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The Untold Truth Of 10 Things I Hate About You

Gil Junger's 1999 teen classic "10 Things I Hate About You" marked a lot of firsts for the people involved. For Junger, it was his directorial debut. For writers Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith, it was their first sold script, and for leading man Heath Ledger, it was his first American film. On top of that, "10 Things" put Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt on the road towards substantial Hollywood careers.

With critics calling the film "pure of heart and perfectly executed," and a "pitch-perfect comedy [that] manage[s] to subvert some of the seamier, culture bound aspects of 'The Taming of the Shrew' ... and turn them into something contemporary and sharp, without losing the romance," it became clear pretty quickly that "10 Things" was earning a place as a landmark romantic comedy, albeit one that just happens to be set in high school and inspired by Shakespeare.

There are a lot of factors that contributed to the movie's success — from its feminist lens to a quippy wit and clever self-awareness, along with the cast's unforced chemistry. But one thing might be most impressive about the film: that teens Kat and Bianca are strong, capable young women who can take care of themselves.

In celebration of this enduring film, and in remembrance of a star gone too soon, read on for some untold truths about "10 Things I Hate About You."

It's brimming with Shakespearean Easter eggs

It's no secret that this teen romantic comedy is a feminist reimagining of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," and with that comes quotes from the play, the movie's basic plotlines, and the characters' motivations. 

Who doesn't remember Cameron, after his first glimpse of Bianca, turning to Michael and proclaiming, "I burn, I pine, I perish!"? Or Michael (David Krumholtz of "Numb3rs" fame) identifying Kat as "The Shrew"? What's more: Patrick Verona's last name is a nod to the Italian city Petruchio (the character that the leading man is based on) is from, and Kat and Bianca's last name — Stratford — is a direct reference to the playwright's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.

But the film also alludes to other Shakespearean works — from "Hamlet" to "Macbeth" to "Sonnet 141" (which comes in rap form, courtesy of Daryl Mitchell's Mr. Morgan). The word "tempestuous," which Kat uses to describe herself during a meeting with Ms. Perky, brings to mind "The Tempest," while Letters to Cleo's version of "Cruel To Be Kind" recalls a famous line from "Hamlet." 

But the literary references don't stop with Shakespeare. When Kat's not labeling Hemingway as a misogynist and complaining about "The Sun Also Rises," she's taking the initiative to read Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar" on her own. Some of these literary nods are explored in a 2022 article published by "The Opiate," and it seems likely that Shakespeare enthusiasts combing through the movie's script could likely find plenty more Easter eggs.

Kat's table dance helped Julia Stiles land Save the Last Dance

In the age of the internet, gifs and memes, Kat's drunken table dance has been immortalized — and it's worthy of that immortalization for a couple of reasons. 

First, it's in this scene, along with the ones that directly follow, that Patrick's status as a decent guy is made abundantly clear; while the other party-goers jeer and cheer the heroine during her tequila-inspired performance, Patrick's more concerned with keeping Kat, who might have a concussion, awake. Not only does he catch her when she hits her head on the chandelier and falls off the table, guiding her away from the crowd to sit down, he keeps her from falling off the swing, too. Even better: After he drives her home, he refuses to kiss her, because he won't take advantage of her in her vulnerable state.

The other reason this scene stands out: Julia Stiles' impressive moves. In fact, these moves may have helped land her the role of leading lady Sara in Thomas Carter's teen-focused dance drama "Save the Last Dance." 

"That's how I got the job," Stiles said in a 2014 interview. "[I] have heard that that is what got me the part," she added in 2019. "The director said to me that he had seen that scene, then realized that I could do hip-hop, not just ballet."

Director Gil Junger didn't have permission for the rooftop shot

Director Gil Junger admitted in 2019 that he and the film crew didn't actually have permission for those aerial views of Letters to Cleo, seen jamming on the roof of the high school at the end of the movie while Kat and Patrick make-up (and make-out) in the Padua parking lot.

"Disney said they loved the work I was doing but couldn't justify spending that much money for one shot," he explained. "And then when the line producer said to me, 'What did they say?' I don't know what the hell it was, but some instinct in me said, 'They said yes. Shoot it.'"

Kay Hanley, lead singer for the band (and eventual songsmith for both the "Josie and the Pussycats" movie and the "Doc McStuffins" Disney series) recalls her terror over being essentially dive-bombed by a helicopter while on a tiny stretch of roof with only chicken wire for protection. 

"We're all arranged on top of this postage-stamp-sized roof with chicken wire the only thing protecting us from toppling to our deaths into the Puget Sound," she recalled. "The music starts playing [and] we start pretending we're in a music video. We hear the whir of a chopper right above us, and then it dive-bombs us. We did two takes, and it was pretty much assumed that this shot wasn't going to work, and Gil would never work in Hollywood again because he had just blown through half a million dollars doing this shot he was forbidden to do. And it ended up being a pretty iconic scene."

