Ten years ago, “The Devil Wears Prada” surprised even the people that made it. The movie opened over the July 4th weekend in 2006 as a counter-programmer aimed primarily at women. But it played far broader than that, all over the world. Based on the bestseller written by Lauren Weisberger, the ex-Vogue assistant to editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, it was an anomaly that influenced movies to come but remained a rare bird, hard to categorize or imitate.
It wasn’t a standard-issue studio genre, neither a romantic comedy centered around a young woman’s choice of mate, a biopic, nor a revenge plot. Aspiring young assistant Andy (Anne Hathaway) and her powerful editrix boss Miranda (Meryl Streep) were dual protagonists in a coming-of-age workplace fairy tale about the trials of a first job and finding your identity.
The other players behind the $41-million film, which shot over 57 days in New York and Paris between October and December 2005, included Fox co-chairmen Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman (now at Sony), Fox 2000 executive Carla Hacken, and producers Wendy Finerman and Karen Rosenfelt.
The movie elevated the careers of Fox 2000 chief Elizabeth Gabler, screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, director David Frankel, and star Meryl Streep (who held out for double her asking price)—whom IndieWire interviewed for this oral history—along with co-stars Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Adrian Grenier and Stanley Tucci.
This soup to nuts play-by-play provides a rare glimpse at what Hollywood sometimes does right, and how hard it is to get there.
Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock
Elizabeth Gabler: We bought it as a partial manuscript, 50 pages with an outline, as Lauren Weisberger was writing the book. The idea was so strong, the concept so clear and so enticing, that we thought we would be able to figure out a movie from it no matter what the eventual manuscript turned out to be. The novel was a delightful fun summer read, a bestseller.
The first writer that we hired, Peter Hedges, wrote a pretty solid first draft, but he felt like he was overwhelmed by the project and he didn’t want to continue. Howard Gould came in and did a pass on it. Paul Rudnick was only available for two weeks, but we said, “Don’t worry, just work on the Miranda dialogue.” Don Roos did a rewrite.
David Frankel: I’d heard of the book but never read it. I got the screenplay first —I was intrigued by the fashion world I had been taken with years before when I saw Isaac Mizrahi’s movie “Unzipped.” So I believed a movie set in the world could be really entertaining. So they set a meeting to talk to the producer Wendy Finerman on the phone. I read the book quickly, then reread the script right before the call.
I panicked. I didn’t like the script at all, it was satirical, so as a result it was unemotional. It was a mean revenge story. I rooted for no one. It wasn’t a fun angle into the world. There wasn’t one real scene in the movie. Four very talented writers had been working for a couple of years adapting it. Having read the book there were moments of more honesty and emotion in some of the scenes which their movie turned into campy satire. So I bailed on the call with Wendy and abandoned the meeting.
Ten days later my manager Rosalie Swedlin called. “Did you like the script?”
“This is what directors do, find a germ, a nugget of something that appeals to you the first time through, then your job is to shape it into the movie you love.”
This was the first time anyone explained that to me. I kept getting these scripts where I was scratching my head and saying, “Why are they making this?” So I talked to Wendy about how I didn’t like anything in the script.
I had some cred from directing “Sex and the City” and the pilot of “Entourage.” So Wendy took down my thoughts, and sent a memo to Fox. I flew out and met Elizabeth and Carla Hacken. I prepared a detailed vision statement, which I’d never done before. The movie was about the style, tone and look, but the key thing was the movie was about the nature of excellence and the sacrifices that have to be made.
I was a fan of Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine. For me the approach to developing the movie properly was to make Miranda Priestley the heroine, someone to be celebrated sympathetically rather than someone to be reviled. In my view of the world, we should be thrilled to have the people who are excellent at what they do, superior at their jobs. The fact that they are not always nice is irrelevant.
Elizabeth Gabler: We all knew that we didn’t have a movie yet. So we went on this quest to find a writer and at the time Aline Brosh McKenna was barely known. And so she came in, very passionate with her great energy, and really connected with David. All of us liked her and thought she was smart and had a lot of good ideas and a great sense of humor and loved her writing. And she was dedicated to it. It wasn’t, “Oh, I can give you guys a month.” That was what we were coming up with, especially once you start getting down the line on your third writer. They’re not going to be really committed to it when there are those other big-time writers, the people that have a lot of jobs and a lot of credits. So we took the shot with Aline.
Photo by David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock
David Frankel: Aline struck me as ideal — she identified with Andy the assistant, had a work ethic I admired, a great sense of humor and a real passion for the craft of screenwriting. We connected. The ambition in her reminded me of Andy, someone who would run through walls.
Aline Brosh McKenna: David was a laconic guy. We were both feeling the tone needed to be straighter than they had tried on four previous scripts. I didn’t read all of them until later, and read the book obviously, but it needed a do-over. David and I had the same idea, taking the world and Miranda Priestly seriously, not trying to spoof the thing, treating the multinational magazine with importance, and the person who runs it who wields tremendous influence. I felt a strong connection to the character of Andy, I had been that young woman who moved to New York and tried to make her way. I tried to make it in journalism and failed, I had cowritten an article for Glamour that got killed.
David Frankel: We worked closely for a year to draft the script, spent countless hours on the phone. I was mostly in Miami, she was in LA, sometimes I flew out to her office over at the Muppets Henson lot on LaBrea. She had note cards and the outline. I was the normal director/thinker, she was the writer furiously hunched over computer. That said, she has a collection of continuous emails back in forth, hundreds of pages, as we were trading notes and forming scenes and new takes on characters and rearranging stuff. I remember I spent hours in the back yard chatting with Aline, cleaning up my dog’s poop.
Aline Brosh McKenna: It’s rare to get the opportunity to write a big Hollywood movie with women protagonists in a professional setting, where the love story is not the thrust of it. Gabler was clear about that. She never pushed me to write a more conventional love story, which I really appreciated.
There is a love triangle, which more served as a moral referendum on what sort of person she’s going to be, is it this boy or that boy? It was very liberating, after the romance I had been working on. I felt I was allowed to do what the movie wanted to be, a Faust story, a “Wall Street” for ladies, and not worry about giving her a romantic happy ending, because the studio and David set up the pattern for me that it was OK to write something where the love story was not the whole thrust of the movie.
Elizabeth Gabler: Getting that third act narrative was one of the biggest challenges of my job ever. We had all these plot points that were carryovers from the book. So there were external reasons for Andy to make a decision whether she wanted to keep her job, because Miranda’s threat was, “If you leave, you don’t have your job anymore.” Servicing those subplots was crippling. And it was liberating to finally say, “Let’s not make it about that. Let’s make it about her decision.”
There was not a good clear arc for either of the main characters, especially Miranda. We needed to invent elements in the third act of the movie, which were not in the book. Threads needed to be brought out — we needed to understand Miranda’s role as mother, not foisting her kids on the assistant all the time. She had responsibility, too, because she was a fashion icon, the high priestess at the bible of fashion. She had a specific image she needed to maintain:, all the clothes, and forward-thinking fashion sense, a social persona, all these dimensions of her character were important to bring out.
She maintains a public personality, but we see for a brief second when her husband is leaving her, she loses her guard, then it’s back in place. We knew we had to give her the opportunity to give those moments to the audience. Most people thought of it as a romantic comedy. It wasn’t about that at all. It was about Andy’s relationship with her boyfriend falling apart, her job became more important than her relationship. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be with the person she was becoming. Her character was more about finding herself and identifying her dreams. It all became much more organic to their characters. That was our saving grace with the movie, that it was so relatable.