The nerve of Mandy Moore. After a brief but memorable turn as the one-dimensional vixen supporting Garry Marshall’s “”The Princess Diaries,”” this chart-topper-cum-actress has gone and landed herself the type of role most teen actors would scrap their series on the WB for.
Moore signed on to play Jamie Sullivan – a reverend’s daughter who falls for an “”other side of the tracks”” boy – in the cinematic version of Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling book, “”A Walk To Remember.”” Just don’t act too surprised by this bubblegum diva’s transformation, as Mandy warns, “”I think this character is a lot more like me than most people asking that question think sometimes.”” Do tell, Miss Moore. Do tell: EM I watched the trailer for “”A Walk to Remember”” before a screening a few weeks ago, and hardly recognized you. Was this makeover a conscious effort to ditch the perception of “”Mandy Moore””?Mandy Moore: It was not a conscious effort. I had a small role in the “”Princess Diaries”” this past summer, and I just figured I would continue to do supporting roles until I felt really comfortable, to kind of venture out and do a part like this. But I was such a huge fan of the book, that I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity pass by. Forget it, I love this story, and I may not know as much about movies as the next actress, in terms of what constitutes the good script, but I knew scripts like this were few and far between.EM So you didn’t run the script by anyone for final approval? MM No, I loved the book so much and I was like, forget it, regardless of whether it’s going to be successful or not, I have to be a part of it. EM It certainly is a big step, jumping from one supporting role to your first leading role. Did you feel any pressure to succeed, that this film was sitting squarely on your shoulders?MM Oh, absolutely. I mean, it was a completely different type of film, and obviously having a bigger role (laughs) kind of adds a little bit of pressure. Initially getting over that shock was kind of hard, but after that, everything was fine. I got to that point where it all felt really comfortable. Plus, I colored my hair. I got rid of being Mandy for two months, and that definitely helpful.EM But you didn’t have a Garry Marshall in your corner this time out. Was he missed?MM Well, I went and met (the director) Adam Shankman, and I had lunch with him long before I even went and auditioned for the part. And I knew that finding someone who was as passionate about conveying the message of this story was going to be tough. But once I met Adam, I was like, “”Wow, this is someone who reallygets it, and who’s really excited to share this movie with everyone.”” And so I knew that I wanted to work with him. And Adam, truthfully, helped me so much on the movie. Especially in the beginning, getting me to some of the places. But once we got through the first three or four days of shooting, you just completely … you’re there.EM So how familiar were you with Sparks’ novel before you even heard they were going to make a movie out of the material? How far in advance were you involved?MM Probably a year.EM And you claim to have related to the Jamie character, even when you were reading the book the first time through.MM There’s a lot of me in Jamie, and a lot of Jamie in me. I think the fact that at first, I’m kind of a shy, introverted person when I first meet people. And I think that’s how Jamie comes across, because she doesn’t feel the need to kind of express herself all the time, and have many friends. I think the fact that we’re both kind of spunky, too. People describe Jamie as spunky, and I’ve been described as spunky before. I like that. That adjective is kind of fun.The thing that I wanted to learn through this movie, or get out of playing Jamie, was that she was so comfortable in her own skin, [and] that’s something I haven’t felt. Despite all of the stereotypes, and judgement against her in school, it didn’t change the way she felt about herself, and I thought that would be amazing, even to kind of just pretend I had that going for me for a couple of months. EM It’s also a rare quality to see in a teenage character. Unfortunately, teen characters seldom are portrayed that way.MM Right, especially someone who is the “”outcast”” of the film. You typically see that she’s self-conscious, or that she – or even the boy in the film – has to physically transform themselves in the end to gain acceptance and appease the person that they’re in the relationship with, or whatever. It was nice to have a female heroine, or even a guy, who didn’t have to go through that. No one did. In fact, I was the only character in the film that was consistent with who she was and what she did with her life throughout the entire movie, and it was kind of everyone around her changing.EM The book is set in the 1950s, but the film is not. What did the film lose or gain by updating to the ’90s?MM There are things I think it lost, but it would have been a completely different film if it were set in the ’50s. Besides the obvious, I think its a little more reasonable for people my age to go see it. It would have been a cuter movie, and a littlesweeter, to see it set in the ’50s.EM Would you have attempted the role if it were set in the ’50s?MM (Emphatically) Yes, because I just loved the book so much.EM But would it have been as effective?MM To teenagers? No. I don’t think it would have been as effective if it were set in the ’50s then if it were set here.EM Perhaps the studio could have marketed it to adults, in that case.MM Yes, but I think adults are still going to want to come see this film, because they’ve read the book and the main story and the main message is still there. EM Now, the message “”Walk”” delivers does resemble that of other teen movies – poor girl meets popular guy … How do you differentiate your film from the competition?MM We don’t have to rely on selling ourselves as having sex, drugs and rock & roll in a teen movie for once, which is great. There’s actually something to learn from this movie. You’re going to walk out and not feel like you’ve wasted an hour and 45 minutes of your life, watching the same old, same old. I was so moved by the book, and I was hoping that the movie could capture that, too. And I really think it has. Maybe in a different way, because there are some differences, but I just know teens are going to walk out and think about faith. And not necessarily in a spiritual connotation, but just faith in general. Like in each other. And in love. Especially young love. SO It’s a unique theme, faith.MM And it’s so taboo in Hollywood to even mention it. Anything to do with spirituality or religion has been so “”not politically correct”” to talk about. It’s nice that it’s done in a way that’s not forced [in this movie], and it’s not preachy and in your face. Like, “”This is what I believe in, and if you don’t, then you are very, very wrong.””EM The film shot in Wilmington, N.C., a hotbed for Hollywood activity. Any run-ins with the “”Dawson’s Creek”” crowd?MM Shane [West, Mandy’s co-star] did. Shane ran in to Joshua Jackson a lot. Ashley Judd came down for my birthday, to wish me a Happy Birthday. She was in [Wilmington] filming the “”Ya Ya Sisterhood.”” And Vince Vaughn and everyone, filming “”Domestic Disturbance.””EM So, no bar fights?MM I was not out that night (laughs). I think I was actually out of town. But it got a little crazy. Some of the locals were unhappy that there were these hot young actors there. Tempers flared … it was crazy. But still, I love Wilmington so much.EM It’s becoming very popular:MM We call it “”Wilmie-wood.”” My goodness. Outside of N.Y. and L.A., it’s like the biggest epicenter for making films. I would do another movie there in a heartbeat. In fact, I’ll read a script extra carefully and make sure I found something that I loved about it if I knew it were filming in Wilmington.EM Really? What’s the selling point?MM The town, and the charms that it has. The fact that people understand that we’re here for, well, sometimes a long amount of time filming a movie. And they’re very accommodating. You feel like you’re in the South! You can go get some sweet tea. It was so right up my alley. The food … the shopping, wonderful restaurants. It was like a vacation for two-and-a-half months.By Sean O’ConnellJan. 18, 2002