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Interview: Molly Ringwald from The Secret Life of the American Teenager

Interview: Molly Ringwald from The Secret Life of the American Teenager


We had the pleasure of chatting with Molly Ringwald about her series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which premieres its second season June 22nd at 8/7c!

What do you think it is about the show that makes it so popular, and did that popularity surprise you at all?

M. Ringwald: Well, it’s always surprising when something turns out to be such a big hit like this. I mean you do all these projects and you hope for the best. You really never know what’s going to strike a chord. I just think that people just really like the characters. I think that they relate to the characters and I think that it’s really well cast. I think we have a lot of great actors in the show and a lot of good charisma and I think Brenda Hampton is really good at writing for these characters. So, I mean I guess that’s really, in my mind, what’s made it take off.

Can you tell us where are you in the filming schedule? How far along is the season, and are you going to have to take some time off for maternity leave or is that going to be filmed?

M. Ringwald: Yes, I’m actually already on maternity leave. I shot about 12 episodes and then one day, I shot three episodes in one day, just my part. Then when I come back from maternity leave, then I’m shooting three episodes back; so, just sort of do the catch up. So, everybody else is still filming and I think that they are off in August, but I’ve been off since the end of May.

What about your role continues to challenge you?

M. Ringwald: Well, it’s constantly interesting for me to play the mother of teenagers just because I’m not really there in my own life. I have a five-year-old and I’m pregnant with twins right now. So, it’s always interesting to me to kind of– It’s like sort of jumping ahead in my life and sort of living what I’m going to be living probably like 10 to 15 years from now. So, that’s always interesting. I feel almost like I’m so known for being a teenager and then all of a sudden, I’m the mother of a teenager. That’s always sort of a real head trip for me.

I think it’s always challenging for me to do a show like this, that I’m used to doing movies and theater and I’ve never really done sort of an episodic show that moves at the fast pace that it goes. So, that’s always really challenging for me.

How does the cast continue to maintain such great chemistry between each other?

M. Ringwald: Well, I think there’s a lot of just very charismatic actors on the show. I think all of the kids in the show are just really charming and smart and they all get along. I think that they just work really well together. I think the show is really well cast.

How does being a mother in real life help you to get into the character of “Anne”?

M. Ringwald: Well, I think that once you’re a mother, you understand; not to say that people who aren’t mothers can’t play mothers. I think I played mothers before I was actually a mother in my real life, but I think once you experience that, there are just certain things that you just know. There are certain things that you feel comfortable with, a way of touching your child’s head or a way of like wiping dirt off their face. There’s just a way that you have, I think, that you don’t quite– It’s not in your bones, I think, until you actually are a mother.

It’s obviously a little bit different for me because I’m playing the mother of a teenager and in real life, I’m the mother of a five-year-old. So, it’s a little bit different. It’s kind of like looking into a crystal ball into the future. But, I think once you’re a mother, you kind of always see your kids as a baby anyway no matter how old they get.

I also remember watching you in teen films like Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club. How do you think teens are different today as opposed to back in the 1980s?

M. Ringwald: I don’t really think that they are very different. I mean certain things have changed. Certainly the Internet has changed things a lot and texting and cell phones and all of that, but I think the basic personality and everything that teenagers want and everything that teenagers fear is all the same. It’s just the technology has changed.

You started out young as an actor. What is the best advice you’ve given your young costars?

M. Ringwald: Well, all of my costars on the show really are smart and they really have their head on their shoulders. I try not to give advice. I don’t want to be like that person … giving advice. I think that they’re all doing a great job and they’re all really down to earth and are really nice people. So, I don’t really feel like I need to give them advice.

Have you done anything to help them along the way?

M. Ringwald: I try to be there for them as a fellow actor. I don’t really consider myself a mentor per se unless somebody comes up to me and asks me something specific, but I think that they all really know what they want to do and are doing it. They’re great.

How do you feel movies and TV programming in general has evolved for the teenage audience since you played a teenager?

