ANGUS, THONGS AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING is the first in the series of international best-selling books about the confessions of crazy but lovable Georgia Nicolson, as she muddles through teenage life and all it entails. Several episodes and characters in the books are based on the author Louise Rennison’s own childhood in Leeds, where she was brought up in a three-bedroom council house with her mum, dad, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin.
‘Angus’, is Georgia’s beloved cat; ‘Thongs’ are worn by Georgia’s arch nemesis, Slaggy Lindsay; and ‘Full-Frontal Snogging’ lessons with Peter Dyer lead to her first official snog with sex god Robbie. (NOTE: While Brits would say “snog,” Americans would be more familiar with the term “make out”—it’s their way of saying serious kissing!)
The film ANGUS, THONGS AND PERFECT SNOGGING gave Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges (her writing partner and husband) an opportunity to collaborate together for a fifth time. When they were approached by Paramount to work on the script for the film, which is based on the first two books in the series (The second book in the series is titled IT’S OK, I’M WEARING REALLY BIG KNICKERS), the appeal for Chadha was immediate as she instinctively knew they could bring the text to life and stay true to the spirit of the books: “In Georgia, we have a wonderful character that anyone who is a stroppy teenager, or has ever been a stroppy teenager, will completely relate to and understand how parents, teachers and, in fact, the world conspires against you just as you are bursting with adulthood - a kind of Bridget Jones at 14 - but with more attitude! I was drawn to just how real and funny Georgia is and that's why she and the books have such a huge international readership.”
Louise Rennison may have based some of Georgia’s life on her own teenage years, but she has also spent time researching what it is to be a teenager today by hanging around with 14-year-olds. The experience was, as Rennison says, “Brilliant - the best fun known to humanity. It's all boys, makeup, laughing and…er, that's it!”
Before writing their draft of the script, Chadha, Mayeda Berges went about their research in a similar way to Rennison, chatting to teenagers and noting their responses, and reading magazines aimed at teens. As Chadha recalls, “Reading all these magazines, you realize the emotional turmoil teenagers go through at that age. You get a sense that they really do think that they are adults—they really do think that they know what is going on—but to us, they are children. It really paid dividends to talk to the real girls and read what they read, and to really get inside the heads of Georgia and the girls.”
Paul Mayeda Berges elaborates, “We loved Georgia and we thought that she was so funny and easy to relate to; she was so real, and kind of mad and wacky. She represents everything that is important to you when you are 14—friends, wanting to have that first boyfriend, that first snog.”
The American High School genre appealed to Chadha. Films like CLUELESS, MEAN GIRLS, 16 CANDLES, anything by John Hughes. She says, “The language that the girls speak, the emotions that they go through—it is all very pure and innocent, a marvelous time in anyone’s life, although, when you are going through it, it is horrendous—the fact that you are so angry all the time at your parents, who are just always embarrassing no matter what they do. When that boy you really fancy just doesn’t know you exist, you just want to die and never have anything to do with boys again. Everything is so dramatic.”
The most difficult part of the casting process was finding a young actress to portray Georgia Nicolson on screen, a character much loved by the avid teenage readers of the books. Chadha began the casting process when she was four-months pregnant. Within a few months, she had found many of the key characters in Georgia’s life…but was still struggling to find Georgia. A few months later, (following the birth of her twins) and still no Georgia cast, Chadha had yet another casting session—in it, she brought back in Georgia Groome, whom she had seen early in the casting process but had felt was too young. As Chadha remembers, “This time, she was like a young woman, she had blossomed and had a completely different attitude and I was thrilled as soon as she walked in…because I knew we had found our Georgia.”
Georgia Groome’s breakthrough role was in the acclaimed, gritty independent British feature film London to Brighton. Being cast as the eccentric and irresistible Georgia Nicolson in ANGUS, THONGS AND PERFECT SNOGGING gave Groome the opportunity to play a teenager of a similar age to herself, which meant she naturally had an understanding of the emotions, situations and angst of the character, “Fourteen-year-old girls worry about boys; about what boys think of them; and about parents; about parents not letting them do what they want when they like. Fourteen-year-olds worry about everything to do with themselves—what they look like, what’s wrong with them…clothes, makeup, everything. Life to a 14-year-old is, like, ‘Arghhh!!!’”
Mayeda Berges comments, “Georgia Groome has a great combination of being able to be light and silly and goofy, but also possesses real emotions—she uses those skills to show how she is changing and is heartbroken about Robbie, or she is upset about her parents. She just has a really amazing sense of what you’re like when you go through that situation—she is so real and natural.”
In rehearsals, Chadha and Groome broke down every scene to establish the variations of Georgia Nicolson’s complex, and at times, erratic behaviour; her mood swings often result in hilarious and heart-warming moments—bouncing from being childish, to a tom boy, to girly, to throwing tantrums, to falling out with friends and falling in love with boys, not to mention worrying about her parents relationship and the realization that the world does not entirely revolve around the needs and desires of a 14-year-old girl and her group of friends.
As Chadha says, “I think people will like Georgia Nicolson, because she is very enchanting. Georgia and her gang of girls together are a lot of fun and thoroughly watchable.”
