Molly Ringwald Interviews John Hughes (1986)
MOLLY RINGWALD: Growing up, were you obsessed with girls, as so many of your male characters are?
JOHN HUGHES: No. I was obsessed with romance. When I was in high school, I saw Doctor Zhivago every day from the day it opened until the day it left the theater. The usher would say, “Hiya, your seat’s ready.” And I just sat there, glued to the screen. Most of my characters are romantic rather than sexual. I think that’s an essential difference in my pictures. I think they are more accurate in portraying young people as romantic - as wanting a relationship, an understanding with a member of the opposite sex more than just physical sex.
MR: What about teen sex in your movies? You never show it in Sixteen Candles or Breakfast Club. Did you want to leave it up to the viewer’s imagination? Or were you just looking for a PG rating?
JH: No. What’s the point? In Sixteen Candles, I figured it would only be gratuitous to show Samantha and Jake in anything more than a kiss. The kiss is the most beautiful moment. I was really amused when someone once called me a purveyor of horny sex comedies. He listed Breakfast Club and Mr. Mom in parentheses.
MR: Oh, god!
JH: I thought, “What kind of sex?” Yes, in Mr. Mom there’s a baby in a bathtub and you see it’s bare butt. And in Breakfast Club, there’s some kissing.
MR: You wouldn’t believe how many people came up to me after they saw Breakfast Club and said, “So what really happened between you and Judd in the closet?”
JH: Older people or younger people?
MR: Mostly older people.
JH: Yes, older people asked me that question too.
MR: I never even thought about that. I did a phone interview and somebody said, “So, what really happened in the closet?” And I thought, “Why are you asking me that? What happened was shown there on the screen.”
JH: Yes. The only thing we took out of the scene was a bit of dialogue. You walked into the closet, and I cut away to the other story I was telling.
MR: You did cut out one great kiss between Judd and me, though.
JH: Too much kissing. I find that screen kissing wears very thin very quickly. I go into the editing room and say, “Less, less.” Why watch someone kissing when people really close their eyes when they kiss?
MR: I see your point, but I just thought you cut out a great kiss. Anyway, would a woman like Kelly LeBrock have been your ideal when you were a teen?
JH: No. Too scary.
MR: So why did you create the character she played in Weird Science?
JH: Well, the object there was -
MR: That she taught them a lesson, right?
JH: You’re making fun of me.
MR: No. I’m sorry. Go on.
JH: Two lonely guys tried to create the perfect woman. But, they didn’t. They created a physical fantasy who turned out to be an actual person. They hadn’t planned on getting a real person, just a great body. They were concentrating on the physical, which is only a very small part of anybody’s identity.
MR: Isn’t it a contradiction to talk about how kids have more on their minds than just sex and cars and then show two characters dreaming up the perfect mate? That was purely sexual. They didn’t even want to give her a brain at first.
JH: No. I don’t think there’s a contradiction, because when those guys got her, sex was the last thing on their minds. They wanted a girl, but they had no idea what girls were. They didn’t understand them at all, because girls weren’t really accessible to them. So, their concept of girls was media-based.
MR: Do you think that goes for most teenagers?
JH: I don’t think so, no. There’s a very fine line there. And it’s a line that I probably didn’t respect enough in directing the film. You know those sexy pinup posters people put up in their bedrooms? I always saw them as being kind of silly and vacant. That was to be the point of the movie - that this glistening body in this semi-revealing outfit with this come-on look on the face is a real empty, pointless image to carry around or to look for.
MR: So, which of your characters were you most like while growing up?
JH: I was a little bit like Samantha. A lot of my feelings went into her character. I was also very much like Allison in Breakfast Club. I was a nobody. And I’m also a lot like Ferris Bueller.
MR: But of all the characters, which would you say is most like you?
JH: Most like me? I’m a cross between Samantha and Ferris.
MR: How did you write the story of Pretty In Pink?
JH: You told me about the Psychedelic Furs’ song.
MR: About Pretty In Pink? I just love that song.
