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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

From the mouths of babes

If Nikki Reed looks comfortable in her role as brazen bad-girl Evie in "Thirteen," it's because she's lived the part. Reed's script for "Thirteen," written in six days -- and heavily based on her own walk on the wild side at age 13 -- became a film that was shot in six weeks. Little was lost in translation, and the film won Independent Spirit and Sundance awards, and also launched Reed's career as an actress. Now age 17, Reed will next be seen in skater flick "Lords of Dogtown," and in person, she displays a maturity and confidence that's only sometimes betrayed by the occasional "like" but never an "omigod.''

News photo
Nikki Reed

So, why did you decide to write a script?

I'd always loved writing and kept a journal. And I knew the director, Katherine, since I was 5. She dated my father, which is sort of where all this started. She and I were never close until I was about 10 or 11, when they broke up. She saw that I was going down a bumpy road with my mom, so I was staying at her house, living with her. And she asked me, when I was 13, if I wanted to try focusing on something besides hair and makeup and school and boys . . .

Did you listen to her?

(Laughs.) Only because it was her; anyone else -- no. I knew she was an aspiring director, but I didn't see her plan forming yet. We sat down one day, and she asked me if I'd start writing what I was going through, as a creative outlet. So I did, and a screenplay came out of it.

How much of it came from your own experience?

I think the best way to describe it is to say the original script was more like my life than the film. The actors brought so much to their characters that it naturally changed the roles -- it just happened.

One of the hardest things to do in the film was letting go. Katherine as well; she's directing the film, and sometimes you just have to let your words go. You have to be open to change, because everything will change. The scripted film, the shot film and the final product are three different things.

Is there any one scene you can point to in the film and say, "Yeah, that happened just like that?"

The tongue-piercing scene. And I did pierce my own belly-button; in the film I pierced Tracy's, but that's close enough. It wasn't as bloody. (Laughs.)

Why didn't you play yourself, i.e. Tracy?

I wasn't offered the part of Tracy!

You wrote the script, didn't you get first pick?

No, I didn't! But it was all for the best. Honestly, I didn't want to act. I wasn't an actress, I've never studied it, while someone like Evan [Rachel Wood] has been doing this since she was 5 years old. So the process of me getting the part was very unplanned and random. I was reading with the girls who were auditioning, and to make a long story short, they couldn't find anyone for the part!

Your film is quite fair in that it includes the parent's perspective.

Well, that's something Katherine really helped me to understand when we were writing. Because the original draft had all of the characters basically revolving around Tracy -- they were all sort of one-dimensional, except for her.

Something was obviously missing. . . . Katherine handed me a notepad and said, "Go to your mom's house and write down all the funny things she says, all the wonderful things about her, all the hip things she does." And I was like, are you crazy? You're gonna have an empty notepad! But little did I know, there was a whole side of my mom I didn't know, and my dad, and it was an excuse to learn about them, and it improved our relationship a lot. So these things made it into the script; they completed it.

There are a lot of "troubled teen" flicks out there. Could you give me one you liked, or hated, and why?

Aaah (sighs.) You don't see any films nowadays that are just honest. A lot of people comment on "Thirteen," saying it felt like a documentary, especially how it was shot, but you at least felt like you were there with the girls. You know, you see films nowadays. I mean, I really don't want to insult people, but "Princess Diaries" and "Mean Girls" -- they're entertaining, but people don't walk out taking anything with them other than "Hilary Duff is hot."

Well, the key thing about "Thirteen" is its authenticity. There's never a point where you say, "Oh, c'mon!"

I went to so many screenings where parents would come up to me and say, "My child's not doing that." And I'd just say, "OK. Call me in five years. 'Cause it happens to everybody." And it's so funny how parents think they were angels, and forget that they were sneaking out windows and going out with boys and lying to their parents. And then when they're parents they keep their eyes shut because they don't want to believe their kids are doing what they were doing.

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