"Orange County" began with screenwriter Mike White, who wrote for the TV series "Freaks & Geeks" and also wrote and starred in the acclaimed independent feature "Chuck & Buck." In both cases, White evinced affection for and understanding of offbeat characters and situations, a sensibility he also lends to "Orange County."
"To me, there's been a trend in the last couple of years towards these outrageous, lowbrow comedies. We're trying to do something a little bit different. We have lots of sight gags and crazy antic stuff, but there is also a little bit more heart to the piece. The characters have dimension; Shaun's journey is outrageous, but it's also something everyone can hopefully relate to. I mean, at some point, we all think our families are crazy and we think, 'I've got to get out of this town, this high-school, this family!' And then we realize that we miss the place."
If the characters and their circumstances ring true, it may be because the plot is ''semi—autobiographical.''
"Well, I never tried to get into Stanford, but I grew up in Southern California and I had relatives in Orange County. I did always want to be a writer, in a world where that wasn't something people just went off and did," White says. "So, I think Shaun's idea that he could only be a writer by getting out of Orange County is something I identify with."
Director Jake Kasdan collaborated with White previously on "Freaks & Geeks," directing the pilot as well as several episodes. Although Kasdan is young, this is not his first feature film — he wrote and directed the film "Zero Effect."
"Jake was great," says White. "He is young, but he so understood the film's sensibility and had an old soul's approach to getting everything done. He had this
incredible cast, a parade of people I always dreamed of working with, great comedy directors like Garry Marshall and Harold
Ramis. That must have been intimidating, but he held his own and was impressive all the way through."
Kasdan returns the compliment.
"Mike has a gift for high comedy about very small, human things. The characters that populate this story are exactly the types I'm most interested in — good people with real flaws. Mike writes about people with serious problems in a way that's funny but never cynical. To the contrary, his voice is very loving."
In addition to the veteran talents that White mentioned, the "Orange County" cast
features such established actors as John Lithgow, Catherine O'Hara, Chevy Chase and
Lily Tomlin along with relative newcomers that include Schuyler Fisk and Jack Black.
The cast's cornerstone, of course, comes in the form of Cohn Hanks, who plays Shaun
"We read hundreds of guys," Kasdan says. "Before Cohn, there was no Shaun. There was no runner-up. It was that clear. Cohn is a very self-assured young actor. He has this ease about him, this quiet confidence that allows him to be incredibly loose and funny and genuine. Real leading man stuff. He was playing opposite some daunting company and, I'm telling you, if he ever felt the heat, it never showed."
Hanks says that White's script immediately appealed to him.
"I laughed out loud many, many, many times. It was really a great comedy with
sharply drawn characters and it was unlike any script I'd ever read. It was almost like a
play, a farce in which all these different characters interact but in a really fresh way. As I
read it, I really wanted to find out what happened to all of them, not just to my character.
I was interested in the whole story. That was very refreshing. Plus, regardless of how messed up the characters were, I liked them a lot."
Hanks adds that the experience making the film lived up to his expectations, and he was especially appreciative of
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