JH: And the title stuck in my head. I thought about your predisposition toward pink. I wrote Pretty In Pink the week after we finished Sixteen Candles. I so desperately hate to end these movies that the first thing I do when I’m done is write another one. Then I don’t feel sad about having to leave and everybody going away. That’s why I tend to work with the same people; I really befriend them. I couldn’t speak after Sixteen Candles was over. I returned to the abandoned house, and they were
tearing down your room. And I was just horrified, because I wanted to stay there forever.
MR: Do you think you’ll always work with young actors?
JH: Not every time, maybe, but …
MR: You won’t abandon them?
JH: No, I won’t abandon them.
MR: Do you think the Brat Pack’s recent obnoxious image is deserved, or does the press just pick on them because of their age?
JH: I think that this clever moniker was slapped on these young actors, and I think it’s unfair. It’s a label.
MR: People my age were just beginning to be respected because of recent films such as yours, and now it’s like someone had to bring them down a peg or two, don’t you think?
JH: There is definitely a little adult envy. The young actors get hit harder because of their age. Because “Rat Pack” - which Brat Pack is clearly a parody of - was not negative. “Brat Pack” is. It suggests unruly, arrogant young people, and that description isn’t true of these people. And the label has been stuck on people who never even spoke to the reporter who coined it.
MR: Such as myself. I’ve been called the Women’s Auxiliary of the Brat Pack.
JH: To label somebody that! It’s harmful to people’s careers. At any rate, young people support the movie business, and it’s only fair that their stories be told.
MR: A lot of people said in the reviews of The Breakfast Club, “Why should somebody make a movie about teenproblems?” I couldn’t believe that. I mean, we are a part of this society …
JH: I think it’s wrong not to allow someone the right to have a problem because of their age. “People say, "Well, they’re young. They have their whole lives ahead of them. What do they have to complain about?” They forget very quickly what it’s like to be young.
MR: Who would want to remember? I’m tortured. People forget the feeling of having to go to school on Monday and take a test in physics that you don’t understand at all. It’s hard. Right now, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
JH: Ferris has a line where he refers to his father’s saying that high school was like a great party. Ferris knows what his father was like, and he knows that his father has just forgotten the bad parts. Adults ask me all sorts of baffling questions, like, “Your teenage dialogue - how do you do that?” and “Have you actually seen teens interact?” And I wonder if they think that people under twenty-one are a separate species. We shot Ferris at my old high school, and I talked with the students a lot. And I loved it, because it was easy to strike up a conversation with them. I can walk up to a seventeen-year-old and say, “How do you get along with your friends?” and he’ll say, “Okay.” You ask a thirty-five-year-old the same question, and he’ll say, “Why do you want to know? What’s wrong? Get away from me.” All those walls built up.
MR: Do you think that society looks at teenagers differently today than when you were one?
JH: Definitely. My generation had to be taken seriously because we were stopping things and burning things. We were able to initiate change, because we had such vast numbers. We were part of the baby boom, and when we moved, everything moved with us. But now, there are fewer teens, and they aren’t taken as seriously as we were. You make a teenage movie, and critics
say, “How dare you?” There’s just a general lack of respect for young people now.
MR: I think so, too. What were you like growing up?
JH: I was kind of quiet. I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly girls and old people. There weren’t any boys my age, so I spent a lot of time by myself, imagining things. And every time we would get established somewhere, we would move. Life just started to get good in seventh grade, and then we moved to Chicago. I ended up in a really big high school, and I didn’t know anybody. But then The Beatles came along.
MR: Changed your whole life?
JH: Changed my whole life. And then Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home came out and really changed me. Thursday I was one person, and Friday I was another. My heroes were Dylan, John Lennon and Picasso, because they each moved their
particular medium forward, and when they got to the point where they were comfortable, they always moved on. I liked them at a time when I was in a pretty conventional high school, where the measure of your popularity was athletic ability. And I’m not athletic - I’ve always hated team sports.
MR: You’ve been sticking pretty close to Chicago, but now that you and your family have made the transition to L.A., do you think you’ll go back and film everything in Chicago?
JH: I think I will. I’m very comfortable there. It’s out of the Hollywood spotlight. And I like the seasons.
MR: What about what you were saying about the way Dylan and Lennon were constantly moving forward? Don’t you think you’ve done a lot of movies about Chicago?
JH: No, they weren’t about Chicago. Chicago’s a setting.
