Aimee Teegarden and Thomas McDonell Interview: Stars of ‘Prom’

From Walt Disney Pictures comes the dramedy “Prom,” directed by Joe Nussbaum (director of “Sydney White” and “Sleepover”) and screenplay by newcomer Katie Wech. Wech, a USC (University of Southern California) film school graduate, makes her feature film debut with this movie. Wech says “Prom” is loosely based on her own experiences. “Good, bad or ugly, everyone remembers their prom,” Wech says. “I collected prom stories from everyone I could. The script became a very truthful ensemble film that reflected all the people we knew in high school, including myself – I was sort of Nova (Aimee Teegarden’s character). I even had an unlikely romance with my very own Jesse, though mine drove a convertible instead of a Commando.”

In the U.S., the high school senior prom (from the word “promenade”) is a major event. It is a celebration that underscores a major milestone in a teenager’s life. Other countries have similar teen celebrations like a prom. For instance in the U.K. it is called the Leaver’s Ball and in Canada, Ireland and Australia it is often referred to as Grad or Formal. This special occasion kindles the same excitement and anticipation no matter what part of the world you are from.

I met with the two lead stars, Aimee Teegarden and Thomas McDonell, during their press junket in San Francisco. Aimee is best known for her role as Julie Taylor in the NBC series, “Friday Night Lights” and Jenny Randall in the film, “Scream 4.” In the movie Aimee plays the part of Nova, a true go-getter. She is the senior class president at Brookside High and community organizer. On top of it all, she is managing the prom committee which is a mix of strong personalities who must work together to make their vision a reality.

The prom is nearly derailed because of a freak accident and Nova’s dreams are shattered. That’s where Thomas McDonell’s character, Jesse, comes in. Jesse is a rebel who is constantly on the principal’s bad side. When Jesse pushes the principal’s hot button too far he is ordered to help Nova with the prom if he wants to graduate with his class.

Who’s attending the “Prom”?

There are 14 characters central to the story. The goal of director Nussbaum was to get the best cast possible so that this movie could stand the test of time similar to John Hughes’ “Pretty in Pink” and Cameron Crowe’s “Say Anything.” A great deal of time was spent in the casting process where over 2,000 actors were interviewed and tested over the course of 4 months. Then out of that mix hundreds of actors were called back for more interviews and testing.

The goal was to find fresh, new talent with mainly Teegarden as the most experienced in the crew. Newcomer McDonell has been in front of the camera before but in minor roles including “The Forbidden Kingdom” with Jackie Chan and Jet Li where he played a thug who mostly did a lot of glaring. McDonell was cast in that part when he was studying in Shanghai during a semester abroad while obtaining his BFA from NYU. McDonell is also a musician and his song, “Time Stand,” from his band, Moon, is part of the soundtrack for the movie. McDonell’s next role is that of the young Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton’s film based on the TV soap opera “Dark Shadows.” His striking resemblance to Johnny Depp played a major part in getting that role.

In person Aimee and Thomas are very much like their characters in the film. Aimee, beautiful and poised, was dressed in a suit fit for a job interview and Thomas was steamy like a cool, young James Dean, complete with the sultry hair and ripped T-shirt. He’s on the rise – be first in line to watch a star in the making!

Question: Thomas, I understand you were an art student at NYU and studied in China. What sort of art school was that, and did you learn to speak Mandarin?

Thomas: I went to a school in NY that is conceptual and interdisciplinary and modeled after Cal Arts. It is not just painting or sculpture it was everything mixed together. I studied in Shanghai for a semester, and speak some Mandarin, not fluently. It was great.

Question: Did either of you attend your Prom?

Aimee: I did, I went to my Prom.

Thomas: I did too, I went to my Prom.

Question: Were either of your prom experiences like any of the characters?

Thomas: Yes, in many ways it was like the movie. Everyone is there celebrating and spending time with their friends, together in school. It is sort of a going away party.

Aimee: I think it was like that, finding the perfect date. With the girls getting ready at each other’s houses. For my prom I wasn’t as involved as my character was. The prom I attended wasn’t at my high school. I did not know anyone else besides my date and a few of his friends.

Question: Aimee, did your date ask you out like the characters did in the movie?

Aimee: He did, he actually did a very good job! He had a scavenger hunt that had things related to our first date. We had to drive all around Southern California looking for signs, random pamphlets or handouts, and connect the dots. It ended up on the beach and he met me there with a giant cookie with the word PROM and a giant question mark. For a high school boy it was impressive. I am still friends with him now.

Question: Thomas, what as the casting process like for you?

Thomas: It was a pretty serious casting process. Lots of tests, a whole lot of the cast were unknowns – that’s what they call people who have only appeared in a couple of very small roles, who have only appeared in small movies or not at all. It was an extensive casting process but a relatively straightforward one where I made an audition tape. They liked it and I came in and then did a mix and match. Aimee is already a well known actress herself so she had a meeting with the director before anyone.

Question: Thomas, what was your reaction when they asked you to fly in from NY?

Thomas: When they asked me to come to California to do this mix and match, that was an exciting thing. The whole thing was exciting!

Question: I understand your band, “Moon,” has a song in the soundtrack.

Thomas: Yes, our song “Time Stand” is in the movie. It was recorded and written especially for “Prom.”

Question: Where do you think your “Prom” characters will be at their 20th high school reunion?

Thomas: Wow, this is a question we’ve never heard before!

Aimee: I think she would be a politician, or an activist of some sort.

Thomas: I think that’s one of the exciting things at the end of the movie, you wonder what will happen to them. Whether they will stay together at all. You don’t know.

Question: What’s your goal for the film?

Aimee: I hope people will enjoy it; it’s not about huge success or stardom or being recognized on the street corner. I would much rather everyone watch and enjoy it and think, “I got to relive my high school memories, it resonated with me.” I hope people can relate and enjoy the movie.

Question: What was your experience working with Joe (the director)?

Aimee: He was very, very collaborative and he was so invested in this movie. He really wanted to make a great, timeless movie that isn’t going to be dated. Joe and the writer and producers are all very young. This is their first really big break so everyone put a lot of effort in it and are really passionate about making this project, which is something you don’t necessarily see on a set.

Question: They allowed you to help define and develop the characters?

Aimee: Definitely, we got to develop the characters with lots of conversations back and forth. And with working with the producers at Disney who are in their late 20s early 30s, it was a great project to be part of. It was really fun.

Question: Up next for Thomas is the role of the young Barnabas Collins. Thomas, what’s it like to be in Tim Burton’s film, “Dark Shadows”?

Thomas: It’s amazing. “Dark Shadows” is all just starting now. I’m playing the younger Barnabas. I’m very flattered by the comparison to Depp. I think I got the job because of our physical resemblance.

Question: Aimee (who has a 4 pound Yorkie) How did your dog get the name Gizmo?

Aimee: (She screams with delight) Gizmo! She’s a Yorkie (shows us a photo of Gizmo), she is 4 pounds, maybe on a good day. When she was a little puppy, she was just so tiny, she was a little fluff ball and she looked like a little gremlin. She loved ripping paper into tiny pieces, she almost got the name Pyro. But she’s like this little wind-up toy so I named her Gizmo. She travels with me a lot. Unfortunately she’s not here, but she’s at home with her grandparents.

Check out “Prom” opening in theaters Friday April 26, 2011.

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