Assembling the Class for ADMISSION

With Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, ADMISSION's filmmakers gathered together an extraordinary supporting cast, from comedy legend Lily Tomlin to several noteworthy newcomers.

When approached to play Portia's live-in lover, Princeton professor Mark, acclaimed actor Michael Sheen "jumped at the chance to be Tina's boyfriend again - and to be the Brit playing with her mind, again! Wesley [played by Sheen opposite Fey on 30 Rock] was clean-shaven, while Mark is bearded and wears glasses. The next time I play her boyfriend, there will be call for yet another look..."

Producer Andrew Miano notes, "Through her longtime relationship with Mark, we see just how regimented and orderly Portia's existence truly is. Then, after he jilts her and they keep encountering each other again, Tina and Michael share some of the movie's funniest moments."

The British actor muses, "Mark may seem like a bad guy, but I'd say he's more sad. He's not brave, and when he tells Portia that they want different things, it's something he only likes to think. For the rest of the film, he projects onto her that she is still upset over his leaving. Audiences will empathize with Portia and go on the journey with her.

"I always have such a good time working with Tina, who is just fantastic. I try to be open to what she does, react to it and go with it."

Chemistry was also a consideration in casting the role of Portia's mother, an accomplished author and intellectual whose high expectations for her daughter have frequently put a strain on their relationship. Producer Kerry Kohansky-Roberts says, "Lily Tomlin is a feminist icon and a comedic idol, so we felt that her playing opposite Tina would be ideal." Fey and Tomlin have both been honored with the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and are among only four women who to date have received the accolade.

Paul Rudd enthuses, "It was great to be able to see Lily's process, to watch her work - she will mold and sculpt a scene like clay, trying different line readings and coming up with new things."

Tomlin remarks, "Lately, I've played a lot of mothers - but not a character like Susannah. I was pleased to be able to play her. Susannah was a celebrated feminist at one point; years have passed, but she still has her principles and ideals - and a mythology that she's created for herself. She feels that Portia, for whom she had hopes of fearlessness, has become conventional. But they're both holding secrets, and over the course of the story they have to find their way back to each other.

"I had seen Paul Weitz's work, and thought he did very interesting things with relationships - subtle work, not predictable or pat. I met with him, and we talked about our families and our lives. On the set, he was real supportive. I also wanted to work with Tina Fey - anyone can see from all she's done that she's a terrific girl."

Miano says, "Getting two consummate comedic actors to play mother and daughter was almost too good to be true. I think we were all in awe of Lily, but she came in and proceeded to wow everyone with her humor - and how easygoing she was, despite her busy schedule.

"Another big 'get' for us was Wallace Shawn as Clarence, the retiring Dean of Admissions. Paul [Weitz] so admires Wallace's writing and performing; as an actor, he always brings something special to the dynamic of his scenes."

Executive producer Caroline Baron comments, "Paul loves actors as much as he loves the storytelling process. I think audiences will see some of themselves in each of the characters."

Fey adds, "Paul has really thought through both the story and the characters; when we are shooting, he will identify little things for you to focus on, which I found to be truly helpful. He is also open to hearing about what an actor thinks is going on within their character."

Actor Nat Wolff, who plays Jeremiah, reports, "Paul has a relaxed approach, and I think he has the entire movie in his head before he makes it. But then he lets himself be surprised by what can happen while shooting."

Baron adds, "With all these funny people on the set, this was a shoot where a lot of laughter would go on."

Croner remembers, "The fun of being on the set was to see what these actors - so good at improvisation - might add, or what they might change simply because of their timing."

The ADMISSION cast member perhaps most associated with dramatic work, Gloria Reuben, found herself drawn to Corinne, Portia's workplace "frenemy." The Emmy Award-nominated ER star enthuses, "I felt that this script had intelligent humor and showed people's humanity. I loved how Corinne was so ambitious and driven. I knew that playing her would be unlike anything else I've ever done as an actor, so of course it was appealing to stretch boundaries.

