Amanda Bynes, Elijah Kelley Interview, HairSpray

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline recently caught up with Amanda Bynes and Elijah Kelley at the Los Angeles press day for "Hairspray” to talk to them about their new movie directed and choreographed by Adam Shankman. Bynes and Kelley, who play the roles of Penny Pingleton and Seaweed respectively, are joined by a stellar cast that includes John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Zac Efron, Paul Dooley, and Nikki Blonsky.

Born and raised in California, Amanda Bynes began her career at a comedy camp. As she continued to work on her craft, she was discovered at a showcase performance in Los Angeles and added to the cast of Nickelodeon’s "All That.” After just one season, she was nominated for a 1997 Cable Ace Award, putting her in the company of such established actresses as Tracey Ullman and Janeane Garofalo.

Bynes, who has worked steadily since the age of 10, charmed audiences in the hit comedy "Big Fat Liar” with Frankie Muniz. In 2003, she starred in her first lead role in the hit film "What A Girl Wants,” co-starring Colin Firth and Kelly Preston. In 2004, she loaned her voice to the animated hit film "Robots” and recently starred in the DreamWorks comedy feature, "She’s The Man.”

Known for her unique style of bold, no-holds-barred physical comedy, Bynes rose to the top on the Nickelodeon series and remained on "All That” for four seasons. By the age of 12, she became the youngest performer to host her own variety sketch show, "The Amanda Show,” which earned her the Favorite Television Actress honor four years in a row from Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards.

Bynes’ talented "Hairspray” co-star, Elijah Kelley, was born in LaGrange, Georgia and grew up knowing that acting, singing and music were his passions. In 2004, he moved to Los Angeles to further his acting dreams accompanied by his parents who left everything behind to support him. Since then, his career has done nothing but surge ahead.

Kelley has landed roles on television shows including "Everybody Hates Chris,” "Numbers,” and "The Shield.” He also played the supporting role of "Leroy Wright” in the feature "Heavens Fall” with David Strathairn, Timothy Hutton and Leelee Sobieski, which premiered in 2006 in Texas at the South by Southwest Film Festival. He recently starred as "DJ,” the macho yet introverted and artsy student who perfects his dancing skills to outwit a fellow student in New Line Cinema’s "Take the Lead” alongside Antonio Banderas and Alfre Woodard.

Amanda and Elijah were fun to interview and we really appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about their new movie:

MoviesOnline: Can each of you talk about getting involved with this movie?

Amanda: I feel like all of young Hollywood wanted to be in this movie so we were just blessed to be the ones who they felt were right for the role.

Elijah: My mortgage was due, that’s why I did this. I needed to pay my mortgage.

Amanda: I’ll speak for myself then.

Elijah: But, no, these are parts and opportunities that literally, when it hit the fan, everybody wanted a crack at this movie. They were really going for all the heavy hitters. With people like John Travolta and Queen and Michelle and all those guys, it was just a really amazing thing and to pass it up would be the most craziest thing you could do in your life.

MoviesOnline: Amanda, can you talk about creating that character?[Penny Pingleton]. She’s just such a wonderful, innocent…

Elijah: Well, that’s what you say [laughter].

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about finding that rhythm of playing her?

Amanda: It was funny. I talked to Adam [Shankman] about the fact that it was the most pulled back I’ve ever been in a movie because I’ve been a man in one and I’ve done Nickelodeon where I’ve been many characters; very goofy. So, for this movie, I had to sort of pull back and be kind of quiet and sort of be the observer which was actually kind of fun for me and different. This was the type of movie I want to be in which is a movie with the heavy hitters and the veterans who I hope to, one day, be like. So, for me, I just wanted to do my best. I was game every day to just be the best Penny I could be. And, a lot of times, when I do a role, I think, "What if someone else was playing this role?” and, if I was watching it, "How would I do it better?” So I’d kind of go in there and just try to do the best I could do. And, as far as the transition goes, it was kind of like me, in that she’s growing into a woman. I felt kind of shy at the beginning. It’s like all these people I don’t know and, in the end, you get kind of comfortable and speak your mind.

MoviesOnline: I wondered if you are sick of lollipops yet?

Amanda: I am. Those were the cherry kind. Now I like watermelon. So, I’m sick of cherry but I like watermelon. No, I’m sick of those too.

MoviesOnline: Elijah, how did you get the role?

