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'Mean Girls' tones it down for sequel

It takes a brave filmmaker to tackle a sequel to an iconic movie, much less one with many young fans and one that originally sprang from the mind of Tina Fey.

Before becoming the driving and award-winning force behind NBC's "30 Rock," Fey was the writer and a co-star of "Mean Girls," the 2004 comedy that did much to boost Lindsay Lohan's career at the time (and also benefited actresses Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried). Now comes "Mean Girls 2," making its ABC Family debut Sunday.

The new movie actually is less a follow-up than a reboot of the first story, with mostly new characters in similar situations. Meaghan Martin ("Camp Rock") plays a newcomer who agrees -- for a price, literally -- to help a peer (Jennifer Stone, "Wizards of Waverly Place") navigate their high school, ultimately pitting them against the first story's Plastics, a clique of genuinely mean girls.

The "Mean Girls 2" cast also showcases faces familiar to ABC Family viewers, such as those of Nicole Anderson ("Make It or Break It") and Diego Boneta ("Pretty Little Liars"). Maiara Walsh ("Cory in the House") and Australian actress Claire Holt also are featured; the sole returnee from "Mean Girls" is "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Tim Meadows, back as the school principal.

"Mean Girls 2" is directed by someone with experience on both sides of the camera. Melanie Mayron won an Emmy for playing Melissa Steadman on the much-praised 1987-91 ABC drama series "Thirtysomething." While keeping her acting career going, she has done considerable directing of such shows as ABC Family's "Greek," HBO's "In Treatment," and Lifetime's "Army Wives" and "Drop Dead Diva."

"The script was completely different, pretty much another tone," Mayron says in differentiating "Mean Girls 2" from its forerunner. " 'Mean Girls' was a little more risque, and it had a little more grown-up, sexy thing to it. This script isn't in that world. It's a more heartfelt and, in some ways, more dramatic story. It still has the Plastics and a new girl coming to the school, so the setup is the same, but it's tonally a little different."

Not surprisingly, then, Mayron prefers "Mean Girls 2" to be seen less as a sequel and more as a revisiting of the concept.

"To have that whole first group a little older and in college, that would have been the sequel, I think," she says. "This is another story, and I think that's the only way to really approach it. I mean, who could touch 'Mean Girls'?"

In fact, Mayron confirms the new project had "other creators other screenwriters, other producers. I know that they apparently tried to do a sequel with [Fey] for five years or so." Still, Paramount Pictures retained the rights to go ahead with another "Mean Girls" with or without Fey; the original is slated to have an ABC Family run immediately before the premiere of the new version.

Mayron was glad to have co-star Meadows around, with his being someone with ties to the first movie. "He was great," she reports. "He just jumped right back into his character. You could turn the camera on him, and he would keep going. He's just a brilliant actor, very spontaneous."

Filmed in the Atlanta area, "Mean Girls 2" initially was designed to go straight to the home-video market -- indeed, Paramount Home Entertainment is still slated to release it Feb. 1 -- but along the way, ABC Family made a deal to acquire it for its first showings.

The younger "Mean Girls 2" stars had limited, if any, knowledge of Mayron's days spent principally as an actress. Her credits from that time also encompass the late-1970s movies "You Light Up My Life" and "Girlfriends" and the Emmy-honored 1980 television drama "Playing for Time," in which she starred with Vanessa Redgrave.

"Some of them knew about it," Mayron says of that earlier stage of her career, "but they were born after 'Thirtysomething' was off the air. Talk about feeling like a dinosaur! I still can't believe I'm in my 50s, but yes, life does go on. The great thing about my being an actor is that I think it was very helpful on this in certain instances.

"The performances in the first 'Mean Girls' were very real. They weren't over the top. When I watched it again, I found my memory of it was bigger than life, I guess because of the things that happened in the movie. The way the actors performed was very low-key, though, and I felt we had to have that same level of acting."

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