MR: But, they’re about suburban life …
JH: I think it’s wise for people to concern themselves with the things they know about. I don’t consider myself qualified to do a movie about international intrigue - I seldom leave the country. I’d really like to do something on gangs, but to do that, I’ve gotto spend some time with gang members. I’d feel extremely self-conscious writing about something I don’t know.
MR: I think one of the most admirable things about you is that you do write about the things you know and care about. I think that teen movies were getting a bad reputation because these fifty-year-old guys were writing about things they didn’t care about.
JH: I love writing. When I finish a script, it’s a joy to sit down and go all the way through it. It’s a very private thing, because a screenplay is not like a book. When a book is written, it’s a final product. But, when a script is finished, it’s really just a blueprint. And it’s an extraordinary experience for me to watch someone take what I wrote and imagined and make it three-dimensional. And it’s great if someone adds something I hadn’t thought of.
MR: Would you consider yourself fashion-conscious?
JH: Yeah, I think so, as far as I’m conscious of everything. I’m a former hippie, so clothes are important to me - your clothes defined you in that period. I guess clothes still defines people. But, I change a lot. I’m in my Brooks Brothers period now. I think when I first met you, it was -
MR: High-top tennis shoes.
JH: Yeah? But I’ve changed.
MR: So how does your wardrobe define you?
JH: My wardrobe is a hundred shirts, and I don’t like any of them. How does that define me? Well, I get bored easily. I have a real short attention span, and that feeling transfers to clothes as well. And if I see somebody else wearing the same thing I am, I always think he looks better. I admire people like Judd Nelson, who have an innate sense of fashion. Judd could wear a bathrobe and sanitarium sandals and a fedora and look good.
MR: If you weren’t in film, what might you like to do?
JH: I’ve always wanted to be in music, but I’m not talented at all. Now I just go to concerts, and I’m fascinated by the bands and their music. When I go to a concert, I can’t believe that people pay lots of money to see a band that they obviously like and then they dance the whole time.
MR: But a lot of people dance as a way of communicating.
JH: You can go home and put the record on and dance. I want to watch how the band does it. I want to look at their faces.
MR: When we went to see Squeeze, these girls were standing on their chairs and getting on top of people’s shoulders to dance with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. They were right behind me and my sister, and we were tempted to do something violent! It really bugs me when people act like going to concerts gives them license to act like jerks. But I don’t mind people dancing. In fact, I hate it when people say, “Sit down, sit down” when I want to dance.
JH: I suppose it would be really alarming to an artist to play in a concert and see everybody just watching.
MR: Oh, that’s terrible!
JH: I’m one of those who do that.
MR: Yeah, I’ve been to a concert with you.
JH: I’m not a good-time guy. I’m not one of those guys who says, “Oh, we had some good times last night.” I’m just not.
MR: But you wanted to be in a band at one point?
JH: Yeah, but I’m too old for that now. Rock ‘n’ roll is a young form. People over twenty-five ruin it. This whole censorship thing has come about because old people are playing with a form that is essentially young and rebellious. Do you know how brilliant it was for The Beatles to break up when they did?
MR: Yes, it was great. But I don’t think rock 'n’ roll burnout has anything to do with age. I just think that people can go only so far. People reach a point.
JH: I can’t deny people their art form. But you have to be challenged, and you have to meet that challenge.
MR: What are your favorite bands?
JH: The Beatles and The Clash are the greatest. I’ve listened to the Beatles’ White Album for more than sixteen years, and when we were filming Ferris Bueller, I listened to the album every single day for fifty-six days.
MR: That’s the album I listened to all during Pretty In Pink, remember?
JH: Yeah, I know.
MR: How do you see yourself changing in the next fifteen years?
JH: Growing older.
MR: I know.
JH: It’s a foregone conclusion. What’s next for you?
MR: I don’t know. I’d like to finish high school, and I’m totally late on everything to do with my SATs. I’m going to apply to colleges soon. So do you have anything you’re dying to do?
JH: I have a hundred things I’m dying to do. Make that a hundred and four. I’m going to write for a while. Going to see Pretty In Pink. Get to go sit in theaters and look at the film with great pride. I like watching you work - you know that.