“They Hated Each Other”: How Pretty in Pink’s Tensions Created a Perfect Romance

Pretty in Pink director Howard Deutch tells the story of the John Hughes production which epitomised love in the ’80s

Pretty In Pink
Photo: Paramount

“Sydney Pollack said ‘everything’s a love story’, and it is. Everything is, if you think about it,” says Howard Deutch. He’s chatting to us ahead of the remastered Blu-ray release of Pretty In Pink which he directed from a script by John Hughes, first released some 34 years ago in 1986. It was Deutch’s feature directorial debut, one of several collaborations with Hughes and with his follow up Some Kind Of Wonderful (also written by Hughes) it arguably formed the apex of ‘80s teen romance as we know it.

Deutch is chatting to us via Zoom – the norm during lockdown – but for some reason we can’t get his camera to work. No wall of books to nose at, or Californian skies to envy, just a blank screen. But in a weird way perhaps it’s fitting – we’re flashing back to the ‘80s to recall the story of Pretty In Pink, a love story in many ways, not just for Andie, Duckie and Blane on screen but for the actors and creators in real life, for audiences watching at the time and viewers falling in love all over again decades later.

Deutch supervised this newly remastered edition and he says revisiting the film brought certain emotions to the fore. 

“I had a reaction I wasn’t expecting, which was to miss John Hughes,” he recalls. “I miss him, you know. I think of him all the time.”

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Pretty In Pink was Deutch’s first feature but it wasn’t his first interaction with Hughes – an influential relationship that surely shaped Deutch’s career and forms another one of Pretty In Pink’s love stories.

“We met because I had a company, my partners and I, that made movie trailers,” Deutch explains. “Joel Silver used us to do his movies like Lethal Weapon and 48 hours. He knew John and suggested that John hire us to do his trailer for Sixteen Candles.” Deutch had been starting to make music videos at the time – he had made them for both Billy Idol and Billy Joel – and so rather than using footage from the film he made a dance video based on the song “Hang Up The Phone” which was in Hughes’ Sixteen Candles sung by actress Annie Golden (who plays Norma Romano in Orange Is The New Black). 

“Everybody liked it,” he explains, “that’s how it started the conversation about me working on a film with him.”

Hughes sent him two scripts one was The New Kid, a project that never came to fruition based on Hughes’ own experiences growing up in Arizona, which Deutch describes as “kind of broad,” the other was Pretty In Pink. Deutch clearly remembers his reaction when he first read it.

“I cried,” he says. “Pretty In Pink really moved me and I said I should probably do this one. It was that naive and simple. I had a lot of experience of working on a lot of great films for big directors like Apocalypse Now and all these big, big movies, but I hadn’t experienced reading a script for myself and having to make a decision about material. So I just was naive. I just went, well, I kind of like it, so that must be what I should do, because I felt something.”

From a distance it seems like a fairly bizarre origin story to one of the most iconic teen romance films of the ’80s, but actually Deutch’s inexperience and so called naivete could well have played a big part in how he managed to capture lightning in a bottle.

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As well as Hughes’ excellent script and keenly observed characters, the palpable sexual tension between Molly Ringwald’s lower class Andie and Andrew McCarthy’s rich kid Blane is key. And it almost didn’t exist.

Even though Hughes had written the part for his muse, every-girl Ringwald, who’d already starred in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club both of which Hughes directed, she initially turned down the part and Deutch was encouraged to see other actresses. 

“I went to talk to her because I’d met her on The Breakfast Club set so I kind of knew her,” says Deutch. She initially told him she didn’t want the role – Deutch says he thinks there was some tension somewhere but he doesn’t recall specifics. But after talking they agreed that she probably ought to do it anyway and the deal was done.

McCarthy wasn’t originally going to play Blane either. The original plan was for the role to go to Anthony Michael Hall, The Breakfast Club’s ‘brain’, Sixteen Candles’ nerd, and Weird Science’s geek. “Everybody, I included, thought it would be great. He was the hottest kid in Hollywood,” Deutch explains. 

Imagine that. Against a legacy of poindexters Anthony Michael Hall plays the sensitive posh boy who Andie falls for over her truly devoted best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) until Blane ultimately rejects her because of peer pressure from his awful, snobby friends. But Andie won’t be crushed. She makes her own dress and goes to the prom anyway where, in the original version of the film, she realizes that she should have been with Duckie all along. It might have worked. But it would have been a completely different movie. 

But instead Hall passed.

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“It was shocking to John because John felt like he was his son. He felt very close to him. You know, all those kids from Breakfast Club were like his family,” Deutch recalls.  

It was Molly Ringwald who suggested Andrew McCarthy – saying she thought he was cute. Ringwald was just 16 at the time but Deutch says she was “years ahead in the sense of understanding how to make decisions about acting and story and all that stuff.”

Trust a 16-year-old girl to identify who other 16-year-old girls are going to fall for. McCarthy was perfect – delicate-featured with piercing blue eyes, intelligent, sensitive but with a shimmer of danger – or could it even be cruelty – about him.

Teenage girls would fancy Blane, and unsurprisingly, so did Ringwald. But McCarthy didn’t reciprocate. It’s an off-screen love story, albeit a story of unrequited love, that fed the on screen chemistry perfectly.