Elijah: I heard they were going at a lot of the R&B and pop stars that are out right now. It was a blessing. I was fortunate enough to slip in through the cracks. I wasn’t known. I wasn’t this big, huge, gigantic star. I just work hard at it. I did the old grind work and got in and did my thing. I feel like, if I wasn’t able to have done this movie, I don’t think my career would have started the way I wanted it to. How many times do you get to get on a platform where you’re able to exploit all your talents? That was so fortunate for me and it does not hurt the process of me finding girls [laughter].

MoviesOnline: Can you talk about the rehearsal process for this?

Elijah: We had about a month and a half of just straight dancing and singing. We did not see a camera for about two months. That was amazing but we said a lot of times that it was like summer camp because you have so many great dancers. I mean dancers who’ve danced for Beyonce and Britney and Justin Timberlake -- all these people. They’re like the all-stars of what they do. To sit there and have a bunch of creative energy whether it’s acting, singing or dancing, that was just something. A lot of times, it didn’t even feel like work. It was just so much fun.

MoviesOnline: On the credits it doesn’t say you did much dancing. It’s more singing and acting. If you aren’t a trained dancer, I’m shocked.

Elijah: I can move but I’ve never background danced for anybody. I’ve never been in stuff like that.

MoviesOnline: But that split thing….

Elijah: [laughs] I know. There’s a lady named Angela Radcliffe in my hometown in Georgia and she had this dance studio and I danced for one summer because of this girl I liked and I was like freakin’. I forget how old I was, probably eleven and I took this class just to meet this girl and I went on to do a whole summer and we won trophies and stuff like this but it was kiddie dance in sparkly suits. When I found out what sparkly really looks like, I burned ‘em all but that was the only time. In high school, we did chorus and stuff like that but I’ve never taken professional classes and all that stuff. It’s a God-given gift.

MoviesOnline: Everyone must have been exhausted making this film but did the young cast get to hang out off set?

Amanda: We did. It’s kind of like being stuck with a group of people in a hotel in a new place. It’s Toronto and none of us live there so we would get together and go eat or go to movies and it was so fun. I had the best time.

MoviesOnline: Can you guys talk about some of the issues in the film? Since you guys were hanging out together, did you talk about any of the underlying issues in the film? This movie portrays you two in an interracial relationship. Were you concerned about that?

Amanda: Not really. To us, that’s so not even an issue that’s real in our minds anymore. I know that’s what it used to be like and some people may feel that way but, for me, I grew up on a show called "All That” which was a mix of Black and White people and we were just people. I had a crush on and had a kiss with an African-American kid when I was eleven and, to me, I didn’t see it as anything other than the boy I liked. It wasn’t anything to me.

Elijah: Yeah and then we met back up later in life [he’s kidding].

Amanda: Yeah, who knew that we’d work together again? [laughs] Just kidding.

Elijah: She grew up in California and I grew up in Georgia which was kind of a different experience; Georgia being one of the last to jump on the bandwagon of the integration frontier. My grandparents and my mother and father, they caught some of that stuff and they were able to give me firsthand accounts and experiences that they had. I was in awe of some of the stuff they were telling me. A lot of things happened that I think our generation are particularly blind to and don’t get to see a lot of, especially here in L.A. It’s a little bit more liberated in dating, sexual preference, religion, and all that stuff. But it’s definitely an awakening to our generation to move forward and more further from what that was. Somebody said their twelve-year-old kid saw the movie and got really sad and said, "Are you serious? That’s really what happened? That’s not cool.”

Amanda: It’s kind of a history lesson in a way and it’s also nice that it has John Travolta and the big stars so that it’s like the people who you know are dealing with an issue that people don’t really talk about. It’s kind of nice to have them do it in a funny way.

MoviesOnline: What is the most unusual thing you have in your trailer?

Elijah: The dress from Amanda’s last scene, the finale, I have that in my trailer and John Travolta’s fat suit was in my trailer. I like to lay with it. [laughter].

Amanda: I don’t know why. It’s very odd.

MoviesOnline: Did you grope him by any chance?

Elijah: Actually, when they were making the suit, I felt strange groping him because I felt stupid. There was a man under there so I was hesitant to do that but when they were making it in the make-up trailer I often times juggled and…

Amanda: I had nothing to do with that. The weird thing in my trailer, I don’t think it’s weird but I always have "Dumb and Dumber” playing on my TV because I just think it’s the funniest movie and, for some reason, I have that on constantly. I just think it’s very inspiring comedically and, besides that, I would say sometimes fan mail and snacks.

Elijah: Did you get my letter?

Amanda: No. And I don’t know why you have my dress. That freaks me out. [laughter].

MoviesOnline: What are you guys working on next?

