Back to the Party: 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Can’t Hardly Wait

Catching up with the creators of the high-school party epic, which was released 15 years ago this week

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Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ethan Embry at a graduation party in a scene from the film 'Can't Hardly Wait', 1998

If you were a certain age in 1998, Can’t Hardly Wait—the multi-character high-school-graduation-party comedy—was a big deal. The whole movie took place at a party. It was eminently quotable. It starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ethan Embry, who you already loved from Party of Five and Empire Records, as seniors Amanda Beckett and Preston Myers—Amanda being the object of Preston’s longtime secret crush.

But no matter what age you were when the movie came out, you’re now exactly 15 years older: that big party first opened its doors on June 12, 1998. (If the movie were a person, it would be in high school.) In honor of the big anniversary, TIME caught up with the CHW creators, writer-directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, who revealed these tidbits:

1. The set was a big party, too.  

Can’t Hardly Wait was the first directing gig for Elfont and Kaplan, who had previously written the script for A Very Brady Sequel (and whose latest screenwriting project is Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, now in pre-production). “Pretty early on, [producer] Betty Thomas said to us, ‘You know, it’s never like this.’ It was just fun all day long,” says Kaplan. “The hardest thing was getting people to quiet down so we could do a take.”

2. The party plot was a product of practicality.

Having the movie take place entirely at a party was borne out of logistical concerns felt by a pair of newbie directors who wanted to minimize production challenges and expenses. “It was all practical,” explains Elfont. “The idea of doing a movie set at a party came first, because it seemed like it would be really cheap to shoot a movie in one location. Then we thought, what hasn’t been done? Nobody’s really done a high-school movie in a while. So we kind of fell into it that way. It was kind of an accident.”

(MORE: 20 Things We Learned About The Sandlot After Talking With Scotty Smalls)

3. Fame and success came to many of the actors with the smallest parts in the movie…

Most of the headliners for CHW (Seth Green, Peter Facinelli, Lauren Ambrose) have had a lot of success in the last 15 years—but many of the actors who got only a few lines (Jason Segal, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Clea DuVall, Eric Balfour, Breckin Meyer) have done pretty well for themselves too. Elfont and Kaplan believe that, because there had been a dearth of teen movies since 1996’s Scream, they had their pick of actors. “Everyone in that age range came in to read because there were no other jobs,” says Kaplan. “That whole crop of people who turned out to be so talented and do so well for themselves afterward were in our movie literally, I think, because there was nothing else for them to do.”

4. …One of whom was Jason Segal, who, apparently, made an impression.

Segal had just graduated from high school when he auditioned and had no prior experience, remembers Kaplan, but it was immediately clear he was good. “We knew how funny Jason was but there wasn’t a bigger part for him, so we were, like, let’s cast him as this watermelon guy,” says Elfont.


5. Peter Facinelli suffered an unusual injury.

Facinelli began his audition for the part of jock Mike Dexter by doing a few push-ups, but the injury that almost kept him from filming didn’t come from an athletic stunt. The actor had just had a baby and those tiny fingernails can be dangerous; one day he showed up on set with an eye that was scratched and swollen shut. In the scene shot that day—Mike’s friends telling him they can’t all dump their girlfriends until they go to a concert together—one half of Facinelli’s face remains in shadow the whole time.

6. The locked-in-the-bathroom scene was based on a real-life event.

The CHW characters are composites, but one scene was taken from a real experience at Deborah Kaplan’s house: the scene where a bathroom doorknob breaks, locking Kenny (Seth Green) and Denise (Lauren Ambrose) inside together. During a rager Kaplan once hosted while her parents were out of town, one of her friends got locked in the bathroom; everyone else was passed out by that point, so nobody heard her for hours.

7. The “Paradise City” scene was envisioned with a different song.

In the script, nerd-gone-cool William rocked out to “Panama” by Van Halen, but they couldn’t get the rights to use that song in the movie.


(MORE: Richard Corliss on the Teen Movies of 1998)

8. Audiences never saw the movie’s original opening scene.

The movie opened in the bookstore where Preston (Ethan Embry) works, with the character hanging up the phone after learning that the girl of his dreams is finally single. Elfont and Kaplan decided they needed to start with something funny—which is why one of the first things that happens in the movie is somebody running into a table at graduation.

9. One of the only parts of the movie that was boring for the filmmakers was the costumes.

A movie that takes place almost entirely at a single location over one night equals a movie without costume changes. There was only one extra set for each character, and adding and removing layers were used to try to switch up the movie’s look. That’s why Denise has so many sweaters. Other characters, like Mike and Amanda, wore the same solid primary colors throughout, so that they stand out in crowded party scenes.

10. The movie was supposed to be called The Party.

Though Elfont and Kaplan wanted to keep the title The Party, the studio wanted to save it in case they ever remade the old Peter Sellers movie of that name.


11. If Can’t Hardly Wait were made today, two things would be very different.

Texting and Facebook would make a lot of Can’t Hardly Wait—grapevine-related miscommunications, losing your friends at a party—obsolete, though Elfont and Kaplan say they think Preston’s on-paper love letter would have still worked. Another thing that would definitely be different is that, in a post-American Pie world, the movie would be a lot dirtier.

12. To keep the movie from getting an R-rating, a scene had to be… added 

Even though the sex in Can’t Hardly Wait—which gets talked about a lot but mostly happens off-camera—was tame by today’s standards, the movie almost got hit with an R for its depictions of unsupervised underage drinking. Scenes with teens downing shots got cut — and a jailhouse lecture on responsibility was added. But what really helped the movie earn its teen-friendly PG-13 rating was the crafty use of those classic red plastic drinking cups, which kept  the ratings board (and audiences) from knowing what was really inside.

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13. Not every scene was fun to shoot.

For a scene in which the party’s hostess discovers someone has vandalized a family portrait, the directors couldn’t figure out how to make the action read correctly. They shot it so many times that, by the end, they weren’t sure if the actress was crying in character — or because she was so mad at them.

14. Seth Green auditioned for the character of William.

Though Green’s depiction of wannabe Kenny is one for the ages, he originally read for William. Charlie Korsmo, who ended up playing that character, had a few titles under his child-star belt before CHWDick TracyWhat About Bob? and Hook, to name a few—but has not appeared in anything since. He became a law professor.

15. Are Preston and Amanda still together?

“[The on-screen text at the end of the movie] says they’re still together,” says Elfont. “Who am I to argue?”