“They hated each other,” Deutch says. “They hated each other because Molly had a crush on him and he did not have a crush on her. And then he resented that she was the foundation of it, and then it escalated. I had to lie to them. I had to lie to Molly and say, ‘Oh, no, he really does have a crush on you but he’s a guy so he’s afraid to show you.’ I had to play that in order to get this. Luckily for me, it added to the sexual tension. It helped the whole sense of ‘are these guys really gonna get together or not?’ I don’t think they were that conscious of what I was doing, but I think they knew it was working. That relationship was filled with conflict. You can’t manufacture that.”

It was a dynamic Jon Cryer, who plays Andie’s lovesick best friend Duckie, was quite aware of.

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“He absorbed all of that and used all of it,” Deutch says. “So that when he was around Andrew he just wanted to punch him in the face. And he worshipped Molly. Worship, absolute worship. So I think a lot of that really helped feed his choices in that character.”

Though he didn’t know it at the time, getting Hughes’ preferred leading lady, opposite Ringwald’s preferred leading man would change the dynamic of the movie, so much so that Deutch had to completely reshoot the ending after a test screening. In the original ending Andie and Duckie end up together but test audiences were not happy.

“I had a heart attack because it was my first movie and we were in the screening room. Dawn Steele and Ned Tanen from Paramount were sitting next to me, John Hughes was behind me. These kids that they recruited to watch the movie were screaming, loving the movie, screaming. It was like a hit! And then all of a sudden, the minute the ending came and Duckie was gonna be the hero they started booing,” Deutch explains. “And I said, ‘I’m literally gonna have a heart attack’. The whole movie has been built for that. We were all thrown.”

Deutch explains that the onus was on Hughes to fix it but Hughes had already moved on to writing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Planes, Trains and Automobiles so it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later he came up with a solution.

“He came into the editing room and he sat down on the floor – he used to like to sit on the floor – and he said, ‘I’ve got it’. He said Andrew’s got to come alone to the prom. It was only like four pages. It was so simple and clear what he figured out.”

It was four pages that turned the movie back into the romance audiences desired.

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“Paramount gave us one day to reshoot the whole ending. And that was it. The scores went up through the roof. I think it was Rob Reiner said ‘you can’t have the princess get the frog.’ He walked out of some screening of it saying that – in other words, you have to give the women what they want and they wanted her to have what she wanted. She wanted the cute boy and forget the politics. That’s what they want. I had no choice!”

Who knows if the original ending would have jarred so hard with Hall as Blane? Duckie might have missed out on his hero moment but the romance was back and it felt authentic.

That might be a part of why the movie has endured so well – despite the quintessential ‘80s-ness of it. Or perhaps not even despite. Pretty In Pink seems to perfectly embody modern audiences’ love affair with the ‘80s, particularly in terms of the ensembles both Andie and Duckie wear. Deutch explains that Ringwald chose a lot of Andie’s wardrobe with costume designer Marilyn Vance and rather than looking weird now, it almost looks exotic. Even that awful prom dress.

When Blane rejects Andie, telling her he already promised to take another girl to the prom, spurred on by peer pressure from James Spader’s dreadful Steff, Andie decides she’ll go anyway. She takes a dress bought by her dad (Harry Dean Stanton) and her friend Iona’s (Annie Potts) ‘60s style prom dress and turns it into a hybrid creation which is… much less pretty than either of the dresses she started with. But still. It’s a statement of individuality and it adds to the authenticity of the movie – in reality a 16-year-old with very limited time and resources probably wouldn’t be able to create haute couture from her bedroom. Nonetheless Andie and Duckie were style icons – they’re a popular celebrity couples costume choice years later.

Pretty In Pink was Deutch’s first film, and for his next – also with John Hughes – romantic lightning struck twice. Some Kind Of Wonderful was Hughes’, and Duckie’s, revenge for Pretty In Pink’s ending change. In it Mary Stuart Masterson’s tomboy-ish Watts is secretly in love with her best friend Keith (Eric Stolz) but Keith has had his head turned by popular girl Amanda (Lea Thompson). This time the best friend wins the day – and this time it works, with Watts as our heroine and Amanda being a genuinely nice girl who supports Keith’s choice. Some Kind of Wonderful sparked its own true life love story too, introducing Deutch to Thompson, who he would go on to marry.

When we talk about why those movies both resonated so hard when not every rom-com does, Deutch references Mike Nichols, and how the ending to The Graduate wasn’t a conscious choice but an instinctive one that absolutely makes the movie, and how for him too, it was about intuition.

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“Those two movies, I didn’t know what I was doing. My experience with working with actors was limited. It was all about gut and trust, really,” he says. “I trusted those actors in both those movies to save me. That dance that a director does with an actor, if it’s close enough and you believe in each other, I think it elevates the work so that it’s not about acting, it’s about what you want it to be. It’s about life and about people relating to it and getting invested. Along with the writing, the reason those movies work is because that’s the feeling of them.”

More than three decades on and you still get the sense of how significant those movies are to Deutch, even though he’s more entrenched in TV working on shows like Young Sheldon, Empire, and True Blood now. It’s not surprising – Pretty In Pink made some careers and boosted others, cemented life-long friendships and brought joy and romance to audiences for decades. Though he’s told many stories since this one will remain special. Because as Andie, Duckie, and even Blane know – you always remember your first love.

Pretty In Pink is out now on Blu-ray.

Pretty In Pink packshot