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Thirty years later, a film about a bow tie-wearing guy’s search for his lost bike continues to capture viewers’ hearts.
As Pee-wee’s Big Adventure marks the 30th anniversary of its Aug. 9, 1985, release, actress EG Daily (Dottie) spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her experience working with Paul Reubens (Pee-wee) and Tim Burton, who made his feature directorial debut with the comedy.
“He was like a mad scientist who had a very clear vision,” says Daily, who is also known for voicing Tommy Pickles on Rugrats and Buttercup on Powerpuff Girls as well as her 2013 run on NBC’s The Voice. She describes Burton as “very particular about what he wanted.”
Here are 10 things you might not know about the making of the film, including Burton’s thoughts on ad-libbing, Daily’s introduction to Reubens on the set and the surprising salary the actress made for her hit film prior to Pee-wee.
Daily had plenty of experience before Pee-wee — but not everything was lucrative
Daily was no neophyte when she went in to audition to play Dottie, having accrued film experience in a variety of smaller-budgeted projects in the 1980s. “I was doing all those films like Valley Girl (1983), Better Off Dead (1985), Wacko (1982) and The Escape Artist (1982),” she recalls. “I was on this roll of quirky films.” However, even a hit like Valley Girl didn’t make her boatloads of cash. “I think I was lucky if I made a thousand bucks on that whole film,” she reveals of the Nicolas Cage-starring comedy.
EG Daily and Paul Reubens on the set of ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’
The casting director knew exactly who Dottie should be
Daily says that, when she showed up for the Dottie audition, which she still remembers “like it was yesterday,” she realized that the other women vying for the part were “sort of in that ‘quirky actress’ mode.” So Daily explains, “I kind of went into my ‘quirky EG‘ mode for Dottie a little bit, and that’s when I went and read for it and got called back.” She adds about the character: “She couldn’t quite be [a] fancy Hollywood girl because that isn’t how Pee-wee rolls.”
The studio was excited about their young director
When Pee-wee was in production, there was no real sense that it would become the beloved hit that it was. However, Daily remembers that studio execs knew that the film’s director, Tim Burton, had what it took to make it in the industry despite his lack of experience. “I just knew they were really excited about this new director, Tim Burton — he had done this short on a dog, and they were real excited about him,” she says, referring to 1984’s Frankenweenie.
Daily and Reubens didn’t meet until filming began
Daily says she was familiar with Reubens because friends of hers had participated in his live Pee-wee show at the Roxy in L.A., but she didn’t actually meet her co-star until she arrived on set. “He’s real gentle and sweet,” she says. “[On the first day,] I walked onto the set of [Pee-wee’s] kitchen, and I was like, ‘This is really cool.’ ” Daily says Reubens “has this soft-spoken voice when he’s not doing his Pee-wee thing,” and the two have been friends ever since that first day.
No ad-libbing necessary on Burton’s set
Unlike some directors of comedy films, Burton would not encourage the cast to come up with their own dialogue. “He was very meticulous — I thought he was very particular about what he wanted,” Daily says about taking direction from the “genius” Burton. “He was like a mad scientist who had a very clear vision. … Some directors will let you ad-lib more and be a little looser, whereas Tim was very specific because the Pee-wee concept was such a solid stamp of how it is.”
Filming the star-studded premiere scene was as much fun as watching it
As for her favorite scenes to shoot, Daily fondly remembers filming at the bike shop with the BMX racer kids, along with the premiere screening at the end, which featured numerous celebrity cameos. “That was just an exciting scene because all the castmembers were in that segment of the premiere, and [Reubens] and I got to ride off [on bikes] across the screen,” Daily says. “It’s so funny.”
Studio execs knew they had a hit on their hands
Once the film had wrapped, Daily said she could sense that they had made something special — and the studio was pleased with the results, too. “You could feel the energy of the studio behind it, and that was powerful,” she recounts. “When it came out and became this iconic film, I was like, ‘I’m super-blessed to be in such projects.’ “
Reubens was her date for the film’s lavish, bike-centric premiere event
The studio went all out to debut the film, with Reubens and Daily arriving at the premiere in a chariot powered by a bicyclist. “The first time I saw [the film] was with Paul at this monumental premiere,” she says. “He was my date on my bike-driven carriage.”
Fans never forget Dottie
Daily says she’s still recognized for the film “all the time,” even 30 years later, and she’ll often exchange lines of dialogue with fans on the street. “They’ll walk up to me, and the guys will be, “I’m a rebel, Dottie.’ And I’ll ask them to go to the drive-in,” she says with a laugh.
No Dottie in the Netflix follow-up
Daily says she won’t appear in Netflix’s forthcoming sequel, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. “It was a different kind of a concept, so there wasn’t really a place for Dottie in that particular film,” Daily explains. “I think maybe the production he was working with had a very specific idea. There were different kinds of characters.”
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