Maureen Bharoocha and Ramona Young discuss character building and writing original music for The Prank [SXSW 2022]

Rita Moreno and Connor Kalopsis in The Prank at SXSW 2022.
Rita Moreno and Connor Kalopsis in The Prank at SXSW 2022. Pic credit: XRM Media/Sneak Preview Entertainment

Making its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest festival, The Prank tells the story of a high schooler (Connor Kalopsis) who is tormented by his “evil” physics teacher (Rita Moreno). His friend Mei Tanner (Ramona Young) takes it upon herself to spread an online rumor about the teacher, blaming her for the disappearance of another student.

“The risk of this movie is that it straddles a line between comedy and thriller, and it’s a fine line to walk,” shared The Prank director Maureen Bharoocha. “I’m so proud of the movie, and I feel like it holds comedy all the way through.”

The comedy-horror features an all-star cast, including EGOT winner Moreno, Keith Davis, and Kate Flannery. “Our ensemble cast is just incredible. What is so great about the movie is that it spans this past generation with Rita, Keith, and Kate. We also have Meredith Salenger, who is an 80s icon as well,” shared Bharoocha. “Then, we have Ramona and Connor, who are icons right now.”

Monsters and Critics had the opportunity to chat with Bharoocha and Never Have I Ever’s Ramona Young about The Prank. We spoke about Young’s experience tapping into her character, Bharoocha assigning her and Kalopsis to write an original song, and the main message they’d like their audience to take away from the movie.

Who is Mei Tanner?

“Tanner starts off laidback and nonchalant, and then throughout the movie, she gets really invested in what’s happening with her best friend. Throughout the journey, she becomes more caring and kind and sincere while still being laidback,” explained Young.

When it came to building the chemistry between Young and her costar Kalopsis, Bharoocha had a specific assignment in mind. She asked the duo to write an original song, given that the two characters are in a band together.

“Maureen was very smart. She wanted me and Connor to create an original song for the film. We got to hang out a couple times, just writing the lyrics and recording together, and the song made it into the movie. That was one of the bonding activities that we had, we had to create a song together,” shared the Mei actor.

Bharoocha explained her thought process behind it. She said she wanted it to be the duo’s “brainchild.” The director said, “That was really exciting. They presented the song themselves. I gave them a few notes, but it was like, ‘Oh, this is just something fun that you guys can go off and do and create and have fun with.’ Because that’s really what you want to show in the movie. Ben and Tanner having fun while making music.”

How does The Prank represent women in tech?

When asked about finding inspirations to portray her character, Young said, “Tanner is a mix of being super smart and nerdy and high tech, but at the same time, she’s chill and a stoner. It’s a big juxtaposition, and I just did my own thing with it.”

Bharoocha set about the movie, ensuring that Tanner was a “full-spectrum” character. “We’re in such a great age right now in movies and seeing women in tech and social media that we’re able to represent a full spectrum of the character.”

Comparing similar roles seen in past movies, the director continued: “You might have seen hints of those in other movies, but they’re usually like, “the cool girl” that’s like super sexy and also likes computers. I love the movie Hackers, but again, everybody there looks movie polished. I just love to live in the real groundedness, which is like Ramona is beautiful and sexy, but then also, she’s messy. You get to be all the things, and that’s what’s really exciting.”

Bharoocha gushed about the way Young developed her character. “Ramona brought so much to the character and made it her own. She was always willing to try something out and pitch ideas. Her character really pops off the page because of what Ramona brought to it.”

Young responded that she was able to do so because Bharoocha created a safe space to “play and improvise,” adding that “not every director gives that opportunity.”

However, when it comes to the twists and turns of the movie, the two feel as though there are two important messages: “don’t judge a book by its cover” and “the power of friendship.”

Read our review for The Prank.

The Prank had its world premiere at SXSW 2022. It is currently seeking distribution.

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