|by Chris Parry
If ever there was a life that encapsulated pop culture, Molly Ringwald's is it. At the age of three she sang with her father's jazz band. At six she released an album. Then came television with the Mickey Mouse Club and The Facts Of Life, soon followed by a burst of box office gold with Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, not to mention her appearance on the cover of Time Magazine. "I was even in a raisin commercial," says the actress who achieved more success before she could legally drink than most will achieve in a lifetime. On the eve of the release of her latest film, the Australian-made Cut, FILMINK's Chris Parry talked to the woman who made teen-angst the boom industry of the 80's. (Hear the full interview on http://www.mymovies.com.au/features/interviews/audio/moll56k.asf)
The year was 1984. Teen film had hit the low levels of Joysticks, Private Resort, My Tutor, Hot Dog: The Movie and the Lemon Popsicle series. Amidst this mess, a young writer dragged himself out of the rut of the National Lampoon movies and spent a weekend writing a script he would later direct called Sixteen Candles. Seeking inspiration, he rifled through a stack of headshots and pulled out Molly Ringwald's. History was about to be made.
"The teen genre film was completely forgotten when we went into Sixteen Candles. Nobody really expected a lot. Until then the only teen movies were like Porky's and Meatballs and kids were played by adults and there was sexploitation, so John Hughes came along and tapped into something," says Ringwald. It was obviously something huge, as the films that hit home so strongly fifteen years ago are bringing her new fans even today. "It's really nice. It's a little strange too, but I think it's better that way than the other way. People have so much affection and nostalgia for those movies, it's amazing."
During casting for The Breakfast Club, every teen in town wanted in. John Cusack was furious when he lost the role of John Bender to Judd Nelson. The studio wasn't impressed either, and when the first cut of the film was delivered, the suits were furious. Fearing a monumental flop, they dumped the film to screens in the dead month of February.
But despite minimal publicity, the kids went nuts and soon Hughes was cranking out the hits - Pretty In Pink, Weird Science, Some Kind Of Wonderful, Ferris Bueller's Day Off - and the age of the Brat Pack was born.
But those days wouldn't last forever. The weight of expectation bears down heavily on a young celebrity trying to grow up on screen. Andrew McCarthy went one teen role too far and found himself unemployed. Mare Winningham likewise. Jennifer Grey got a nose-job that left her unrecognisable. Anthony Michael Hall said no to Ferris Bueller for fear of being typecast. Even Hughes himself eventually ran off to make children's films. And then there were the Corey's.
"I wasn't a teenager, I wasn't interested in those roles anymore." Seeing the writing on the wall, Ringwald gravitated to different roles, and though the performances were strong, the films were considered by many to be failures. "I think for one reason or another the films just didn't do as good business. There's always a slew of reasons why something might fail, what's opening against it or how much money went into the marketing. Fresh Horses was a really good script, but it wasn't as good a movie as it could have been. The Pick-Up Artist came out the same weekend as Fatal Attraction. That was number one, we were number two. It wasn't a huge failure. It just didn't reach the scale of The Breakfast Club, but they're pretty rare."
The Brat Pack self-destructed around her, but remarkably Ringwald stayed out of trouble. While Downey Jr and Ally Sheedy were hitting the coke, Rob Lowe was shooting dodgy home videos and Charlie Sheen was doing business with Heidi Fleiss, Ringwald was keeping to herself. "I just did it back ass-ward. I just did in my early twenties what most did when they were teenagers, being free and exploring and making mistakes, but I did it in France. I did it privately. I've never been into the party thing. I've never been that attracted to going out and being a power-couple. People in this business seem to like that, but it's always been more interesting to me to be friends with people because they're good friends."
But try as you might, you can't hide a pop culture icon from the glare of the tabloid press. "Early in my career I was asked to do an interview with Lillian Gish and I was really excited. But then everything got screwed up, I smashed my finger in a door, the taxi took me to the wrong end of town, it was the middle of winter, I couldn't get another taxi, and I was heart-broken because they said she didn't want to do it anymore. So I got flowers and wrote her a note and said how sorry I was, and they just wrote this sort of... like... horrible piece on how I stood up this sweet old woman who had a plate of cookies waiting for me. I mean they couldn't have written it to be worse. They got a much better article out of me that way than if I'd showed up, and it started this feeling that I was a bratty actress who didn't care and left people waiting. I've never been the kind of person who would do that."
It must be said that Ringwald seems completely content with the choices she's made. When asked about rumours that she turned down the lead roles in Ghost and Pretty Woman, she makes no apologies. "I never like to talk about movies that I may or may not have been offered, because I think that once an actress does a movie it's hers, and I think it's in bad taste to say 'well, they really wanted me.' I wouldn't like it if someone did that to me. I mean, I think they're both fine films. I've made what people would consider mistakes, but I totally know why I made those choices. You never know when you read a script how it's going to turn out because so much depends on the collaboration between people. If I'd been in some of the movies I turned down, maybe they wouldn't have been a success."
The question had to be asked. France? Why the hell France? "I think I've always been a bit of a Francophile. My mother was always into French cooking, I went to a French school, I was a fan of French film, jazz. I was working there, it was summer, I fell in love with Paris, I fell in love with my husband, it wasn't an escape, it was just the right time in my life to go."
After appearing in a series of smaller films, TV movies and arthouse flicks (including one where she acted entirely in French), an offer came along totally out of left field - the Australian slasher film, Cut.
"It was really appealing for me because I'd never worked here and I love to travel, and I'd done a play called How I Learned To Drive for nine months that was very emotionally demanding, so when the offer came in to do something very different I was like 'Yes!'"
Ringwald's performance is as endearing as it is surprising. Her character is a total parody of the popular media assumption that she's a Hollywood brat, and she takes particular relish in parodying this misconception. "I like the character. I thought it was particularly funny. A lot of that was down to the director, Kimble Rendall, who is really eccentric and has a really dry sense of humour. It was just the idea of doing something and going wild and having fun and running around with a knife. I don't think that every movie should be The Piano. There's a place for movies where you just go and have fun and eat popcorn and get a little scared."
As someone who has been through the highs and lows of a cinema career, Ringwald has only one major beef with Hollywood. "The over-excess of musical scores. The kind of score that goes from beginning to end and telegraphs what you're supposed to feel. I've had many a monologue ruined because you take it to the edge of sentimentality and the music just ruins it. That drives me crazy. I would also say let's have more films that don't require a happy ending."
Hopefully The Molly Ringwald Story will have just that. ---Chris Parry
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=180
originally posted: 03/14/00 13:19:00