Uptown Girls : Molly And Ray

Acting since she was thirteen, Brittany Murphy has earned multiple glowing notices since her first scene-stealing comic turn as ditsy “Tai” in Clueless at the age of sixteen. But with the recent succession of scene-stealing, acclaimed performances in such films as Girl, Interrupted, Don’t Say a Word, and last year’s smash hit 8-Mile, Murphy has become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses. Her flair for broad comedy is as impressive as her unflinchingly honest dramatic turns – a combination that made her the perfect choice to play Molly Gunn.

“Molly’s infectious spirit and larger-than-life presence required an actress with a truly diverse arsenal of talents,” says Yakin. “Brittany really had all of the right qualities. Molly has to be this force that pulls you through the film. There are very few actresses that have the energy and vitality and ability to pull it off, but Brittany really does. She’s physical and very free in a way that many actresses aren’t. She’s very uninhibited and has a lot of range, so she was really ideal for the part.”

For her part, Murphy was thrilled to get to play Molly Gunn. She was attracted to the humor in the script and the Cinderella-in-reverse, fairytale aspect of the story. She also saw a bit of herself in the Molly character, which she describes, with a laugh, as “the eccentric parts of my personality, multiplied by twelve.”

Murphy says her reaction to the script was particularly visceral and immediate. “To me, it was one of those magical, unexplainable things,” she says. “I knew I had to do it. When I read the script, not only was it funny, but I knew it would be the most personal thing I’ve ever been a part of. It just really hit home.

“I love Molly,” she continues. “When the film opens, she’s not the most responsible woman, but she has a zest for life and an openness that I find incredibly refreshing. To be able to play a character like that, a girl trying to find herself and to figure out what she’s going to do with her life, a girl waking up to the possibilities and realities of life in such a vibrant and exciting way – what a dream! I’m so incredibly glad to have been a part of the film.”

Eight-year-old Dakota Fanning was the only actress considered for the role of Ray Schleine. Coming off her Screen Actors Guild Award-nominated performance opposite Sean Penn in I Am Sam, she had quickly become the most sought-after child actress in the industry.

“We like to joke that when we bought the script, Dakota probably wasn’t even walking or forming full sentences,” laughs Penotti. “Then we realized after meeting her that she was probably reciting poetry at age four.” Stevens adds, “Dakota was not only the perfect age for Ray, it’s like the role was written for her.”

When Fanning read the script, she liked that portraying Ray required a lot of ballet, one of her own favorite pursuits. She also saw it as a new acting challenge. “It’s such a different role,” she says. “I’ve never played anyone like Ray. She is so tight and clenched.” She laughs, “And kind of mean, actually – a very fun role to play.”

“Dakota is really remarkable,” says Yakin. “She approaches things from the point of view of character, and you can have discussions with her as if you were talking to a forty-year-old. And she gives a really great performance – in the realm of Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon and Anna Paquin in The Piano. It’s a different kind of movie, but her level is really up there.”

“The timing really could not have been better for Brittany and Dakota to be where they are,” says Stevens. As an added bonus, it was immediately apparent there was fantastic chemistry between the two actresses. “They are hilarious together, on and off screen,” says Stevens. “It’s really exciting to see them together, and there is a great respect and support they have for one another.”

The two actresses indeed developed a very special relationship and cannot say enough about how much they enjoyed working with each other. “Brittany is such an unbelievable actress,” says Fanning. “And we can really communicate with our lines – they just kind of bounce back and forth.”

As for Murphy, she says, “Forget about age. Dakota is one of the most extraordinary people I’ve met in my entire life. To have her as a friend is pretty amazing. She’s so wise, über-intelligent – just a joy!”

Since the film centers on the relationship between the two girls, it’s a good thing the actresses got along so well. And the genuineness of their affection lends to the credibility of their performances and their relationship onscreen. It’s what gives the comedy its surprisingly effective heart. Molly’s growing relationship with Ray helps point Molly in the right direction, helps her pick herself up and lead a new kind of life. And Molly teaches Ray how to let go of control a little bit, and how to deal with loss and the curveballs life can throw your way. Molly and Ray help each other find balance.

“Some would say grownups can't be friends with kids,” says Murphy, “but they can. This movie is about the relationship that develops between two very unlikely friends. Because each is able to offer the other something they really need, Molly and Ray become true friends, and their age difference doesn’t matter. I love that. Molly teaches Rae how to be a child and Rae teaches Molly how to be an adult, and they give each other their hearts and change each other’s life. That’s a perfect example of a great friendship.”

“Ray gives Molly the tools to become a woman,” says Jacobs. “And Molly gives Ray her childhood back.” Jacobs feels what is unique about Molly as a heroine is her childlike spirit; though she faces many setbacks and struggles, she never shows any bitterness. Yet, Molly still has doubts about herself, and her relationship with Ray gives her confidence. “Molly is someone who has never had her spirit broken,” says Jacobs. “She saves Ray’s spirit, and Ray gives Molly the confidence that her spirit is wonderful.”