You've seen Ariana Grande's "Thank U, Next" video one billion times. You've searched for all the easter eggs and rewatched all the movies it references. You've read up on all the styling details and followed the sweet comments from the original stars of Mean Girls, Bring It On, 13 Going on 30, and Legally Blonde.
Now it's time for the scoop from director Hannah Lux Davis. Davis is a longtime collaborator of Grande's, and first worked with her on the "Bang Bang" video. (She's also worked with other favorites, including Halsey, Demi Lovato, Hailee Steinfeld, Fifth Harmony.) ELLE.com spoke with Davis about what went on behind the scenes—including the down low on a fun scene that didn't make it into the video (it wasn't even filmed!), how Grande was able to cry for the emotional dollhouse scene, and whether the singer's dog Toulouse really is a Good Boy.
ELLE: I know you've worked with Ariana for a long time. Do you remember your first-ever meeting with her?
Hannah Lux Davis: Yeah—it was for "Bang Bang." We were shooting her solo scene in that colorful bedroom. I think she was pleasantly surprised by me. Like, Oh, you're fun, and you're young. She wouldn't have known who I was before that. I was probably 27 at the time, or 28, and we clicked right away, in terms of, Let's have fun and let's make something great together.
She was just a ball of energy, really excited to be there, and she was a little more shy, I'd say, in terms of her performance, back then—how she connected to the camera, and her confidence. Over the years I've definitely watched her evolve and grow into a really strong woman and the strong performer that she is today.
i love u @hannahluxdavis 🖤 pic.twitter.com/t5bgDovd0T
— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) December 1, 2018
The behind-the-scenes clip is so fun. The way you direct seems really energetic and enthusiastic—you're calling out things like, "You look so cute!" What is your energy like on set and what is Ariana's like?
It's definitely my style to do that: cheerleading them on. It's not like everybody does that, and nor do they need to. But in a music video, when you can actually talk to them through the take, if you're not rolling sound, you can. That's typically my energy when I'm working with performers. But I think there's a time and place for it. I don't think I'd be screaming and woo-ing if it's a sad ballad.
Ariana's energy on set definitely varies based on what it is we're doing. In the "Thank U, Next" video, there was a lot of excitement on set. She had a lot of friends. There were a lot of cameos. It led to her being up, all day every day. It can be very taxing, by the end of the day. The only scene she wasn't like that for was that dollhouse scene in 13 Going on 30, when she had to be very emotionally available, to bring some of those tears to the surface. So she wasn't jumping up and down with excitement every single moment. She was more focused and quiet during those moments.
Oh, did Ariana actually cry in that scene?
Yeah, it was definitely a combination of makeup and her.... She's definitely emotional in it. So she was able to pull real stuff from that.
I know the shoot took three days, and you discussed the concept with Ariana on the "Breathin'" set. But from start to finish, how long did it take to make the "Thank U, Next" video?
Like you said, like, the idea started there. But the preproduction didn't really get greenlit until a week before shooting. So that was maybe a Monday. We ended up shooting the following Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Then we had a locked cut by the following Sunday. And then it delivered that Friday.
That's incredibly fast.
It's abnormally fast. But usually we don't have a full five days in preproduction. A lot of times it's three or four. So we were lucky, and we warned everybody ahead of time. Like, listen, we need the time on this one, to wrap our heads around all the different scenes. And make sure we get the right permits and all the right cast; a lot of wardrobe and art. A lot of very specific details needed to be made and sourced. When you're making stuff specifically for the shoot, that takes prep time, and time to order and make.
They always say "Don't work with dogs and kids." But Toulouse, Ariana's dog, is kind of a star in this video. Can you tell me about working with him on the set?
Oh my gosh. Toulouse is like a total pro. It's insane. He's better than most children I've worked with. Literally, he knows exactly what he's doing. For that close-up scene from Legally Blonde, as she's walking towards camera—I couldn't believe that he stayed walking. The whole pass! And then the pool scene, he was on the floatie, like, no big deal. And when she was doing the lounge chair performance, in the big feather pink jacket, when the guys were playing football around her. Toulouse just stayed there, right by her side. It's insane how good he is. He's so professional.
The only time he was being a little diva was, he was too comfortable in the car when she was arriving at Harvard. We had to wait a while before he hopped out of the car.
I thought you were going to say he had an accident. But nothing like that!
Oh, no. No, no, no. I mean, maybe he did, but I never saw it. He was a very professional dog. He's been on a lot of sets. He travels with her around the world, so he's totally used to all the people and commotion.
There've been a few responses to the video from the original actors, like Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner and Reese Witherspoon. But also people who weren't, like Mark Hamill tweeted about it. The Simple Life just suggested a collab.
I know. I saw that too.
Would you do that? A Star Wars Ariana video would be epic.
I don't know! I mean, Ariana's hilarious. She's a funny girl—she could pull that off, for sure.
I'm guessing you were excited to see the video do so well and break records on Vevo. Do you read a lot of the Twitter and the YouTube comments?
I read some Twitter comments, just because like, I'm nosy and I'll get in there. But for this one, I couldn't keep up. For other ones, I read them, and I'm like, Ah, really? That's what they thought? Or they love it, and I'm excited. But on this one I couldn't even keep up with it. It was too many comments. There was too much. I'm not used to that.
In the behind-the-scenes clip, there was one example of a scene that didn't make it into the final video. Were there any other scenes that didn't make the cut?
There was a scene of Cliff—you know, Matt Bennett's character, Cliff from Bring It On—we wanted to have him rocking out on his guitar in a bedroom with punk-rock posters. To complement Ariana jumping around on the bed. So we were going to have him do that and have Ariana in there, and see them rocking out on the guitar—make that a fun moment. But that didn't end up happening. Even though we found the perfect location for it. We were ready to go, but when it came time to schedule everything, it was just too much.
The Mean Girls Burn Book is amazing. I actually gasped when I saw it, especially the, "Sry I dipped" line.
I remember just seeing that and just kind of holding my breath. We were just letting her do her thing, and we weren't playing the music. We just rolled the camera and didn't play any music. So when she did that, I didn't want to make a big reaction. I was just very surprised. But it was obviously gold.
What's coming up next for you?
I can't say at this point. You've got to keep everything hush hush. But I think music videos with artists who are talented and nice people. It's my first love. But I really want to start in beauty commercials and campaigns. I'm really drawn to that. I also really want to start getting into narratives and storytelling, and working with actors and dialogue, because I really enjoy that. This video was a super triple reassurance that I cannot wait to make a high school movie or a comedy. Something female-driven.
Because I grew up on these films—Mean Girls and Legally Blonde and Clueless. I've been dying to make a classic high-school movie, a teen movie.
I saw a tweet about "Thank U, Next" lamenting that we haven't actually had a teen movie like these in a long time. So I think you should definitely do that.
I know, right? It would be so much fun. And you're right. I don't know if it's because our age group is nostalgic for those films. High school movies—that was an era. I feel like they just don't make them like they did back then.
You should do it, and Ariana should do the music.