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Finding Judy And Her Friends
One of the biggest challenges a filmmaker faces when bringing beloved characters to the screen is meeting longtime fans' expectations. "Because the book series is both character-driven and extremely visual, we felt it was important to find kids who looked exactly like the book characters,” says Siegel-Magness. "In some ways, it was the hardest part of my job. A lot of kids who auditioned were good actors, but they did not look the part. I think we met every kid in Los Angeles and New York, and in the end we found amazing actors who also have the right look.”

Of course, identifying the perfect Judy was paramount. The filmmakers met with up-and-coming young actresses all over the United States, but none seemed to have both the acting skills and the right appearance to play the iconic character. "Finding Judy was a gigantic challenge,” says Schultz. "Peter Reynolds' drawings in the books set the template for what Judy had to look like. We were also asking a very young actress to carry a film. Judy is in every scene in the movie. That's a tall order.”

It was McDonald who asked the producers if they would meet with Australian actress Jordana Beatty after learning she had been cast to play another legendary literary character, Eloise, in Eloise in Paris. "I think we had exhausted all of our options for casting little girls in this age group in the United States,” says Siegel-Magness. "Jordana did a Skype audition from Australia and I knew she was the one. There was a sparkle in her eye that only Judy Moody could have. But I didn't meet her in person until she showed up to start the movie. It was blind faith.”

Beatty, who followed her mother and sister into the acting profession, met with Megan McDonald during pre-production to discuss the character. Meeting with Beatty, McDonald got goose bumps. "Jordana Beatty is Judy Moody,” she says. "She had read all the books and thought about the character. She found all the connections between the two of them. I could not have asked for a more wonderful Judy Moody.”

They spent time talking about similarities and differences between Beatty and her fictional counterpart. "Judy Moody is a fun-loving person who always has a plan and so am I,” says Beatty. "Once she gets an idea, she sticks to it, and she won't stop until she gets it done. Most of the time, her plans don't go the way she wants them to, but afterward she realizes she's had a good time anyway.

"We have the same hair color,” the actress continues. "And we both have collections. I collect business cards, Japanese erasers that look like food, and I also have a big collection of books. I started a collection of hotel and restaurant mints, but then I ate them.”

Although this is her first leading role in a film, Beatty brought all the professionalism of a seasoned actor to the set, says Luther. "Jordana is the most magical little girl I've ever met. She's 12 years old, but she's so much more like an adult. From the moment she arrived until the last shot of the day, she had exactly the same intensity. She hit her marks and was as professional as any Oscar®-nominated actor I've known.”

Beatty worked with a dialect coach before shooting started to perfect her American accent, picking up the basics quickly. "The dialect coach made it really fun,” she says. "Before long, I found it really easy to talk in an American accent. Now, whenever I'm around Americans, it seems natural.”

The young actress forged tight bonds with Preston Bailey, Garrett Ryan and Taylar Hender, the actors who play Judy's best friends. "Judy Moody's friends in the books are my friends in real life now,” she says. "And when I film with them, it's like a whole different world because we're playing the characters, but the characters are friends anyway.”

Beatty loves the way Judy uses language, creating words if existing ones don't fit her mood. "Judy makes up her own words, like ‘Frank, my-used-to-be-second-best-friend-but-now-he's-my-enemy,'” says Beatty. "Or ‘Supercalifragilistic-expithrilladellic.' They just come out of her head on the spot.”

For the role of Aunt Opal, the zany, artsy and automobile-challenged relative who eventually helps Judy turn her summer into a thrill-a-delic adventure, the filmmakers cast Heather Graham. "Heather brings a wonderful, bohemian quality to her character,” says Sugerman. "She's like an off-beat Mary Poppins. It's delightful, and her relationship with the kids is wonderful in the movie.”

It was a welcome chance for the actress, best known for roles in films including Boogie Nights, Drugstore Cowboy and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, to do a family-oriented film. "I adore my friends' kids and I sponsor kids with the Cambodian Children's Fund,” says Graham. "I wanted to do something they could see. The story is about finding the fun in life even in situations that might not be super obviously fun.”

Aunt Opal is a freewheeling artist who takes time out from her world travels to stay with Judy and Stink, carrying with her a trunk full of exotic surprises. Judy's initial apprehension about spending the summer with a stranger evaporates as Aunt Opal reveals herself to be a kindred spirit. "Heather Graham is amazing as Aunt Opal in the same way that Jordana is Judy Moody,” says McDonald. "She completely embraced this character. Heather lights up the screen. Who would not want to spend the summer with Heather Graham as your Aunt Opal?”

Graham describes her character as "a guerilla artist” who can make art from the most mundane objects. "They did an amazing job with the art my character creates,” says Graham. "It's a metaphor for taking what life gives you and making it into something beautiful. Aunt Opal is a really free spirit and somewhat childlike, so she relates to Judy and wants to be a mentor.”

The role required excellent comedy skills, as well as openness and creativity, according to Luther. "Heather was able to bring all those elements to the part. I saw her as an adult Judy, unique, artistic, creative and open. It really resonates in the scene where you realize Aunt Opal and Judy Moody have become friends. It's the perfect pairing.”

Graham embraced the experience of working on a set full of children. "The kids are the stars, so it was beautiful chaos on the set,” she says. "And John as a director is so playful and mischievous. I mentioned to him how joyful it is to dance with my best friend's kids and he got the entire crew to go out and freeze dance. I think that expresses what it was like to work on this film, because it was fun and lighthearted.”

McDonald parted a bit from her own family history by giving Judy Moody a little brother, Stink, played by Parris Mosteller. "Parris is challenging in the ways any eight-year-old boy would be,” says Siegel-Magness. "He's a very curious kid and that comes off on camera. He brings a sassiness to the part that is so much fun.”

The young actor's natural ebullience was perfect for the character, according to Schultz. "In real life, Parris has the same attitude that Stink has in the movie,” says the director. "He's going to do his own thing, no matter what others think, and he's going to have fun doing it. He's a highly energetic, highly charismatic kid with a bubbling personality. That's exactly how Stink is in the movie.”

This is Mosteller's first film. "And it's awesome,” he says. "Stink is really funny. He likes to stink the place up. He wants Judy to come with him to find Bigfoot, and she does. Stink can always get help because he looks cute.”

Mosteller says he can't wait for the movie to reach theaters and has high hopes

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