Molly Ringwald, once the style-setter of her generation, is now a beloved, nostalgic fallen icon. She will or she won't come back, but there's no doubt she's the height of chic in limbo.
I'm sitting at the end of a runway at a fashion show that tout le New York has clamored to see. The fashion press are here in force, and it's being simulcast on the JumboTron in Times Square. The models--one Matt Helm girl-type fantasy after another--strut, twirl, prance and sashay in an increasingly mad collection of hot designer Cynthia Rowley's creations. Finally, it's the finale. And what a finale: the model emerges in a flame-red bridal gown. Oddly, though, she seems hesitant. But then her entrance receives a huge burst of applause, and she's off, working the runway like she's remaking Funny Face. The crowd buzzes wildly. Is that really Molly Ringwald? She looks faaabulous! Up there, feeling the heat she's stirring up. Molly Ringwald bursts into a dazzling smile, popping her head and tossing out her arms as if to say, Yes, it's REALLY Molly Ringwald. The program notes, pushing the bridal theme, say, ''Molly .... And she lived happily ever after."
When Molly Ringwald was the teen dream girl of the mid-'80s, the nexus of high school longing in John Hughes's teen trilogy-- Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink--she was at a height you almost have to fall from. With all icons, our fear that they will come to harm becomes inextricably tangled with our desire to see it happen. Is that because our relationship with them seems so intimate there in the dark, yet we know, once someone throws on the lights, it's all a hustle? Movie stars, being silver ghosts, projections of desire, are, by definition, betrayers. And we exact a toll for that betrayal.
Molly Ringwald paid and still pays for her reign as a pop culture princess. In the play No Time Flat, a Ringwald-like character bearing the initials "MR" loses it and totals her car. The alternative rock group Sponge's song "Molly" eulogizes her, shrouding her in Warholesque glamour: Cigarette stains on your hands, wilted flowers in a vase... Don't ask why, don't ask why... Sixteen candles down the drain, Hollywood honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg has weighed-in on Ringwald's spinout: "I wouldn't know [Molly Ringwald] if she sat on my face."
Certainly, the list of movies Ringwald made after parting ways with John Hughes reads like a road map to oblivion: The Pick-up Artist, Fresh Horses, For Keeps, Betsy's Wedding, Strike It Rich, King Lear. When career disappointments like these--atop a heap of trouble in her personal life--propelled her into expatriation in Paris, it did not seem all that likely she would be recalled to glory soon.
Does anyone out there miss Ally Sheedy or Judd Nelson? Of course not, not even in the atmosphere of instant nostalgia we now live in. Ringwald was something more, though. She wrapped up the '80s the way Diane Kealon did the '70s and Sandra Dee the '50s. Lots of people grew up lovin' Molly. Girls styled themselves after her. Guys fantasized about her. She landed on Time's cover. When people get as famous as Ringwald was, they can hardly ever go completely away, because in this era, fame is the ultimate lifestyle. Its comings, its goings, its comings-back, all are a spectacle to be consumed by the schizophrenic mass audience. If John Travolta can get an Oscar nomination and be re-lionized after his complete disappearance from mega-stardom, Ringwald can come back, too. Stories have been done saying it's already happened. Actually, it hasn't. Stephen King's The Stand, the TV miniseries she did last year, was a smash hit and she's returned to film with a couple of indies, but the fact is, Ringwald is fascinating even now, as a wayward princess in the great dysfunctional royal family of once-and-future ultrafamous people. You don't get born into this family, but once you get adopted you're fucked up like the whole rest of the clan for life. And unless you're as funless as Prince Charles, the spotlight will probably find its way back to you.
