path to the screen was without bumps, though. This beloved comedy faced a variety of production challenges, some in front of the camera, others behind it. It is a testament to the movie’s cheerful spirit that it managed to overcome each and every one of those obstacles to become the eminently re-watchable work that it is.
Here are 16 Secrets Behind The Making Of Clueless.
16. It was supposed to be a TV show
Amy Heckerling directed 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the movie that kicked off the trend of teen comedies during that decade. Other filmmakers, most notably John Hughes, picked that ball up and ran with it, but her film remained one of the most popular and acclaimed. For that reason, Heckerling really wasn’t looking to try topping her success by making another movie about adolescence. She was, however, looking to make a television show.
In 1993, she began developing a series called No Worries for Fox. It was a look at life among the popular kids in a California high school, anchored by an optimistic girl. As is often the case, network executives ultimately opted against bringing the show to pilot.
15. The studio wanted it to be about the guys
When Clueless transitioned from a TV idea to a feature film idea, 20th Century Fox stepped in and snagged the rights. The studio loved Heckerling’s take on teen life – except for one fairly substantial detail. Execs wanted it to be more about the male characters, believing the audience wouldn’t be big enough for a movie with a female lead.
The director told The Baltimore Sun, “They were worried about something that was so female-oriented. They kept pressuring me to create more of a life for the boys in the film, to create more of an ensemble piece.” That idea went against her entire vision for the project, so she rejected it. Consequently, Fox put the script into turnaround.
14. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Dave Chappelle almost starred
Lots of hit movies have “almost was” casting stories, but Clueless is in a class by itself. Many young actors who went on to become big deals read for roles. Angelina Jolie auditioned, but was deemed too mature for a story about fun-loving kids. Terrence Howard, Johnny Galecki, Norman Reedus, and Henry Thomas also tried out.
Those aren’t the only recognizable celebrities who might have populated the film.
Jeremy Renner was the second-place choice for Travis, Ben Affleck auditioned for Josh, Reese Witherspoon was up for Cher, and Dave Chappelle met with the casting director for Murray.
Sarah Michelle Gellar actually came extremely close to playing Amber. She was a cast member on the soap opera All My Children at the time. That show’s producers refused to alter her shooting schedule so that she could take the role, which eventually went to Elisa Donovan.
13. Stacey Dash was much older than her co-stars
One thing Amy Heckerling was adamant about was casting Clueless with age-appropriate actors. Many films cast performers who are well into their twenties to play teenagers. She knew that approach would work against the authentic feel she was aiming for. The majority of the actors were therefore in their late teens or very early twenties — with one exception.
Stacey Dash was perfect for Dionne, nailing the character during her audition. That, combined with youthful looks that allowed her to credibly pass as a teen, convinced Heckerling to overlook the fact that the actress was 27.
To understand what a discrepancy that was, consider that Alicia Silverstone and Brittany Murphy were, respectively, 18 and 17 when they filmed Clueless.
Dash was even older than Paul Rudd, whose character is college age.
12. Paul Rudd wanted to play Murray
Carrie Frazier was the casting director on Clueless while it was at 20th Century Fox. She brought in different actors for Heckerling to see. Those she liked the most were invited to read for multiple roles, to give them a better chance of being right for something.
One of those lucky ones was Paul Rudd. He ended up getting the part of Josh, but he also auditioned for Christian and Elton.
There was one character Rudd really hoped to play, but couldn’t. That was Murray.
“I thought Murray was kind of a white guy wanting to be black. I didn’t realize he actually was black,” he told Jen Chaney, author of the book As If, about the making of the film. Once he realized that Murray was not, as he assumed, “the white guy trying to co-opt black culture,” he understood why they wouldn’t let him read for that role.
11. Alicia Silverstone’s illness impacted filming
As the main character, Alicia Silverstone is in almost every scene of Clueless. This fact meant that, on the two times she fell ill during production, filming ground to a halt.
The actress first became sick with stomach problems right before Christmas. The crew was able to rearrange the schedule to shoot one of the rare scenes without her, but no filming took place the following day due to her infirmity. Three weeks later, Silverstone became ill again. A doctor examined her and pronounced the issue serious enough to prevent working for a couple more days.
The entire production shut down until she felt better.
Silverstone, it turned out, was dealing with ulcers, brought on in part by the stress of long days and several back-to-back movies. Frozen yogurt was the only thing her system would tolerate during this period.
10. A well-known restaurant refused to cooperate
One of the ways that movies create a sense of reality is to use objects and locations that audiences will recognize. That’s why your favorite movie characters sometimes drink a particular brand of soda or eat at a chain restaurant. When a movie becomes a big hit, such associations can be lucrative. One well-known eating establishment could have been associated with Clueless, yet refused to cooperate.
A scene in the screenplay had Cher and her friends dining at California Pizza Kitchen.
Permission to shoot in one of the chain’s locations was denied because corporate bigwigs had a problem with the humor in the sequence. The characters were supposed to crack a few jokes about the breadsticks resembling a part of the male anatomy. CPK felt those jokes would negatively impact how customers viewed their food, and so refused permission.
9. Massive rainstorms caused problems
The world of Clueless may look sunny, but offscreen it was quite the opposite. The movie filmed during an uncommonly wet January, leading to frustrating problems.
The crew rented out a real house to use as Cher’s home. Non-essential crew went outside while scenes were being shot, then would come inside between takes to move lights and wires, fix makeup, and so on. Massive amounts of rain left the yard muddy, though. As a result, the house’s floors ended up sustaining damage from people tracking that mud inside.
