On June 12, 1998, Can’t Hardly Wait premiered in theaters. Though it was hardly a runaway hit at the box office, it helped launch the careers of many stars and kicked off several years of highly popular teen films that would be responsible for shaping our high school (and college) years. The film was particularly known for its ensemble cast that was filled with tons of “before they were famous” stars including Jason Segel (Watermelon Guy), Sean Patrick Thomas (Jock Friend) and Ethan Embry (Preston Meyers), who was emerging from a world of child acting into adulthood. Fifteen years later, Embry took the time out of filming a werewolf thriller, Late Phases, to chat with VH1 Celebrity about the vibe on set, his “altered” state and what the movie was actually about.
VH1 Celebrity: What initially drew you to the project?
Ethan Embry: It had been awhile that I had the opportunity to play the “guy that gets the girl.” I had done those roles when I was a lot younger and this was the first time that someone would see me as a lead. I went in and did the audition. Funny enough, they offered me [William Lichter] that Charlie Korsmo ended up playing. And that was along the lines of what I had been doing at that time. I said, no. I wanted to play the guy who gets the girl. That was sort of the driving thing.
The script that we read was a very different script than what everybody saw. The same thing happened with Empire Records. We had an R rated script and a lot of the characters ended up getting cut out so that we could make PG13. They did that the day before we started filming… That was before American Pie came out. So it was before it was okay for studios to make a raunchy comedy with high school characters.
Were you disappointed about the changes?
Of course. Of course you do it. Dude’s gotta pay his rent. But I miss a lot of that still. I think it would have been a much better film. The same with Empire Records … I watched [Empire Records] the other day, and it’s pretty damn silly, that movie. They both are. They both are actually! They are pretty damn silly.
The film is famous for being littered with “before they were famous” actors. Were you familiar with the other cast members before filming?
I knew Seth [Green] in passing at auditions when we were kids. We would sit there and play our Game Boys in the waiting room together and trade games. The child actor life.
I ended up doing another movie with Peter Facinelli [Mike Dexter] and Breckin Meyer [Lead Singer of Love Burger]. And I don’t know if we did right before or right after. Yeah, it was right before. We did a little movie called Dancer, Texas Pop. 81. But we never ended up working together.
That’s the other thing with Can’t Hardly Wait. It all takes place in the house but everyone had their own little movie going on. The only person I really had any scenes with was Lauren [Ambrose, who played Preston’s best friend Denise Fleming]. Even Jennifer [Love Hewitt, who played Amanda Beckett] and I only had one scene together at the very end, you know?
Lauren Ambrose and I had a lot of interaction and we hung out a lot, getting to know each other to build that friendship. She’s rad. Love that woman!
What was the vibe like on set?
Making a movie is like being a part of the circus. It really is. Not the nice circus, not Cirque du Soleil. We live in trailers. We’re transients, you know? And then when you get a lot of very funny, witty people together and you stick them in a trailer park for months. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
I remember at the time I was playing in a metal band, and I brought my guitar stack into my trailer to rehearse. So I was always blasting speed metal out of my trailer. It’s a party. The whole thing was a party.
What was the craziest thing to happen on set?
At the time, when we were shooting that, I was the world’s biggest stoner. I remember the director came up to me and asked if I was “altered.” But other than that, nothing sticks out because I was so stoned the entire time.
The other thing that does stick out was right before we did the train sequence. Jennifer and I had known each other in passing also. Child actor thing. One of the sweetest girls you’ll ever meet, that girl. And before we did the train scene, I remember going into my trailer there was this basket — ’cause I was a smoker and the world’s biggest pot head and probably smelled like a walking ashtray — and there was a basket of breath mints, you know? Like real pretty. Like almost you give somebody flowers or a fruit basket but she gave me 50 breath mints. And it’s all different types. It was all very sweet. And that always makes me laugh thinking of that. Aww, Jennifer wanted me to smell good.
You supposedly do back flips in the background of one scene. How did that come about?
I don’t know! People say that. I heard that before too. Honestly, I wouldn’t know. I was so stoned the time. I don’t remember if it was me. It could be me. It’s something that I would do.
Let’s talk about the letter. Did you ever think about what it might have said?
It was a prop! It was an envelope. I think I remember the directors asking me if I knew what was in there. It was a prop. It doesn’t matter.
You didn’t even think about it?
Like I know what’s in there? It’s called acting.
Were you nervous at all about kissing Jennifer Love Hewitt?
She’s a beautiful girl. I had a girlfriend that I had been together with for three years. It’s a strange situation to have to be in. I was 20, so maybe it was less strange than the kissing scenes I had to do when I was younger.
What do you think Preston and Amanda are up to today?
Well, we both are making ends meet with really weird jobs. She’s jerking off dudes in Vancouver, and he’s making horror movies in upstate New York.
Did you ever expect the film to join the canon of teen comedies?
No. No. You never do. It took 10 years for anybody to see it. Again, Empire Records, another one of those weird “where did that come from?” [things]. It was only in four theaters for one weekend.
Before the Internet, before everybody knew what the sales were, before the movie even opened, you know what it was going to make that weekend. You used to have to go to the theater to scope it out. You could kind of see what the audience was going to be like. I remember I went to a popular L.A. theater, and there was eight people for the 10 o’clock showing. I was bummed! Cause I had a back-end deal. I wasn’t going to make any money if no one saw it!
Are you surprised that Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait has picked up some cult status?
Yeah. But you know it happened now instead of then. More people have seen it in the past five years than in the first 10 years it came out.
It’s funny because people expect me to look the same way I did fifteen years ago. Cause they just saw the movie. They are often like, “You look old.” No s—, dude, it was 15 years ago! “Your hair fell out!” That’s what happens when you become 35.
Do fans ever quote the movie to you?
Maybe that’s what those weird people are saying. I haven’t seen the movie all the way through, and I was stoned. I never read the script. If they are quoting it, then I don’t know.
Do you know what Can’t Hardly Wait is about?
Uh, uh, uh… It’s about a party right? Underage kids drinking and smoking and having underage sex, right?
That’s the basic idea. What is your favorite memory from the film?
That it was really great… I loved working with Lauren Ambrose. That girl is smart, she’s funny, she’s really down to earth. She’s not in this business to look good all the time. She survives off her talents. That’s highly respectable.
And Peter – I must have done that film with Peter and Breckin Myers prior. Because Peter and I were already buddies by then. So it was fun hanging out with him. It was a good time, man.
Would you be up for a sequel?
Maybe. Maybe if they paid me more than the last time. [Preston would] have to get pretty dark. [He and Amanda] would have to not be together anymore. I’ve beaten myself up quite a bit in the past 15 years. Yeah, so maybe, if he went down the actual Vonnegut writer’s path. Amanda and him had a horrible breakup and there were kids involved. He drinks himself silly over a typewriter. I’d make that sequel.
Watch the trailer for the original:
[Photos: SplashNews.com, Columbia Pictures]