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THE DUFF

The Characters
BIANCA (played by Mae Whitman) is The DUFF

To fill the role of the pivotal and titular DUFF a.k.a. Bianca Piper, producers turned to the young but experienced film and TV actress Mae Whitman, who unbeknownst to them at the time of casting, was Keplinger's choice for the role.

"It's so funny that right before the book came out, I did a blog post where I had to cast some of my characters - like who I thought would be a good fit for the role," explains the author. "I had watched Mae on Parenthood and I thought 'Oh my God - she's Bianca. She is sooo Bianca'. Fast forward to a few years later when I get the call telling me Mae had been cast in the role. I could not be happier."

The filmmakers agreed that the DUFF in the film needed to be someone who was not unattractive or unintelligent, but rather someone who just doesn't quite measure up to her group of friends in the high school rating system. Whitman hadn't heard of the term DUFF before she was given the script. But as soon as she read it, she thought it was an important story to be told and one that spoke to her personally.

"The story is important to me because I've grown up in this industry and have had to struggle with being put in certain categories my whole life," says Whitman. "Being an actress you get put into a category and you are like, 'I don't feel that is the way I am, but is it?'"

"Mae read past that it is not the most flattering description of a character," says Bishop. "She saw the heart of this character and the journey she goes on to learn how to really love herself as she is. Also, the humor is just Mae's humor down to a T."

"What Mae does so well for Bianca is that, while she takes you on the ride and gets very upset with the people in her life, even though it may not necessarily be their fault, she still maintains a blend of likability and 'rootability,'" says Viola.

"Mae also has a razor sharp horseshit detector," says Cagan. "There were plenty of things in the script where she was like, 'I'm not going to say that.' And when I talked to her briefly after the read-through, I said, 'Thank you for being smarter than everybody else' because Bianca is the smartest person in the room and over the course of the movie she learns to own that in a way that she didn't before. "

"Mae totally intimidated me because I can't talk about things very well. I just do them," says Allison Janney, the six-time Emmy award winning actress who plays Dottie, a self-help guru who is also Bianca's frequently emotionally absent Mom. "She is very articulate and talks about things in the greatest way and has so much fun doing it. Her intelligence, who she is as a person, and her ability to pepper the character with little nuances really brings Bianca alive."

Skyler Samuels and Bianca Santos, who play Bianca's best friends in the film, see Bianca as a free-spirited girl who gets caught up in the ecosystem of high school and has to eventually pull herself out. "Mae brings such a real, quirky edge to Bianca; it's the most perfect fit ever," says Samuels.

"Mae's such a pro, and she's a great actor," agrees Jeong. "She has good chemistry with everyone and you just feel so comfortable and safe around her."

"This movie would not be the same without Mae Whitman," adds Sandel. "We knew it the second she came in to read. I was already aware of her past work and knew she'd be great for the film but the moment she started reading, we all went, "My God - she's amazing." She's a great actress - she keeps the film really authentic. And the rapport she has with Robbie is phenomenal."


WESLEY (played by Robbie Amell) is The Jock

For the role of Wesley Rush, producers had to find someone to play the quintessential handsome jock who has been categorized as dumb and shallow. However, in addition to being Malloy High School's hunky star quarterback, the character of Wesley has soul, depth, and an ability to see below the surface of his peers and his own personal struggles. The producers found Canadian-born actor Robbie Amell (The Flash, Tomorrow People) to portray this surprisingly complex guy.

"I feel like he's an old weird dude in a popular young kid's body," says Amell. "He's got a bunch of friends, he's popular, he's got a full ride to Ohio State and it's kind of like, 'Why put the effort in?' He's very street smart and holds a lot of knowledge that someone like Bianca doesn't. But the two of them, they kind of help each other out."

"Robbie gets that there is more to Wesley than meets the eye," says Bishop. "He has Wes in a character arc and slowly but surely he has dropped these little breadcrumbs along the way so we find out more about him, his depth and his background."

"There are so many ways the Wesley character could have gone wrong - it could have been such a cookie cutter character but Robbie is like a genius," says Whitman of her costar. "There were times when I was looking for a little something extra to plug into a scene and, if I couldn't quite get it, he would always come up with the right words or joke. It also helps that he is so effortlessly cool and charming, and nice and funny."

"The first time I saw a picture of him, I remember thinking, 'that'll work. That's good.'" says Keplinger. "Then I met him and watched him perform on set and 'Wow, he's perfect.' He has that charm that an actor really needs to carry that role."

Amell had concerns about making a teen comedy until he read the script. "It is tough to make one that feels real and grounded," he says. "There are a lot of overly raunchy, or just kind of over-the-top, weird ones that just don't hit. This script felt like one of the special ones that will endure the test of time. The message speaks to anyone's insecurities and ways to deal with them, embrace them or overcome them."


