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'10 Things I Hate About You' turns 20 — cast shares new details

The cast of the 1999 coming-of-age romantic comedy got together to reflect on the film and the lessons they learned from star Heath Ledger.
10 Things I Hate About You
It's hard to believe it's been 20 years since "10 Things I Hate About You" hit theaters.Courtesy Evertt Collection
/ Source: TODAY

In spring of 1999, the stars came together for a teen rom-com to remember — several stars, actually.

In fact, "10 Things I Hate About You," a modern retelling of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," proved to be a big-screen breakout for top talents like Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the late Heath Ledger.

And now that the timeless tale is turning 20, several of the people who made it possible are taking a look back at the making of the movie and at its unforgettable leading man.

Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in 1999's "10 Things I Hate About You." Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Knowing and loving the iconic film, as fans do, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Stiles playing the part of Kat or anyone other than Ledger bringing Patrick to life, but in a piece for The New York Times, casting director Marcia Ross admitted there were others up for the roles.

"We screen-tested Josh Hartnett, Eliza Dushku, Heath and Julia," Ross revealed. "But Julia and Heath just had the best chemistry together. I loved Katie Holmes. She was about to get 'Dawson’s Creek,' and we had to make a decision really fast. The other person I loved was Kate Hudson."

Alas that wasn't meant to be because, "Her mom (Goldie Hawn) didn’t like the script for her."

In the case of Ledger, it wasn't just his chemistry with his co-star-to-be that earned him the role. He made a big impression the moment he arrived for his audition.

Heath Ledger made his mark in the coming-of-age romantic comedy.Courtesy Everett Collection

"Heath walked in, and I thought to myself, if this guy can read, I’m going to cast him," director Gil Junger explained. "There was an energy to him, a sexuality that was palpable. When Heath was done, literally, with the first page, I said, 'O.K., you can put down the script. You’re doing great. I want to do a little improv with you.' I just wanted to see how fast his mind would adapt, comedically. After 35 seconds, I said, 'O.K. Fantastic.'"

However, Junger said Ledger thought he "blew it." Little did the actor realize that his magnetism had already worked its magic.

"The instant the door closed, I turned to the women in the room and said, 'Ladies, I have never wanted to sleep with a man, but if I had to sleep with a man, that would be the man. Please cast him immediately,'" the filmmaker recalled.

And the star, who died from an accidental drug overdose in 2008, went on to make just as big of an impression on and off-screen while making the coming-of-age flick.

Remember that Frankie Valli ballad he crooned from the bleachers? Ledger was the one who selected "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" as the perfect love song for that moment. He also choreographed his own chase in that same scene — and left the actors who were tasked with chasing him breathless.

"Heath was running with such joy that it physically exhausted the guards," Junger said.

Ledger even helped out his leading lady when it came time for her memorable drunken table dance.

Heath Ledger made a big impression on his fellow cast members, as well as the filmmakers behind "10 Things I Hate About You."Courtesy Everett Collection

"I hadn’t ever really been drunk before in real life," Stiles told the Times. "I mean, I was 17, so I remember Heath — because he was older — giving me tips on what being drunk looks and feels like."

It seems everyone on the set had nothing but good memories of working with Ledger, and it's those memories that live on now.

As co-star David Krumholtz put it, "I prefer to remember Heath as a 20-year-old kid doing his first American lead with a big giant Cheshire grin smile on his face, taking charge as the leader of the group like any good ensemble leader should."