‘Pretty in Pink’ Director Howard Deutch on Film’s Legacy and Casting Molly Ringwald
Art and Experience:
Howard Deutch wasn’t sure he was the right man to oversee “Pretty in Pink.” The aspiring filmmaker had met producer and writer John Hughes while directing a music video for his previous examination of high school social castes, “Sixteen Candles.” However, he’d never overseen a feature film and the prospect terrified him.
“I was honest with John and told him I didn’t feel equipped,” Deutch remembers. “He said, ‘all you have to do is get those performances for me and you can do it.’ That always made me feel secure when I was feeling insecure about so many other things.”
Thirty five years later, “Pretty in Pink” is a certified classic and remains a cinematic touchpoint for generation after generation of teenagers who see their own heartaches, triumphs, and insecurities reflected in the lives of Andie, Duckie, and Blane. The film was recently re-released in theaters by Paramount for Valentine’s Day and will also be featured in a new Blu-ray edition along with four other Hughes movies. They include “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “She’s Having a Baby” and, another Deutch-directed offering, “Some Kind of Wonderful.”
Deutch says he’s surprised that “Pretty in Pink” continues to cast a spell on moviegoers, but he thinks he understands the secret to its durability.
“John’s characters were so true to life,” says Deutch. “They were not manufactured. They were slices of John and his journey. Whether it’s Duckie, everybody says, ‘I know a Duckie.’ He was so plugged into the humanity of these characters that they endure.”
Full credit also must go to Molly Ringwald, who anchors the film as Andie, a working class girl with a killer taste in new wave music and vintage clothes, as well as an intense longing for Blane (Andrew McCarthy), her to-the-country-club born love interest. Amazingly, she was not the first choice for the role, with Paramount preferring Jennifer Beals, who had just starred in “Flashdance” for the studio. Deutch and Hughes held out for Ringwald, but the actress needed convincing.
“Paramount wanted me to meet all kinds of actresses,” says Deutch. “But it was written for Molly. I loved her work. I said, ‘you’ve got to consider doing this.’ But she had already moved on. She’d done ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘Breakfast Club’ and she wanted to do something different. I pretty much groveled.”
Casting “Some Kind of Wonderful” was a different kind of challenge, one that almost derailed Deutch’s involvement in the picture. The film follows Keith (Eric Stoltz), an aspiring artist from a blue-collar background, as well as his tomboyish best friend (Mary Stuart Masterson) and the popular girl of his dreams (Lea Thompson, who later became Deutch’s wife). The final product was a teen drama, but the initial screenplay was a broad comedy and was centered entirely on an elaborate date.
“I couldn’t cast it,” says Deutch “I offered it to Michael J. Fox and he passed. I felt that was the one guy who could pull off this character. I was on a plane with Brian De Palma and told him abut my struggles. He said ‘if you can’t cast it you shouldn’t do it.’ So I told Paramount, I don’t think I should do this. The next morning I was padlocked out of my office.”
Martha Coolidge (“Real Genius”) was then brought in to oversee the project, which grew more serious in subsequent drafts. However, she and Hughes parted ways during production over creative differences and Deutch was re-enlisted. The finished project bore certain similarities to “Pretty in Pink,” which reviewers seized on.
“One review said it’s ‘Pretty in Blue,’ and I was devastated by that,” Deutch remembers. Decades later, however, he acknowledges that there were certain notes that Hughes liked to play in his work.
“There are themes throughout John’s movies that are constantly being mined by him,” Deutch says. “The idea of finding the courage to stand on your own is a big part of ‘Pretty in Pink’ and all his films.”
Hughes died in 2009 of a heart attack at the age of 59, leaving behind an impressive collection of movie favorites. But the filmmaker had a difficult relationship with his own success and with Hollywood.
“John was an outsider,” Deutch says. “He wrote from that. He never felt like an insider or like he was in the popular club. That wasn’t who he felt he was. When he started to be successful, it was like a rocket ship and the inside boys club wanted him and he became an insider. He left that all behind because he felt he couldn’t write that way. He couldn’t create, so he went back to Chicago.”