Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse – Like Omigod, They Totally Remade Valley Girl
Updated: Aug 29
Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse
Like Omigod, They Totally Remade Valley Girl
By Jay S. Jacobs
Jessica Rothe and Josh Whitehouse were barely – or not even – born yet in the 1980s (Rothe was born in 1987, Whitehouse in 1990), but now they are totally celebrating that gnarly decade. The reason for their new interest in the era is Valley Girl, their new jukebox musical film celebrating the music and styles of Los Angeles in the 80s.
Valley Girl is a loose remake and celebration of the cult-classic 1983 film of the same name, which was the first starring role for Nicolas Cage. Loosely based on the Frank Zappa novelty tune of the same title, Valley Girl showed the Capulet and Montague-esque relationship between a Hollywood punk rocker and a fashionista Valley Girl.
The new film opens the story up a bit, and adds a whole bunch of production numbers where the cast performs some of the biggest hits of the decade, including “You Might Think,” “Under Pressure,” “Take On Me,” “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” “Crazy for You,” “We Got the Beat,” “Kids in America” and many others.
Rothe is used to nostalgic musical looks at the City of Angels – she played one of Emma Stone’s roommates in La La Land. She also starred in the two Happy Death Day horror films. Whitehouse has been juggling his acting and music, playing in the British series Poldark and the film The Knight Before Christmas. Coming up he has the David Lynch-produced film The Happy Worker, and he also recently starred in a thus-far unaired Game of Thrones prequel.
We recently caught up with Rothe and Whitehouse for a chat about Valley Girl – appropriately socially-distanced by phone, of course. We talked about remaking a cult classic, the joy of mixing singing, dancing and acting, what they love about life in the 80s, and getting along in a Covid-19 world.
Were you familiar with the original Valley Girl film before getting cast in this film?
Josh Whitehouse: I’d say before I was cast, I was familiar with it, yeah. But before hearing about the remake I had not heard of the original, no, unfortunately.
Jessica Rothe: I wasn’t. I got the audition for the movie, and then I thought well I have to watch this. I couldn’t find it anywhere, because as everybody who loves this movie knows, it has not been available on streaming until recently, when MGM just put it up online, which is very exciting. I had a friend who was living in South Dakota who found a copy of it in a bargain bin at Walmart. He mailed it to me, and I got to watch it.
Josh Whitehouse: When I first started reading the script for this, I decided to familiarize myself with it, and I watched it several times.
So, what did you think?
Jessica Rothe: I just instantly fell in love with the story and the 80s quirk of it all. Deborah Foreman is just so unbelievably charming and effortless. Nic Cage is so weird and perfect, and he has Batman chest hair. I was obsessed.
Josh Whitehouse: I found it really great, such a raw and gritty and real telling of teenaged youth in the 80s. I wasn’t around in the 80s, so I can’t speak on that side of things, but I felt the energy in the original was really special. I loved it.
Jessica Rothe: When this all finally came around, and I found out that I was going to get to be in the film, it was kind of a dream come true.
The original is something of a classic cult film, like you say it hasn’t been widely available, but the people who love it, love it passionately. With the film having so many fans, did you feel a responsibility to make the new film something that fans of the originals could enjoy, while at the same time bringing something new to it?
Jessica Rothe: 100%. I am one of the first people to say, “Please, don’t remake that movie. Just go watch the original.” If something is done well, why remake it? You should honor what was there before.
Josh Whitehouse: Yeah, absolutely, man. It was intimidating to think of making a remake, especially a classic. I’m certainly one amongst that crowd. Generally, a classic song being remade, I’m the first to say, “Oh, you can’t remake that. It’s a classic.”
Jessica Rothe: The thing that I really responded to in this script was not only the musical dance numbers of it and all – what better place to set teen romance and high emotion than in an ‘80s pop musical? I also really loved how Amy Talkington., our writer, gave Julie a lot more ownership of her own life in this iteration. She is this incredibly inquisitive, passionate, bright, creative girl who even at the start of the movie is questioning the world around her. She loves her friends and she loves the mall, but she just thinks there is something more.
Josh Whitehouse: I fell in love with [the script] the more I kept reading it and really started getting excited about the characters. I don’t really see it as a remake. I see it as an homage and a love note to the original. For one, it’s set in the current day, and it’s the story of Julie as a grown woman talking to her daughter about what it was like to be a Valley girl back in the day. Through the fact that it’s her memory and imagination, some things have disappeared from her memory. I feel that gives it a lot of permission to live inside a different world.
Jessica Rothe: When she meets Randy, that helped open the door for her to go on this journey of self-exploration. Therefore, it’s not a movie about a girl who has changed because she meets a boy. It’s about a girl who has so much potential in her that is opened up because she meets someone who empowers her, takes her outside of her comfort zone. I think that is just an incredible message.
