Casting The Student Body
Surrounding Charlie Bartlett at his new school is a typical teenaged populace who Charlie discovers are suffering from every possible modern adolescent concern: ranging from parents to pressures, popularity, drugs, sex, college, self-esteem and what it's all about, anyway.
As he develops his bathroom-stall psychiatry business, to Charlie, everyone's got an interesting and valuable story to tell -- but there's one classmate in particular who he could listen to forever. That's Susan Gardner, the beautiful, boisterous young woman who unfortunately also happens to be the Principal's prized, precious daughter. To play Susan, the filmmakers went out in search of a fresh face. After auditioning more than 80 young women for the part, the clear winner was rising young star Kat Dennings, who previously starred in "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," alongside Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener, another comedy hit which was Executive Produced by Jon Poll.
"I knew Kat was funny, fearless and strong just like the character of Susan," comments Poll. "Then she blew me away with her audition. We all agreed that she was like a force of nature. I didn't want Susan Gardner to be your typical beautiful girl in a comedy - she's beautiful but she's also very smart and someone to be reckoned with. I'm really proud that we created a female teenage character who operates out of strength."
Dennings notes that the script was "not like any other movie centered around teenagers that I'd read." She continues: "It wasn't some cliché, stereotyped formula that pandered to teenagers and I really liked how the writer made Susan an equal to Charlie. She's not some dumb girl who sits around looking cute. She's a real smart cookie."
It turns out to be Susan's intelligence more than anything that set Charlie's heart on fire and earns them both the wrath of Principal Gardner, who is already suspicious of Charlie long before he realizes he's romancing his daughter. Dennings had a blast working with Robert Downey, Jr. in the role. "Having Robert play my father was just so amazing," she says. "He's really smart and cool, and it turned out that we have a lot of funny, obscure stuff in common and we really like talking to each other."
Dennings continues: "I think Principal Gardner is really a pretty cool dad and he and Susan have a good relationship, but then he starts becoming unhinged. She loves him a lot but she's not sure how much she respects him right now. It was very interesting to me the way that both Charlie and Susan are in this position where they're acting more mature than the adults in their lives, even though they also really need those adults."
As for why Susan falls for Charlie, Dennings says: "The thing about Charlie is that he definitely has flaws, but at the bottom of it all, he's also really good-hearted. It's rare to find somebody like that who's so honest and true to himself and has no real undertone. I think a lot of people will fall in love with him."
Also joining the cast is musician/actor Tyler Hilton, who made an auspicious debut in the award-winning "Walk the Line" as a young Elvis Presley. Here, he plays the seemingly sinister school bully Murphy, who ultimately becomes Charlie's unlikely business partner. The filmmakers knew that for Murphy, they needed an actor with a cool, menacing quality - but also someone who could be believable in finding middle ground with the far nerdier Charlie Bartlett. It was Hilton's audition that convinced the filmmakers he could ride that line. "He shaved his head into a Mohawk, came in and just nailed it," recalls Jon Poll. "Not a lot of actors are good at being truly bad. But Tyler wasn't afraid to go all the wa
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