Additionally, equipment trucks were parked near the Sepulveda basin. When it started flooding due to several straight days of rain, rangers came and informed the production team that they needed to be moved ASAP, or risk being lost.
8. Breckin Meyer was injured on set
Breckin Meyer plays Travis, the laid-back skateboarder dude. The actor enjoyed skateboarding for real, so he was open to doing much of his own riding for the film. While that gave it a bit of realism, things went wrong when he sustained an injury while preparing for a scene.
Rehearsing a skate competition sequence in Long Beach, California, Meyer attempted to navigate the half-pipe. He came down wrong on his foot, causing him to sprain his ankle. After being examined by an on-set medic, he was transported to the emergency room at St. Mary’s Medical Center. Doctors treated Meyer, and he was allowed to return to work the following day.
7. Problems with the party game scene
Everyone who has seen Clueless remembers the “suck and blow” scene. In it, the characters play a game in which they pass a credit card to each other using only their lips. One person has to blow the card to the next person, who sucks it fast to their mouth. There’s an impressive unbroken shot in which five of the actors accomplish this task.
That shot was not easy to get. Credit cards, it turns out, are heavier than you’d think when you only have your breath to keep then aloft.
Some of the stars were unable to suck in long enough to pass it to the next individual, causing it to drop.
6. Alicia Silverstone’s blunder was left in
Without a doubt, one of the most famous parts of the movie comes when Cher, giving an impassioned defense of refugees, mispronounces the word “Haitians.” She calls them “Haiti-ans.” Her blunder earns a huge laugh, while also revealing that Cher is indeed clueless, despite her good intentions.
That bit wasn’t in the script, because it was a real mistake on Alicia Silverstone’s part.
Heckerling knew she had a genuine moment on her hands — a rare case where actor and character melded. In the Clueless-themed book As If, she told writer Jen Chaney that crew members nearly ruined it by stepping in to correct the star. “She mispronounced it and the script woman and everybody started to run toward her to correct her, and I had to block them all,” the director said. “I was like, ‘Stay away from the actress.'”
5. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were seriously out of it during filming
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones are a ska-influenced punk-rock band whose song “The Impression That I Get” was a hit in 1997. Two years before, they made a cameo in Clueless, performing in a party scene. Beer flows like water in the sequence. The actors drank caramel-colored water. The band, on the other hand, guzzled vodka.
Lead singer Dicky Barrett has said that they performed live for a few takes, but mimed to a track for the rest of the day. This led to boredom, which subsequently led to more alcohol consumption. Barrett improvised a stage dive early on, which Heckerling asked him to repeat several more times. Those dives became lamer, the more intoxicated he was.
4. Deleted scene of Josh and Miss Geist getting married
Clueless ends with an amazing fake-out. The viewer is led to believe that they’re going to see Cher and Josh get married, but it actually turns out to be the wedding of Miss Geist (played by Twink Caplan) and Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn). The nuptials looked a little different at one point. A deleted scene featured Miss Geist and Josh getting hitched.
The moment was intended for use in a dream sequence Cher was going to have.
It featured Miss Geist, in a wedding dress, walking down the aisle, then kissing Josh. This scene was meant to reflect Cher’s awakening that she loves Josh and does not want any other woman to have him. When all was said and done, the dream sequence was deemed unnecessary and out-of-sync with the rest of the movie, so it stayed on the cutting room floor.
3. Brittany Murphy’s personal tragedy
The late Brittany Murphy — who played Tai, the girl who goes from geek to chic — held an unusual position among the Clueless cast. She was the only one who was still a minor. All the other actors were at least 18, but she was only 17. Because of this, it was a requirement that a parent or guardian be on set with her at all times. That role fell to her mother Sharon.
Not everyone knew it, but Brittany and her mom were dealing with a tragedy during the filming.
Sharon had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Heckerling has said that Murphy was a total pro, never letting her personal issues affect her job performance. The actress also did everything she could to support her mother.
2. Paul Rudd was robbed at gunpoint
Paul Rudd had one of his earliest film roles when he played Josh, Cher’s ex-stepbrother and eventual love interest. Many times over the years, he has talked about how much fun he had making the movie. Considerably less fun was an incident that took place when the cameras were off. Rudd was robbed at gunpoint.
One evening after shooting was done for the day, he went to Jerry’s Deli to have dinner with a friend. Returning to his car afterward, a man approached him, gun in hand, and demanded money. The actor attempted to remain calm, but the would-be robber panicked for some reason, firing the weapon.
1. The TV spinoff had to recast the main characters
Clueless began life as a planned TV series, and it ironically ended up becoming one after its cinematic success. The show couldn’t begin to match the quality or popularity of its big-screen namesake, thanks to a series of problems and changes.
Most notably, several of the biggest names opted not to reprise their roles, particularly Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, and Brittany Murphy. The character of Christian was eliminated altogether, leaving actor Justin Walker out in the cold. Amy Heckerling wrote and directed a few episodes of the ABC series, although she ended up walking away after deciding the TV version wasn’t as fulfilling as the movie.
There were also ratings issues with the show, which cast Rachel Blanchard in the role of Cher.
ABC canceled it after one season, due to low viewership. UPN picked it up for two seasons, only to cancel it for the exact same reason.
What’s your favorite scene in Clueless? Which character do you like best? Give us your opinions in the comments.
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