'Ugly' writers paint pretty picture with Katherine Heigl


In Hollywood things are rarely as they seem.

Case in point: Karen McCullah Lutz & Kirsten "Kiwi" Smith were telling me about writing Lakeshore Entertainment and Columbia's romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth," opening July 24.

Robert Luketic directed "Ugly." He directed "Legally Blonde." Karen & Kiwi wrote "Blonde." It grossed almost $100 million and jumpstarted Luketic's directing career. So it figures -- Luketic hired them to write "Ugly."

Well, actually, no. Luketic was hired after the K's finished rewriting a screenplay Nicole Eastman wrote 10 years earlier. "It was one of those scripts that had been floating around for a while," Karen recalled. "At one point Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck were attached. That's when they were dating. That's how long it's been."

So how'd they get the job? Karen: "Lakeshore called us up and asked if we wanted to rewrite it and we said yes."

Yes, but there's more to it than that. Karen & Kiwi also wrote the 2006 romantic comedy "She's the Man." Kiwi: "Lakeshore were financiers on it. DreamWorks had hired us to work on it. We'd never really gotten to know Tom and Gary at Lakeshore (chairman & CEO Tom Rosenberg and president Gary Lucchesi) so we decided one day that we should remedy that." So they sat down to talk to Rosenberg and "the very first thing he brought up was the script 'The Ugly Truth.'"

"We started talking about it and it led to a really great partnership with them."

In "Ugly" Katherine Heigl plays Abby Richter, a romantically challenged morning show producer seeking Mr. Perfect, but still hopelessly single. The plot thickens when she's teamed up with the show's new in-your-face reporter Mike Chadway (Gerard Butler) who knows "the ugly truth" about what makes men and women tick.

When K&K started writing no one had been cast yet. They actually had a hand in Heigl being handed the part. Karen: "We had met with her before and we're big fans so when the script was done and we were sitting there talking about which lady should play the part, we had Katherine in mind."

So, is Heigl's the diva the tabloids claim she is? Karen (in a word): "No."

Kiwi (helping out with a few more words): "One of the things I admire about her is her strength and I think that maybe that's a threat to people so somehow that's turned into what you referenced the tabloids saying. But I think her strength is inspiring because she speaks her mind."

She cites male stars like George Clooney and Sean Penn who have always "spoken their mind and felt no shame in doing so. So I love that there's a woman who's speaking her mind. I think we should just celebrate it."

Moreover, Heigl embodies her character, per Kiwi: "Abby is flawed and she's funny. She's a funny combination of real strength and moments of hilarious vulnerability. And Katherine's so great at that -- like that is her sweet spot."

When they turned in their screenplay, Lakeshore really liked it and things started happening. Karen: "Sony came on board and they got Robert Luketic attached and all of a sudden we had a start date."

Kiwi (about Luketic): "We didn't even know he was going to be reading the script. I think (Sony Pictures Ent. co-chairman) Amy Pascal gave it to him and all of a sudden we heard that he liked it. And then he called us and was saying he wanted to do it."

It obviously helped that they'd worked successfully before with Luketic.

Karen: "He's very inclusive of us. We get to go to set every day. It's a happy little family."

Did they do any rewriting on set? Karen: "Every now and then we'd slip an extra joke in or give someone an exit line if the blocking required one. A few things here and there."

When they're not writing on set, they're writing at home. "Either by the pool or in the living room on the couches," says Karen, "whichever's comfiest during whichever season."

Kiwi: "A lot of our male screenwriting friends have offices. It makes them feel like they're going to a job. I think for a lot of women we know, they're happy to do their work at home. It's like -- where can you feel like you're being more productive?"

They've been writing side-by-side for the last five years. Kiwi: "Prior to that we would write separately and then we'd rewrite each other. But we realized it was much more fun when we'd get studio notes and attack the scenes together and then we were like rewriting our shared collective work instead of trying to impose our ideas on the other person."

Typical work hours: 2 - 7 p.m. Karen: "We're creatures of the afternoon."

As for "Ugly's" morning show TV setting, Karen confesses, "We kind of made most of it up as we went along." Kiwi (giving credit where credit is due): "Nicole's script had a really great foundation of that already in place. We didn't have to go deep undercover anywhere."

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