M. Ringwald: Well, I think it’s gone through different phases. I think The Secret Life of the American Teenager is a little bit more similar to the kinds of movies that I was doing back in the day. In the meantime, there were all kinds of different sort of teen trends. For a while, it was like the teen horror film seemed to be like what it was about. I remember in the 1990s, it was like you couldn’t see a teen movie without it being a horror movie and now it seems to have gotten more back to character-driven pieces. So, I think that’s sort of where we’re at right now.

Do you have a favorite episode or a favorite storyline from the series?

You have a really great chemistry both with Mark Derwin who plays “George” and with the girls who play your daughters. Was that something that happened sort of right when you guys met, or did you guys really have to work at it to make it authentic?

M. Ringwald: I think we liked each other from the get-go, but I think as time goes on, obviously you get to know the person more and you get more comfortable with them. I think our relationship has definitely grown and as the characters have grown, we’ve gotten to know each other better and it just really helps to get it even more sort of realistic. You develop little quirks together and impressions and it just makes it more realistic.

As a family person yourself, as a mother, do you feel like this show is doing a good job of portraying an accurate family, the way that it would be in real life?

M. Ringwald: I think so. I mean I think that every family is different. I don’t think that there’s any definitive way to portray a family. I think that this is the way that this family functions, but I think obviously it’s different in other families. But, I think that Brenda does a pretty good job of sort of doing that family dynamic – the sort of sibling rivalries, the little arguments. Yes, I think it’s pretty realistic.

You’re nominated for a Teen Choice Award this year and I wondered what it is about your character, “Anne” that makes teens wish that she was their mom.

M. Ringwald: I don’t know. I have no idea. I just found out about the Teen Choice Awards; very flattering and nice. I mean I hope that my daughter feels that way when she’s a teenager.

Also, the readers on our site are mainly young girls. If you could give them any advice just about coming of age, what would it be?

M. Ringwald: Well, as a rule, I try not to give advice because I just feel like everybody needs to sort of find their own way. I think if I was to give advice, I would just say try to do the best that you can in school and that you need to look at that as your freedom because I think too often, people are in school, kids are in school and they just think it’s boring and they don’t like it or whatever and they don’t realize that that’s sort of like their future. It’s really hard just to realize that it’s really important. So, I guess that would be my best advice.

Why you think now was a good time to have a show on TV that dealt with teenage pregnancy. Did you think it was in the media a lot so they wanted to portray it realistically, or what are your thoughts?

M. Ringwald: I don’t know. I mean I didn’t write the show. I think the show was actually like even a couple of years before it was actually set up. So, I guess it was just the right time. There seems to be like a right time for everything and this show happened to premiere like right around the time that Juno that was out and even, of course, with the Palin pregnancy. It just seemed like it was just kind of like the right time. I mean I wouldn’t say that teen pregnancy has not existed before this show. I mean I did a movie about teen pregnancy when I was a teenager. But, I guess it just sort of feels like the right time.

But, the show is not really only about teenage pregnancy. I think that that was an element in the first season, but I think the show is about more than that.

As a mom, when your kids get older, would you want them to go into the acting business, or would you be supportive about that, or would you be a little wary of it at first?

M. Ringwald: I think I would be supportive as long as she went into it when she’s older. I mean I don’t want my child to be a child actor. I want her to stay in school and sort of learn as much as she possibly can and then if she decides at that point that she wants to go into acting with her eyes open after knowing everything, then of course I would support her. But, I would prefer it if she would get a great education first and I think anyway, that would only make her a better actor.

With teen pregnancy being such a hot button issue and to have a family show that kind of takes it head-on, have there been any fallouts? Have you or any of your costars received any negative feedback, or have you received any positive feedback from teens experiencing the same situation?

M. Ringwald: I’ve only heard positive stuff. I mean the show has an enormous following. So, I mean I’ve only heard positive stuff. I’m sure that there are people that don’t like the show or feel like it’s too graphic or whatever. I’m sure that that exists too. It’s not possible to have something that everybody likes, but as long as it opens a conversation and a dialogue, I think that the show is doing what it’s supposed to.