So how did Molly wander away from her castle? And does she really want back in? I arrive early to hash this out with her at the Algonquin Hotel, only to find her sipping coffee in the lounge. Dressed in a vintage Chanel suit, she has an air of sophistication, yet Ringwald strikes me as guarded. Once we adjourn to the restaurant, she lights up a cigarette, lolls back her head and exhales, very gamine, and loosens up. Her presence--her sour milk smile, her whiffs of Jeanne Moreau, Lotte Lenya and Bette Midler-- makes me think, This girl ought to be making cool movies right this second. So I get straight to the subject of John Hughes and how it all went haywire.
"John Hughes was the first person who brake my heart," Ringwald declares. "You loved him?" I venture. "Oh, yeah, absolutely," she says, and her eyes actually well up with tears, but she's determined not to cry. "I adored him." Reading my expression, she rushes in, "That sounds like we had an affair or something, which isn't the case. Of course I didn't have an affair with him. But it was definitely the strongest relationship in my life at the time, my teenage years, when everything that happens sort of pre-pares you for life. For men things, especially. I went in thinking, This man is everything. Nothing he does is wrong. Everything he writes is brilliant. Everything he says is funny.' But he was also the first guy that made me really say, 'Guys can be not-so-great. They can break your heart.' And he really did break my heart, something nobody's done since. At least not in the same way."
How does Ringwald assess Hughes's overall impact on her life? "I grew up with a sister four years older than I who's very pretty, the quintessential California girl. I had been this beanpole, and I didn't think that I was anything special. Suddenly, I went from being an ugly duckling to somebody who had this film director, no less, saying, 'You're really special, you're really great, you have to be in all my movies.' He was the first person that really seemed enthralled with me. He gave me an enormous amount of confidence. I would have done anything for him. I thought we would continue to make movies. But after Pretty in Pink, my relationship with him just dissolved, and I don't think I've had a conversation with him since 1986."
What sparked the rift? "I remember he asked me the last week of shooting Sixteen Candles if I'd like to do Breakfast Club. I said, 'Yeah, of course.' I liked the script a lot. [But] things got worse as he rewrote. He wanted me to play the character [Ally Sheedy eventually played]. But I said, 'No, I want to play the other character, someone who's different from me."' So, the overnight sensation was announcing to her Svengali which roles she thought she should play. Hmmm. Then what happened? "By the time I was leaving for Chicago to shoot it, the script had changed. He had been rewriting and rewriting. He asked, 'Are you excited about it? Do you think it's going to be good?' When I said, 'Yeah, but it's kind of different, isnt it?' he went, 'What do you mean it's different?'
"Anyway," Ringwald continues, "the first day of rehearsal, he brought a big stack of Breakfast Club scripts and let all of the cast members go through them and pull out our favorite parts." After a moment, she says, quietly, "He seemed kind of upset at the end of Breakfast Club." Let's add this up. A talented little ankle-biter tells her mentor she isn't wild about the part for which he wants her, suggests his shooting script is "different" from his earlier draft and--just maybe--gets perceived as ringleader for the rest of the discontents in the cast.
How did Hughes communicate that he was upset? "He stopped talking to me," Ringwald says. When she doesn't mention that this was around the time the 18-year-old star, not Hughes, appeared on the cover of Time--or mention what she said about him in that magazine--I do. "I said a few nasty things about him in the Time article," she concedes, "but I think it's just because I was hurt at the time. He didn't do an interview for that article and wouldn't tell me why not. I was really hurt that this person I cared so much about was just not talking to me at all. I wanted to stamp my feet and say, 'What's going on?' For years later, I went over it in my mind, trying to figure out what happened."
Any conclusions? "Whatever really happened is in John's mind. John's heart. I might have done or said something that hurt his feelings. I was stubborn. I was so afraid of being swallowed up and not having my own life. [But] I loved working with John. Part of me wants to call him up and say, "Hey, what happened?' or 'Are you happy?'"
When I ask how she might react if Hughes were to call her instead, proposing a reunion film, she looks genuinely thrown. " God. I don't know," she admits. "You know, I don't even have his phone number now, though I suppose I could get it. I guess I'm just not ready yet, although one day, I think I'll talk to him again. I really believe in closure in my life. And I haven't done that with him. It's just sort of been like this thing that got broken and it has never been resolved in any way."
