Back when Britney Spears was "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman," she starred in the cult-classic film, Crossroads. In a new Broadly interview, the women creators of the coming-of-age tale, including TV legend Shonda Rhimes (long before TGIT), opened up on making the film and Spears' on-set persona.
"I was much more interested in the young woman that I met than the image that people had of her. She was a person, and I don't think anyone at the time was looking at her — because it's such a misogynistic society — as a person," Rhimes, the screenwriter, said of Spears. "The idea that we could portray her as a three-dimensional young woman was interesting to me. To have mean-girled her and turned her into a caricature would have been a mistake."
Rhimes, who now runs her own TV empire, was virtually unknown at the time, but still managed to champion on-screen diversity.
"It just felt like the movie should look normal," Rhimes said of the cast, who included Zoe Saldana and Orange Is the New Black star Taryn Manning. "Most movies didn't look normal, they all looked very oddly homogenous in a way that didn't feel realistic to me."
Describing Spears as "this very sweet southern girl with incredible manners," director Tamra Davis said she first encountered the pop star in Las Vegas.
"I loved watching her [be] in the center of this circle, and there wasn't a guy in there telling her what to do. She was in command of the whole thing," Davis recalled.
And though she had all the makings of a diva, the film's producers insisted that Spears was a delight to work with. She had few food requests – tuna Lunchables and edamame – and asked that production picked her up half an hour early so she could go to Starbucks. Producer Ann Carli offered to have the coffee ready for her, "She said, 'I don't mind. I actually like going in and getting to decide.'"
Another big part of Spears' life at the time was her relationship with fellow pop star and Mickey Mouse Club alum Justin Timberlake. Director Davis noted, "It was just the most beautiful relationship, seeing the two of them together and how love-y they were. They were just so close, and she was such a supporter of his. He worked just as hard as her. It was like, she would be doing rehearsals and he would be doing rehearsals. They really knew that life together."
For the film, Spears doodled in a notebook while in character, which Davis still has.
"All she was writing was 'Britney and Justin,' all these little curlicues," Davis revealed. "It was like looking at a teenage girl's musings — hearts and butterflies and Justin's name."
The pair dated for three years, splitting in 2002 amidst rumors of infidelity on Spears' part.
Though Crossroads was panned by critics, it went on to have a cult following.
"I think it really was, for me, a lesson in both fame — because I really did get to see what extreme fame was like close up — and how to cope with it, how to protect my casts against it," Rhimes said of the experience. "And how to be prepared for the problems that come when it happens to people in your cast."