At the Castro Theatre on Sunday evening, SF Sketchfest celebrated the 35th anniversary of the cult-classic comedy whodunit Clue, with star Colleen Camp, bit player Jane Wiedlin (of Go-Gos fame) and writer-director Jonathan Lynn. And to make a long story short (too late!), the films avid local fans came out in droves to rewatch the film and hear some behind-the-scenes trivia in a Q&A.
Sadly, a scheduled appearance at the event by star Lesley Ann Warren (Miss Scarlet) was canceled due to illness, but one of the biggest tidbits that Lynn discussed was about how Warren almost was never in the film at all. As Clue buffs likely know, the late, great Carrie Fisher was initially cast in that role, and just 10 days before shooting began she informed Lynn and the team that she had checked into outpatient rehab.
Lynn describes Fisher as coming in to do a reading for the role and "sniffling a lot" because she apparently "had a cold." She says she was marvelously funny in her reading, and equally hilarious when she came to meet him for lunch in Los Angeles some days after that audition — though he says she arrived at the restaurant in a whirlwind and managed to trip over a table and a chair on her way to his table.
Fisher was very open in her memoirs and in later life about her cocaine abuse during this period (the film came out in late 1985 and was shot in that year), and Lynn has said that he only later realized that producers Debra Hill (who died in 2005 at age 54) and Dawn Steel (who died in 1997 at age 51) were also doing cocaine at the time and were not alarmed by Fisher's rehab announcement.
As he told BuzzFeed in a 2013 piece about the film,
"[Carrie] said, 'Oh, yes, they'll let me out during the day and I'll just come back at night.' And I thought, Really? So I asked Debra Hill, and Debra said, 'Yes, that sounds good.' I think Debra was also on cocaine, but I didn't know that. Then it was put to Dawn Steel, and she didn't seem to have a problem with it. I didn't know that everyone in Hollywood was snorting cocaine. I was really naive. They weren't doing that in Hampstead, where I lived. Then the insurance company got involved and said, 'Absolutely not. What are you thinking?!' — which surprised everybody but me."
Lynn told a similar story on stage at the Castro, adding, "I'm so curious to know how Carrie would have played the part of Scarlet. It would have been very different."
Camp concurred: "Very different."
As we all know, Fisher's part was quickly recast, and Warren arrived on set in time for a week's rehearsal before shooting began.
Regarding her own part, Yvette, Camp reiterated a detail that was in the BuzzFeed piece about how Madonna and Demi Moore both vied for the role before her, and she got the part by renting a French maid's costume and wearing it to the audition. (She left out Jennifer Jason Leigh — and Lynn didn't seem to remember any of this.)
Another amusing detail that one of the audience members brought up in the Q&A, addressing the question to Jane Wiedlin — who played the walk-on/dance-on role of the Singing Telegram Girl who gets shot toward the end of the film — was how two members of L.A.'s punk scene ended up in the film. Lee Ving, the lead singer of the band Fear, and he played the role of Mr. Boddy. Wiedlin said it was just random coincidence — though in the earlier BuzzFeed interview Lynn had said that Ving was someone the studio had insisted on, apparently because of his punk fame, and he was the one casting choice by the studio he decided to agree to.
Some more funny takeaways:
- Lynn had gone to boarding school in the UK with Tim Curry, and was one year older than him, and Curry apparently told him that he'd only found the courage to pursue acting after seeing that Lynn had gone off and done it.
- Lynn said he screened Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday for the whole cast on the first day of rehearsal, saying, "This is the pace that we need to be at." He now says he feels the pace of the dialogue is "just a bit too fast," and that too many of the jokes end up getting buried by the pacing.
- Producer Jonathan Landis gave Lynn his first directing gig with this film because he had to go direct Spies Like Us.
- Landis had the idea for the three different endings, believing that fans would go see the movie three times, but that turned out to be a blunder — Lynn says he was always more fond of stacking the three endings together as was done on the VHS and cable TV version, which led to the film's cult following.
- Colleen Camp said she'd recently met Knives Out writer-director Rian Johnson who said he was a huge fan of Lynn's films, especially Clue and Greedy.
- Lynn's biggest Hollywood success came when he directed 1992's My Cousin Vinny.
Sketchfest is doing several other anniversary screenings with members of the original cast and crew of the films during this year's fest, including a 20th anniversary screening of Superstar with Molly Shannon in attendance tonight (Monday) at Alamo Drafthouse, a 35th anniversary screening of Just One of the Guys on Saturday, and a 40th anniversary screening of Airplane! on Sunday.