10 Surprising Facts About “10 Things I Hate About You ”as Movie Turns 25 (Exclusive)

PEOPLE spoke with director Gil Junger for the movie's 25th anniversary about casting Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles' natural dance talents and more

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock From L: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, Gabrielle Union, David Krumholtz and Susan May Pratt in <em>10 Things I Hate About You</em> (1999)
Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock From L: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larisa Oleynik, Heath Ledger, Julia Stiles, Andrew Keegan, Gabrielle Union, David Krumholtz and Susan May Pratt in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

10 Things I Hate About You is 25!

In honor of the 1999 teen comedy's silver anniversary, PEOPLE spoke with director Gil Junger, who recalled being offered the chance to helm 10 Things — but only accepting on the condition that he could present the material with the maturity caliber he felt it deserved.

"Two weeks after I got the movie, I said, 'I just want you guys to know what I'm doing with this film. I am not going to make a high-school movie for you.' And they're like, 'What?' " recalls Junger, 69, of his directorial debut. "I said, 'I am going to direct a character-driven movie about relationships with a strong emotional core. And those people in the movie, in those relationships, are just going to happen to be in high school.' "

Adapted from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You follows high-school senior Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), a high-achieving, sharp-tongued loner who takes the world at face value and dreams of leaving her West Coast town for Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

At home, she is constantly compared to her perky, popular younger sister Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) by their overprotective single father Walter (Larry Miller). Kat's world is soon turned upside down by the arrival of Patrick Verona (the late Heath Ledger), an edgy new student who makes her look inside herself in a way she has been hesitant to for so long.

<p>Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection</p> Julia Stiles in <em>10 Things I Hate About You</em> (1999)

Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

As Junger — who, through The Breakthru Company, offers audition workshops and courses — tells PEOPLE of the lasting impact of 10 Things, "I think it resonates today as it did then, because when I was shaping the character of Kat, I wanted her to be smart. I wanted her to be irreverent. I wanted her to not fold to the peer pressure that all teenagers do."

"I didn't necessarily want her to be arrogant, but I wanted her to [know] she is special and doesn't need to prove herself to anyone; total self-acceptance, at that young age," he adds, admitting he was more like the character of Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) himself as a teenager.

"I was trying to design a woman that did not reflect myself at that age, because I was like, 'Oh my God. I would twist myself into a pretzel to make someone think I was cool,' " Junger explains.

While you're still waiting on an invitation to Bogey Lowenstein's party, read on for 10 things you might not know about 10 Things I Hate About You, in honor of the film's 25th anniversary.

<p>Buena Vista/Getty Images</p> Larry Miller, Larisa Oleynik and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in <em>10 Things I Hate About You</em> (1999)

Buena Vista/Getty Images

Larry Miller, Larisa Oleynik and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Related: '10 Things I Hate About You' Cast: Where Are They Now?

1. Junger wanted Ledger for the part of Patrick "basically before he even spoke."

Before meeting Ledger, who died in 2008 at age 28, "I had already read over 200 guys" for the role of bad-boy Patrick, says Junger, while the casting department had "probably read close to 2,000."

"And I had a phenomenal casting director in Marcia Ross, who knew she wouldn't settle either," he tells PEOPLE, explaining that they had three and a half weeks before beginning the film shoot and hadn't yet cast Patrick.

"[Heath] walked in the room in one of these big casting sessions ... I swear on my parents' life, I thought, 'If this f---er can speak English, I'm going to cast him,' " Junger recalls. "He just had an energy that was undeniable."

2. Katie Holmes and James Van Der Beek were initially considered for the lead roles.

Katie Holmes and James Van Der Beek "were big stars" on Dawson's Creek (which, perhaps coincidentally, is a show that Miller's character hilariously references in 10 Things) at the time filming began — and Junger even met with them early on about the lead roles of Kat and Patrick.

