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SUGAR AND SPICE

The Cast On Their Characters
At the heart of Sugar & Spice's tongue-in-cheek humor is a cast of rising young performers who capture the innocent essence and comic corruptibility of American youth. The film's ensemble cast includes some of the hottest up-and-coming actors working today.

Starring as Diane Weston, the unsinkable sunshine girl and captain of the cheerleading squad is Marley Shelton, who has been seen in Pleasantville and The Bachelor. Shelton was drawn to the script's uproarious originality. "It's like nothing else I've seen," she says. "I saw it as Heathers meets Raising Arizona, a real wild ride with teens at the center."

She was also intrigued by her character's comic contradictions as a girl who is perpetually perky even in the face of some unexpected problems. "Diane definitely sees the world through rose-colored lenses. She's always optimistic and full of platitudes," admits Shelton. "But she's also very pragmatic, a real trouble-shooter. And even when the future changes suddenly for her when she meets her boyfriend Jack, she's willing to make a go of it — and I really like that about her. There's always a sunny side for Diane.

Shelton especially liked director Francine McDougall's uniquely colorful approach to comedy. "She unapologetically goes to the edge. It was great because it meant I could take the role as far as I wanted, beyond realism to pure comedy," notes the young actress. "Trying to be absurdly preachy and yet lovable at the same was a great challenge."

Diane's over-the-top happy outlook is the uniting force behind the A-Squad girls, even though the rest of their personalities couldn't be more different. Antithetical to Diane is Kansas, the diehard rebel, played by Mena Suvari. Suvari rose to the fore in 1999 as another tempting cheerleader in the Academy Award-winning black comedy American Beauty. But this role was different for Suvari — a lighthearted portrait of a girl who has grown up to be hard as nails.

"What I really love about Kansas is that she's a strong character who stands up for herself and her friends, who have become her family in the absence of real parents," explains Suvari. "Obviously, she's got a real edge to her and that was a blast to play -- she's always got the lipstick on, the dark eyes and all the rings. But despite her image, she'll do anything for the people she loves, the other members of the squad."

"This is definitely a very different role from anything I've done before," Suvari admits. "I'm usually seen as very innocent and sweet, but Kansas is tough and spirited at the same time. I had to get dirty, messy and learn to play hardball for this one. It's great for me because I like to play all different sorts of ranges. I've always said I don't want to just play the popular high school girl — and Kansas is one, but in a movie with some real substance to it. That makes me happy."

Kansas' rival inside the A-Squad is Hannah, the devout Christian who gets her kicks from Tim Conway movies. Hannah is played by Rachel Blanchard, who is best known to audiences as the more material Cher on the television series "Clueless." "Hannah's a bit on the quirky side," agrees Blanchard, "but what's interesting is that she's been raised in this very stifling and conservative environment and now she's suddenly discovering her sexuality and who she is. It all conflicts with her religious teachings, so she just sometimes comes out with the craziest things."

Blanchard found herself emphasizing the comic quality of Hannah's inner conflicts. "Obviously, planning a bank robbery is against her religious teachings, but she comes to feel that sticking by her friends is more important," explains Blan

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