MADISON (played by Bella Thorne) is The Mean Girl

In the novel, a lot of Bianca's struggles are internal which makes them difficult to transfer to the big screen without using excessive voiceover. So, for the film, Cagan and the filmmakers were challenged with creating and casting Bianca's nemesis - Madison Morgan, a character that does not exist in the book.

"This is something that Ari and I worked on because we knew we wanted some type of antagonist" says Cagan. "But we really didn't want Madison to be a mustache-twirling, tie-Bianca-to-the-tracks type of villain. That being said, she is a mean girl who believes she is doing high-school right and everybody else is doing it wrong. She kind of sees life as though she were a 30-year-old who has been unjustly sentenced to go to high school with all of these children - the indignity! But Madison, like everyone else, is equally insecure so her attitude is her defense mechanism."

The producers cast Bella Thorne, who, like Whitman, is a veteran TV and film actress, (Blended,Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day and Shake It Up).

"The first time I read the script, I just completely fell in love with it," Thorne says. "I was like, I don't care who I play, I just have to play somebody. I liked that it's really about girls coming together. You see what power girls can have when they stick together and when they are true to themselves."

"Madison is such a fun part. Her goals for the future are to be a star and in order for that to happen she has to own high school. It's not even that she is naturally mean," says Samuels. "She thinks it is funny and cute and will get her someplace."

"I've never met a girl with a more wry sense of humor," says Samuels of Thorne. "She's so funny. And her interactions with Robbie and Mae in the movie are to die for. I will say nothing else but they're pretty classic."

Amell, who plays Madison's boyfriend in the film, also was impressed by the juxtaposition of the real Thorne and the devilish Madison. "Bella's such a sweet, kind girl and then she plays this insecure, mean-spirited person in the movie," he says. "She turns it on and you're like, 'Oh, I hate you, you're terrible.'"

"Madison is the girl I think everyone knows, whether it is in school, the workplace or within some group of friends. She is the girl you love to hate," says Sandel. "And, what she doesn't realize is that even she is someone's DUFF. But there is something really fun about the way Bella plays her because she is really funny and has really good comedic timing. She also added a nuance of innocence to the character to that works really well."


CASEY (played by Bianca Santos) is The Tough Girl

&

JESS (played by Skyler Samuels) is The Kind Girl

In talking about the characters of Casey and Jess, Keplinger stresses that, although Bianca's best friends are stunningly gorgeous, they are good friends to her. It is only after Bianca is pointed out as their DUFF that she begins to feel inadequate around her own friends. "Just because Bianca feels inadequate around them does not make them bad, especially when you consider that they feel inadequate in some ways too," says the author.

Bianca Santos (The Fosters, Ouija) and Skyler Samuels (The Nine Lives of Chloe King, Furry Vengeance) were brought on board to respectively play the roles of Casey and Jess.

"We wanted them to be hot girls but we also wanted them to have dimension and be smart and be girls that other girls would want to be friends with - not your prototypical, 'Oh my god, I'm popular and hot' airheads," says Sandel.

"Casey is the more straightforward kind of tougher friend but the one that's fiercely loyal," explains Santos of her character. "She's the one that, at the end of the day, she's like, 'Dude, we're friends, stop acting out, let's just get back together.'"

"Jess is super optimistic, all about the ideals and everything's awesome and she's so easily hurt if things don't go the right way cause she just cares so much," says Samuels.

"Skyler and Bianca are both actually smart girls in real life and I think that translates on camera," says Sandel. "They are also really good actresses. They take their work seriously and always came in very prepared with interesting ideas so we could always kind of work through stuff. They really brought something great to those characters."


TOBY (played by Nick Eversman) is The Musician

Thanks in part to a little musical improvisation, Nick Eversman (Get On Up, The Missing), who had also worked on Tomorrow People with Amell, landed the role of Bianca's crush Toby. An experienced actor, particularly talented in doing impressions, Eversman was told he would have to improvise a song at his audition, something that he was pretty comfortable with because of his background in a comedy troupe at Second City. Still, he stayed up the night before and wrote about 20 songs. He says of the audition, "I just started playing one and they said, 'That one's too good. Do your worst. What's your worst song?'"

"He could sing a song so bad that it was the perfect combination of cheesy and awesome. We decided he is one hundred percent the type of artistic, music-oriented, free-spirit that Bianca would really be drawn to," says Viola.

"After Nick played during his audition, all of us went 'Ummm, boom - that's our guy,'" adds Sandel. "He created this real intellectual artsy vibe without being smarmy or too cool for school which really helps in getting the audience to root for his character's relationship with Bianca."

