DEVON AOKI & ANGELA ROBINSON Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
March 14, 2005
Originally a movie short that found success on the indie circuit, D.E.B.S. quickly caught the attention of Hollywood and was remade into a feature film. Written and directed by Angela Robinson (Herbie: Fully Loaded), this action/comedy focuses on a quartet of cute girls who are recruited into the world of espionage via a secret test hidden within the SAT: Amy (Sara Foster), the academically perfect protege who is the pride and joy of the D.E.B.S. academy; Max (Meagan Good), the group's take-charge, trigger happy, de facto leader; Janet (Jill Ritchie), the enthusiastic rookie who steals the show with her wide-eyed, comical innocence; and Dominique (Devon Aoki), the slightly nihilistic, chain-smoking French nymphomaniac with the shortest skirt. When a chance encounter leads to Amy falling in love with the feared nemesis of the D.E.B.S., Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster), the loyalty of these secret agent schoolgirls is put to the ultimate test.
In this interview, actress Devon Aoki (Sin City) and director Angela Robinson talk about the making of this lighthearted adventure.
MEDIA: What were the major creative challenges in transitioning from the D.E.B.S. short to the D.E.B.S. feature?
ANGELA: The creative challenges were actually similar because I wanted to create a really high concept, high production value movie on zero money, basically. We wanted to do greenscreen and special effects and gun play and action, and so it was really just trying to manage the scope of the movie with our limited resources, which basically involved running around like a crazy person.
What was the inspiration for the story?
ANGELA: I met a girl at NYU when I was in the grad film program there, and it was like the first weekend everybody was introducing themselves. And she told me this whole story about how she had been recruited by the CIA through a secret test in the SAT, and I totally believed her. She had me going for weeks. And so finally somebody was just like, "Oh my God, she was totally pulling your leg. That didn't happen." [laughs] But I always thought it was a funny idea. And then once I had moved to LA, I remembered it and I drew a small comic where I created the characters out of my id or something. And then it was just a matter of finding an adventure to send them on.
Devon, your character always seems to be lighting up a cigarette. How much smoking did you have to do?
DEVON: [laughs] Actually, not a lot. You would think that I was smoking while we filmed the whole movie, but those scenes when I was smoking were pretty short--one, two minute takes. So you take a drag, and then for the rest of the scene, you can just sort of stand there looking fashionable.
ANGELA: If you watch the movie, you'll notice she's standing there with the cigarette a lot. Very little actual smoking.
Was your character Dominique originally written with a French accent, or did they just say, "bring some attitude," and that's what you brought?
DEVON: Actually, it was originally written with a French accent. As soon as I read it, I was totally gung ho to play her, because I had always wanted to do an accent in a movie. And I sort of knew how to do a French accent from living in Europe for five years.
Angela, can you talk about the process of casting the feature?
ANGELA: That was a fantastic experience because I was really overwhelmed when we got the greenlight to go and we sent out the script to get it cast. Usually for a smaller budget movie, it's harder to get people, but there was this incredible response to the script. I was just like, "Whoa, there's so many incredibly talented, funny young actresses out there, but they don't get to show even a quarter of what they can do in the roles that are available." But there were five good, powerful, funny, strong roles in this movie, so we got a ton of people who just wanted to play the parts because they read it and they understood it and they were so excited.
Actress Jill Ritchie is the only cast member that stars in both the D.E.B.S. short and the D.E.B.S. feature. What is it that you like about her?
ANGELA: Jill's a genius! Jill is a #1 genius, and you can put it in print! Jill came in to audition for the short and she was kind of, I think, in a bad mood. But she came in and just gave this reading, pitch perfect. I think she gets my writing. And it's really fun when you meet somebody who, the first time, does it like you heard it in your head. And I just keep trying to work with people like that as much as possible.
Devon, what was the most challenging part for you: the wardrobe or the stunts?
ANGELA: [to Devon] Or the stunts with the wardrobe? [laughs]
DEVON: [laughs] Yeah, just juggling the cigarette and the gun and the short skirt. Well, I have a lot of experience with working different types of clothes, so that wasn't a problem. I think the stunts was more difficult because I didn't really know how to shoot a gun very well at that point, and before we started, we went to a shooting range. And at first, I'm looking at this huge Uzi, and I'm like, "I don't know if I can shoot this!" And I'm watching this guy and his hands are flying back, and I'm looking at my arms and I'm going, "Oh, there's no way." But you just have to do it. And it was great, actually. It was a lot of fun to get the training also.
Did D.E.B.S. get any resistance from the studio because of its love story between two girls?
ANGELA: I had a shockingly easy time of it. I actually think that's part of the reason that the material seemed really fresh to people and why we got financing. I think it was a positive for the movie. But it was more the way that it was handled. My goal for the movie was for you to totally forget that it was two girls who were falling in love with each other, and just get swept away by their adventures and their characters and their mishaps, and really end up rooting for them. And I decided to put it in this slightly fantastical world, because the D.E.B.S. problem with Amy is not that she's going out with a girl, it's that she's going out with their archnemesis. [laughs]
The songs used in the movie definitely create a nostalgic tone--how were they selected?
ANGELA: I wanted to make the coziest movie I could, but I wanted to be very fresh. There was definitely an '80s vibe happening, and we chose some key songs from the '80s like The Cure, "Love Cats," and Erasure singing "A Little Respect." I feel like there's a real quality to the sound of those songs that is kind of techno-y, but so sweet and kind of heartbreaking while being very happy. It has this kind of yearning feeling, which I feel like the characters are really feeling for each other. And then there was a lot of great bands which kind of harken back to that sound, but are out right now. And all the bands were super cool. We didn't have the money to pay for all that music, but like The Cure was like, "Yeah, take our song." So that was neat because they didn't have to. They just liked the movie.