Even before she hit her teens, Ally Sheedy had written a best-selling books. And with a movie career that then took in the likes of The Breakfast Club and WarGames, her fame was cemented. Here, she talked to Den Of Geek about her career, The Brat Pack tag, and the joy that was working with John Hughes…
Firstly, can I ask about the book you wrote when you were very young: how does a 12-year old girl end up with a national best seller?I have always written. My mother was a writer and I would read my stories to her. Her friend, writer and editor Joyce Johnson, was over when I read what would become the first two chapters of She Was Nice To Mice. It was Joyce’s idea to bring it to McGraw Hill. And then she worked with me editing the book.
And are you still actively writing now?
Yes, I actively write. I just wrote the introduction to a book on John Hughes and I’m working on a screenplay that I’m thinking of calling Kickass.You moved to LA at 18 to pursue acting, and it didn’t take long for the acting roles to follow. Was that a tough time, or did things fall into place for you?
In hindsight, it didn’t take too long for things to fall into place. Although at 18 it felt like it did. I pounded the pavement finding an agent just like everyone else. I started to work in television. My first break was Bad Boys with Sean Penn. I auditioned for WarGames over and over for four months. And John Hughes came up with the idea of offering me Allison in The Breakfast Club. It took me about five years to get on a roll.What do you remember about one of your earliest breaks, working on a show like Hill Street Blues?
I loved Hill Street Blues. It was my first part on a TV series. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but that part was a lot of fun to play.
WarGames is one of many of your films that still enjoys a lot of affection today. What do you remember about working on it?I learned a lot on WarGames. It was a huge production filmed on location and on soundstages at MGM. It was like a fairytale. Lots of equipment, a huge crew. Just fun and wonderful people all around. I didn’t understand the computer angle at all. But Jennifer wasn’t supposed to, so that worked for me. I’m still somewhat computer challenged actually.
How was working with Matthew Broderick back then?
Matthew Broderick is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He was also well-versed in showtunes even back then. He loved musical comedy, he loved the stage and he loved Neil Simon. A delight.
It was quite an ahead of itself film for the time; was that something you were conscious of?
I realise now it was ahead of its time. I loved the message. But it’s hard to have that kind of perspective because at the time it simply seems that you are on the present cutting edge. If that makes sense. These days, by the time a movie comes out, its time and relevance could already be past. Back then the editing took even longer. Ironically because none of that was done on computers, as it is today of course.
The Breakfast Club is an iconic 80s movie, and remains an absolute treat. What are your memories of working on the film? And how has it impacted your career since?The Breakfast Club gave me my career. It’s still very popular and I am recognised on the street or wherever as Allison all the time. I guess it isn’t dated because the kids at my daughter’s school are watching it and love it. Again, a dream of an experience.
It was so funny making it that some of my character’s hiding came about because I kept breaking up during scenes. Judd, especially, killed me. There were times I could npt even look at him. A lot of his scenes have improvised lines added to John’s dialogue. When they worked he kept them in. They were on a similar wavelength and I think that really worked. We never got sick of each other. We spent three months in that library.
And yes, I really ate the sandwich. Several of them. That movie holds a special place in my heart. Obviously, I guess.Was the quality of the film right there in the script? And when did you get a feel for how loved the film was going to be?
The script was great. But somehow John Hughes made it magical. I’m not quite sure how he did it. The chemistry of the cast was great. Also, there was an amazing editor, DeDe Allen. She worked on Reds which is one of my favourite movies so I was really in awe of her. She put it together. She was right on set and one day she told me, “I’m watching you”. She got it. We all had a good feeling about the film. But I don’t think anyone really had an idea that it would be such a phenomenon.
How did St Elmo’s Fire come about?
I met the director, Joel Schumacher, right at the end of filming The Breakfast Club. He saw me as Leslie and offered me the part. I think Ned Tanen helped with that one. He was the producer on both films.
And what’s it like, again, being a part of such a terrific cast?
Again, the cast makes up so much of a film. And again, I was really happy to be in that group. Filming both movies that year was just a happy golden time for me. Also, I got to be with Judd and Emilio again so it was old home week.
You’ve hinted in the past at unhappiness with the term ‘The Brat Pack’. What are your feelings on it today, in retrospect – was it a help or a hindrance?
Being classified as “The Brat Pack” ended up being a problem for most of us. There was pressure to break out and become a success individually. It held true for everyone. We all felt we had to prove ourselves as actors and be in successful films on our own. Things turned somewhat negative. It was depressing. Sometimes there are strange consequences for being successful in this society.
Moving on to Short Circuit, what’s it like working with a robot on a day to day basis?
It was unbelievably challenging working with the robot. There isn’t a person across from you so there’s absolutely nothing coming back. I was out there on my own. Without reciprocal energy it’s exhausting. Mentally. And strangely lonely.
Did the fact that you were the star name on a film like that add any pressure? And were you pleased with the end result?
I didn’t feel pressure about being the star name because the film was really about the robot. If the robot worked the film would work. It was all on him. And yeah, I was pleased with the end result. I like that movie.
You only had a voiceover role in the sequel to Short Circuit. Was there a reason for that?I think it may have had something to do with an increase in my paycheque for the second one. I’m only partly kidding. The second movie was about Fisher [Stevens]. Actually, Fisher was one of the big reasons the first film worked. He is a huge pleasure in it.Does it give you a thrill that so many people are still fans of this, and many of the other films that you’ve done?
Yes. It is thrilling, as you put it, that so many people love the movies. Someone says something to me almost every day and I can’t tell you how good that feels!You’ve kept busy right through the late 80s to the present day, but it’s been lower profile work. How conscious a choice was that?
I felt stuck in my career by 1988. I wanted dark complex roles and a whole lot more variety so I could discover my range. I had an idea it was pretty big and I wanted to put it to the test. I made the move to New York to study with a teacher, Harold Guskin, and explore my options in independent films. The indie world was taking off right about then. It was a conscious choice. I started all over again.And how do you feel about the strength of the reviews some of your recent choices have been getting? High Art in particularly was exceptionally well received?
High Art was very very important for me. I know that it changed the way people perceived me and what roles they believed I could play. It took ten years before it came and every minute was worth it. I never know which film will be well received and which won’t. It’s a gamble in the indie world because often movies don’t get a distributor. But this is where I’ve had a variety of challenging roles. I feel I have to have something to do when I work. Something that’s difficult and interesting and, again, a challenge. I can’t stand it when it’s the same old or if it’s too easy. Anyway, I keep going. What am I going to do? I want to be Helen Mirren!
What’s your favourite 80s movie, and which co-star would you most like to work with again?My favourite movie I was in is definitely The Breakfast Club. My favourite 80s movie is Terms of Endearment. Actually, I’d like to work with Ellen Burstyn again [after 1985’s Twice In A Lifetime]. Now that was an honour.
What next for Ally Sheedy?What’s next? I did two more indies, Steam with Ruby Dee and Harold with Cuba Gooding Jr., Nicky Blonsky, Colin Quinn and this insane amazing talented young actor, Spencer Breslin, who took my breath away. Steam is opening up the International Women’s film Festival in Miami so that’s good. I also did three episodes of Kyle XY which my kid thinks is a cool show. Thank goodness. Now that the writers’ strike is over, who knows? I never do.
Ally Sheedy, thank you very much!