Improvised moments add to the film's charm

In a 2015 interview, Julia Stiles confirmed that the tears Kat shed during the scene where she reads her sonnet — which isn't really a sonnet — aloud in English class were not planned. 

"They were not intentional. On some level I knew that I was supposed to be somewhat emotional, because when we did the table read I remember I just said the poem, and I could have been reciting the phone book," she explained. "But [when it was time to film the scene] I never expected that I was going to start crying. I don't know why I did, whether it connected to something going on at the time, or if I was just overwhelmed by the whole experience of making my first big movie."

The scene only required one take, yet all these years later it still remains every bit as powerful.

Another improvised moment involved high school guidance counselor Ms. Perky (played by "Mom" star Allison Janney). According to Janney, her character's most memorable line of dialogue — "Kat. Meow." — was conjured up as an impulsive ad-lib.  Some believe that the scene in which Heath Ledger (as Patrick) plays with fire in chemistry class was similarly unplanned.

Joey (Andrew Keegan) drawing on Michael's face, though? That required some lessons. In a 2019 retrospective, Keegan identified Krumholtz as, essentially, "the creative director" of that particular piece of artwork.

This was the screenwriters' first Hollywood movie

The writing team behind "10 Things" — Karen McCullah and Kirsten "Kiwi" Smith — met by chance, with Smith discovering a script McCullah had submitted while "working in a cubicle at a development gig in Hollywood." Intrigued, she began an email correspondence. Emails turned into phone conversations, which turned into some in-person meet-ups, and eventually the duo entered into a professional partnership. After their first collaborative project — "a women-led action comedy" — failed to get optioned, the pair pivoted to a teen-focused script, "taking turns mailing pages back and forth via the express delivery service Airborne" because they didn't live in the same city.

In yet another serendipitous moment, Disney was in the market for such a film. And so, the pair's second script became their first Hollywood film: A legacy-making romantic comedy with Shakespearean flavor. After the success of "10 Things," the pair went on to pen the scripts for "Legally Blonde," "She's the Man," "The House Bunny," and "The Ugly Truth."

As for how the title came about, well, McCullah remembered in 2013 that she had perused her old diary entries and found a list dedicated to her high school ex — "Things I Hate About Anthony" — which inspired the name of the movie (something she says Anthony himself "is very proud of").

David Krumholtz believes the cast's chemistry made the difference

In 2015, Krumholtz published a piece in Vulture, reflecting on the success of this late '90s teen classic. He said that the film's success largely stemmed from how close all the young actors were during the film's production. Especially once Ledger joined the fun.

"For the first week or so of filming, we were missing a key component: our lead actor. We had only heard stories from the producers about the disarming charisma of a handsome Aussie from Perth with an infectious smile, who was busy completing his work on an Australian TV series," he explained. "By the end of week one, we had all established such strong friendships that we worried about how someone named Heath could possibly manage to find his place in our inner circle. This was a concern that was remedied a few days later, when he arrived and we found yet another comrade in sensibility. The group, with Heath, only got stronger."

The cast went on to experience something quite unique, said Krumholtz, who played Michael Eckman in the flick. 

"Before I knew it, the cast was experiencing what I've since found to be all too rare: a unified chemistry throughout the ensemble, without a single bad apple in the bunch," he explained. "The experience was communal, it sang like a well-tuned chorus both onscreen and off, and we all agreed that we were having the best summer of our lives."

On and off-screen romances

The cast's chemistry is, of course, apparent throughout the film, particularly between lead couple Kat (Stiles) and Patrick (Ledger). Even so, several sources have reported that offscreen, Stiles had eyes for a different co-star: Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Junger revealed in 2021 that the pair "were very, very attracted to each other," and "dated for a minute or 10." But according to the New Zealand Herald, in a special DVD release, other castmembers identified Stiles and Ledger as the secret couple.

For their part, Stiles and Gordon-Levitt have kept quiet about the truth. Stiles has acknowledged that there were cast hook-ups, but she has refused to reveal any names for the official record, arguing it's just what happens.

"You get a bunch of young people together, you're having a lot of fun," she explained. "We were at a time in our lives when we were still open and uncensored, and un-self-conscious — it was fun."

While Stiles and Ledger may not have engaged in a summer fling, Stiles does look back on her time working alongside him with great fondness. After production wrapped, the late star even left her a note to remember him by.

"I dug up this old note that he had written on this hotel stationery, Stiles would later recall. "I forget the beginning of the quote, but it's like, 'Dance like you've never heard the music and love like you've never been hurt.' It was so sweet. I almost cried. That was his goodbye note to me."

Attempts to replicate the movie's magic have largely failed

In 2009, "Greek" producer Carter Covington attempted to revive "10 Things I Hate About You" for television, with Junger coming onboard to direct and Larry Miller reprising his role as Dr. Walter Stratford. The series was short-lived.

Today, user ratings on IMDb hover at around a decent 7, and some Redditors profess adoration for both the movie and the TV show. The series ended its only season with cliffhangers rather than closure, leaving "10 Things" loyalists unsatisfied.

