09/30/2002 at 01:00 AM EDT
As Prince William
emerges from a limo outside Vancouver's Waterfront Centre Hotel with Prince Charles and Prince Harry
, a pack of teen girls erupts in screams. "William, I love you!" shouts one. "Marry me!" Never mind that the trio are not the actual Windsors. Not everyone is acting on this Dublin movie set. "They look just like the real people," says extra Lucy Yan, 24, clutching a photo of her idol for the re-creation of the 1998 royal visit. "I'm so excited!" Sarah Gill, 19, isn't so sure. The star's "hair isn't right," she says, "but I think it will look okay for the American audience."
Stateside viewers can judge for themselves when Prince William
airs on ABC Sept. 29. Billed as a coming-of-age dramatization, the movie looks at William's life from Princess Diana's death in 1997 to his arrival at the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2001. Starring Londoner Jordan Frieda, 25—the son of hair-care king John and singer-actress Lulu of To Sir, With Love
fame—it deals with father-son relationships, says director Michael Watkins, and the "baggage all men go through in that initiation from boyhood to manhood."
But the heir to the heir to the throne is no ordinary man—and in messing with his image the filmmakers have already caused an uproar in England. "TV Film to Portray William as a Spoilt Drunkard," boomed the front page of Britain's The Mail
on Sunday on June 23, midway through the movie's 25-day shoot in Ireland. In the movie William is "a drunken, drug-taking, manipulative waster," the newspaper said, and "Prince Charles is shown as a remote, insensitive father." Palace insiders say the Windsors are fuming.
Executive producer Bonnie Raskin admits the writers did "take certain liberties because no one else except the three of them were in some situations," but she denies accusations that the film is scandalous. Rather, she says, "it shows William as a real person, the way he deals with the death of his mom and with his father and peers."
The actors, who have each racked up TV, film and theater credits, aren't taking the bad press to heart. "You can't go through life without someone slagging you off," says Eddie Cooper, 15, who plays Harry. But portraying a real person has its perils, says Frieda, an Eton alum like William. Prince William
is a "make-believe story," he says, and much of the acting is "imaginative work. No one really knows what William and Harry are like." Or, in the case of Prince Harry
, even sound like. "I haven't found anything where I've heard Harry speak," says Cooper. "He's the silent prince. So I've just had to make my voice sound more posh."
Martin Turner, 52, had it easier playing Charles. By studying extensive news coverage, the Shakespearean actor was able to replicate the prince's hairstyle and hand gestures—and to develop an empathy for him in the process. "I'm not pro-royalty at all," says Turner, "but as I read the script I found I had a deep affection for these people."
On-set, Frieda and Cooper even managed to develop a bit of William-and-Harry-style sibling rivalry. "We did a huge outdoor scene, and afterward, as Eddie walked back, all these girls started screaming his name and crowding around and kissing him," says Frieda. "He had this enormous harem and I got about as much attention as Martin did—and that was nothing. I was a bit annoyed."
Pete Norman in Dublin