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‘Pretty In Pink’ Director Howard Deutch Has A Lot Of Stories From The Making Of The Classic Film

When I was asked if I wanted to talk to Howard Deutch (to promote a new Blu-ray release of Pretty in Pink), that was a pretty quick “yes.” Coincidentally, I had just rewatched Pretty in Pink in the last few weeks, so this seemed like serendipity. And to make it even better, it’s been 34 years since the film came out and Deutch has, let’s say, few reservations about telling us exactly how things went down. From not wanting to cast James Spader because he was “mean” (Deutch did backtrack on that a bit, but said he wasn’t someone he wanted to hang out with), to the tension between Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald (that’s a whole thing; it somehow involves a stripper), it certainly made for one interesting set.

Ahead, Deutch (who is part of a huge showbiz family: his wife is Lea Thompson and his daughters are Zoey Deutch and Madelyn Deutch) spills all the beans (at least it seems like all the beans, but there could be more beans) about Pretty in Pink‘s behind-the-scenes shenanigans, which was Deutch’s first film as a director. Written by John Hughes, Pretty in Pink is, at its heart, a movie about a love triangle. Andie (Ringwald) likes Blane (McCarthy). Duckie (Jon Cryer) likes Andie. Blane, well, he likes Andie, but needs some time to figure it out because his friends don’t like her because she isn’t “one of them.” In fact, in the original ending Andie winds up with Duckie, but test audiences literally booed. So it was changed to Blane and the rest is history. (Also, a few years ago Ringwald said she believes Duckie is gay. Cryer has said he doesn’t believe that. So I also asked Deutch to weigh in, which he did.)

And he weighs in on Molly Ringwald’s claim that Duckie (played by Jon Cryer) is gay.

I find it weird that Pretty in Pink was your first movie.

I know. Me too.

One that we still talk about all the time.

Oh yeah, yeah. I have that kind of karma. Like in the Vietnam draft lottery, I was number one. Because they pick your birthday.

Is that true, really? Yours was the first one?

Yeah. I was the number one, but I didn’t end up having to go because there was a whole story to it. But anyway. My point is, that being my first movie, and it being such a success and not expecting it? All these kinds of crazy things in my life.

So the alternate ending when Andie winds up with Duckie? Were you surprised that it had to be changed? That test audiences didn’t like it?

Oh. Shocked! Shocked! John Hughes was also. Both of us were shocked, because the test screening was going like a dream come true. And then boom! The prom came, and everybody started booing. And it was like a nightmare! It was like, how did this happen? This story builds about true love and Duckie loved her! But, truly.

John was able to come up with the changed ending because it worked better. In the end, my lesson is that when women or a girl like Molly wants the cute boy, you can’t take that away from her regardless of the politics. I remember Rob Reiner said, “You can’t give the princess the frog.” So, I didn’t like it when he said it, but the point is that new ending, movies, to me, when they’re working, if it’s really working, it’ll tell you what it wants to be.

That’s a nice way of looking at it.

And this was one of those cases. It said, “No, no. This cannot be an ending.”

If Duckie and Andie wind up together, I think today it would be looked at differently. Because Duckie’s kind of an asshole at times.

Sure. Yeah.

It would feel like he almost bullied her into choosing him at some points in the movie.

Right. Yeah. Very, very true. But I mean, really, on a more dramatic level, I feel like, in retrospect, I can see that it would not be surprising. There’s nothing surprising about Duckie winding up with her.


What’s surprising is, and just dramatically, you always want to be ahead of the audience. You want them to be invested, but you don’t want them to be able to see what’s going to happen, especially in a triangle. And that’s a triangle. And you want to have them guessing to the very last second. And the fact that John engineered it in the rewrite that Duckie sacrificed her? He made that sacrifice, which is always more moving to me. That he put her first and was rewarded for it.

Speaking of people still talking about this movie, I was watching Seth Meyers just last week and he was talking about how his hair’s too long because he hasn’t had a haircut in a while, and then he put up a picture of James Spader from Pretty in Pink.

[Laughs] Definitely. It’s crazy!

What was Spader was like then? That is a fascinating character he’s playing.

Not that different from the character.

I guess that makes sense.

Actually, I didn’t want to hire him. I said to John Hughes, “He’s terrible. He’s mean. I do not want to hire him.” He said, “What is wrong with you? That’s the character. That’s what you want.”

He was mean? He was mean to you? You’re the director of the movie.

Eh, I think maybe “mean” is too strong a word. But I thought, “No. I don’t want to hang out with that guy.” John was like, “Good! That’s the point.”

I’ve wound up watching a lot of Andrew McCarthy movies over the last few months. I saw an interview where he talked about giving up acting and becoming a travel writer. But he said he was drinking a lot then. Was that something you noticed?

Well, no. But he was dating a stripper. I remember that, but I don’t remember him drinking. But he was a very underrated actor. And I remember always being really taken with his choices, and I liked them. I dug him as a person, and as an actor. Molly was the one who said, “Andrew’s cute. We should hire him.” Yeah. And I was like, “Really? That’s the reason you want to hire him?”

I saw an interview where he said that you wanted to hire somebody else. That was a little more like a jock.

I don’t remember that. Maybe I did, but I don’t recall it. But I always listened to Molly because I trusted her instincts, and she was only 16. But she knew that movie better than me. And she knew that character. And she was like, “I’m telling you. He’s the one.” So, I auditioned him and met him, and I’d had a chemistry read with them. It was like they had great chemistry. And I thought, that’s going to work great. But he hated her. And she had a crush on him. And then she started to hate him, too, because she didn’t think he liked her. So I had to deal with that by telling her, “Oh no. He’s the guy. He’s afraid to admit how much he likes you.” And then I’d have to lie to him and say, “She really is crazy about you.” But what it did was create a lot of great sexual tension.

I could see a director thinking, “I can’t handle any of this,” as opposed to, “I’m going to use this to create tension for the characters.”

But the truth is, I always loved this Mike Nichols documentary where he talks about the unconscious. And he always talks about the decisions that he made as a director. The ones that he loves the most are those that he wasn’t conscious of. And when he watches the movie years later, he realizes he wasn’t even aware he made that decision, but it was his unconscious instinct.

You mentioned that Molly knew the movie better than you did, or knew the characters. Do you agree with her that Duckie is gay? Because Jon Crier has said he doesn’t buy that. But she seems adamant.

No. I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with that. He was just desperately in love and idolized her and would have given his life for her. And I thought he completely made that believable and fun and emotional. But no. I don’t. No, I don’t agree about that other part.

One last thing, the music in this movie is incredible. Is that a big reason for its staying power? “Bring on the Dancing Horses” by Echo and the Bunnymen is one of my favorite songs.

A lot of the music, I wish I could take the bows, but they were John Hughes’ ideas. He would play stuff for me because he was really music-driven. He had a connection with producers in London, and a record shop in London that got stuff before it even made its debut in America. And, for instance, New Order. I don’t think anybody used them before us. He played me a piece of “Elegia,” that piece of music in the hallway when Molly’s screaming at Andrew. That piece of music, I’d never heard it before. And he played it for me and we put it up against that scene. And I was lucky that he found that piece of music, and as much as I love Michael Gore’s score, but there’s a combination to the music in that movie that was really discovered by John. And I was grateful that he found it and that he shared it with me.

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