While the series may not have been a hit, The Hollywood Reporter said it had "genuine appeal"; the New York Times, however, countered that "the movie has such cult status that it seems almost sacrilege to tamper with it for television ... as a series, '10 Things' is not terrible; it is even at times fun. It's just not very inventive."

As it turned out, that series was just the first attempt to replicate the movie's magic. Another came in 2012, when Junger tried to make what was essentially an adult romantic comedy spin-off with different characters, this time called "10 Things I Hate About Life." 

Junger was set to direct, and Thomas McDonell and Evan Rachel Wood of "Westworld" fame were going to star. After a series of production delays, compounded by Wood's pregnancy, the project (which did film, albeit briefly) was ultimately abandoned and left unfinished.

Katie Holmes could have been Kat

Casting director Marcia Ross opened up about filling the key roles of "10 Things" during a 2019 interview, revealing key near-castings of late '90s Hollywood-up-and-comers as well. 

"We screen-tested Josh Hartnett, Eliza Dushku, Heath and Julia. But Julia and Heath just had the best chemistry together," she explained. "I loved Katie Holmes. She was about to get 'Dawson's Creek,' and we had to make a decision really fast. The other person I loved was Kate Hudson. But [her mother, Goldie Hawn] didn't like the script for her, so she passed."

As for the casting of Ledger, Junger knew he wanted the actor as soon as the young man walked through the door. "I thought to myself," he recalled, "if this guy can read, I'm going to cast him." 

Junger was so convinced that Ledger was their leading man, in fact, that they didn't need much from him during the audition; Ledger believed he had bombed, because it was so brief.

Ledger drew inspiration from Jack Nicholson

In a set interview recorded in Brian J. Robb's book, "Heath Ledger: Hollywood's Dark Star," the late star discussed how he drew inspiration from Jack Nicholson (among others) for his version of Petruchio/Patrick. 

"I'm using bits and pieces of Richard Burton's portrayal of that character in perhaps the best known 'The Taming of the Shrew' film," he explained. "But my Patrick has also got a Jack Nicholson edge to him with his cheekiness and his smiles." 

Of course, what makes the quote interesting is that nearly a decade later, Ledger would be cast in an iconic role that resulted in much initial internet backlash, as many Batman fans thought it foolhardy to try and portray a big-screen Joker after Nicholson had so clearly imprinted on the role in Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman." As it turned out, not only would Ledger successfully carve out his own Joker in 2009's "The Dark Knight," but he would win a posthumous Oscar. Clearly, Nicholson and Ledger were fated to be connected.

The director and Joseph Gordon-Levitt had to be convinced to do the movie

In a 2020 interview, Gordon-Levitt insisted that he put a lot of effort into not playing the lovesick Cameron. In fact, he had little interest in doing any kind of romantic comedy at all — especially a teen-oriented one. 

"A bunch of people in my life, my agent and other people were like, 'Are you sure? Just like consider this, this is a pretty good one of these. And you know it would probably be a good thing. Just try,'" he recalled of being talked into going out for the film. "I auditioned for two parts when I auditioned for '10 Things I Hate About You.' I auditioned for the part I played Cameron, and I also auditioned for the role that I really wanted. That I thought was kind of funny was the character Michael that was played by David Krumholtz."

According to Mental Floss, Junger said in the film's production notes that he also nearly didn't make the movie. "I said 'absolutely not,'" he explained. "I had no interest in doing a typical high school film. I wanted to do a romantic love story. But, at the urging of my agent, I read the script. I loved it. The depth of it surprised me. It really is a romantic love story. The plot is beautifully interwoven and the humor works because it comes from the characters."

Heath Ledger had a clear vision for his musical number

The production team's original plan was to use "I Think I Love You" by The Partridge Family for the now-iconic scene in which Patrick serenades Kat on the bleachers while she's at soccer practice. Even the Divinyls' risque one-hit wonder "I Touch Myself" was considered. 

But as screenwriter McCullah said in 2019, Ledger insisted on Frankie Valli's 1967 hit (it reached number 2 on the charts) "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." Ledger also insisted on a wearing a specific outfit while doing his serenade. 

"I remember being on-set and him putting together the outfit he was going to wear for the song number," she explained to Vice in 2017. "He was so specific about what he wanted to wear; it had to be this certain type of dark shirt with a precise fit. Oddly, it's kind of a nondescript ensemble when you actually watch the movie, but seeing him architect the costume as part of his preparation was so impressive, especially because he was only 19."

One of the funniest parts of the scene is the hapless security guards trying to stop the performance; as Junger recalled in 2019, the multiple takes of them chasing Ledger nearly killed the guard Ledger spanks on the butt in the film.

"At one point I was getting ready to do a camera take, and I see someone lying down in the bleachers," he explained. "One of the two cops who were supposedly chasing him in the bleachers thought he had a heart attack. He was like 50 and overweight and had such shortness of breath, so they called the paramedics. It was the perfect irony or juxtaposition to the youthful exuberance and power of Heath."