Tamra Davis admits she initially turned down Crossroads, the Britney Spears-led coming of age drama/road-trip comedy that opened in theaters 20 years ago, on Feb. 15, 2002. The filmmaker just wasn’t very interested in directing a star vehicle for Spears, who at the time was arguably the most famous pop singer in the world.
But Davis, who had previously helmed the popular ’90s comedies CB4 (1993), Billy Madison (1995) and Half Baked (1998), agreed to at least fly to Las Vegas to meet Spears before shutting the door on Crossroads.
“I was supposed to meet her, I think like at 10 in the morning at her suite at some big fancy hotel in Las Vegas,” Davis tells us during a new interview commemorating the film’s anniversary (watch above). “So I knocked on the door and she opened the door and she was wearing just like a little T-shirt and her underwear. And she was like, ‘Man, I was hammered last night!’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, who's this girl?’ This is not the girl that I thought she was.”
As she spent the day with Spears, Davis not only found herself engaged by the “Baby One More Time” and “Oops! I Did It Again” singer’s candor and warm personality, but confident that the performer was serious in her pursuit of acting.
Based on an idea by Spears and scripted by an up-and-coming screenwriter by the name of Shonda Rhimes (a few years shy of launching Grey’s Anatomy and eventually becoming one of the most powerful creatives in television), Crossroads went into production in Louisiana in March 2001. The film starred Spears, Zoe Saldaña and Taryn Manning as childhood best friends who reunite as graduating high school seniors and, along with the convertible-owning Ben (Anson Mount), embark on a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles.
“I knew that one of the main things was Britney wanted to [re]shape her image,” Davis says. “She didn't want the virgin image anymore, or [to be looked at as a] good girl. She really wanted to do a movie where she dealt with what it is to be a woman, and to go from this little girl to being a woman. And I feel like that was really what the story was about, and that’s the story that we made.”
That’s why, following test screenings, Paramount chief Sherry Lansing asked Davis to remove the scene where Spears’s Lucy loses her virginity to Ben, the director pushed back. “That was the whole reason Britney wanted to do this movie, I wasn’t going to change that.” The film tested well enough with preview audiences that Davis was ultimately allowed to keep it.
Davis loved working with Spears, and was dismayed to see the musician-turned-actor ensnared in personal problems in the years that followed their work on Crossroads.
“I think what happened was after the film, maybe [a year or two] after the film … her whole life basically fell apart, you know? And I feel like that was when she started to really go through all her challenges,” Davis recalls. “It was hard to watch her whole life fall apart from afar when we had had this incredible time all together where I thought that she was becoming the person she was meant to be.”
In the years that followed Crossroads’s release, Spears broke up with longtime boyfriend Justin Timberlake, twice married and divorced, had two children with second husband Kevin Federline, faced a brief stint in rehab, infamously shaved her head and was committed for psychiatric care.
In 2008, Britney was involuntarily placed under a conservatorship overseen by her father, Jamie Spears. It wasn’t until this past November — following nearly 14 years of the singer having zero financial or personal independence, myriad allegations of abuse and mismanagement by her conservators and the viral #FreeBritney movement — that the conservatorship was finally legally ended.
Davis says she attempted to reach out to Spears at various points over the years, but now believes she was being blocked by the conservatorship.
“I tried contacting her during that time and when I think of now what the message was back to me, I could tell something was weird,” Davis remembers. “I would try to reach her. Sadly, the only way through her was through these people. And literally I would get messages like, ‘Britney doesn't like people talking about her, she would prefer you not to do any interviews. She would prefer everybody to stop talking about her. She’s fine. Thank you for your concern.’
“Now when I look back, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, those weren’t her voices telling me to be quiet or telling me not to talk. That was them telling me.’”
Despite Crossroads being a box-office success, grossing $61 million worldwide on a budget of $12 million, and remains beloved by Spears’s devout fans, the film is virtually impossible to watch today. Paramount never released the movie on Blu-ray, and it isn’t available on a single streaming platform.
Davis has no idea why.
“I’m still trying to get to the bottom of why,” says the director, who vowed to look into it once again after our interview. “Because I rewatched it again recently in a theater in London and it went over unbelievable. It still played so well. The audience loved it. It was wonderful. And especially, I’d love people to see it now because you can see what an incredible talent [Britney Spears] was.
“I'd love people to see it. I'd love it to be available.”
Davis, who has worked mostly in television since Crossroads, recently directed her first film in 20 years, Thirteen: The Musical. It will release on Netflix later this year.