"Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes. There's too much fraternizing with the enemy."
Secretary Of State Henry Kissinger
For centuries, great thinkers have pondered the vast gap that exists between the male way of seeing the world and the female way of seeing the world and wondered if we can ever really connect. For Mike Chadway, former cable TV phenom and the new correspondent on Sacramento morning television, the answer is really quite simple: don't be an idiot. Of course men and women can connect... but mostly in between the sheets, and only if women will finally begin to understand that men are primal, carnal, simplistic beings who crave constant arousal.
Mike's risqué POV has skyrocketed ratings but it has also turned up the temperature for his producer, Abby Richter, a woman who takes the complete opposite position. In Abby's world, true love is the bottom line and the trick is finding a man who knows his own heart - and she's ready to battle Mike to prove that such a romantically-inclined, knight-in-shining-armor actually exists in the real world.
But could it be that the real truth lies in combining Abby and Mike's competing POVs? That's the question raised with playful provocation and tantalizing results in the comedy The Ugly Truth, which teams director Robert Luketic (21, Monster-In-Law, Legally Blonde) with the tit-for-tat comic pairing of Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler.
Says Luketic: "I think we're all starting to realize that men and women are wired differently and it's liberating to be able to play with that in a movie that's honest and frank, but also outrageously irreverent, about what makes us different and what brings us together. We are certainly all equal but the ugly truth is that there are things men need and there are things women need - and sometimes they clash, and yet... it's that difference that makes romance so exciting and wonderful."
He continues: "I like that this movie is a chance to chill out and laugh over this stuff. Because at the end of the day, when you strip away all the myths and all the posturing men and women take so seriously, both sexes keep falling in love in spite of it all."
The Ugly Truth began with three women screenwriters: Nicole Eastman and the high-energy team of Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten Smith. Eastman, who makes her screenwriting debut, says she was inspired by the idea of writing about two people who think they despise each other, but as their battle wages, are horrified to find they might also be magnetically drawn to one another.
"It's really about the two most unlikely people in the world to fall in love - and what happens when they accidentally do," Eastman explains. "Abby and Mike have a lot of resistance to each other. She's the opposite of the brainless bimbos he says men want, and he's nowhere near the Prince Charming she says she's always wanted. Yet you end up rooting for them to come together because you can see underneath they both have similar vulnerabilities. What I love is that they're definitely not your cookie-cutter comedy characters. And what makes this story different from typical romantic comedies is that the obstacles that stand between them aren't external but internal. There are a lot of layers to what's really going on."
All of those layers were inspired by the actions and interactions of real men and women Eastman had observed. "I based Abby on someone I know who is great at her job but terrible at dating," she explains. "Mike was a completely fictional character I wanted to be as obnoxious and rude as possible, so I can't believe how much men say they relate to him!"
Eastman's initial script immediately drew Lakeshore Entertainment's interest. "We'd been looking for a comedy with romantic elements ever since Run Away Bride," says Tom Rosenberg, "and we felt this was it."
Adds Gary Lucchesi: "The concept was hilarious and topical and we felt audiences would greatly enjoy the battle between these two characters. The story has a lot of fun with how men perceive women and how women are aghast by it, and vice versa, which makes for a terrific date picture. We felt it could be a modern update of the classic comedy where you have two charismatic stars butting up against each other in very funny ways - whether it's Hepburn and Tracy, Gable and Lombard, or Lucy and Ricky."
The Lakeshore team then brought in Lutz and Smith, the writing duo who scored a hit franchise with Legally Blonde, to add their frank and flirtatious comic touch to the screenplay. "Lakeshore sent it to us and we thought right away it was a really funny premise and wanted to work on it," Lutz says. Adds Smith: "They talked to us about creating a kind of snappy Hepburn and Tracy repartee, but in an edgy and raunchy way, and keeping Mike and Abby equally matched all the way to the end. That really attracted us."
They did so by drawing on their own experiences on the battleground between what men and women want. The duo especially had fun exploring the ‘ugly' side of the male psyche in crafting Mike's macho, libidinous banter.
"We both know a lot of guys, so we had that advantage," laughs Lutz. "And Kirsten is single and I'm married so we've got two different perspectives on men. Both of us agreed that we wanted Mike to be as strong, brash and funny as possible - but at the same time, we wanted to make him that kind of guy who, even if he offends you, you still like hanging out with."
Smith continues: "One of the things we needed to do with Mike is show how he also has a whole different side to him than just this tough guy and ladies' man, which you see in his relationship with his nephew. As for his show, we had fun taking it to an extreme. I definitely disagree with all his crazy, insane beliefs - and yet somehow I'm completely tickled by Mike."
