‘13 Going on 30′ Turns 20: Film’s Team on Jennifer Garner-Mark Ruffalo Chemistry, Reboot Talks

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Twenty years after its release, the Jennifer Garner-led comedy 13 Going on 30 is still thriving.

Sony released Gary Winick’s comedy in theaters April 23, 2004, and the film earned $96 million ($159 million today) at the global box office. Also featuring Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer and Andy Serkis, the movie centered on teenage Jenna Rink (played by Christa B. Allen, now known as Christa Belle), who gets embarrassed at a party and makes a wish that transforms her into her 30-year-old self (Garner).

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Co-writers Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, in addition to Belle, separately share with The Hollywood Reporter about other actresses being considered for Garner’s part, Ruffalo feeling hesitant to do the “Thriller” dance, memories of Winick (who died of cancer in 2011 at age 49), the status of a stage musical, and persistent chatter among the film’s team regarding a potential onscreen reboot.

Jennifer Garner in '13 Going on 30'
Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30.

How did the film’s concept originate?

Cathy Yuspa: At the time, both of us had 13-year-old girl cousins. We all got together for one Thanksgiving, and we were listening in on them, and they were just so funny to us. One girl’s biggest goal in life was to have a different lip gloss for every day of the year.

Josh Goldsmith: The conversation would vacillate between the lip gloss and just the most serious things in the world. The comedy of the high drama of being that age was hilarious.

Yuspa: We thought to ourselves, “This would be a really fun comedy character for an adult female actress to play.” Honestly, in terms of really figuring out what the story was and who the characters were, we based it a lot on our childhoods. I had my own kind of Jenna Rink experience in seventh grade when I was dumped by all my friends.

Christa Allen and Sean Marquette in '13 Going on 30'
Christa Belle and Sean Marquette in 13 Going on 30.

Did you have to be careful to differentiate it from a movie like Big?

Goldsmith: For sure. We love Big and Freaky Friday and all of the movies in the genre, but it’s not like we were trying to avoid any of those movies. For us, the concept was really about choices you make when you’re young, and the implications of those choices when you grow up. What if you could see your future self and get a window into what you became because of what you’re doing now? To us, that was pretty different than body-switching.

Christa Belle: The film has a magical element to it, of course. But I feel the message, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” shines through nonetheless.

Did you have a favorite scene to write?

Goldsmith: The “Thriller” dance scene is certainly, in our minds, one of the most iconic things from our childhood, and also from the movie. Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo still have this wonderful friendship that they developed on the set of our movie, and they still talk about it. When Mark Ruffalo just got his star on the Walk of Fame, Jennifer Garner presented it to him, and they did a little “Thriller” dance. I learned those moves when I was very young, so doing them in a basement is just all very real. That basement in that movie is straight out of our childhood.

Belle: I love the film’s incredible soundtrack. It must not be underestimated just how much great music can contribute to the success of a movie or TV show.

Yuspa: One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Matt (Ruffalo) and Jenna are walking at night and get on swings and then end up kissing. It’s just a blend of concept and romance where it’s a swing set, and yet they’re doing adult things. They play that so beautifully.

Speaking of the “Thriller” scene, I know that Mark has said he had reservations about shooting it. Did you get that sense at the time?

Goldsmith: Sadly, we were not there at that day for shooting, so we can’t really speak to how up to it they were, but we’ve read the same articles you have. It’s funny that there are always those things. But I think his reticence as an actor may have informed his performance in that scene in a great way. Whatever qualms he had, they worked for it all.

Do you remember how you came up with the catchphrase, “30 and flirty and thriving”?

Goldsmith: No, we don’t remember when that came into the process of the movie. Even when the movie came out, we had no idea that would become some kind of iconic phrase, honestly. That certainly was an amazing surprise.

Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer and Gary Winick on the set of '13 Going on 30'
Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer and director Gary Winick on the set of 13 Going on 30.

It’s very sad that the late director Gary Winick isn’t here to celebrate the film. What do you remember about him as a director and how he came onboard?

Yuspa: Jennifer Garner wanted to work with him and was involved in the process of picking him. He brought such a sweetness and warmth to the movie that has helped it remain something that people watch.

Goldsmith: We were just saying, it’s such a shame that he doesn’t get to know that this movie is still around and talked about.

There has been talk that actresses including Gwyneth Paltrow, Renée Zellweger and Hilary Swank were all considered the lead role. Do you remember that?

Goldsmith: Yeah, as in any script, people talk about who would be best. But at the end of the day, I remember very clearly Jennifer Garner being just the top choice because she was well-known at the time, but not so well-known that she didn’t seem fresh.

How did you feel when you first saw the film?

Goldsmith: I don’t remember the first cut we saw. But I do remember the thing that really struck me was the chemistry between Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner. That’s what provides the engine of why we still care.

Belle: I hope that even young girls watching the film for the first time in 2024 will feel hopeful, inspired and capable of doing anything they put their minds to.

What’s the latest with the stage musical that you both have been working on?

Goldsmith: We did a workshop of the musical in London in fall. It was a couple weeks of rehearsals and shows with audiences. I don’t know that it’s official yet, but we’re hoping that a full production is going to be happening in 2025. It’s been so much fun to revisit the characters and story, and to figure out how to make it work on stage today. It’s been just a joy and a challenge, but in the best way.

Yupsa: Something that just really left me feeling great about the movie is that there are these emotional moments that translate into song. It re-touched me about the movie and the tone in a way that translates into an emotional musical.

Was there talk about a sequel or streaming series?

Goldsmith: A little bit, both on streaming and a sequel movie and a series. It’s all been bandied about. But for us, the musical is the best version of it right now, for sure. A new version of it.

Was this discussed at the time of the film’s run, or it was more recently?

Goldsmith: Just over the years when people are thinking about IP and thinking about movies that worked and that they loved. Probably soon after [the release] — and fairly recently, too. Nothing has quite clicked yet. Perhaps it will, but hopefully the musical is the next incarnation that really flies.

Was a script written for a follow-up project?

Goldsmith: I don’t think so, no. Not that we know of. (Laughs.)

Was the plan for Jennifer Garner to be involved?

Goldsmith: There’s a million different permutations of it.

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