Josh Whitehouse: There’s a bit in the movie where her daughter, played by Camila Marrone says, “Wait, you were dancing and singing on the tables?” and she’s like, “Well, yeah, that’s what I remember.” (chuckles) I think that kind of sets the tone for me that they aren’t trying to make a shot by shot remake with more expensive cameras. It’s much more living inside the memories of Julie and how she pictures that time back in the 80s. I think that gives it an awful lot of leeway and permission to exist in a different light.
What was Josh like to work with?
Jessica Rothe: Oh, Josh is a dream. He is so, so incredibly talented. He is an amazing musician, which you can tell in the film, but he also outside of the movie plays flamenco guitar and just has an incredible voice.
Josh, how about Jessica?
Josh Whitehouse: She was an absolute star. She had such grace on set. She always came with a smile on her face, prepared, passionate, knew all her lines. Just really easy and kind to work with. It was a very easy experience for me. Really nice and fun.
Jessica Rothe: We got on really well. I think a big part of that was that both of us were incredibly passionate about this project and wanted to give it our all. When you find a partner to work with who is on the same level as you – even if you don’t work in exactly the same way, you respect each other and you know that each other is trying to do their best work – it just makes everything so much easier.
Was it difficult to get used to the wardrobe choices from back then, or did you enjoy it?
Jessica Rothe: I loved it! Julie is such a fashionista and loves taking chances with clothing. So many of the clothes looked so out there and fabulous. A lot of them were actually vintage 80s clothes. Some of them were made for the film, but a lot our amazing costume designer Maya Lieberman got to go into stock rooms in the big studios and pull vintage pieces from their vaults. So, a lot of what I was wearing was made in the ‘80s, which also meant that there was a lot of polyester. Not the most breathable clothes in the world.
Josh Whitehouse: (laughs) I loved being surrounded by the outfits. I got such a thrill seeing the rest of the cast dressed up in their 80s garb. Me personally, my clothes were kind of timeless, really in the movie, because I’m just wearing a dirty pair of jeans, a dirty pair of boots and a dirty shirt. (laughs again) They actually let me design my t-shirt for the movie. I scribbled on a t-shirt with pens and pencils and spilled wine. I loved being immersed by everybody else in that sense.
Jessica Rothe: I really love when I get to play a character that there is an element about them that really helps you step into the role seamlessly. With a period piece, so much of that is wardrobe.
Was it fun recreating all those classic 80s hit songs? Which ones did you connect with the most?
Jessica Rothe: It was really. It was daunting, because who can sing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” better than Cyndi Lauper? But that was the thing that was fun. It wasn’t necessarily a doctrine like “Do the song better.” It was about how can we bring the emotion of this moment and fill the song with that? That was a really fun challenge.
Josh Whitehouse: I certainly learned a lot about 80s music. I had this huge playlist of music that I was listening to on repeat every day in the buildup to doing the film. Creating my own covers of a bunch of 80s songs.
Jessica Rothe: I really loved singing “Take on Me” with Josh. That’s such a fun duet and really speaks to what it’s like falling in love. And playing on the carousel was also a blast.
You were born in the 90s, so what part of living in the 80s do you think you’d enjoy the most?
Josh Whitehouse: The cars, everything that was on that set I thoroughly enjoyed. The music, too, I certainly was introduced to a lot of new 80s music that I hadn’t heard before.
What modern conveniences do you think you would miss if you were living back then?
Jessica Rothe: (laughs) The funny thing is, I think I would kind of love if social media was gone. Really. I’m very, very bad at it. I get a lot of FOMO. That’s been the funny thing about quarantine for me, that’s been great, I’ve been like, oh, there’s nothing to have FOMO about, because everyone is doing exactly the same thing as me right now. Just being at home. (laughs)
Josh Whitehouse: I guess in terms of things I’d miss back then from now; I can’t say that I’d miss social media that much. I think it’s taken too much power in the world. Just the way that all works.
Jessica Rothe: I would definitely miss… my family lives in Colorado and it is so wonderful…
Oh really? Where in Colorado? I have family there too…
Jessica Rothe: Oh really? They are in Denver.
Yeah, I have cousins in Aurora and Erie. I lived in Boulder briefly when I was young.
Jessica Rothe: Oh, that’s amazing. It’s a great place.
It really is.
Jessica Rothe: But it is just so easy to stay in touch with them and to see them. Quarantine would definitely be really boring if we didn’t have a bunch of streaming devices and we were stuck listening to the same seven cassette tapes and watching the same 20 VHS’s. Things would get old fast. So, I’m very grateful for technology advances.
Josh Whitehouse: I’d really miss being able to stay in touch with my family while I’m in Los Angeles. Be able to do Facetime calls. I think that’s a hugely wonderful thing. Also, the fact that in today’s day and age I can build a home studio. Being able to record my own music at home is a game changer, really. You don’t suddenly need a label’s backing to make your own music. That’s nice.