What can we expect this season from your character, from “Amy,” their relationship and really, I guess, the overall family dynamic?

M. Ringwald: Well, my family goes through– At the end of the last season, obviously I was leaving my husband and then at the beginning of this season, I find out that I’m pregnant. I’m pregnant in real life as well. So, that’s sort of what my character’s dealing with this season is pregnancy and sort of going through the same thing that I just went through with my daughter in the season prior.

“Anne’s” been through a lot this first season – the divorce and then also going back into the workforce, working at the hot dog stand. I mean were you surprised at what they gave you to do in this first season of the show?

M. Ringwald: I wasn’t really surprised because Brenda Hampton was very open to my input and sort of along the way, she would ask me how I felt about certain things, what kind of career I was interested in. I mean she’s really great at writing for her actors and getting to know them and figuring out what they do best. And so, along the way, I was kind of let in on where my character was going and was really a nice way to work. She’s really good at sort of figuring out what people are good at and capitalizing on that.

How do you feel about the show writing in your pregnancy? I mean they could really have used standing in front of potted plants or off at “Mimzy’s” with their Alzheimer’s. I mean how do you feel about the show working with you and writing in the pregnancy?

M. Ringwald: I actually preferred that. It was a question as to whether or not they would write it in and I preferred it. I did not want to go through a whole season of walking around with towels in front of me. So, that was something that was discussed and they just decided to go with it. I also just thought that it was interesting considering the fact that my daughter was pregnant in the previous season, having her go through the whole thing again and having my grandchild be older than my new child is kind of funny too. It’s sort of like different.

If you could play any other Secret Life role, what would it be?

M. Ringwald: Let me see. God, I never even thought about that – maybe “Ricky”. He gets to be so bad, but he’s so charming. Yes, I think “Ricky” would be a fun character to play.

Do you think you’re a lot like “Anne” in your life? Do you bring a lot of your own self to the role?

M. Ringwald: I think I bring a certain amount of myself to the role, but I think she’s a lot calmer than I am actually. I think she puts up with a lot, but I don’t know that I would– I think my fuse might be a little shorter than “Anne’s”.

A few weeks ago in Entertainment Weekly¸ they had an article about – I think it was called “From Backpack to Jazz Pack.” It talks about your musical background, how you’re getting back into acting. Can you talk a little bit about that?

M. Ringwald: Well, it’s something that I’ve done for a long time. I grew up in sort of a jazz background. My father’s a jazz musician and grew up living in New York and something that I really wanted to do was … to like a jazz trio or quartet together. And so, I did that actually with a friend of mine, a very talented pianist named Peter Smith. He just released an album that I sing on called Here it Comes. You can get it on iTunes. We perform around town. I mean we’re not performing right now because I’m sort of taking time off as I wait for my babies to come, but it’s something that I’m definitely going to do more of after they’re here.

Just as an artist, which do you find more fulfilling – the music or the acting, or are they just very different for you?

M. Ringwald: I think that they’re just very different. I mean there’s a lot of stuff that I do. I mean I would consider sort of the acting a little bit more like my day job. It’s something that I’ve done for a long time and the music is a little bit more thrilling just because I haven’t done as much of it recently and also because it’s not my profession, I think that there’s a certain amount of freedom there that I enjoy. And then, I’m also a writer. I’m writing a book that’s going to be released by HarperCollins in 2010. So, I like to put on a lot of different hats.

How do you feel being with the adult characters on this show? I mean I think it’s great. How do you feel?

M. Ringwald: How do I feel being an adult?

The adult characters on this show are as interesting and multidimensional as the kids are because some shows they play the adults as kind of dumb, cardboard-like characters, but all of you on the show are as interesting as the kids are.

M. Ringwald: Right. Well, I don’t think that I would have done it if I didn’t feel that she was going to write interesting storylines for my character. I mean it was one of the prerequisites of me signing on and Brenda Hampton assured me that my character was not going to be wallpaper. I just said there’s no point in doing it if that’s all you want me to do because I won’t be happy and I won’t do a very good job. I need to have interesting things to do and she assured me and promised me and she really made good on her promise. I think there have been a lot of interesting….

