Do you ever wish there was a sports movie that combined the raunchiness of Rodney Dangerfield, the comedic brilliance of Jackeé, and 90’s heartthrob Jonathan Brandis…in a dress? Well, you’re in luck! It’s called Ladybugs (1992), and if you haven’t seen it – do yourself a huge favor.
I recently did a Pretty Funny Girl podcast interview Jandi Swanson, the actress who played dorky but darling Penny Pester. She’s amazing and spills ALL the behind the scenes tee! (FULL PODCAST EPISODE BELOW)
When I first asked Jandi to do the show, she was minutes from walking down the aisle in her wedding dress. She took the time to tell me that she’d get back to me after her honeymoon. Who does that?! An angel of a woman, that’s who.
Jandi was a very busy child star in the 80’s and 90’s. Ladybugs isn’t her only brush with cult classic fame. She also appeared on Full House, Designing Woman, and the freakin’ GOLDEN GIRLS as young Dorothy! (She shares a great story about hanging out with Betty White.)
But I’ll always think of her as our darling Penny Pester.
Chester (Rodney Dangerfield) decides that the only way to get a promotion at work is to coach the company’s all girl soccer team, the Ladybugs. The girls suck, so Chester asks his girlfriend’s son Matthew (Jonathan Brandis) to dress in drag and join the team. Comedy ensues. Here’s the original trailer for the film!
Positively Perfect Penny Pester
The Ladybugs are a collection of preteen misfits who know little to nothing about soccer. The stand out player is Penny Pester, the quiet girl that lacks the confidence to talk to boys. She’s got braces, glasses, and unruly hair. In other words, she’s an absolute mess.
Fortunately for her, Rodney Dangerfield takes a borderline creepy interest in making sure that she feels beautiful. We see her transform from a shy mousy girl with a ponytail to a less shy mousy girl with her hair down. It’s true movie magic.
Rodney Dangerfield Gets “Super Uber Creepy”
The most memorable scene from Ladybugs is the sit down between Coach Chester and Penny Pester. This is his moment to show that he’s a good guy by encouraging young Penny to be confident in herself.
Unfortunately it comes across like he’s hitting on little girl in a kid’s movie. Jandi had to go into Dangerfield’s dressing room to rehearse the scene with him. Somebody should have called CPS.
“I’m surprised that scene ever made it into the movie, because it is super uber creepy.”
Remembering Jonathan Brandis
Sadly, actor/teen idol Jonathan Brandis passed away in 2003 at the age of 27. You might remember him from IT, Sidekicks, and The Neverending Story II. He was truly a talented guy. Jandi met Jonathan during the audition process for Ladybugs, and they immediately became close friends. He used to invite her visit him on set and go to his movie premieres.
“I was 13 and he was 15. We were definitely friend zoned from the beginning, but I loooved him.”
Jonathan’s character in Ladybugs transitions from Matthew to Martha in the film, which requires a shopping spree in the ladies clothing store. It doesn’t go well, and turns into yet another sexually suggestive scene with Rodney Dangerfield and a minor.
The Legendary Miss Jackeé
Jandi is my second guest who’s had the pleasure of working with Jackeé Harry. (The first was Venus De Milo Thomas) It seems pretty unanimous – Jackeé is amazing.
“There was a time when I would just follow her around and laugh at everything she said. Everything that came out of her mouth was genius.”
Jackeé sings three songs for the movie, including a long winded Star Spangled Banner and a cover of Great Balls of Fire with Rodney Dangerfield. The world missed out on a Rodney & Jackeé lounge act, so Jandi and I spent some time dreaming up their song choices.
Jandi’s Life After Ladybugs
“I can always tell when Ladybugs is playing on HBO or something. People start recognizing me more. It’s nice to be remembered.”
Jandi quit acting when she became a producer, but she’s ready to get back into the game. We talk about the hardships of being a child actor, and how difficult it can be to transition in the industry. Jandi has a lot of advice for up and coming performers.
“Always be you. You is what they want, not you trying to be somebody else. You have a built in GPS from God or the Universe, whatever you want to call it. Contrast is God’s way of saying take a left here.”
Thanks for the fabulous trip down memory lane, sister friend! Ladybugs is legendary, and we’re so grateful for a behind-the-scenes look into the film. Check out the full interview on Jandi’s episode of Pretty Funny Girl Podcast below!