Co-producer Michelle Fox sees the mishaps and adventures of Georgia as being universal and appealing to families, as well as a young audience: “It was a fantastic script and a lot of fun to produce. It will appeal to the whole family, not just the teenage girls that the books were originally written for. It’s an emotional journey that teenagers and parents alike will relate to. It really takes you back to being 15 and all the exaggerated highs and lows. Georgia and her gang were brilliantly cast, reflecting much of their own personalities in their respective roles. Jas is delightfully ditzy and Robbie, charming and sensitive—you really believe all of their relationships, as Georgia brings such sincerity to her role. Kimberly Nixon is a brilliant and beautifully wicked Slaggy Lindsay. Her scenes with Georgia are just so real. On set behind the cameras, their friendships were growing rapidly, which is evident in the dailies and made being on set quite entertaining at times. Our handsome boy cast caused quite a stir amongst the Ace Gang and they had the added excitement of The Stiff Dylans. We created this great band, with Robbie as the lead singer, from an open audition and their presence on screen is quite something. The audience will come out the cinemas rocking.”
Although Georgia Nicolson is very much the leader within her group of friends, the Ace Gang, because she is the crazy one with the plans—but she is not the most experienced when it comes to life and boys. She has never had a boyfriend, not to mention a snog. Her fellow Ace-ers are: her best friend Jas, who is very sweet and very ditzy; Rosie, the most experienced in the gang and the luckiest—she has a boyfriend, Sven, a Swedish exchange student; and Ellen, the most innocent and least experienced, especially when it comes to boys.
Georgia’s mum, dad, sister Libby and her cat, Angus, frequently irritate and embarrass Georgia. When Georgia’s dad is sent to New Zealand for work, it seems like the answer to her prayers—the person most set against her having a cool, grown-up 15th birthday party (at a cool, grown-up nightclub!) will be half a world away. It is only when the handsome, George Clooney look-a-like builder makes friends with her mum that Georgia begins to realize that there are some things over which she has little control (or understanding) being a teenager—for those matters, she really would rather have her dad back home.
Angus, Georgia’s cat, has been with her ever since she was little. He sleeps with her, and frequently has a part to play in her crazy plans. The special thing about Angus is that he is frequently Georgia’s confidante—when Jas and the Ace Gang aren’t around, when her parents can’t relate…the only other person available is her sister Libby, who is four and also believe she is a cat. So, that leaves Angus, her co-conspirator, partner in crime and trusted friend.
Angus is actually played by two cats in the film, as Georgia Groome explains: “Both cats have different personalities. Benny is the Angus that is the cuddly one that will sit still for long periods of time—he is my savior, my agony aunt that I tell everything to. I dread to think what that cat could tell you, because I whisper all sorts of things in his ear. Jim is the action cat—he does all the jumping and stunts.”
When the drop-dead gorgeous brothers Robbie and Tom arrive as new pupils at Georgia’s school, the would-be heroine and Jas are determined to ensnare them. When Jas and Tom hit it off from the start, a wedge is driven between Georgia and Jas. The situation grows more dire as Georgia’s attempts to impress Robbie backfire time and time again—everything from pretending Angus is missing to using Robbie’s friend Dave The Laugh to try to make Robbie jealous. The situation is not helped by the presence of Robbie’s girlfriend (Georgia’s arch nemesis, Slaggy Lindsay), who uses any opportunity to make Georgia look stupid by reminding her how young and childish she looks, and acts, in comparison.
In an effort to put into practice Georgia and Jas’ snogging scale, Georgia arranges kissing lessons with Peter Dyer—”the man, the myth, the legend”—so that she will know what to do when, and if, she finally gets to kiss Robbie. In Peter Dyer’s words, “Number One is the standard kiss. Number Two is with movement, when the boy goes in, the girl always goes the other way…the boy leads and the girl always fits in. Number Three is with tongues, which makes it a health and safety issue. The secret is to strike the right balance between yielding and giving. Start slowly—like a turtle, not a lizard—and avoid washing machine syndrome. That’s my scale of snogging!”
Robbie plays bass in a band called the Stiff Dylans. The band features heavily in Rennison’s books and a real band was created especially for the film; an extensive audition process saw four individual musicians brought together to perform in the film, with a hoped-for life beyond the film. (The band has subsequently signed with Sony BMG.) For the purposes of the story, Robbie is featured on screen as a bass player and vocalist alongside the real musicians.
James Flannigan (vocals), Charlie Wride (guitar), Matt Harris (bass) and Thomas Slaytor (drums)—who have never before played together—found themselves in the famous Abbey Road studio, recording tracks as the film went in to production. Later, they were required to perform and act on-stage within scenes in the film. The Stiff Dylans perform a cover and a track that was especially written for the film (with lyrics about Georgia Nicolson), which Robbie is supposed to have written for her.
Aaron Johnson, who plays Robbie, says, “I really enjoyed being up on the stage with an instrument. I don’t really play any instruments or sing, and I’m definitely not a rock band type. It was a great atmosphere and a different buzz. It really felt like we were playing a gig. It was really cool to rock out and sing along. It felt like we were a band and hopefully, it will look like that as well.”