Film: In a league of her own

Elisabeth Shue has never fitted the Hollywood mould. With a new film out, she tells TIFFANY ROSE about her singular career

Not many movie stars abandon a career in favour of college, but Elisabeth Shue has never been one to follow the Hollywood herd.

"I've always been on the outside of wherever the fun was supposed to be in terms of Hollywood," says the actress. "I think the perception of the fun the actors were having in the Eighties was probably different from the actual experience, but I was never a part of that."

Shue's trademark sweet-natured, girl-next-door appeal contributed to her landing parts in the Eighties classics The Karate Kid, Adventures in Babysitting and Cocktail.

After a few misfires, her star status went under the radar for a few years. Yet she returned, guns blazing, proving her talent in the meaty role of a prostitute in love with an alcoholic (Nicolas Cage), in Mike Figgis's Leaving Las Vegas. The critics raved; audiences cheered, but Shue failed to win the Bafta and the Oscar in 1996.

Priorities shifted slightly when she married the documentary maker Davis Guggenheim, and had two children, Miles, now seven, and Stella, four. After dabbling in and out of the industry, Shue considered this would be an ideal time to enrol at Harvard University, to complete her political science degree, which she neglected in 1987 when her career was white hot.

At the luxurious Casa Del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica, where we meet to discuss her new thriller, Hide and Seek, Shue clarifies her reasons for revisiting her books.

"I knew I wanted to go back, before I had too many more kids," she says. "And I just knew the longer I waited, the less chance there was I was ever going to finish my degree. It felt like a good time to take a break.

"I was feeling a little bit disconnected from the kind of work I was being offered. Then I began to wonder whether acting was the right thing for me. Then it hit me how much I missed learning, which was something that had always made me feel more connected to the real world. I just knew I had to go back." Not only did returning to Harvard mean putting her career on hold, but Shue had to relocate her family to the East Coast. "It wasn't easy at first," she concedes. "I did make friends [at Harvard], but I couldn't hang out the way I used to when I was in my twenties, I had to go home and take care of my kids at the end of day. But it was really nice being with kids who were different ages."

Clapping her hands in a child-like manner, Shue proudly says: "Now I can say, `I'm a graduate.' It was fun to wear the cap and gown, and the ceremony was very emotional for me."

When Shue returned to LA, she even toyed with the idea of leaving acting in favour of teaching, but changed her mind after reading a script for Amy and Isabelle, the fifth instalment of the Emmy award-winning series of literary adaptations produced by Oprah Winfrey. "I am extremely proud of that film, which no one ever saw, so it's a good lesson that you do work for yourself and not necessarily for the end result," she says.

Staring into the freckled face of the 41-year-old actress, it's unnerving how much Shue has defied Father Time. Dressed in a beige cashmere sweater and jeans, she looks the same as when she starred in the Back to the Future movies, almost 15 years ago. What's her secret?

"Tea Leoni and I made a pact that we were not going to use any Botox," she says, with a hearty laugh. "When we feel weak about Botox or surgery, we'll call each other for support. Whenever we see each other, we're like: `We're not going to do it. We're going down, wrinkles and all!'"

Most actresses over 40 complain there is a lack of roles for women, but Shue has a more positive approach. "I think those of us over 40 need to find good scripts and raise the money in order to tell the stories that need to be told, instead of sitting back and moaning: `Oh, there are no parts... Why doesn't the phone ring?' I really want to be a part of changing that."

In the double-standard profession where men "mature like a fine wine" and women become "less desirable" at every birthday, Shue says turning 40 was not as traumatic as she had envisaged. "I really think the forties are the greatest years for any woman, because you have a real sense of yourself. I'm much more aggressive in what I want to do in my life."

Shue was raised with three brothers in a tightly knit middle-class family in New Jersey. Her parents divorced when she was nine, and her eldest brother, Will, who attended Harvard Medical School, adopted the role of a surrogate father to Shue. She also formed intense bonds with her two younger brothers, Andrew, a star on the TV soap Melrose Place, and John, also a Harvard graduate. But at their summer house in Maine a family tragedy changed Shue forever. Will, two days before turning 27, was clinging to a rope, swinging over a pond. But the rope broke, and he was impaled on the branches of a tree. He died as his siblings watched helplessly.

Shue, who rarely speaks of the freak accident, expressed her emotions years later: "During the years of healing, the example of Will's life has come so close to me. He was unafraid and exuberant, embracing life with his arms wide open, cherishing what's important, family and friends, instead of being scared of being vulnerable. My connection to joy and pain, to the beauty of feeling, is so much greater and deeper now."

She admits Robert De Niro was the main attraction when she signed on for the new psychological drama Hide and Seek. "I was very fortunate to get to know him. There was definitely a great deal of respect for him, and at times, I was in awe. But there was no intimidation, and I was quite surprised as to how comical he was on the set."

Hide and Seek tells the story of a recent widower, Dr Calloway (De Niro), who feels powerless to console his daughter, Emily (Dakota Fanning), and thinks a move to a remote village in upstate New York will do the trick. Introverted Emily doesn't have any friends to play with, and creates an imaginary friend named Charlie. Dr Calloway befriends a woman (Shue), to the annoyance of his daughter who thinks she's trying replace her mother. A few unsolved murders later and the audience wonders if Emily is acting out, or perhaps Charlie isn't imaginary after all?

Shue jokes that this is not a film her son will be watching. "He watched Adventures in Babysitting the other day, and I forgot that I used a curse word in that movie," she says. "There's a scene where she has to protect the kids on a train, and she screams: `Don't fuck with the babysitter!' At the time, my dad wrote me a letter saying I shouldn't swear, because children will be watching this film for years and I'd be a bad role model.

"I remember telling him: `I have to say it, because I'm acting it out to be tough.' So now my son is running around the house shouting that word. I was like: `Oh my God, my dad was right!'"

`Hide and Seek' is released on 25 February

Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

books
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Bell in the new BBC series Posh People: Inside Tatler

Review: Posh journalists just can't get enough of each other

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty