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Behind the scenes

"It's a backwards love story," observes director Andy Tennant. "People do rush in when they fall in love -- that's the only way to fall in love. The whole premise of this movie is that Alex leaps without looking."

Perry concurs: "The interesting thing about this story is that it's about a couple who do everything in the opposite order of traditional relationships."

"Alex (Matthew Perry) and Isabel (Salma Hayek) start at the end and work their way back," says Salma Hayek, "because usually, when you meet someone, you get to know them little by little until one day you have the courage to make a stronger commitment. These characters make the commitment at the very beginning, and then start getting to know each other."

The real-life courtship of producer Doug Draizin and co-producer Anna Maria Davis 12 years ago provided the springboard for Fools Rush In. "For years, we would go out to dinner with friends and they would always ask, 'How did you guys meet?,' and we would start telling the story and people were so interested in the particulars that they kept asking questions," recalls Doug Draizin. "By the tenth time we started to tell the story, I really got into it and started to add stuff, and Anna Maria would go along with it."

"And they would always say, 'What a great idea for a movie!' and we would laugh it off," adds Anna Maria Davis. "So you could say it's very loosely based on our story."

Though Draizin and Davis had considered numerous directors during the lengthy development of Fools Rush In, when they saw Andy Tennant's It Takes Two, they immediately sent him a copy of the screenplay. "It was very funny, because I had just that night gone with my wife to see Leaving Las Vegas, and I said to her, 'I will never shoot a movie in Las Vegas as long as I live," recounts Tennant. "When we got home there was a script on my doorstep called Fools Rush In."

A meeting was arranged between Tennant, the producers and the creative team at Columbia who had been actively involved in bringing this story to the screen. "Andy walked into one of those big conference rooms at the studio with nine people sitting around the table," recalls Draizin. "He sat down and articulated his feelings about the material, and showed his interest and love for the movie. I think we all realized right then that he was the guy for this picture."

The filmmakers then turned their attention to casting Fools Rush In. "They say that the success of a movie is 90% in the casting," remarks Andy Tennant," and I came to believe that."

Matthew Perry, who plays Chandler on the top-rated television series Friends, was selected to play Alex Whitman. "Matthew Perry was literally one of the first ideas that we all had, and we were very fortunate and thankful that he responded well to the material," recalls Anna Maria Davis.

"Matt was the perfect leading man because he reminds you of Cary Grant," observes Doug Draizin. "He's an everyday guy -- he makes mistakes, he stutters. There's a little danger about him. He's not perfect, but he's genuine. And that's an amazing quality."

"Matthew Perry was a dream for a director, because he's really smart and articulate from a story point-of-view," Andy Tennant agrees. "He's fast on his feet and he's a great combination of smart thinking and no ego."

The studio executives were particularly enthusiastic about a certain actress to play Isabel. Salma Hayek had just starred opposite Antonio Banderas in Columbia's Desperado and the studio was eager to work with her again. "This movie lives or dies by Salma Hayek, because it's about a guy who gets married within 24 hours of meeting this woman," says Andy Tennant. "It wouldn't work if it was Roseanne; it works because it's Salma Hayek.

"She's a spitfire," Tennant continues, "and she understands character and why people do some things and don't do others, which is the subtext of the movie. She has a good sense of humor which is completely different from Matthew's, which provided a nice contrast because these two characters come from completely different worlds."

Co-producer Anna Maria Davis first met with Hayek three years ago, long before Columbia had committed to make Fools Rush In. Since that time, the Mexican-born actress studied with renowned drama coach Stella Adler and began appearing in such television series as Dream On and Sinbad and in the Showtime telefilm Roadracers, directed by Robert Rodriguez, with whom she would work again in the feature films Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn and Four Rooms. But Hayek never stopped thinking about the character of Isabel in Fools Rush In.

"Salma was perfect for the story and I pushed very hard for her to cast," recalls Anna Maria Davis. "We were also very impressed at the very idea of an actor who had followed a project for three years, always thinking about the character she wanted so much to play. She was perfect for Isabel."

"I really fell in love with this story and had faith in it even before the screenplay was written," explains Hayek. "I saw this project mature little by little, going through different phases, until I saw everything fall in the right place at the right time; three years ago, I might not have been ready to play this character. I knew that this film was my destiny in much the same way that Isabel believes in destiny's role in her life."

The filmmakers were keenly aware that the success of Fools Rush In depended on the presence of a tangible chemistry between the two romantic leads. It was Andy Tennant's idea to host a dinner, inviting only Matthew and Salma.

"Andy called me the next day and said to me that there was most definitely a potent chemistry between them," recalls co-producer Davis, "and it is clearly evident in their performances in this film."

"As soon as Salma walked in through the door, everybody was saying, 'OK, let's go shoot this now because we found the right person,'" says Matthew Perry. "In addition to the fact that she's obviously beautiful, Salma is a real actress and very funny, so it was fun to play out the exchanges between our characters. This whole movie relies on us having this chemistry -- and it worked."

"Isabel takes the step of marrying Alex because, to begin with, there is this strong, incredible attraction," explains Salma Hayek. "She believes in destiny, although she doesn't realize that love has found her until the end of the story."

With their romantic leads in place, the filmmakers began to assemble a strong ensemble of actors to surround them. "The supporting cast of any movie is crucial," notes director Tennant. "It goes all the way back to Shakespeare; Romeo and Juliet wouldn't have been the great story that it was without the warring families, Mercutio, the Friar, the Nurse and the rest of the players."

Academy Award-nominated actress Jill Clayburgh and John Bennett Perry (Matthew's father in real life, an actor with extensive credits) were cast as Alex's quintessential WASP-ish parents. "The two of them were a lethal combination," recalls Andy Tennant. "Jill was really a pro, and very funny. And although people might think that it's a case of nepotism at its worst, the truth is that we met with many actors for the role of Alex's father. At the last minute, we looked at a tape of Matthew's father, and he was hysterically funny. You can see where Matthew gets his sense of humor and timing."

Fools Rush In is particularly notable for its depiction of Mexican-Americans in the clash of cultures that is at the center of the story.

"I was bored with seeing the classic cliched Mexican family," says Andy Tennant, "and I was also bored with seeing a cliched WASP family in movies, and I tried to find a little bit of nuance wherever I could. Ultimately, we tried to humanize everybody, regardless of what side of the fence they happened to be on."

The striking difference in cultures is perhaps most keenly evident in the sequence in which Alex's parents (who assumed that Isabel was their son's cleaning lady when they first met her) meet Isabel's family for the first time.

"That meeting of our families is where the culture clash really takes full flight," observes Matthew Perry, "because these are two groups of people who are very concerned about the foolish thing their kids have done, and they immediately try to blame the other set of parents."

"That encounter between the parents of the boy, being very sophisticated and snobbish, where they encounter a completely unknown dimension - that of a big, Mexican, Catholic family with its very earthy ambiance - creates a lot of funny situations," notes Tomas Milian, who plays the imposing patriarch of Isabel's family, and is only one of many cast members who was impressed by the filmmakers' willingness to listen to input and possible suggestions that might add to the movie's real-ness.

"Salma Hayek's whole agenda with this film was to bring an integrity to the portrayal of her culture," recalls Andy Tennant. "She was always very good about saying, 'No, that really isn't the way it is,' or 'No, I wouldn't say that,' and it made the movie better."

"Alex and Isabel are as different as day and night," notes Matthew Perry. "Isabel grew up in a very spiritual world and believes in signs and all that kind of spiritual stuff. Alex is the exact opposite; he's straight-laced and would never believe in that kind of thing. Fools Rush In is about both of them moving closer in an effort to find somewhere in the middle to believe in together."