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HAIRSPRAY

Casting The Ultimate Ensemble
John Travolta, the movie star veteran, and Nikki Blonsky, the new "discovery,” are just the beginnings of what would become a truly all-star Hairspray cast. Singing and dancing their way through the film are an unprecedented collection of talent that ranges from Hollywood's biggest names to its hottest young stars.

For the characters of music-loving mom Motormouth Maybelle and the scheming Velma Von Tussle, the filmmakers went straight to their first choices, Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer. Both actors are big stars, beautiful women and, thanks to some hair-raising wigs, blonde.

"Being blonde brought out a whole other side of me,” says Latifah, smiling. "It was a side I didn't even know I had. I mean, I've had my hair lightened but never been platinum like that before…it was cool…I felt like a superhero with all that hair. I felt powerful.”

Latifah accepted the role without ever having seen a script, based on her previous collaborations with director/choreographer Adam Shankman (Bringing Down the House) and Hairspray producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who executive produced Chicago, for which Latifah received Oscar®, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Mama Morton. "I just relied on their collective expertise, and I was very comfortable that they were going to deliver all the things they promised…and they did,” she says.

For Latifah, the part of Motormouth Maybelle hit close to home in many respects, perhaps culminating in her moving and spirited performance of "I Know Where I've Been.” 

"Well, Maybelle and I both love music and understand the impact it can have in people's lives,” she says. "Music can be the energy of change, and change can happen and will happen, but sometimes you got to help move it along. So, the protest march in the movie was very special to me. Not only because I get to sing a great song that Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote, but also because I felt the spirit of my own mother coming through. She was a high school teacher who was very inspiring to her students and her own children. She would always encourage and empower them and let them know that the world was theirs if they wanted it. I think Maybelle is that same type of woman. She sees her kids and their friends as a powerful force for the future and understands that there is always more life to live, but you have to be willing and able to go find it. That's what these kids in the movie do…and they do it all through the music.”

Music and change are clearly not what drive the character of television station manager and not-so-merry widow Velma Von Tussle, as played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who received one of her three Academy Award® nominations for her last singing role, Suzie Diamond, in The Fabulous Baker Boys.

"Velma is a woman on the edge,” says director/co-choreographer Adam Shankman. "For the ex-beauty queen, life is still all about winning and winning at all cost. That's how she runs the TV station, and that's how she runs her life and her daughter Amber's life. This is a woman who is so very beautiful on the outside and so hideously ugly on the inside.”

"As a huge fan of Michelle's, and especially her work in Batman Returns and The Fabulous Baker Boys, I knew she could handle the physical, comedic and singing elements of Velma,” says Shankman. "There was no question, though, that she had a very daunting task in playing the villain, who is essentially just a big racist. Michelle, however, took over the role with an unmatched style, energy and commitment. She never tried to run away from how horrible Velma is…she bit into it, locked her jaw and held on tight.”

"I think calling her the villain would be a very fair assessment, if not a glaring understatement,” says Pfeiffer, laughing. "I was a bit reluctant at first to play her. I didn't really know ho

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