When Andy Fickman was approached to direct “She’s the Man,” which transposes the cross-dressing plot of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” to the high school soccer field, he felt well prepared for the Bard but less for the game. As he explained during a recent Dallas interview, “I grew up in Texas, and I was that kid in Texas who just did every possible [performance] thing I could. I adored it all. I grew up in Midland originally, and my dad was really active in the Midland Community Theater. And I think I was on stage when I was, like, six. Then we moved to Houston, and did everything I could in Houston–I was the court jester at the Texas Renaissance Festival when I was in high school, it felt like a great opportunity. I went to Texas Tech [in Lubbock], and got very active there. Anything that I’ve had a chance to do remotely with film or theater of TV, I’d make my way there.”
After graduation, Fickman moved to Los Angeles, where he started in the mailroom of a talent agency, moved up to positions in property development and then became one of the most prolific and honored stage directors in the L.A. area. More recently he’s also taken on film, directing an independent comedy called “Who’s Your Daddy?” and the screen adaptation of his 1999 stage hit, “Reefer Madness: The Musical,” before directing “She’s The Man.” His theater background prepared him well for the job of overseeing an adaptation of “Twelfth Night.”
But his acquaintance with soccer didn’t extend nearly as far back. “I was doing press in L.A., and all the European press were like, so did you love soccer? And I said, let me try to put this in perspective: No. I grew up in Texas. I blame my state! I don’t remember soccer once in Texas. We’re meat-and-potatoes football country. I don’t even remember in P.E. or gym our playing soccer. Certainly I don’t remember our having a soccer team at Tech. Maybe they do now, but I don’t remember the Red Raiders–and I was student body Vice President at Texas Tech, and we had a lacrosse team–but I’m pretty sure we didn’t have a soccer team.
“But,” he continued, “I have an eight-year old, and my son was playing AYSO soccer, and I coached it about two years ago, and right beforehand I started watching Pele, and saw that Sylvester Stallone movie ‘Victory’ a couple of times, so I had a pretty good understanding of where the field was. I had a great time coaching my son’s soccer team…my son’s growing up playing soccer. So by the time I started doing this, I kind of threw myself into learning the history of the game. There was a great documentary the BBC did, called ‘The Beautiful Game,’ which is like a five-part series. There’s such a deep, rich love for it in Europe, and in South America–everywhere in the world.”
And in one important respect Fickman’s previous directing experience dovetailed perfectly with the sports aspects of this movie. In setting up the action on the field, he explained, “I took a similar approach to a film I did just previous to this, called ‘Reefer Madness.’ We had sixteen production numbers, sometimes as many as two or three hundred dancers involved, and I used three cameras to sort of push up the choreography on that. And when I was going into this, I sat down with my soccer choreographers and our coaches, and I thought, I’m going to approach it the same way. Once you sort of understood what the dance was, it was easy for me to go in with the camera. On this, once we knew the very specific plays, we built equipment–because I wanted the soccer to be very exciting. Our producer, Lauren Shuler Donner, had produced ‘Any Given Sunday,’ and I wanted this to feel more like that and ‘Friday Night Lights,’ just as visceral with the camera. So we created equipment, and our DP and I would go through the shots that we knew were specific. Then we set up these long sleds than ran the entire length of the soccer field, and we had three cameras rolling on these things. We would have [the cast] play ten-minute games, playing all out. We’d get the whole cast, everybody, out there. Sometimes with a sports movie it’s better to let them play a little bit, because there’s something about that real energy of a move, or the competitive nature that kicks in when there’s no one saying, ‘Make sure you kick the ball to Amanda [Bynes].’ We got great foot action that way.”
Of course, the cast had to be readied for the action. “Amanda had never played soccer in her life,” Fickman said, “which is always the best thing for a director to hear after he’s signed the contract! So we put Amanda with coaches right away. Our gentlemen, Channing [Tatum] and Robert [Hoffman], also had never really played soccer. You know, actors always want the job, and when I would ask every actor, ‘Do you play soccer?’ they’d all say, ‘Oh, yeah, just moments ago I was playing soccer.’ And then when they were cast, I’d call and ask, ‘What’s your level of soccer?’ and somehow the ‘I was just playing’ became, ‘Well, I remember once in seventh grade, there was a pick-up game in my front yard–my mom and the neighbor lady…’ So we put everybody in soccer camp. I told [Channing and Robert] early on, ‘Look, I’m going to have a double for you. I’d rather not use the double, but we’ve only got about eight weeks for you to learn everything.’ And they’re two very gifted athletes, and they went out there every day practicing. So the bicycle kick and the goal-tending, that was all them.”
Another thing that acted as a catalyst for the soccer action was the casting of Vinnie Jones as the coach. Jones was, Flickman said, “the first person who came to mind” for the part. “He’s an imposing figure. I liked the idea that he came out of soccer–I felt that helped us and gave us additional weight. I also liked the idea that he’s not known for doing teen comedies–this isn’t his genre.” And his very presence energized everyone else. “He was a really great asset,” Fickman said. “Vinnie’d be on the sidelines, just kicking the ball around, and every time we’d yell cut, the whole cast would circle around, and Vinnie’d be showing them these tricks. That guy still has every possible movie in his system.” He added that Jones’s presence also attracts a somewhat broader audience for the movie. “We had this one screening,” Fickman said, “and there must have been twenty guys who looked like they’d just stepped out of ‘Sid and Nancy’–so not our target audience! And they were laughing and having a great time.” He asked them as they were leaving what had brought them to the screening, and they said “Vinnie!” He added, “I told them, well, tell your friends, when they’re not breaking into something, to come and see the movie!”
Totally apart from the soccer material, Fickman said, most of “Twelfth Night” worked well within the high school setting, except for one major subplot–the Malvolio thread. “That was the one area where we had to make our biggest deviation,” he said. “We played the homage–our creepy bad guy, Malcolm, is really Malvolio–his spider’s called Malvolio. And every time you see that character in shorts, he’s wearing yellow socks. Things like that, where we found little bits and pieces.” But the really brutal treatment that Shakespeare’s Malvolio suffers seemed really out of place in “She’s the Man.” As Fickman said, “That was the one thing where we said we’ll give Mr. Shakespeare his due, but we’ll go for the traditional Hollywood happy ending.”