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The Director's Chair: Adam Shankman's Hairspray Diary #6

BroadwayWorld.com has an exclusive look into the making of the movie musical HAIRSPRAY with this special Director's Diary written by Adam Shankman. Check back daily for new entries!

MICHELLMA VON TUSSLE

So now that I have secured John Travolta and Queen Latifah to play respectively Edna and Maybelle, I'm moving on to Velma, the villain of the piece.  The character is a beauty queen, stuck in time, resistant to change, unwilling to allow anybody of difference on the Corny Collins show, or even come close to competing with her daughter Amber Von Tussle to play "Miss Teenage Hairspray" in the finale.  My immediate thoughts were of Michelle Pfeiffer.  I thought of Michelle because of her unbelievably delicious turn as Selina Kyle and Catwoman, in BATMAN RETURNS.  She embraced her wickedness completely, emotionally, physically and comically and I remembered loving the performance and thinking how committed and daring it was.  Also on her side was the fact that she had sung, starring in GREASE 2 (imagine, GREASE 1 and GREASE 2 together for the first time, not even in a boxed set) and had sung also in THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS.  I knew that she was physically daring because of her work as Catwoman and besides that, before she was an actress she was a beauty queen contestant and knew what it was to be in that world and to be judged solely on your beauty and to be ensconced in that everyday of your life.  We sent her the script. Much to my surprise and glee she asked to have a meeting.   

Craig Zadan and I flew up to San Francisco to go meet her before she went off to London to film a movie called STARDUST, which she was  about to begin shooting.   Our movie would follow immediately. Michelle hadn't shot a movie in a long time so I knew that this was a long shot because she considered herself at this point in her life a real family woman and she wanted to stay home with her husband and kids.  We met her in Palo Alto where she was doing her costume fitting.  When she walked into the restaurant, my jaw dropped.  She was as magnificent today as she was when she was in SCARFACE, MARRIED TO THE MOB and THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS.  I had to have her. I couldn't mess this up.  Boy, did I have to be charming.   

The first thing she said when we sat down was "Oh my God, what's wrong with your arm?"  I looked down and there are massive bruises all over my forearm from being on a location scout and falling down a flight of stairs in Toronto. I said, "Let's just put it this way, it was a great night."  She laughed.  I think I had her.  She wanted me to explain why it was that I thought of her for the part. I explained it and she liked it and a smile went on her face when she thought of her turn as Catwoman.  She apparently really enjoyed playing the character. I told her how great it would be to see her sing and dance again.  Craig and I convinced her that this was going to be a class-A project and we would really benefit from having her in there.  Not to mention that the underlying theme is for all anti-racists and even though she was the villain, she would be in an ensemble cast in a movie that is truly about something that is still a problem in our world today. She left to think about it.   

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Adam Shankman Adam Shankman is a master of comedy yet is still able to capture the sensitivity of each story, making him one of the most loved and commercially successful filmmakers of his generation.

Currently in post-production on Hairspray, Shankman is bringing the feature film adaptation of the Tony award-winning Broadway production to life with a remarkable collection of talent including John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken. Hairspray is scheduled for a July 2007 release from New Line Cinema.

Shankman is also in pre-production on Bedtime Stories, which he will direct and executive produce through his Offspring Entertainment banner for Walt Disney Studios, with Adam Sandler set to star. Additionally, Shankman is producing an Untitled Project in the works also through Offspring, with Hairspray star Zac Efron set to star. He is also producing, through Offspring, All Of Me, starring Queen Latifah and based upon the 1984 film starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin.

Shankman and Gibgot?s Offspring Entertainment are set to produce Monday Monday, a film about a neurotic teenager forced to relive the first day of high school until he gets it right. Offspring Entertainment is also producing an adult treasure hunt project in association with Benderspink.

Most recently, Shankman produced the Sandra Bullock film, Premonition, as well as Step Up for Walt Disney Studios. Step Up, directed by his co-choreographer Anne Fletcher, garnered critical acclaim and grossed over $100 million at the box office. The sequel Step Up 2, directed by John Chu, is scheduled to begin production this summer. In addition, Shankman recently directed the box office success, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, the sequel to the 2003 20th Century Fox smash hit family film.

Shankman began crafting an enviable career with his directorial debut, Columbia Pictures' The Wedding Planner. The Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey film was the heart-felt hit of 2001. Shankman's following grew with his next film A Walk to Remember, distributed by Warner Bros., starring Mandy Moore and Shane West. A Walk to Remember was nominated for a 2002 Phoenix Film Critics Award for Best Live Action Family Film.

Shankman followed this up with Bringing Down the House, a Walt Disney comedy starring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah which was number one at the box office for three weeks in a row, grossing over $130 million. Shankman followed that up by directing another Disney film, The Pacifier starring Vin Diesel. To date, Shankman?s films have grossed over a half-billion dollars.

Prior to directing, Shankman was one of the entertainment world's premiere dance and physical comedy choreographers, putting his creative stamp on many well-known comedies, dramas, thrillers, and animated films. His projects include The Addams Family, Casper, Inspector Gadget, Anastasia, George of the Jungle, Boogie Nights, Miami Rhapsody, and The Flintstones for which he was nominated for a Bob Fosse Award. Shankman won the Bob Fosse award for his work with Simon West.

At age 24, Shankman teamed up with influential video director Julian Temple as a music video choreographer. One of the first videos as choreographer was Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight." He has also choreographed videos for The B-52's, Barry White, Aaron Neville, Chic and Stevie Wonder.

A native of Los Angeles, Shankman developed a love for the theater at an early age. After high school, he moved to New York and attended the Juilliard School.

After five years as an actor and dancer in New York and regional theater, he moved back to Los Angeles and began dancing in music videos, including videos for Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. He also performed at the 1989 Academy Awards.