Molly: A Brat Packer who has turned 40

Molly: A Brat Packer who has turned 40

Few actresses want to admit hitting 40. Molly Ringwald wrote a book about it. “On February 18, 2008, I turned 40 years old,” she writes on Page 1 in ‘Getting the Pretty Back’, just released by It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. “It hardly seemed possible.” And, she adds, “No amount of reruns on cable is going to change that.”

Equal parts memoir and girlfriend-y guide to girlfriend-y things — style, food, relationships, motherhood — the book is meant to counter the perception that Ringwald, 42, is still the spunky, mop-topped teen of the John Hughes movies that made her famous. To many people, she is frozen in the 1980s, the redhead striving for out-of-her-league dates in ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘Pretty in Pink’ and dealing with a changing identity in ‘The Breakfast Club,’ all the while leading a generation in the fumblings of adolescence.

You can push that image aside. “I’m a grown-up,” she said recently over lunch, complete with carefully chosen wine, at Mercer Kitchen in SoHo. “I have three kids. I pay taxes.”
It’s a long way from the Brat Pack. Sometimes even Ringwald seems startled by her own maturity. It was a shock, she writes in the book, to be asked to play the mother of a teenager, as she does on ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager,’ a series on ABC Family. Her daughter on the show is a high school student with a baby — which means that, these days, Ringwald is actually playing a grandmother.

It comes as a shock to her fans, too. When she appeared with the Brat Pack at this year’s Oscar tribute to Hughes, who died in 2009, it still corralled twinges of adolescent nostalgia and intimacy. Seeing them as adults — ‘older and not hanging out in the high school library’ — was ‘surreal,’ said Dodai Stewart, deputy editor of the blog. “I felt like, wow, that’s the symbol of my teenage years.”

Alter ego
Ringwald, in particular, served as a sort of alter ego for many girls. “She was either standing in for how you felt, or she would understand how you felt,” said Stewart, 37.
Her characters linger because they stood out as rare emblems of independence in a male landscape.

“I think anyone in a certain age demographic grew up wanting either to be Molly or to be Molly’s best friend,” echoed Carrie Kania, Ringwald’s publisher at HarperCollins, who is 39. She said that she was persuaded to pick up the book project in part because a 26-year-old editor who works with her, Brittany Hamblin, had the same giddy reaction to Ringwald.

Ringwald understands this response. “People feel like they grew up with me,” she said over lunch. “They did grow up with me. I’m like a touchstone for them, and they associate me with, like, that first date that they had with the guy that they ended up marrying, or the slumber party.”

Like many former child stars, she has a lopsided intimacy with her fans. “They have these incredibly intense memories that I’m sort of all wrapped up in, which is lovely in one way, and then it’s also kind of heavy in another way,” she said.

The word ‘teenager,’ she writes in her book, has stuck to her “like a barnacle”.
The long reach of the John Hughes films, which endure even as adolescence has grown more complicated and vampire-fied, has meant that the 16-year-old Molly has rarely been out of the public eye, while the adult Molly took a long step back. In her early 20s, she went to Paris for a role and stayed. She dyed her hair brown, learned French, took up cooking and met, married and divorced a Frenchman. “I was working all through my teen years, so it was a chance for me just to have a total time of self-discovery,” she said.
‘Getting the Pretty Back,’ part of a two-book deal, is meant as a lighthearted guide for women of Ringwald’s generation who want to be reminded of their youthful, carefree selves. It includes directions for making bouillabaisse from scratch and for wearing luxury, logo-free T-shirts.

She relied on friends for advice — designers, Pilates instructors, chefs. Actors are not too present in her social circle. “I think I’ve just always gravitated toward people who have done something different than me,” she said. “And to be honest, most actors are incredibly solipsistic.”

Two years ago she and her second husband, Panio Gianopoulos, a writer and editor eight years her junior, moved to California so he could pursue an MBA at Stanford, and she got the part on ‘Secret Life.’

They have a 6-year-old daughter, Mathilda; 10-month-old fraternal twins, Roman and Adele; and a home in Venice Beach. But she kept her fifth-floor walk-up in the East Village and still considers herself a New Yorker, though she grew up in California.

Outsiderness
That outsiderness may have been telegraphed in her movie roles, in which Ringwald was often the quirky girl who chose her own path. “She wanted to trailblaze, dress the way she wanted to dress, date the boys she wanted to date, listen to the music that she wanted to listen to,” said Kania, the book publisher. “She had her own self, and I think that was very empowering to a certain generation, that you could be different and that was OK.”

In person, Ringwald is tall and healthy-looking and not so Hollywood; she does have some of the bite and sweetness of a girlfriend. “He’s hot,” she said conspiratorially when Anthony Bourdain’s name came up over lunch. Noting that her ex-husband got their French wine collection in the divorce settlement, she writes, “I drink Italian wine now”.
She freely showed pictures of her children and asked after a reporter’s life. But she also had the reserve of a person who has spent a lifetime being interviewed.
Or maybe she’s just normal. “We talk mostly about family things, instead of about the show,” said Brenda Hampton, creator of ‘Secret Life’, who cast Ringwald after a lengthy phone conversation. “She’s such a regular person. When she first came here, she used to shop on eBay a lot. She used to go and pick up her own things from people’s houses,” sometimes staying to have a cup of coffee before, say, lashing furniture to the roof of her car.

“Sometimes they recognised me, and sometimes they didn’t,” Ringwald said, adding unselfconsciously that she furnished her California house off eBay and Craigslist.
“When you’re a teenager, you’re forever thinking, ‘Do they like me?’” she writes. “When you’re a grown-up, as anyone over the age of 30 can attest, the question becomes, ‘Do I like them?’”
“I never thought I would be glad to be older,” she said, finishing her pinot grigio, “but it is kind of a relief.”
The New York Times

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