What It Was Really Like to Write and Co-Star In a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen Movie

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's co-star Ben Easter and screenwriter David Wagner reveal behind-the-scenes secrets about the making of 2001's Holiday in the Sun.

By Tierney Bricker Nov 22, 2021 3:30 PMTags
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Olsen Cinematic Universe fans, assemble!

Holiday in the Sun, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's best movie in their extensive straight-to-DVD empire, is officially 20 years old. Which means 1) yes, time really just slapped you in the face and then asked to borrow 20 bucks and 2) we have a valid excuse to talk about the 2001 film about two wildly rich teens who are whisked away by their to the Bahamas on a private jet for a week of spring break romances, a rivalry with Megan Fox (in her acting debut!) and a short stint in prison because of a mix-up involving priceless stolen antiquities. Talk about inspirational and aspirational. 

In honor of Holiday in the Sun's anniversary, E! spoke with Ben Easter—the blue-eyed babe who played Ashley's bad boy love interest Jordan Landers—and screenwriter David Wagner about what it was really like to collaborate with two of the world's most famous stars, working with Fox and how clothes Easter made for the twins ended up in the movie. Yeah, you're going to want to hear that story.

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Getting the Job: Wagner and his writing partner Brent Goldberg were on the set of Van Wilder when they were approached about writing a movie for the Full House stars. Yes, the duo who wrote Van Wilder and The Girl Next Door are responsible for Holiday in the Sun

"You wouldn't think that they would approach two guys in their twenties kind of writing R-rated comedies," Wagner said. "You wouldn't think that we would be their first choice, but when they told us the concept of the movie, it definitely piqued my interest."

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The original title of the film was actually The Last Family Vacation, with Wagner connecting to "that time in your adolescence when you're starting to become embarrassed of your parents and it's that natural shift from kid to teen and how much time you want to be with your parents. So we were intrigued by that concept. When is it time to say, hey I don't want to go on vacations with my mom and dad anymore?"

For Easter, his casting story started with, well, a lie. 

"My manager called me and was like, 'The girls watched the tapes of the auditions and Ashley really wanted to meet you," Easter explained. "I was like, 'Oh my god' Then I was like, 'Oh shit.' I was a little bit nervous because of my age. My manager was like, "I think they told the girls you were 16."

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Really, Easter was about to turn 22 while Ashley was 14 years old, so he was "a nervous mess" when he went in to meet them. 

"I was like, I don't want to lie," he explained. "I'm not a lying kind of guy. This isn't what we do, I'm from Iowa. This is not how we roll. I am the worst liar. I was like, 'Please don't bring this up, please don't bring it up.'"

But any initial nerves Easter had "immediately" went away after meeting the twins, the actor describing them as "the most kind, almost shy people. You expect something totally different after I did my research on them."

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Still, their manager Robert Thorne eventually asked how old he was and expressed some concern over the age difference. But Ashley said it was fine and named another co-star she had that was older. "We hit it off right off the bat," Easter said. "They could see I was professional and I wasn't some creep."

So that's how the 21-year-old from Iowa with only two acting credits to his name landed the role of Jordan Landers, as in the Landers hardware store Landers.

Working With Mary-Kate and Ashley: By the time they filmed Holiday in the Sun, the sisters had already been running their production company, Dualstar, for almost a decade and were serving as executive producers on their various projects.

"When you see them in the media, they could appear very distant or closed-off, which I am always surprised by because they are sweet, funny, very funny, and goofy and then equally professional," Easter gushed. "I learned a lot from them. I never thought I would be learning something from a 14-year-old at 22. One minute, they are 14 and they are so much fun and then they would be able to assume their executive producer roles. They were very professional."

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Of course, MK&A had a lot of people working with and for them and Wagner described it as "an amazing machine." Thorne, their manager, helped with the development of the movie, offering "very specific things" that he wanted to see in the story, said Wagner, like a private jet, a yacht and a move from a colder climate to a tropical destination. 

"Their team really knew their audience and what they wanted and the wish fulfillment aspect of it," Wagner said. Unfortunately, the writer never had a chance to meet the twins in-person, which he was looking forward to. 