Like you said, they all are multidimensional and I’m glad. I think that that makes the show a lot more interesting and also opens it up to a bigger audience as well. We have a huge teen following, but we also have an adult following as well.

The show gives you an even mix between the adults and the kids, which is nice. But also, I mean ABC Family is really behind the show. I mean 23 episodes is unheard of on cable. How do you feel about the backing of the network?

M. Ringwald: I think it’s great. It’s always really nice to have the network backing the show because it’s sort of a losing battle if they don’t. I’ve been on shows before where for one reason or another, the network wasn’t behind the show or there was a regime change at the top and it’s miserable because you always feel like no matter what you’re doing, you’re not getting the support that you need. We really need the support of the network and they’ve been really great. They love the show and it enables us to do our best work.

Can you tell us about your book coming out next year?

M. Ringwald: Well, it’s called, Getting the Pretty Back and it’s part memoir and part sort of style guide. It’s very funny. The idea came about when I turned 40-years-old and I thought I really wanted to write sort of like a fun book for my fans who have kind of grown up with me, who are kind of going through the same things I’m going through. So, it’s kind of a book about being my age in this sort of news-driven culture. It’s going to be illustrated and I think it’s going to be like a fun sexy little book.

Who is your favorite style icon if you could point to somebody?

M. Ringwald: I have so many. I mean there’s sort of like the obvious – Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly. But then, I really like Jane Birkin. I think Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve. I really like a lot of French women from the 1960s. It’s kind of like the look that I’m really in to right now.

I don’t think I have any one particular one that I really want to look like. It’s just sort of I get inspired by little bits of a lot of different women, I think. I’ll see a movie and I’ll think– Like I just watched Two for the Road yesterday with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney and that was done like the late-1960s. It’s just like … all about kind of Audrey Hepburn in her late career, but the next week it could be Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour.

You lived in France for a while. Did that influence your style at all?

M. Ringwald: Yes, I think so. I did live there for quite some time and I think that the French women have a certain ease in the way that they dress that is very admirable. I really like everything from sort of like the French new wave movies – the movies with…. I think the women always look great in those. So, I think that those probably influence me the most.

When “Anne” finally stood up to “Ashley,” I mean a lot of fans were cheering you on. You set her straight, told her off. I mean how important is it for your character to be assertive and not simply kind of bowled over by the daughters on this show?

M. Ringwald: It’s funny that you mention that. That was actually a scene that I kind of lobbied for with Brenda. I said it has to happen. I mean we’re going to lose respect for “Anne” if that doesn’t happen. Also, I felt like it was important for “Ashley’s” character as well in terms of people sympathizing with her. I mean she’s so great. She has such a great dry sense of humor, but at a certain point you need to see her as a real person and vulnerable. I thought that that was a really important dynamic that they have. So, I kind of fought for that and Brenda was great. She wrote it in. I thought that it was a really good scene.

I mean Brenda was a little concerned because she felt like one of the things she liked about “Anne” is that she takes the high road. She doesn’t sort of play into it all the time. But I said just realistically, as a mom, at a certain point you kind of have to draw the line and say, “Enough.” I felt like the viewers were going to be ready for that.

Well, “Ashley” did seem to soften up through the rest of the season after that scene. So, it’s interesting how it seemed to have affected the character. Also, I mean we saw “Anne” with some romantic relationships off and on throughout the first season. Is this going to continue in the second season regardless of the pregnancy?

M. Ringwald: Well, she does have a boyfriend. Did she meet him at the end of the last season–

The architect?

M. Ringwald: The architect, yes.

Yes, we met him.

M. Ringwald: You met him at the hot dog stand, right. Yes, I continue to see him – actor played by Ben Weber – and sort of continue to sort things out with my husband. So, that’s a storyline that’s kind of unraveling as we go along.

Does that play into who is the father of “Anne’s” baby?

M. Ringwald: Yes, it’s all part of it. I can’t give anything away, but yes.

Interview By: Emma Loggins


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