After being told by an executive that Holmes, now 45, and Van Der Beek, now 47, "might be a good, safe choice to garner an audience," Junger says he asked to be "trust(ed) to direct this movie."

"I said, 'Please give me the opportunity to find total unknowns that'll blow you away,' " he recalls. "And I said, 'I am good at casting — at least give me the opportunity to present the cast that I want, and I'll present them to you and then you can say yes or no. And if it turns out to be the Dawson's Creek kids, then fine, but at least give me the chance.' "

<p>Buena Vista/Getty</p> James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes in <em>Dawson's Creek</em> (L); Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in <em>10 Things I Hate About You</em> (1999)

Buena Vista/Getty

James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes in Dawson's Creek (L); Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

3. Junger declined to hire a dialect coach for Ledger.

The filmmaker tells PEOPLE that one day after he cast Ledger, someone at the Walt Disney Company asked, "Would you like me to add X thousands of dollars into the budget for a line item for Heath's dialect coach?"

"And I said, 'Why does he need a dialect coach?' 'To speak with the American accent,' " Junger recalls. "I just paused for a second and I went, 'Why would you possibly want him to speak with an American accent when his accent is so magical?' "

After the individual asked him, "What's an Australian doing in Seattle?", Junger says he told them, "Dude, let me handle this."

4. An "A-plus-list" choreographer was offered to help Stiles with her table-dance scene — but Stiles declined.

Junger was dating Paula Abdul at the time of making 10 Things, and thought maybe he could leverage her choreography skills to help Stiles, now 43, with the scene in which she dances on a table at Bogey Lowenstein's (Kyle Cease) party, to "Hypnotize" by the Notorious B.I.G.

" I said, 'I have a connection with a very good choreographer.' I didn't say who it was — [I said], 'I can get an A-plus-list choreographer to come up and choreograph an incredible dance number for you,' " he says. "And also, that for me would give me the confidence that it's going to be amazing because it's a choreographer of star quality."

"And then Julia, 17, looked at me and she said, 'Yeah, no, I don't need that. I can dance.' I said, 'Well, it's actually a pretty important number. Don't you want a pro who choreographs for movies and shows and things?' " Junger continues. "She just looked at me — no arrogance, just pure, subtle confidence — and said, 'No, I can dance.' "

"And just the way she said it, I was like, 'Oh, okay. Absolutely, you can dance,' " he adds. "And I was mesmerized by how incredible she was."

<p>Buena Vista;Getty</p> From L: Julia Stiles in <em>10 Things I Hate About You</em> (1999); Paula Abdul

Buena Vista;Getty

From L: Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999); Paula Abdul

Related: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Remembers '10 Things I Hate About You' and Heath Ledger on Movie's Anniversary

5. Junger fought for Ethan Peck to play Patrick in the 10 Things TV show.

Junger says Ethan Peck was a "brand-new" actor at the time of his casting on the 10 Things TV show, which ran for one season on ABC Family from 2009 to 2010, but Junger saw something in him for the role of Patrick.

"There was just something about his person that I felt drawn to. And I fought the president of the network to get that guy," he adds of Peck, now 38, who is the grandson of the late Gregory Peck and currently stars as Spock on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

"He was a special guy," Junger says.

6. A pole was built on set just for Ledger to slide down during his entrance for the "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" scene.

One of the most famous scenes in 10 Things is when Patrick declares his affection for Kat, serenading her from the bleachers during her soccer practice, backed by the Padua High School marching band.

And his entrance was extra poignant — and extra deliberate.

"In the beginning when he pushed the sound controllers up in the observation deck, and then he walked out of that building and then slid down that pole ... there was no pole there. I added that pole," Junger tells PEOPLE. "I said to Heath, 'I think it would be cool if I could put a pole there,' or obviously have someone put a pole there ... I said, 'Would you be cool kind of sliding down the poll in a very Fred Astaire kind of romantic way?' He says, 'Oh yeah, sure, dude. Done.' "

"Literally the first take, he steps out, grabs the pole, slides down like he's a professional freaking dancer. He just had it," the director adds.

