Amanda Bynes takes on the role of rebellious teenager Penny Pingleton whose relationship with Seaweed (Elijah Kelley) helps open the eyes of her best friend, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky), to racial discrimination in Hairspray. Taking it to the streets, Tracy, Seaweed and Penny launch a campaign to end segration. While the subject matter sounds heavy, the film's approach to the topic is definitely not.
The Appeal of Hairspray: “I think when I found out that they were making this into a movie, I at first didn’t think I was right for Penny,” confessed Bynes. “My sister who’s also – she’s going to be a teacher, but she’s also been doing plays her whole life and is an actress too - I was like, ‘Why don’t you audition for this movie?’ I was like, ‘I think this would be a good role for her because she’s taller than I am…’ So I gave her the audition info and she auditioned. And then when they called they were like, ‘Well, no, we still want you to audition.’ So I was like, ‘Wow, really? I’m not even really a dancer.’ And so I first got online and I downloaded the songs. I started to really listen to the music and I started getting into it. I was like, ‘Okay, you know what? I like the message of this movie. I like that it’s a good message for young girls that it doesn’t matter what you weigh or what the color of your skin is.’ And so I started to really want to be a part of it. And then I went on my audition and then finally I got the part.”
Being a Part of an Ensemble: Amanda Bynes is no stranger to playing the lead, but she was perfectly content being part of the big ensemble cast of Hairspray. “Definitely. That was another reason why I wanted to be in this movie because even though I have a substantial part, I felt like it was not about me. It was fun to play a fun, quirky part in a big ensemble movie. So there was definitely much less pressure and I had days off. That was very exciting.”
Getting Into Hair and Make-Up: Slipping into the ‘60s with costume, hair and make-up really enabled the actors to get into their characters. “It definitely helps," said Bynes. "I mean, when you walk in there with your low jeans, you feel kind of 2007. And then you put on the corset and then the 1960s style dresses and then the hair. Even the makeup it’s just different. So I felt as soon as I was all made up I felt like, ‘Wow, I feel kind of like a young girl in the ‘60s.’ And so you sort of do kind of start to get into that mode. And everybody is dressed like that. The guys are wearing these slacks that are tight and not hanging off of their butt, and it was very different. It was fun.”
Comparing today’s styles with those of the turbulent ‘60s, Elijah Kelley said, “It was definitely more sleek. It was very consciously driven. People were really putting effort into their dressing. But I think the true testament of how fresh it was is like the slim suits are coming back and the skinny ties and the pointy shoes. Guys are doing that now which is really good. I plan on getting me a couple for the premieres and stuff like that.”
Kelley does like the tighter styles but won’t be giving up his baggy pants. “You know what? Being a person that sags, I can appreciate both. I do sag and I do like the suits that are very well cut. You want to be dapper with the girls sometimes. I just can’t go every day without bagging. Those pants just made my whole pelvic region numb. All my circulation gets cut off.”
More on That Fake Hair: Bynes isn’t even tempted to try the style out in public. “I feel like I’d be mocked and I think people would… I don’t know. I could just say, ‘Well, you know, I’m just paying homage to my character,’ but I don’t know. I don’t think I could wear them today.”
But some men might actually go for the look and Bynes recalls one comment she got from one of her famous co-stars. “Christopher Walken did say to me one day when I was in hair chair and he was in the hair chair, he goes – and I’m not going to do his accent – I’ll do it slightly because you can’t say this without doing it,” said Bynes. “He’s like, ‘You look like a Play[boy] bunny I once knew.’ I said, ‘Well, really? What was that like?’”
Elijah Kelley Has His Own Hair Stories: The actor wasn’t prepared for what he was put through in order to get the right look in Hairspray, but he did know a few relatives who once wore their hair the same way as his character. “We went back and a lot of my uncles had the same wave growing up down there. I got a lot of inspiration from like Sammy wore it, like way back. Even James Brown, his was like way more elaborate. They got my style from Nat Cole King with the hair, so it was great.
I didn’t even know I was going to have my hair like that. I grew my hair out like a little bit because I thought it was going to be like, you know how Marvin Gaye used to wear his hair? Like a little bit of a fro? I thought it was going to be like that. They sat me down and I thought I was going to get trimmed up. They started putting in all these chemicals. I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘We’re about to relax your hair.’ I’m like, ‘Somebody please tell me something!’ And you know they did it and they put all kinds of stuff in my hair. It turned out pretty good. My family loved it.”
Hairspray and Racial Tension: Kelley’s family is very supportive of the film’s message and shared with him their own stories of discrimination. “Oh yeah, my grandparents and my great-uncles and aunts and stuff like that. Even my mom caught a little bit of it,” said Kelley. “Being from Georgia, that was one of the places that was one of the last to jump on that bandwagon of integration so I had a lot of firsthand accounts. They told me about it. They were definitely ecstatic that I was carrying the message that it’s not right and that stuff actually did happen, and we’re moving forward together as a nation and as a people. Still remnants of that stuff still exist but I feel like we’re [getting] there.”