Did she ever resolve her broken thing with Warren Beatty, who seemed to catch her up just about the time Hughes was dropping her? She recalls, smiling, "It seemed really exciting when he called and said he thought I was great in Tempest and asked what I was doing in life. When I said I was going to school, he said, 'Oh, college?' and I said. No,' and he said. 'Acting school?" No, I said. He went, 'High school?' and I said, 'Junior high.' There was a lonnng pause and he said, 'How old are you?' I said, 'Fourteen,' and he was disappointed and shocked. I think. That telephone voice got a little more paternal, a little nicer, like he was talking to a little girl."
No doubt that Humbert Humbert/Lolita thing spited up their dynamic just the same? "I think Warren has to seduce every woman that he's with," Ringwald asserts. "It's part of his makeup. I would have been insulted if I'd been excluded from that, you know? He came to my parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner one year and he was so seductive and charming that my mom, my dad. my sister, my friend Angie, my sister's boyfriend, everyone was like, 'Wow, this guy is amazing.' I've never met anyone else who can do that in the same way. I was very close to him, but he was always involved with somebody else the whole time."
There was talk of their making a couple of movies together, such as a bio of Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, but after The Pick-up Artist (which Beatty produced, but expunged his name from), future collaborations went south. How does she look on him now? "I guess he's about 50, right? Thai's a hard age to be a leading man, especially because he was considered one of the great beauties, a matinee idol. I think the best thing you can do is just let your-self age, let your wrinkles show. I certainly hope that when I'm 50, I won't be thinking about having plastic surgery to buy me another five or six years. But you never know. Now, I've sort of lost contact with him and I've gone on to a different phase of my life. But, in a way, with him, it's kind of the same thing I have with a lot of my friends who have babies. I love children, but there's nothing more boring than being friends with a couple who has babies. I don't want to see the baby pictures and to meet the nanny. That makes me cringe."
Having discussed Ringwald's show-biz father figures. I wonder about her flings with actor Anthony Michael Hall and Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz. "Michael and I went out a couple of times, but it wasn't really that serious. He was the only person I knew who was my age. Emilio [Estevez], Judd [Nelson] and Ally [Sheedy] were already in their 20s. It's like doctors and nurses going out together, right? He was, you know, there. I was 16, he was 16, he lived in New York, I lived in California--we didn't see each other that often. As for Adam. I'm attract-ed to musicians and he seemed really wild and crazy. Actually he was really gentle. I was a lot crazier than he was. People wrote that I had relationships with Rob Lowe and John Kennedy Jr. when there's no truth to that. In those days, I never felt like I chose anyone."
Ringwald says this with extraordinary glumness, as if those days were completely cheerless. Then again, at the height of her fame, she worked with some flaky, messed-up people, including a young actor battling alcohol addiction and at least one other dealing with multiple addictions. "I've done scenes with people who have been loaded--kissing scenes, too," she says, sneering delightfully. "It is really gross. Plus insulting. I'd think. Do you actually have to drink that Jack Daniel's to kiss me?" She kissed Andrew McCarthy in Pretty in Pink, in Fresh Horses and in a stage production. I mention, thinking he might fit the bill. "Well, I felt bad for him because he was obviously struggling with it," she declares. "We had chemistry, but we never got along when we were working. He was terribly mean to me, just horrible. During Fresh Horses, he'd make dates and stand me up. But he always wanted to work with me. After we'd done three projects together, he called me up to do something else and I said, "Andrew, I think we've just been a little too closely connected. Besides, why the hell do you want to work with me. anyway? You never even talk to me.' He's a little bit like the boy in school who pulls the girls' pigtails."
How about Robert Downey Jr., opposite whom she did The Pick-up Artist? "Drinking didn't seem to be his drug of choice at the time," she observes, wryly. "That was kind of obvious, not so much in his behavior as in the long times he spent in the trailer and the people that were sort of hanging around the set. When one person's doing drugs and the other person isn't, they can't--well, let's say. I wasn't somebody he could associate with. I talked with him after the movie and he seems like a different person from the guy I was doing that movie with. I really wasn't crazy about Chaplin, though. I mean, for such a fascinating life as Charlie Chaplin's, it's the dullest movie."
Did Ringwald choose to lose her virginity to any of these guys? She rolls her eyes and replies, "No. That happened at 15. His name was Danny, and he wasn't famous or anything. He was a musician, quite a bit older, 26, and my parents were furious and forbid me to see him. They told him that if he had anything more to do with me. they would call the police. All of which thrilled me. The more they resisted the idea, the more I had to see him. My mom says, 'With you kids, we always have to worry about something.' With my brother, it was pot, drugs. With my sister, it was alcohol. With me, it was men. Once I got it into my head that maybe men would be attracted to me, that was it. I never thought I was pretty and once there was somebody there to say that I was pretty, it was more. More. MORE! The first lime 'it' happened, it was at his apartment. And it wasn't so bad--I mean, for the first time. It wasn't like it was in the back of his car, and it wasn't with a guy who was insensitive. But it wasn't like firecrackers exploded either."
Ringwald narrows her eyes, spying a book on the chair next to me. "Is that Mark Lindquist's book there?" It is indeed Mark Lindquist's 1987 Sad Movies, a novel that contains a scene in which Molly Ringwald careens off a mountain in a U-Haul, I've brought the book because I heard about her relationship with the author, and I want to know more. They met, she tells me, at a dinner party, after which she bought a copy of the book, not knowing she was in it. In the middle of reading it--before getting to the section about herself-- she phoned Lindquist and they made a date. Then, before the date, she read the part about herself and flipped out, but went anyway. She and Lindquist became friends and, after five years, lovers. "He moved into my house for a while," she admits, "but I never got over being tilled with paranoia about, 'Why did you do that?' Somebody told me that, when you have your first big argument with someone, that will be the same argument you're going to have for the rest of your time together. So, is that an argument you can live with for your whole life? My question. Why did you do that? never went away."
I tell Ringwald I heard she and Lindquist indulged in a little playful, leather-bound bandage and discipline together. "That's awfully personal," she says, reddening. Then she laughs, and flings discretion aside. "Well, he did write about it in his next book, so I don't feel like I'm divulging anything," she says, "I wanted to tie him up because he was the biggest control freak that I've ever met in my life. So, I told him, 'I want to tie you up," and he said, 'I have no interest in that whatsoever." This went on for a week, with me saying, 'There has to be some equality in our relationship.' until I finally talked him into it. I was so inept at the whole thing that we ended up falling off this very high bed I had. Actually. I didn't have that much interest in it either. I wanted to do it more as an exercise. He was the last person that I was going out with before I went to France. One of the phone calls I had to make was, I'm not coming back.'"
Ah, yes, the departure for the Continent, which came after she'd made gaga project choices, one after another, for a few years. "I take responsibility for all that happened with my career in the past," Ringwald says. "I wanted to grow up too fast. Instead of being on-screen the way I actually was, I found myself becoming personified as the perfect teenager. I was so afraid of being typecast in the mold that I did do things that I just wasn't ready for. I should have played a teenager for a little while longer. I could have grown up more gradually." On top of what Ringwald did do, there was what she didn't do. "Right after Pretty in Pink, the Truman Capote estate asked me if I would consider remaking Breakfast at Tiffany's," she explains. "The first thing you want to do is say. 'Oh, yes!' then you realize that the only reason you want to do it is the fantasy of looking like Audrey Hepburn. And there's just no way, so I said no. I was approached for Ghost but, at the time, the director, the actor who was going to be opposite me--all those elements--didn't sound like a great thing to do, so I didn't do it. But I like the movie and I think it's one of the best things Demi [Moore] has done. Pretty Woman is another, but I'm not the only actress who turned that down. I mean, who knew? But that movie with me or anyone else maybe wouldn't have worked the way it did."
No matter what relationships she involved herself in, no matter what movies she made. Ringwald says, her life wasn't adding up. "A person's early 20s are not an easy time in anyone's life. And I'd grown up in the public eye, with my teenage years documented on film. I hadn't learned how to live. I bought a beautiful house that I was scared to move into for two years. The house didn't seem like me. Nothing seemed like me. The truth is, I just didn't know how to do it"
Something she seemed to do almost effortlessly was to alienate people. There were plenty of rumors about the unpleasantness of tangling with Molly. Had she become a monster? "I don't think that I was a monster." she replies, "But I don't think that I was the easiest person to be involved with. I was questioning who I was a lot, which is natural. I haven't had an easy time of it in the press. At one point, they were saying really great things. At another point, they were saying terrible things. And I was listening to everything and everybody, trying to figure out who I was in the midst of all this. I became really suspicious about people." She shrugs, looking philosophical. "Look, if I had done those hit movies, maybe my career wouldn't have gone down the way it did when it did. But it would have gone down at some point. It has to, because, whatever you do, your career either eventually goes down or goes on and on, which means you never have a life. Or you have a life which is not your own. You become Tom Cruise or Madonna or someone else who seems so driven, meaning everything goes into that life, that maintenance of being a movie star or icon. I didn't orchestrate my leaving or anything. Given the chance. I would have preferred to have been working, but once I wasn't. I finally had the chance to stop and say. 'What am I really doing with my life? I have this time. I have this face and I've worked for so long that I do have enough money to do what I want to do.'"
Ringwald cracks up, with just a hint of bitterness, "I've had everyone telling me I'm the greatest thing, and people saying everything I do or am is wrong. I got tired of producers and casting people telling me. 'You're not sexy enough,' 'Not pretty enough,' 'Not glamorous enough,' 'Too urban." "Too simple,' 'Too sophisticated," 'Not sophisticated,' everything. The best thing was either, 'You're not happy enough," or 'She doesn't glow when she walks in the room.' Like, how do you learn to glow? But, you know, they were probably right because I only realized once I got to France how incredibly miserable I'd been before I left. Very few people know they're miserable when they're miserable, except maybe for existentialists who, like, get off on it."
So, what happened to her in Paris? Ringwald describes the joy and horror of being in public without anyone recognizing her. Her sense of foreignness and alienation became so acute that she began to imagine that people in cars were whispering about her, laughing at her. I tell her that, considering everything, it's amazing she didn't freak out. "The reality is that I did freak out in my own way. I just didn't do it in the public eye." Some things she did do in public, however. "I ran around making love in the streets of Paris with my boyfriend. I'd never be able to do that here and, now, probably I won't be able to do it there, either. But I did it with Valery and it was great. If you haven't made love in the streets of Paris, you must"
Ringwald and Valery Lameignere, a fiction writer, have been together for nearly three years. From all I hear, their flame burns hot. What are some of their secrets? "Separate bedrooms, with separate bathrooms," she replies. "Why? For this reason," She raps three times on the table and croons, seductively, '"Come in." Everyone thinks that the greatest thing in the world is to have someone you can just curl up with, that you can wake up with in the morning looking disgusting. That's all well and good. All the time I'm with Valery, we have this policy of not too much intimacy. I still want to seduce him more than I want to seduce anyone else in the world and the same goes for him. Every time we go out to dinner, I always spend about an hour-and-a-half in my bathroom, which he doesn't enter. Then I son of arrive and appear and that's it."
Her expression goes serious and she says, "When Valery and I met, he had no concept of my career and had never seen me in a movie. He was trying to piece the whole story together, asking Americans and Englishmen about me. He would say, "How do you feel about your career? What do you want to do now?' and I said, 'I don't know. Maybe I won't work again. Maybe I'll just do something else.' We had this very quiet first year-and-a-half together, then suddenly things started to happen and now more and more things are happening. He's starting to watch all this and our serenity, the idea] world dial we had, isn't quite the same."
Ringwald and her partner will have to weather the change, because she wants to reclaim her place in movies. "I guess I'll just have to have the confidence that I am special in my way," she says. "I don't think there's anyone that's like me, I don't really fit into categories. So. maybe there's a place. My choices are pretty important, at this point." Indeed. Has she endured any nightmare auditions for jobs she didn"t land? "Want to hear about the worst?" she says, laughing. She begs me not to name the movie and I won't, but it turned out to be a flop directed by a Frenchman featuring a stage and movie cutie who once starred in a fat John Hughes hit. "I really felt like I needed work, about two years ago. In 1987, they'd given me a script to develop as a vehicle for myself. It was kind of funny, but I didn't think it would make a great movie. Anyhow, the script went away, then, five years later, it's being made, has a director, a male star, the same script, mind you--with very few changes--that I had already passed on. But now, I was in a situation where I had to audition for it. So, I go to the audition and I'm terribly nervous because I hadn't done an audition since I was about 13 and I'm terrible in auditions, anyway. I'm in the waiting room, very nervous, and the star, with whom I'm friends, comes out and says hi and, you know. Isn't this embarrassing?--whatever--and goes back into the room.
"About half-an-hour later, they call me in and it was only supposed to be the star, me and the director, but it's actually the star, the director, the casting people, the head of the company, the video crew all in this room. Everything went wrong. My pages stuck together. I couldn't remember the lines. I'm so embarrassed and humiliated. Terrified, There's supposed to be a scene where she's punching him out and he grabs her wrists together to subdue her. The director tells me in broken English that he has a great idea: that my co-star should take off his belt and wrap it around my neck like it's a leash and lead me around like I'm a dog. I look over to see my fellow actor, my friend, the movie star, undoing his belt and I'm thinking, 'This is for real. It's going to happen. Either I do this or walk out the door making a scene and have another story following me around that Molly Ringwald walked out of an audition.' I did it. I was flushed, every line I spoke was completely mono-tone, I was absolutely paralyzed. I shook everybody's hand, got out to the parking lot and broke down in tears and sobbed all the way home. I called up my agent, told him, and he said, 'Great anecdote for your memoirs.'"
The new movies Molly is doing are independent films that don't look to be her Pulp Fictions. Malicious, I hear, falls somewhere between Fatal Attraction and The Crush. Baja, shot in about four weeks, is an adventure movie about which Ringwald offers little, except that she's not sure whether it will be released before or after Malicious. Which says everything, actually.
But she has The Stand behind her. I can't resist asking her how it went kissing her co-star Gary Sinise. "He was so nervous! It was so funny. My boyfriend had just arrived from France. It's the first movie that he'd ever been on before, and I said to him. 'You can't come to the set, because I'm doing this kiss. I'm really sorry it's on this day. You just can't come.' And it was a big, big argument with him. So finally I go and we do the scene. Gary was so petrified. He was so great during the whole project, because even though he's this great director, he was just acting this. Finally, he and the director came out and he was like. 'OK, so wait. OK, we sit down. OK, I move, I take her like--OK. I move, I take her like, OK ...' I was like, 'Gary, calm down.' He could not relax. We got along so great, and that was almost the only time I wanted to punch him. But then you see it and it's fine, you know. I think it's really nice."
If Ringwald gets to make good choices from here on in, if she keeps her head, I'm guessing there is a place for her in movies. Let's wait and see.
Stephen Rebello interviewed Antonio Banderas for the August Movieline.