The new Valley Girl is an interesting case, because not only do you have to act, you sing and dance as well. You have done other parts where you mix those skills as well. Do you look for roles where you can use all those skills?
Josh Whitehouse: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I enjoy it. As an actor, I suppose, if you play somebody who does a specific thing, that’s a huge part of the character you’re playing. If you’re in a band, or I did a film called The Happy Worker recently where I was playing a guy who digs holes. He digs a huge hole, and that’s all he does with his life. So, I took it upon myself to go to a property and I dug a huge hole, to see what that feels like. (laughs)
Jessica Rothe: It’s totally something that I’ve been lucky enough to find. I grew up on movie musicals. I love them so much. I never in my wildest dreams would have ever thought I would be so lucky as to be in not just one, but two movie musicals. I would love to do more, but I also am open and excited about exploring all different kinds of genres, because that is one of the coolest parts of this job.
Josh Whitehouse: I think the benefit here, in playing guitarist in a band, is since I was 12 years old, I’ve been playing in bands as a guitarist. I feel as though a lot of your character prep is already done for you. I understand the mentality of a musician. I understand that world very well. It gives me more span to focus upon the character side and the script and learning my lines. I trust myself a little bit more in knowing that I actually kind of was that. With something else, there are a lot more kinds of prep that I feel like you need to do. Not that I don’t enjoy that kind of prep, because I always love getting myself stuck into something fresh and new.
Jessica, this was the second movie musical you’ve made that is a nostalgic look at Los Angeles.
Jessica Rothe: Yeah.
In what ways was making this film different than your work in La La Land?
Jessica Rothe: It was really different. Part of that has to do with directors. Damien [Chazelle, director of La La Land] and Rachel [Goldenberg] are both brilliant directors. They work in very, very different ways. My part in La La Land and the things I had to do, what was incredible about it was it was one shot. We worked for months to map out where we were going to be in the apartment, and how to run around behind the camera to get to your spot. The timing had to be completely on point.
Yeah, you can see that onscreen.
Jessica Rothe: The musical numbers in Valley Girl, though, a lot of them were very complicated and intricate, were more based on this exuberant ‘80s pop joy. Or sadness. Or love. So, they weren’t as technical in that way.
While the film sort of downplayed it a bit after the beginning, was it at all hard getting used to talking in the classic Valley Girl lingo – the omigods and fer shures and totallys?
Jessica Rothe: (laughs) It was definitely a learning curve. I think that kind of Val-speak has actually permeated our culture so much that it maybe even embarrassed me that it wasn’t too far away from how I normally speak. A lot of them were habits that my mom made me break in middle school after I saw Clueless and was like obsessed with sounding like a Valley Girl, because Cher was the coolest.
Jessica Rothe: We had a dialect coach who helped us. The biggest thing that we learned was that the best way to sound super-Val is to really (in Val speak) stretch out your words. There’s always an upwards inflection. Also, that you get to say such crazy, outlandish things and to really relish the sounds and relish what it feels like in your mouth.
Well, speaking of Cher in Clueless, what was it like being in the movie with Alicia Silverstone? Obviously, you didn’t have any scenes together, because you were playing the same character at different points in her life, but is it cool to know she was there, anyway?
Jessica Rothe: It was a dream come true. 13-year-old Jessica was freaking out the whole time. Current day Jessica was freaking out the whole time. I’m such a huge fan of her work. Funny story, way before this movie, I would say maybe two or three years before I even auditioned for it, I was flying to New York. I sat down on the plane, and I looked next to me and I thought, “Oh my God. It’s Cher from Clueless.” It was Alicia. We sat next to each other and ended up talking for almost three hours. She shared her vegan treats and gave me career advice. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that I would have that experience, and then get to be in a movie with her a few years later? It was a dream.
Much of Valley Girl was filmed all around LA and the Valley, in lots of places that are still around like the high school and the Galleria and clubs on Sunset Boulevard. How did the California backdrops help you to get into character?
Jessica Rothe: It’s just such an LA story. As with many, many great films and musicals, I love when a movie is really inspired by the place that it is shot. That place almost becomes a character. I think LA was that way, because LA is so sprawling and huge and there’s such a stark difference between Valley-world and punk-world. Even though those edges have blurred a little bit with time, you can still feel that when you go to Hollywood versus when you go to like Van Nuys. It’s a completely different world. I thought that was a fun palette we got to play with.
I believe this film was made a few years ago and just now getting a release. What is it like to have it finally getting out there so people can see your work?
Jessica Rothe: I am just so excited for this film to be out in the world. Every single person on this movie worked so hard and put so much of their hearts and their time and their talent into making this movie the best it can be. Not only am I just overjoyed that everyone gets to share their hard work, and their love, also I think that it’s a really good time for this film to come out. Everybody could use a little dose of ‘80s neon sunshine. This is definitely a movie that when you leave it, you feel better about the world and you’ll have a smile on your face. I think that’s important.
How are you dealing with the current stay-at-home world?