"It was full-circle for me because I was a writer's intern for the original Full House," he revealed. "I got a chance to watch table readings and be on set for tapings of the show. I was really hoping to say look this intern actually has a writing career! But I never got a chance to do that."

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Location, Location, Location: Anyone who has watched Holiday in the Sun knows it's basically a 95-minute commercial for Atlantis, a resort in the Bahamas that is heavily featured in the movie and inspired legions of fans to beg their parents to take them on a vacation there. (Not that we are speaking from personal experience or anything.)

"When they told us they were shooting it at Atlantis, we were like, 'Oh great, we have to do research! They're going to send us to the set, we're going to do a lot of research so we can write the movie with a lot of real stuff!'" Wagner said. "Alas, they just sent us a brochure and a DVD on the resort, so that's all we got. We worked a lot of stuff from the brochure and the DVDs. I still haven't gone. It's on the bucket list!"

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While the writers didn't get a chance to go down one of the hotel's water slides, Easter and the rest of the cast actually lived there during the month-long shoot. But be careful what you wish for. 

"I remember it's amazing for the first week and then the second week and then by the fourth week, going to your room, you can't stand hearing slot machines because it's kind of like a casino thing," Easter said. "But overall, the staff was incredible, I mean they had to take out a huge insurance deal for me to swim in that tank with Ashley."

Oh yes, that's right, because Jordan worked at the resort, Easter got certified to dive and swam with sharks and dolphins. "It was an incredible experience," he gushed.

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When they weren't filming, Easter revealed the cast had "so much fun" together and that Mary-Kate and Ashley rented an island for an excursion.

"I am not kidding. And they had a yacht. Then we all went this Island. Like, really?" he said. "I look back and I am like I can't even believe I had that experience. We would all hang out and we had a lot of time to get close and really bond."

Eventually, the twins had to move to a different hotel for the remainder of the shoot because "they were swarmed by people," Easter explained.

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Meeting Megan Fox: Six years before her star-making turn in Transformers, a 15-year-old Megan Fox made her acting debut as mean girl Brianna Wallace, as in the Wallace department store Wallace.

Despite her lack of experience, Fox made an immediate impression on Easter. 

"I will never forget it. I remember meeting her and her mom. She was so kind and she was ridiculously beautiful. Again, shy," he recalled. "I remember standing there thinking, this girl is so beautiful and she has the last name Fox. This is ridiculous. She belongs in L.A. It's not even a stage name. I remember laughing with her mom about it. I was like, 'You guys have to go to LA. You have to go there. She could have a really good career.' They were so nice."

He continued, "I have not talked to Megan or ran into her since then and it's been really cool to see her career grow and flourish and have the success she deserves. She's a really nice, good person."

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Wagner, however, had no idea Fox was even in the movie until recently. "But I can always say now that I wrote a Megan Fox movie and I never even knew it," he joked. 

Still, he commended the "swag" Fox had in her iconic opening scene, in which Brianna walks through the resort's under-18 club like she owns the place as she looks for a worthy suitor for spring break, literally fending off advances left and right. ("What's up?" asks one mere mortal. "Not my temperature," Brianna retorts.)

"She kind of played a bitch," Easter said with a chuckle. "We laughed so hard. It's so funny. It's so ridiculous and funny. She did such a good job with the lines."

A Gift to Remember: So, do you remember that white tank top Jordan wears in his introduction scene? Easter actually made it. 

"This is really embarrassing and really funny," he shared. "I've always been obsessed with art and my manager at the time she was producing the movie Frida and so I was all about Frida Kahlo and made a gift for the twins for their birthday. Yeah, OK loser from Iowa making shirts! And they were so sweet and appreciative."

And it was the twins who suggested Easter wear the shirt in the scene. 

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"Ashley's always been so supportive of art and just of my other interests forever," Easter said. "I didn't know at the time how lucky I was that I was supported so much for something that was important to me at the time. Like bringing a piece of yourself into the thing. Now in hindsight I look at it and I'm like, 'Oh my god, that's so ridiculous! How could you let me wear that?' But they worked it in. It was so generous. Who does that?"