The duo also drew on their own personal knowledge of ambitious and bright but uptight and controlling career women to create Abby. "We both totally connected with Abby because we both like to be in control," confesses Lutz, the married member of the duo. Adds Smith, who is single: "I especially related to the idea of Abby as a woman who's really got it together at her job but is a complete disaster in her personal life. I think it's a pretty common phenomenon in the modern world."
But the biggest challenge lay in blending just the right chemical mix between Mike and Abby - one that pendulums back-and-forth between combative and sexy, quarrelsome and steamy, until it becomes clear the friction between them is turning into something hotter than either of them expected.
"You start out where she despises everything he does and he thinks she's way too uptight. But we tried to build that subtle undercurrent that they are slowly, unbeknownst to themselves, falling in love," summarizes Lutz. "It turns out in the end that the real ‘ugly truth' isn't that men and women want different things. The real truth is that we're all flawed, men and women equally so, but that doesn't stop us from loving one another."
The completed script thrilled the producers at Lakeshore and quickly drew the interest of Robert Luketic. "My very first feature was Legally Blonde, so it was wonderful to have this chance to get back with the same screenwriters and have that kind of fun again," says the director. "Then I heard that Lakeshore was talking to Katherine Heigl and I immediately said ‘If she's in, I'm in.'"
At the center of The Ugly Truth is the woman who doesn't want to believe there could be an ugly side to Mr. Right: Abby Richter, a tough, savvy career woman who has long approached dating as a job, one which she unfortunately believes requires checklists, dogged research and a set of standards so relentless no one has come close to meeting them yet. She would say she has high expectations - Mike Chadway would say she's a "controlling psycho" - but somewhere out there she believes there exists a man who will sweep her off her feet regardless. Who that man actually is, however, she could never have seen coming.
To play Abby, the filmmakers were looking for a leading lady with the smoldering silliness of a classic screwball comedienne, a kind of 21st Century Carole Lombard or Lucille Ball, able to deliver a crackling one-liner while simultaneously possessing a vulnerable sensuality and a slapstick sensibility. Such actresses aren't a dime a dozen, so the list of contenders was short and quickly narrowed down to one name. Recalls Gary Lucchesi: "One day one of the writers asked: 'Have you thought about Katherine Heigl'? The moment I heard that, that was it. It was a great idea, we knew she was right and we pursued her vigorously."
Heigl, an Emmy Award winning actress for her role on the runaway hit television series "Grey's Anatomy," has recently come to the fore in a number of screen comedies, most notably taking the lead role as the pregnant woman in question in Judd Apatow's critically acclaimed Knocked Up. The entire creative team thought she had just the right qualities to make Abby as believable as she is blundering.
Karen McCulluh Lutz says: "It just worked to read the script with Katherine's voice in our heads. Once we found out she had been cast, there were no adjustments that needed to be made at all."
Kirsten Smith adds, "As soon as we started collaborating with her, Katherine really embraced the idea of wanting to make Abby even more controlling. She absolutely nailed the comedy of her obsessions and neuroses."
For Heigl, taking up arms in the battle of the sexes was an irresistible proposition. "What I loved about the script is that it provides insight into what men are really thinking and why women get it wrong, and the other way around," she laughs. "We've all seen the standard romantic comedies, and I think there's always a place for them because I'm a big romantic comedy fan. But I like that The Ugly Truth takes that and brings a new edge to it. There's a lot of raw honesty in the story but instead of taking it too seriously, it lets you laugh and enjoy the absurdity of the dynamic that goes on between men and women."
Heigl doesn't hold back when describing Abby. "She is a pretty uptight chick," she admits. "She's super organized, very on top of things, totally in control in every aspect of her life and frankly, it makes her a little scary. As a date she's a nightmare because she's overwhelming, she's bossy and she talks too much. But to be honest, it was really super fun to play that, probably the most fun I've had!"
Still, Heigl does have plenty of sympathy for Abby's plight as well, especially when it comes to dealing with Mike Chadway. "The beauty of the story is that it gets to both sides of the argument," she comments. "Abby is rightfully frustrated by her relationships with men and rightfully confused and thrown for a loop when she starts to fall for a guy like Mike who doesn't appear to have a romantic bone in his body."
The confusion and chaos only increase when Abby enlists Mike to help her land the man she believes is going to turn out to be her Mr. Perfect: her dashing new neighbor Colin. This leads Abby into some rather unusual situations, as Mike becomes her modern-day Cyrano, advising her on everything from a titillating hem length to sexually inviting hot dog eating techniques. But it also leads to an increasingly magnetic attraction.