"Is Corinne a bitch? I think she's a bit misunderstood. Maybe some of her dreams haven't come true; being Dean of Admissions would be big for her. Corinne feels that she is the best one for the job, meaning, 'nothing personal.' Also, it's not like Portia isn't working her own angles - which is one of the things I also liked about the material: it acknowledges that sometimes we manipulate people to get what we want."

Since either Portia or Corinne could succeed Clarence as Dean of Admissions, and each has their eye on the prize, "their friendly rivalry slowly transforms into an out-and-out rivalry," notes Fey.

Croner remarks, "Portia and Corinne's competition becomes very much like trying to get into a college."

Her and Fey's scenes together and with Shawn have tension that spills over into comedy, and Reuben found filming them to be "great fun. Tina is so naturally funny that it helped the rest of us to find the humor as well. Paul Weitz is so specific in his direction, but he likes to laugh, too.

"Sometimes I couldn't even look at Wallace because he would make me laugh just by sitting there. He'd catch my eye and it would be all over."

Rounding out the cast are two young actors. The older of the two, 18-year-old Nat Wolff, had heard of the ADMISSION plum role of Jeremiah, the student who is an unknowing catalyst to Portia's transformation as she increasingly presses to get him into Princeton.

Both as actor and teenager, Wolff felt that he understood the character, "and I thought, 'I want this part.' Jeremiah has never really cared about school, and his grades reflect that. He's rebellious in that he has taught himself through books and through living life. John sees the genius potential in this insolent kid, and brings him into the New Quest School, where Jeremiah excels for the first time. But he's not the typical Princeton applicant, and he's a tough sell for Portia there.

"What interested me is how he makes the transition from being highly analytical, seeing everything in black-and-white, to softening up a bit; Portia becomes someone he accepts into his life."

Fey says, "Portia is drawn to Jeremiah, although at first she can't handle being around him; she doesn't feel she can deal with it. But when John, being the aggressive do-gooder that he is, brings Jeremiah to visit Princeton, she senses an opportunity to find out more about this child - even if it's clear that she doesn't know much about mothering, she's going to attempt it."

Something that the script called for Wolff to attempt, but that he didn't know much about, was ventriloquism. Initially, the actor could only envision "the movies about weirdos - Anthony Hopkins in Magic and Adrien Brody in Dummy. But the production got someone who does children's parties to train me in this skill, which it really is - you have to learn how to talk without moving your mouth. You replace 'b' with 'd' and 'p' with 't,' and so on. It was cool to learn something new on a movie, but this was very difficult.

"I said to Paul Weitz, 'I've been working really hard on this.' He told me, 'You know, Jeremiah's supposed to be bad at it.' I said, 'Don't worry, I'll still be not so good at it.'"

For the role of John's adopted son, Nelson, the filmmakers met with dozens of pre-teens, both working actors and novices. Splitting that difference was then-11-year-old Travaris Spears, who had begun pursuing acting but was new to movies. He landed the role in ADMISSION after three audition cycles in as many weeks, and took it all in stride.

Spears says, "Nelson loves John as his dad, but he doesn't want to travel the world like John does. Nelson wants stability; to him, Portia is very stable, and he begins to look at Portia like a mom. He definitely wants her and John's relationship to grow.

"What I liked about my character was his personality and his humor. He reminded me a lot of myself!"

Rudd remarks, "Travaris' enthusiasm was infectious. We're not kids any more, so it was nice to experience that - and to see how he doesn't worry too much about 'getting into the scene' and all that stuff we do. Paul Weitz would call 'Action' and Travaris would just key into it."

The young actor remembers, "Paul Weitz was awesome - and very patient! Paul Rudd was inspiring, and he would give me tips that came in handy throughout scenes. Tina Fey was hilarious on and off the set, and I learned a lot from her. If I have a chance to work with them again, I will definitely take it."

Wolff reports, "When we started filming, Travaris asked me, 'Are you nervous?' I answered, 'A little nervous; it's my first day.' He said, 'I'm not nervous.' He's no over-the-top kid actor. He's a natural."