Heath Ledger in <em>10 Things I Hate About You</em> (1999)
Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

7. Stiles and Gordon-Levitt dated on set.

Junger previously revealed that Stiles and Gordon-Levitt, 43, dated during the time of filming, but insists that he never considered them for one another's love interests in the movie as a result.

"I offered Joseph the role [of Cameron] because I was very familiar with his work from 3rd Rock from the Sun and I was a sitcom director," he says. "And I just felt that he could play that somewhat nervous, somewhat anxious, sweet soul, that innocence of that age, and he killed it."

8. Stiles filmed the famous emotional "10 Things" poem scene in one take.

Junger tells PEOPLE that watching Stiles perform the emotional "10 Things" poem scene near the end of the film — which took only one take — "was easily one of the most beautiful, powerful, emotional experiences I've ever witnessed as a director."

As someone who likes "to be close to the actors" on set, Junger was very near Stiles during the scene, "riding on the front of the dolly." And the moment almost backfired due to his own reaction to the tearjerking scene, which made him put his hands over his nose and mouth.

"I was gasping for air, crying, shaking ... [but] no way was I going to ruin this f---ing take. And the instant she was done and I let it linger for a bit, I took my hand away and I said, 'Cut,' and I jumped from that thing and Julia jumped into my arms and we hugged each other," he says.

Junger adds, "It was one of the most magical moments I've ever experienced in direction, and I've directed some extremely talented people, but that was just everything ... it was one of the best performances I've ever seen in my entire life."

<p>Buena Vista</p> Julia Stiles in <em>10 Things I Hate About You</em> (1999)

Buena Vista

Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

Related: Groom Goes Viral After He Proposes by Recreating Epic 10 Things I Hate About You Marching Band Scene

9. A follow-up film has been in the works for over 15 years.

Before Ledger died, Junger says he was going to offer him the opportunity to star in a follow-up film called 10 Things I Hate About Me, which Junger says he wanted to have a similar "tone" as the first movie, though it might be "hard to connect" now as the film "has morphed" in his mind.

"Now I'm going to change it. But it was going to be a film that explored and exploded the myths of suicide," he tells PEOPLE. "And because I have danced in that arena and I've been there, and I know that mental health, mental illness, depression, suicidal ideation is rampant. And it's way more prevalent than anyone knows."

10. Junger has been approached for a 10 Things musical stage adaptation.

Given all the memorable musical moments in the movie (including cameos from bands Letters to Cleo and Save Ferris), PEOPLE asked Junger whether there has ever been talk of a 10 Things live adaptation, in the vein of other teen classics like Heathers, Clueless, Mean Girls and Bring It On that have made their way to the stage.

"I was contacted by a Broadway producer who literally was exploring doing exactly that, and they called me to see if I would bless it. They said, 'We want to turn 10 Things into a musical, and we think it'll be extraordinary. Would you direct it?' "

<p>Richard J. Cartwright/Courtesy of Gil Junger</p> From L: Julia Stiles, Gil Junger and Heath Ledger in Seattle in 1999

Richard J. Cartwright/Courtesy of Gil Junger

From L: Julia Stiles, Gil Junger and Heath Ledger in Seattle in 1999

Junger didn't hesitate to say he'd "of course" be on board to lead the production, but he "never heard anything more about it," noting that the "Disney legal system" may have had something to do with the holdup. (A rep for Disney hasn't responded to PEOPLE's request for comment.)

"I guess they didn't have the vision that this younger Broadway producer had, because it should've been ... it still could. The movie resonates so powerfully still today," he says.

10 Things I Hate About You — which also starred Allison Janney, Andrew Keegan, Gabrielle Union, David Krumholtz, Susan May Pratt and more — is streaming on Hulu and Disney+.

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Read the original article on People.