Adding to his mortification was the fact that he had an allergic reaction to makeup and he "broke out like crazy and that is the opening scene and you can see I have zits all over my forehead. I looked like I had just started puberty. Maybe that was a good thing to help me look like a 16 year old guy?"

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The infamous Frida tank top isn't the only homemade gift Easter would end up giving Ashley, whom he formed a "really special friendship" with while working on Holiday in the Sun and then So Little Time, their short-lived ABC Family sitcom.

For her 18th birthday, Easter used leather to sew the budding fashion designer a case for her sketch pencils, a sweet gift he looks back on as "so lame, but they are so respectful and sweet. No one made me feel like, 'Wow, what is that.'"

Instead, he said Ashley, "was always so supportive. It was a gift. It was a gift. I remember we would goof off and she was trying to figure out what the name of her fashion company was going to be and it was a big deal. It makes my heart so happy to see she is doing so well and has come this far."

While he hasn't seen them recently, Easter said, "Life just happens and you lose touch with people. When we run into friends that run into them, they're like, 'Ashley says hi!' It's really sweet. I'm sure if we ran into each other it would be like the olden days. Because they are sweethearts."

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Shades of Love: We are sorry to burst any 20-year-old bubbles of bliss, but Easter did not actually sing the song Jordan performs for Alex, though he did also receive guitar lessons in addition to his diving certification. (Talk about a resume-building shoot.)

Even without using his own signing chops, Easter was nervous to film the scene, so he did two things. First, he made sure his microphone was not on because he sang along with the track. And secondly, he didn't wear his contacts she he couldn't make eye contact with anyone.

"As corny as the whole thing might be or may seem to some people, I really poured my heart into it," Easter explained. "I think it was fairly believable and I get more letters and emails and contact from fans about [the song]. I'm like, oh my god, this is so embarrassing, I didn't sing it!" 

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Embracing Their Place in the Olsen Cinematic Universe: While you'd expect Wagner and Goldberg to be somewhat self-conscious about having a Mary-Kate and Ashley movie on their resumes next to their raunchier fare, Wagner said the pair "thought of it as a really fun experiment" and as a chance " to get out of their comfort zone." 

Huge fans of John Hughes and family movies, the pair also tried "to sneak in some fun, iconic stuff to pay homage" to what they grew up watching. The Great Outdoors was a major inspiration, while there are subtle nods to Top Gun—"I feel the need, the need for speed"—and Midnight Run (the girls' brush with the law).


Wagner, who currently has several projects in development, including a family drama titled HE@VEN SENT and an irreverent comedy series concept involving imaginary friends, said his experience on Holiday In the Sun gave him "a great story to tell" for the rest of his career.

"We thought it was kind of cool and kind of ironic and people were making fun of us," Wagner said. "When we started going on meetings after Van Wilder came out and we started developing a name for ourselves, the first time they always asked, 'OK, so tell me, how the f—k did you guys get hired to write a Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen movie?'"

Easter, meanwhile, admitted he "went through a period there where I was embarrassed or whatever because I wanted to be recognized for other work or something like that."

But I was so lucky to have that and they were so good to me. And who gets to do that much stuff in one film? I think it's so sweet. I am so grateful for it. Whenever a film makes someone happy and they're excited, I'm excited for them too. It's always so kind of them."

The Sweetest Gesture: Easter, now a professional photographer in Iowa, who is a parent to two kids and three dogs with his partner Mitch, shared a touching story about the twins recording a birthday message for his friend who was battling a disease. 

"This was many years ago and she was such a huge fan of the twins and it was when they were in their height of traveling the world and doing press junkets all over," he said. "They were literally on a tarmac and they were getting ready to get on their jet and I called Ashley and said, 'Do you mind, is there any way you could sing happy birthday to her? She's in the hospital.' There was not even one question asked and they literally did not even get on their plane and they stood on the tarmac and called her and sang her happy birthday."

He continued, "And then they sent her a whole basket full of gifts of their stuff. That's their character. That's who they were and I'm sure still are. I always thought that was really incredible."

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