Elijah: I’m right now working on the album, full throttle going full at that. I’ve been writing a lot of music. I wrote for Mario and he has a duet with this new rapper called Kay Smith and I wrote and produced that record and I’m also working on a film called "Party Up” which Is at New Line and is a cross between "Ferris Buehler’s Day Off” and the "House Party” series so it’s like a good teen movie to get that audience and then move from there.

Amanda: For me, I just did a movie called "Sydney White” which is, I guess, a retelling of "Snow White” in college and instead of dwarves they’re dorks and so, my Snow White character kind of cleans these boys up and sort of makes them less dorky.

MoviesOnline: When you use the hairspray in the movie, were you using the old school kind with the ozone stuff?

Amanda: No. We used modern products. When we used it to show stuff, I think they used deodorant, actually, because that sprays white which you can see on camera but we actually did use Shaper by Paul Sebastian and so that’s why they made a bottle of hairspray.

MoviesOnline: They gave it to us.

Amanda: Yeah. That’s what I mean. That’s actually the product that we used most so we were like "Well, we might as well make a real thing out of it.”

MoviesOnline: What was it like working with John Travolta?

Elijah: That was great. John Travolta, I don’t think anybody would not jump at a chance to work with a guy like him because he’s gone from "Grease” to "Face Off” to he’s gonna do "Dallas.” I mean he’s so great in his range and he’s truly a legend and a pro in our time. I think that’s like a testament for all of them, Queen, Michelle and all of them. We learned so much from all of them, just in their walk of professionalism and how to be as actors and people in the public eye.

Amanda: For me it was the same thing. It’s really interesting to work with someone who has managed to have longevity which seemingly is the hardest thing to have in Hollywood. It seems like it’s difficult to figure out that mixture of changing your roles so people don’t get bored but not changing them so much that you lose your fanbase. I like to watch [John] to see how he works and he’s just a nice guy and I think that’s a lot of it too, you can’t turn into an evil person. You have to still remain who you were when you became famous, or before you became famous.

MoviesOnline: Are either of you Broadway fans or, since this movie, do you have a desire to do something on stage?

Amanda: I would love to, definitely.

Elijah: Me too. I’d love to do Broadway. It’s funny. I love it but I’ve never seen an actual Broadway show, not even "Hairspray”. I saw "Hairspray” at the Pantages in L.A. It came to the Pantages right before I did the movie and just being in New York sometimes and seeing the marquees and everything like that, I’m like "I really, really have to go experience a Broadway play.”

MoviesOnline: Elijah, is your album more R&B or more rap?

Elijah: No, it’s not rap at all. It’s like a fusion between Earth, Wind and Fire, they’re funk soul and like the R&B pop of today. It’s untitled right now. That will probably happen….I’m procrastinating. I’ll probably name it like the week before it’s supposed to come out. The music is the most important thing right now.

MoviesOnline: Amanda, you’ve been working since you were very young. Do you set aside time every year to take a break or have you been driven to work since you were a kid?

Amanda: I’m definitely driven to work. I don’t know why. I guess it’s because you get a taste of this job and it’s sort of addictive and I get why people want to do it but, for me, it’s like I want to do movies that are cool like this. It’s very hard to find a "Hairspray” so I don’t take breaks so much as I don’t do them on purpose. I do it while I’m waiting to find a good project. Any time I’m not working, it’s not because I’m like "Oh, I hate my job and I don’t want to do it,” it’s because I’m like I’m searching for the right movie.

MoviesOnline: Can both of you talk about staying grounded because we’ve seen other young people getting into problems. Is it certain people in your life or something that comes from within?

Elijah: I’m still afraid of my mother [laughter] so a lot of the things I’d consider doing if I saw her afterwards, it wouldn’t be a good thing.

Amanda: That’s exactly how I feel. It’s weird that you say that because I want to still do what I want to do. I don’t love listening to what people say I have to do but I don’t want my parents to be disappointed in me so, a lot of times, I really want them to be proud of me and I want to have their seal of approval. So, a lot of times, the things that I don’t do are because I have a family and also, I look at Will Smith. He did rap but he rapped about the fact that he didn’t drink and do drugs. What a good role model when that’s not as cool in the streets to do. I just think that’s very refreshing.

Elijah: I think we are both conscious that people are gonna look at us and look up to us for stuff. That’s something that comes along with the territory so we’re very conscious of it.

Amanda: And also, I think we’re very appreciative of our opportunities. For me, why would I ever throw that away by being a jerk? For us, we’re both focused and we want to have long, successful careers. You learn from the people who make mistakes. Why would we want to throw that away by being jerks or going out too late?

"Hairspray” opens in theaters on July 20th.


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