Heathers is turning 30 this year, and to celebrate, the film is hitting UK screens again via a 4k restoration — so we thought we’d have a chat with the movie’s director, Michael Lehmann.
Heathers stars Winona Ryder as Veronica, a good girl who teams up with bad boy J.D. — played by Christian Slater — to take down the clique that rules over her school. But according to Lehmann, a different, soon-to-be very famous actor once played the J.D. character in an early table-read of the script. The director also discusses the ending that never got cut, and explains why there has never been (and never will be) a Heathers sequel.
FANDOM: Is Heathers a reaction to the John Hughes teen movies that preceded it?
Lehmann: I don’t think it would be right to say it’s a reaction to the John Hughes movies. Me and my friends and those working on the movie like the John Hughes movies. It wasn’t like ‘We’re gonna show the world that we can do something better.’ But I felt that the John Hughes movies, as good as they were, were also in a way safe and conventional in their portrayal of adolescence and teenage life. They were really good, but my experience of High School had been much darker. And Dan’s script certainly reflected a much darker vision of High School. And to me, that was just much more interesting.
FANDOM: Did Brad Pitt ever read for the role of JD?
Lehmann: No, he didn’t read for the role. Somehow or other it got out that he auditioned for the role. He didn’t. We had a table-read of the script when the movie was still being developed. I don’t think we had a green-light yet to make the movie. You always wonder — especially because the dialogue of the script is so stylised — we had a question. We meaning me, Dan Waters, and Denise De Novi the producer, we wondered how well this stuff plays out when you hear it said. It reads great, but how does it feel when it’s said? So we decided to put together a table-read. So we just gathered actors that we knew and friends that we had to read the roles. And an actress named Stacey Travis – who was a friend of ours — was in an acting class and we didn’t have anybody to read the part of J.D.. So we asked Stacey and she brought this young kid from her class. A good looking kid, he cold-read part of J.D. in the table-read, and years later I found out if was Brad Pitt.
FANDOM: Can you remember if he was good?
Lehmann: I have a tape of it. Not only can I remember if he was good, I can listen!
FANDOM: What did Christian Slater bring to the role?
Lehmann: That role on the page was a little bit hard to conceive. Was this guy supposed to look like James Dean and be your archetypal teenage bad-boy? Or was he supposed to be more unhinged — how would that play. I thought Christian brought a good interpretation to it. Maybe a bit more Jack Nicholson than I would have expected. But that was also Christian. That’s how he is. But what I liked is that he was appealing and menacing at the same time, without being your cliched juvenile delinquent teenage bad boy.
FANDOM: Do you have a favourite moment in the film?
Lehmann: I’m not sure I have a favourite moment in the film. As a director, there are certain sequences that I’m particularly happy with. And some that I’m not so happy with. I do like the moment around Heather Chandler falling through the coffee table and J.D. and Veronica writing the suicide note. I thought it was great in the script and I like how it turned out when we shot it.
FANDOM: How does the finished film compare to the original script?
Lehmann: The very first draft which I read was so long; it was 250-pages, so it was twice as long as the movie. And actually my memory of it — and I haven’t looked at it for years — was it had more murders, that were funny. And it had more great social satire. So, for example, the character who was the editor of the paper, I can’t remember the character’s name. But he’s a relatively small character in the movie now. He had his own story, with parties in a hot-tub, and he might have even been murdered in the original draft, so there was a lot of stuff in there that never made it to the final movie. But in tone it was essentially the same thing.
FANDOM: How did the ending change?
Lehmann: Dan had written an ending in which J.D. blows up the school, and it ends with a prom in heaven. That’s the ending that we tried to get made. That was the ending that was in the draft of the script that went through the works at New World Pictures. But they wouldn’t do that.
FANDOM: Would you have preferred that ending?
FANDOM: Did you ever consider making a sequel?
Lehmann: We talked about it. I think Winona more than anybody had an interest in doing a sequel. She really liked the idea. We all had fun making the movie, we were a very happy group of people and we all worked well together. And Dan is a brilliant writer. Winona kept saying ‘Let’s do another one. Can’t we do a sequel?’ And Dan and I would always chuckle and say ‘We’ll think about it.’ And we’d talk about it, but we never really figured out the right way to do a sequel. I don’t think either of us had a great love of the idea of a sequel, then Winona suggested it taking place in Washington D.C., in the world of politics. Which we thought was a good idea, but we just never did it. We never got around to it.
FANDOM: Would you consider making a follow-up now?
Lehmann: I don’t think we would.
Heathers is in UK cinemas now, while it’s released on digital and on-demand August 20.