The humor as well as the message of the script struck a chord with Eversman, a self-proclaimed loner in high school who was relegated to being everyone's little brother. "It's a comedic look at what goes on in high schools nowadays with the idea that we all have that safe person that we talk to where we can get information on the person we're really interested in."


MR. ARTHUR (played by Ken Jeong) is The Teacher

For the supporting cast, the filmmakers made sure to include some of TV and film's best comedic actors. Sandel said he used to watch Ken Jeong (The Hangover movies, Community) at The Comedy Store when he was a kid and was interested in Jeong for the part of Mr. Arthur from very early on in the casting process.

Mr. Arthur is Malloy High School's journalism teacher, and mentor/surrogate father to Bianca whose real father is absent following a divorce from her mother Dottie.

"When I found out that Ken Jeong was going to be part of the movie, I freaked out. Well, that might be an understatement, "says Keplinger.

"I don't jump out of a trunk naked in this one," quips Jeong who, in addition to being an actor and comic, is also a medical doctor. "My character sees the potential in Bianca. He challenges her, pushes her and even scolds her. He is a good coach and mentor who knows that she can handle the challenges so he challenges her even more."

Jeong says he was drawn to the script because, even though it has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, it is also very grounded and has a lot of heart. "It hearkens back to the glory days of John Hughes' films," he says. "What I loved about the characters is that they're three-dimensional. There are no one-dimensional archetypes. Everyone's got a layer of humanity to them."

"Some days it is just a treat being in this business," says Executive Producer Ted Gidlow. "There were days watching Ken creating so much stuff on set that were just fantastic."

"Ken is this kind, humble, bubbly, outrageous, quirky human being. It was incredible having him on set and watching his behind-the-scenes antics," says Samuels. "I had worked with him on a movie previously in which, believe it or not, Ken was my first on screen kiss."

Santos adores Jeong so much that she says she wants a mini-size version of Jeong so she can take him everywhere she goes because he's so hilarious. "He just keeps talking and I just keep laughing, like what's going on?"


DOTTIE PIPER (played by Allison Janney) is The Self-Help Guru/Bianca's Mom

Having made such an impression as the mother in a trio of beloved comedies (Hairspray, Juno and TV's Mom), along with her other roles, Allison Janney was Sandel's first choice to play Bianca's mom, Dottie Piper, a character whose role changes from book to screen. In the novel, Bianca is being raised by her father and Dottie is physically absent from her daughter's life. The parental roles are reversed in the movie. Although Dottie, a smalltime self-help guru, is raising her daughter, she has frequently been emotionally unavailable to her.

"Dottie is a woman whose husband left her three years ago and she was quite devastated by it," says Janney. "But she found a real niche for herself as this incredible motivational speaker and self-help guru. She realizes along the way that her obsession with her work has caused her to sort of sidestep the role of mother a little bit including failing at giving good advice to her daughter. So there is this lovely storyline with Dottie and Bianca where they have this coming together/meeting of the minds."

"It's been so cool to hang out with her," Whitman of her onscreen mother. "She's so down to earth and open and ready to try things. She's funny and nice and natural."

"Allison just brought an elegance and class to everything, "says McG. "She walks on to the set and everybody just wants to raise up their game because you don't want to let her down."

Sandel's choice was everything he hoped she would be in the role. "Allison's really funny behind the scenes as well as on camera. And you can ask her to do it ten different ways and every time she brings you something different," he says.

"She comes on camera and you're like 'Here we go.' You know you are going to get great takes out of her." says Gidlow. "She then exceeds those expectations."


PRINCIPAL BUCHANON (played by Romany Malco) is The 'Cool' Principal

Romany Malco (40-year-Old Virgin, Last Vegas, Weeds) was happy to reconnect with Sandel, who he had met seven years ago after admiring his work on West Bank Story. "He is just this really smart guy with the 'it' factor and I knew I wanted to work with him. Then all these years later I get this call from him and he says, 'I want you to come do this,'" says Malco.

"Romany is one of the funniest comedic actors out there. He has this certain cadence when he talks that is just really funny," says Sandel. "When we talked about who would play Principal Buchanon, I immediately said we have to talk to Romany." CBS Films also gravitated towards Malco for the role after their successful experience working together on Last Vegas. For his part, Romany particularly liked the unusual balance in the film where there are quirky teachers and extremely mature kids.

"Principal Buchanon thinks he's a cool principal," Malco says. "He's actually a bit conservative and out-of-touch with social media, with technology. His references tend to come from Dateline, just mainstream news. He doesn't say Instagram. He says Instant Gram. He doesn't say Pinterest. He says Pine Trest. That kind of thing."

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