"In his own way, Mike rocks Abby's world," Heigl explains. "All her love of order and peaceful calm and being on top of things, he just throws out the window. She can't predict what he's gonna say or what he's gonna do next - and since she is used to always being one step ahead of things, he puts her in this place where she finally has to throw her hands up and go with the flow. There's something secretly exhilarating for her in all that."
The greatest joy of all for Heigl was verbally jousting with Gerard Butler. "I have a real love of that sort of old Hollywood repartee that you don't really see much anymore," she says. "Gerry and I found that fast-paced, sparring dialogue so much fun. Even in your regular life, if you're out with another couple and they've got that great witty thing going, it's the most entertaining thing to be a part of. And it kind of just happened seamlessly between us."
In the midst of all this, Heigl had one major comedy mission: cracking the director up. "For me, the best feeling was to be in the middle of a take and to see Robert trying very hard to giggle without making too much noise. All I ever wanted to do was to make him laugh," she says.
Luketic says she did that, and much more. "Katherine is a breath of fresh air. She can be dramatic, she can be funny, and she's always very, very appealing," says the director. "She's a wonderful actress and she'll have a place in my heart forever."
Adds Tom Rosenberg: "As well written as the screenplay was, Katherine always brought something new to it. Her interpretive skills are really something."
As for whether there really is an "ugly truth" about men and women, Heigl muses: "Oh, I think Mike thinks there's a truth about men that women don't want to face but he comes from a place where a lot of men come from: he thinks his opinion is fact!"
Squaring off with Katherine Heigl on the other side of the sexual skirmish line is Mike Chadway, played by Gerard Butler, who won over audiences as a steely warrior in the action hit 300, did a romantic turn with Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You and played an adventurer in the family film Nim's Island. Here, the Scottish star takes on a role he's never been seen in before - an unapologetically caddish relationship expert with a tongue like a Ginzu knife.
"Gerry's always been a larger than life character, says Gary Lucchesi. "And he's also very funny. But what really convinced us is that when he and Katherine Heigl met, the chemistry between them was obvious."
Butler was attracted right away by the screenplay. "The dynamic between men and women in this story is a little more outrageous than we're used to seeing and what really hits home is how truthful it is," he says. "It's very honest, in an outlandish way, about what goes on in relationships between men and women. That's what got me excited about it. It allows the characters to say the kinds of things that make people think 'I can't believe he just said that,' followed by 'but it's so true.'"
Mike Chadway also intrigued Butler, not only because he's such a fun foil for Katherine Heigl's character but because, beneath his seemingly vulgar exterior he's actually, even if he would never admit it, quite complex. "You could say Mike Chadway is sexist or misogynist or any of these things, but he's also very smart, very funny and there's something about him that's very real and genuine," Butler comments. "He's certainly very full of himself. But, as the film goes on, he does change, and I think you realize that he isn't quite the guy you expect."
Some of those changes occur entirely because of Abby. "One of the great themes of the movie is that nobody can quite ruffle Mike's feathers like Abby, which is probably why he starts to fall for her," Butler explains. "She's uptight, she's prissy, she's his nemesis and yet... there's this spark where you realize they're just perfect for each other. Katherine made it easy because she's so funny and yet she keeps it so real."
The challenge to the role was in keeping Chadway overtly brash and bawdy without ever losing that underlying charm that keeps Abby coming back for more advice in her love life. "The trick to portraying Mike Chadway was keeping some sense of his humanity because it is a love story within the comedy, as well," Butler explains. "Mike has an enormous amount of dialogue, probably 10 times the dialogue I've ever had in a film, because he has an opinion or a smart line for everything. So that was an interesting experience, too. I took inspiration from Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant, the way the words are always flying in their films, and hopefully some of that kind of feeling comes across."
On the set, Butler had a blast working with so many skilled comedians and watching Robert Luketic keep the riotous chaos under control. "Robert keeps a very breezy and fun atmosphere on the set, but he's also very sharp," observes Butler. "He has a great sense of pacing and he can take a funny idea and make it that much more hilarious."
Luketic is equally strong in his praise for Butler. "Here we had this character who could just be a foul-mouthed shock-jock who says outrageous things, but Gerry found a way to make the character not only sympathetic but disarming, good-natured and attractive," comments the director. "He really captures that undeniable connection between the bad boy and the guy that women can't help but be attracted to."
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