That time I was in an iconic ’90s teen movie

It’s the end-of-year, time-for-reflection time and we’re thinking back to all the HelloGiggles stories that we truly loved in 2014. Here’s just one of our faves, which was originally published on October 9, 2014. 

There are some universal teenage experiences almost all of us have. Standing at your locker and having a director call “ACTION,” as the black and white clapper clips shut right by your ear is not one of them.  Okay, let me explain.

10 Things I Hate About You, the Shakespeare-inspired teen comedy based in a high school that looks like a castle, was filmed in my hometown, Tacoma, Washington, and at my school, Stadium. When I was fifteen, Hollywood took over our city, our football field and our hallways, launching the careers of Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And me.

Just kidding, I’m not a celebrity. But like a lot of my friends and fellow SHS students (Go Tigers!), I did get to be an extra in 10 Things I Hate About You. And now that enough years have passed and the dust has settled, the lessons from my near-brush with ’90s fame are clear. Here’s what I learned from the crazy experience:

Bring Your A-Game

As if concentrating in geometry class wasn’t hard enough already, I had a real, Hollywood movie to distract me during the spring of my ninth grade year. Filming took place in the summer, so as the school year was winding down, rumors were flying about THE MOVIE. I eagerly signed up to be an extra, daydreaming about what my film debut would be like, how my first walk on the red carpet would feel, and how hot my future movie star boyfriend would be. By the time I walked onto set at my own high school, my imagination had been going wild for months. And yet, what I found was nothing compared to what I’d imagined.

It was more. Much more.

Cameras on cranes were positioned in the courtyard, lights and equipment filled almost every space, wires and cords snaked in all different directions, and crew members in jeans and dark T-shirts lined the hallways, making my high school almost unrecognizable. I’d never seen anything like it in our mid-sized town on the Puget Sound. Before that day, an exciting afternoon was when we made it home without hitting too many stoplights. Now, things were different. Hollywood was here, and they weren’t messing around.

Give the New Guys A Chance

When those movie rumors first started circling, I remember there was some collective disappointment around the courtyard that no one exciting was going to be in the movie (Please forgive us, this was Heath Ledger’s first American film). We knew next to nothing about the actors, most of them were pretty new to us. And I’m ashamed to admit, I may even have passed a little judgment at the hair and wardrobe choices made for them, which I now understand that they probably had nothing to do with. Remember, somewhere in storage is the wig that Heath Ledger’s stand-in wore, along with the two-piece prom dress rocked by Larisa Oleynik’s Bianca. Of course, I prefer not to talk about this early judgment now that we all know how smart the casting director actually was.

A Little Luck Goes A Long Way

Flash forward to the prom scene, which filmed near the end of summer. While hanging out in a converted gym doubling as extras holding (that’s actually what it was called), a production assistant came up and asked how tall I was. I could barely control my excitement as I told her that I’m 5’4”ish. PAs didn’t talk to extras unless something interesting was about to happen, so you can imagine how giddy I was when she got on her radio and described me and my peach-colored dress to someone on the other end. Sure enough, I was going to be a “featured extra,” which meant I would definitely be on camera. It was the holy grail of extra work.


As I followed her down the sidewalk to the theater where the prom scene was shot, the Seattle summer sun made my dress shimmer while I shook with excitement. Was I picked because I was the right height? Was my dress the right color? Was I was simply the closest girl she could find? Did my bangs have just the right kind of ’90s bounce? Was it just luck? I’ll never know, but I’m not complaining.

Things Aren’t Always What they Seem

My new job was to play the date of a guy who had one line. After rehearsing with the choreographer, we filmed a scene where we danced into Julia Stiles’ and Heath Ledger’s characters as they arrived at the prom. Short of some eye contact and cordial nodding (they were very polite and professional), I didn’t have much interaction with any of the leads beyond what the scenes called for, which is probably a good thing. I was so jazzed just to be there, I doubt I would have been capable of real conversation.

After filming wrapped, I told everyone who’d listen about MY SCENE. I tried to play it cool, pretending like it was no big deal, but inside I was squealing like the teenybopper I was.

You can probably guess what happened. The following spring, when 10 Things I Hate About You was released, I practically ran to the theater to see my grand film debut. It wasn’t there. Somewhere along the way, the scene hit the editing room floor. Even now, it takes some skill with the pause-button to even see me in the movie, a far cry from being “featured.”

Was it a blow? At the time, it sure felt like one. All the hype, my giddy excitement, the dozens – okay, hundreds of people I told, were for nothing. Who would have guessed that the biggest lesson of all, coping with disappointment, would come nearly a year after one of the most exciting days of my teenage life? Even though fifteen-year-old-me was super-sad about it, at least adult-me is able to joke about it on the Internet. It’s taken a while, but I can finally say I’m over it and that it prepared me for much tougher situations that came as I got older.

The plus side? Now, if I ever get the chance to meet Joseph Gordon-Levitt again, we’ll have something in common, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Dena is a native Washingtonian who considers herself a part ’80s/part ‘90s girl. She blogs about pop culture from both decades, as well as present-day, at In between work and play, you can find her putting too much creamer in her coffee, taking on craft projects way above her skill level, and spending time with her family. She’s also on twitter @DenaOgden. 

(Images via the author, via, via)