Molly Ringwald signs copies of her book When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories at Miami International Book Fair. Photo: Aaron Davidson
It must be somewhat difficult to grow up when the world considers you the quintessential teenager. Eighties icon Molly Ringwald seems to be doing more than okay with it though.
While known for her acting career with roles in John Hughes' classic films Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, Ms Ringwald has also recently released her first fiction book, When It Happens to You, and is an accomplished jazz singer who has put out her debut solo album, Except Sometimes.
In anticipation of her upcoming trip to Australia for the Sydney Writers' Festival we speak to her about her career evolution, sexism in Hollywood and Duckie being gay.
Molly Ringwald and bassist Trevor Ware perform at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts on May 10, 2013 in Las Vegas. Photo: David Becker
Congratulations on your first fiction book. Have you been writing throughout your life?
Yeah, I have. I felt like I had talent, but I didn't feel like I had gotten to the point where ... it didn't meet the standards that I'd set for myself. I'd promised myself that I would never publish unless it met those standards. And I did, I'm really proud of the book. Of course I read it and see things that I would change, but I think it's good, it's solid.
Who are your writing idols?
Raymond Carver is a really big one for me. He's somebody that I read when I was younger and I think he informed my style a lot. I love Joan Didion, Carol Shields, Lorrie Moore, Phillip Roth. And James Salter, I just went to go hear him read, that was very exciting.
Molly Ringwald, Panio Gianopoulos and children arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of Wreck-It Ralph. Photo: Jeffrey Mayer
You've said in other interviews that the book covers the theme of betrayal, but I think there are also themes of rediscovery and reinvention. Is that something you've had to deal with in your life?
Interesting connection. I'm not really interested in reinvention, as much as I am in evolution. I don't get it when people talk about themselves when they were younger and say, “Oh, I was a different person”. I feel like I'm the same person, I'm just older and I've evolved.
I've always been interested in something other than acting and Hollywood – which doesn't mean that I'm not interested in acting. People really tend to want to put you in a box. And I think I was in that acting box, which was fine, but it doesn't seem right that you shouldn't be able to pursue any creative endeavour that you want to. I feel like my writing makes me a better actor. My singing makes me a better writer. They all feed each other in a way.
But it's true that people have a hard time accepting you as one thing or the other. I was really worried that when my book came out people would make these snap judgments and not give it a chance. Which actually didn't end up happening, people were very receptive. But then they were so receptive that I got a lot of, “Well, now that you're done with acting...” (Laughs) No, I'm not done with acting!
You're also due out in Australia to perform your new jazz album. What sort of atmosphere do you try to achieve in your musical performances?
It's very intimate. They're beautiful songs. I think the Great American Songbook is just one of our national treasures. Of all the things I do I think it's definitely the most joyful. When I'm onstage and with the band it's really something that I enjoy, I think the audiences feel it. I don't do like a cabaret show that is all scripted. It's just about the music.
There's been quite a gap between you releasing albums, is that right?
Oh, yeah. My first one was with my dad [jazz musician, Bob Ringwald] when I was six. So it took a while to get to my own album. (Laughs)
You dedicated the last track on the album, a cover of Simple Minds' Don't You (Forget About Me), to the late writer/director John Hughes. As you get older are you more in awe of his screenwriting?
I always thought that his writing was fantastic. It always really spoke to me. I guess I'm a little bit in awe of how much the teen years kind of stuck with him, and how he was able to get into the minds of teenagers as an adult. Because I have to say as an adult I don't really understand it all, it just seems like a long time ago. I don't know how he did that or why necessarily, that's the thing that really strikes me.
A lot of people do see you as the quintessential teenager and you jokingly describe yourself on Twitter as “your former teenage crush”. Was that a heavy mantle to wear as you grew up and evolved?
It is what it is, I think. Some people I guess would be very happy to be seen as a teenager their whole life. (Laughs) I feel like people now see me differently. But yeah, I don't really spend too much time focusing on what other people think, because that is crazy making.
Do you think there is still ageism and sexism in Hollywood? What has been your experience?
Definitely, without a doubt there's incredible ageism. And there are rules that are okay for men that are not okay for women. That hasn't changed and I don't really see it changing. I think there's like a handful of older women that are seen as bankable, and you can count them on one hand. That's really a shame.
Also the fact that it's okay to see these old dudes with these 20-year-olds. It's weird because when I was that age, it was not in vogue at all. It was like this little pocket of time where it was not seen as acceptable, whereas it was before. I mean if you look at Sabrina ... half of Audrey Hepburn's co-stars were way older than she was. And now it's gone right back to that, which is kind of a shame.
Do you think that can change through more women writing?
I think so, but it's really tough to crack that. In order for women to write and get movies done you still have to get someone to get behind it. And a lot of women who are writing and producing, they just want to be successful and so they know that by casting somebody who is younger ... It seems to me it has to change on the studio side. I think gradually things change, but it's going to take a concerted effort. It's the same thing I think with gay actors, with people coming out. Eventually that's not going to be seen as an issue, but it's going to take a lot more people putting themselves on the line for that to change.
A few years back you offered your interpretation that [Pretty in Pink's] Duckie was gay, which got quite a Twitter backlash from what I read. After that have you changed your position?
No! (Laughs) The character was actually based on my best friend who is gay and I think that John [Hughes] observed us together. But my friend wasn't out [at that time], and also kind of had a crush on me in the way that a gay man can have a crush on a girl, you know what I mean? It doesn't seem like it was out of character. But yeah, people have a lot of their own memories wrapped up in those movies.
Do you feel that you've had to banish the colour pink from your wardrobe, just because so many wannabe comedians would have a field day with it?
No, I haven't banished it, but it's not my go-to colour. (Laughs)
Was it never your go-to colour?
No, it was! I really did like it a lot when I was a teenager. But [now] I tend to gravitate either towards black, white or red.
You've had success over these multiple spheres and over a period of decades, while a lot of child stars do go off the rails. What do you think it is that helped you avoid that?
I've always been very curious and not content to sort of unravel. I always felt like there was too much to do and to explore, and I think a lot of that curiosity was really nurtured by my love of books and reading.
What for you has been the best part of getting older?
I've definitely become more confident. And also I'm in really good shape – I'm in better shape now than I was when I was younger!
Catch Molly Ringwald discussing her new book (May 25) and performing with her jazz band (May 26) at the Sydney Writers' Festival.