Molly Ringwald: 'My role model writes – and plays the banjo'
The former teen movie star tells Christian House about her literary debut, a knowing portrait of marital strife, and other career plans
Sunday 18 November 2012
Molly Ringwald looks every bit the roving reporter as she pours herself tea nestled in a nook of Langham Hotel's library. Battling London's autumn chill in a black polo neck and raincoat, she sports a cosy Martha Gellhorn aesthetic. It's exactly 30 years since the actress made her debut film, before defining mid-Eighties adolescent ennui in the Brat Pack trilogy of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink, and she's moved on.
At 44, the gawkiness of youth may have departed but her burnt umber hair and eiderdown pout remain. There is also a self-possessed openness and a ready smile as she talks to me about her debut "novel in stories", When it Happens to You. This accomplished mosaic of interconnected tales riffs on the subject of betrayal, all orbiting the marriage of Greta and Philip, a Californian couple with seismic fault lines appearing in their marriage.
It is a project of which Ringwald is very proud. "I feel sort of unique, in a way, because there aren't many actors who write. And I can't think of any actresses at all who write literary fiction. I mean there are plenty who write memoirs," she says, before adding with a smile,"or have their memoirs ghost written."
The book's flyleaf features a quote from Flaubert: "We must not touch our idols; the gilt comes off in our hands". Is this a reference to the false worship of movie stars? "It's definitely about putting somebody on a pedestal. But it spoke to me not through anything to do with my acting, it was more to do with the idealisation of the beloved. We all tend to idealise our significant other in a way that they can't possibly live up to. And parents; anybody you love. And the book is very much about the flaws. I wanted to make sure there were no villains in my story. Everybody does terrible things to the people they love the most."
I suggest that her writing focuses on the contradiction between the durability and the fallibility of families. "I like that. I would absolutely agree. It's that weight of families. I find that very rich territory. I have such a strong family myself and depend on them so much." The Ringwald family unit is particularly robust; she is happily married to her second husband, the author and editor Panio Gianopoulos, with whom she has three children, and her own parents guided her safely through an adolescence spent in the film industry.
For much of the Nineties, Ringwald relocated to France, acting alongside mainstays of Gallic cinema such as François Cluzet and Nathalie Baye. She also married the French writer Valery Lameignere. They divorced in 2002. In her book is a pretentious French layabout named Didier. A cheeky allusion? She doubles over with laughter. "No. I'm very charmed by Didier. People read the book and think so, but it's not my ex at all."
Raymond Carver's blue-collar take on the American dream has been Ringwald's primary literary influence. "All the writing I did over the years was inspired by Carver. But I would say I'm not as minimalist as he is. I always loved short fiction. How visceral it is, and how you get to the heart right away because you have to. At the same time, once you get hooked into the characters I find it difficult to say goodbye to them. There's a lot of me in every single character. I like to say I am every character and none of them."
She takes an elegant perspective on her characters' faithlessness. "Any time that you talk about infidelity, people are so quick to condemn and vilify. To say 'that person is bad, that person has to suffer'. But I think that person obviously is suffering, even if it doesn't happen right then. When you betray someone you love, you're betraying yourself," she says.
Do people assume that she has drawn on personal experience of adultery? "I'm sure they do. But it's not my marriage that I'm writing about. I think, if it was, I wouldn't be writing about it. But I feel like it's something that's all around me. You can't be my age and not just see one marriage after another fall apart."
For cinephiles, Ringwald will forever be associated with the high-school films of the late director John Hughes. "A lot of people ask, 'Why didn't you write a young adult novel?' I'm very associated with all things teenager," she says, clearly tired of the connection. "I think, for the rest of my life, people when they think of me will think of John and vice versa. I have fond memories of him. I really had a great time making those movies."
Hughes and Ringwald went their separate ways in 1987, after she turned down a part in Some Kind of Wonderful. The director bore legendary grudges and the pair hadn't seen each other in two decades when he died in 2009. "I think he really changed over the years. He stopped making movies and, from what I understand, became quite conservative; very Republican. He had acres of land, and apparently his big passion towards the end of his life was planting trees. Apparently he has given a lot of land to be parks."
Her novel may be set in Los Angeles but the Sunset Strip and the studios are nowhere to be seen. "It was interesting to write about California and not have it be about Hollywood," she says, "where everyone appears to be having a really nice time but everybody is thinking somebody else is better off than they are."
Ringwald is aware that readers will have preconceptions but she's been happily surprised by the critics' positive response. "The night before I came here I went to a party," she says and pauses, suddenly self-aware. "I am not name dropping, but Steve Martin was there. He is one of the only people I can think of who acts, writes, directs, and plays banjo. For me, he's the model of how it can be done. Everybody thinks, 'You're doing this, so you don't do that.' And I want to do everything."
When It Happens To You, By Molly Ringwald
Simon & Schuster £10
"Lindsay smiled, graciously accepting bouquets of flowers and bottles of wine from her guests. She passed the wine on to Didier, who had been born to the parents of a fading haute bourgeoise, a generation that while squandering the money of its forebears was nevertheless schooled in the best of everything no longer affordable ..."
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