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It's Not What It Seems

'Orange County' wasn't filmed there, and the famous names on the credits don't have famous faces, but it does boast an offbeat script and eclectic cast.

January 01, 2002|TED SHAFFREY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Atop a beautifully generic suburban bluff in the western San Fernando Valley, director Jake Kasdan is trying to capture Orange County, the setting--and the title--of his comedy about a high school senior trying to get into Stanford.

But the sunlight required to shoot a swimming pool scene in the Southern California dystopia of Mike White's script is fading fast, and now, even after the 12th take, Kasdan isn't happy. "Tell her, delicately, to stick to the script," the 26-year-old Kasdan says after hearing from the script supervisor that actress Schuyler Fisk, 18, is ad-libbing lines.

"I have to [urinate] like a mule!" interrupts actor Jack Black, 31, while wading chest-deep in the shallow end of the pool, clad only in a pair of worn-looking tighty underwear and a wet, shaggy black wig. Treading water next to Black is the film's protagonist, played by Colin Hanks, 23, whose face cocks to the side, registering an affable concern that reminds one of his actor father, Tom Hanks, after one of the crew suggests to Black he simply relieve himself in the pool.

Jointly produced by Paramount and MTV Films and shot, ironically enough, around Los Angeles County, the movie "Orange County" represents the highest-profile outing to date for three children of Hollywood's elite: Joining Hanks are Jake Kasdan, son of director Lawrence Kasdan, and Fisk, daughter of actress Sissy Spacek and "Days of Heaven" art director Jack Fisk.

What has brought them together is an offbeat script by Pasadena native Mike White, 30, writer and star of 2000's indie sensation "Chuck and Buck," a former writer for the television shows "Dawson's Creek" and the critically applauded but short-lived "Freaks and Geeks," on which he met the younger Kasdan. Producer Scott Rudin decided to move forward with the project "from the momentum of 'Chuck and Buck,'"according to White, who said he was asked to rewrite the script to tone down some of its more cynical elements.

"Orange County," which opens Jan. 11, tells the story of Shaun (Hanks), a senior at the fictional Vista del Mar High School in Orange County, and his attempts to get into Stanford University, as much to study under his idol, novelist Marcus Skinner (Kevin Kline), as to escape what he sees as the callow pop culture, surfer speak and dysfunctional family life of his birthplace. His girlfriend, played by Fisk, helps him through a series of wrenching comedic mishaps, as does his druggie older brother Lance (Black).

Besides Kline, the film includes a bevy of comedy veterans in supporting roles, including Lily Tomlin as a ditsy college counselor, Chevy Chase as a high school principal trying to book Britney Spears as a commencement speaker, John Lithgow and Catherine O'Hara as Shaun's father and mother, Harold Ramis and Gary Marshall as Stanford deans and Ben Stiller as a fire inspector. Kasdan said he first read White's "Orange County" script while directing episodes of "Freaks and Geeks" and was delighted when Rudin called him to ask if he wanted to direct it.

"'Freaks and Geeks'" was a painstakingly real treatment of high school life, so the look was flat," said Kasdan, as he gazed into a live monitor that showed the California sun glistening brightly and largely off the water around Hanks, though, in fact, this is an overcast day. "This ['Orange County'] is a more stylized comedy, glossier." (The film has been toned down to get a PG-13 rating in hopes of attracting a younger teenage audience.)

Because Hanks often visited his actress girlfriend Busy Phillips on the set of "Freaks," the young actor was fresh in his mind, said Kasdan. Also, they had met once as children. The director had not met Fisk before, though both she and Hanks were submitted for the movie by Courtney Kivowitz at Creative Artists Agency, the same firm that represents Tom Hanks, Sissy Spacek and Lawrence Kasdan.

"I saw a lot, a lot, a lot of people," said the diminutive Kasdan, as he pulled his "Freaks and Geeks" cap over his eyes. The lucky genes in the cast of this film happened "by lottery; everyone wanted to be in this movie, the script is fantastic," said producer Scott Aversano, 31, of Scott Rudin Productions, one of a handful of producers who spend each shooting day making sure this young director is crafting a product the studio will be happy with.

The young Hanks realizes the possible marquee value of his last name. "It's genetic; I can't do anything about that," said Hanks, who nevertheless notes, "If I wasn't good, they wouldn't cast me. Who would cast someone just because of a last name or who they're related to? That would be stupid."

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