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Molly Ringwald Q&A: '50 Shades,' John Hughes, feminism & writing

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Molly Ringwald’s novel-in-stories “When It Happens To You” officially publishes Tuesday. When I talked to her about the book, the conversation often took off into interesting realms that didn't make it into the feature on herthat ran in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times. Here are a few bonus excerpts from that interview, edited for length and clarity. We’d begun talking informally in a nearby bookstore, where the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy dominated the bestseller display. She told me that she had read the book because her friend, Bret Easton Ellis, was interested in writing the screenplay adaptation.

Molly Ringwald: I was sort of perplexed, really, by “50 Shades” .... Not everybody necessarily knows what good writing is, really. I can’t say that I was the most studious reader, but I was really kind of interested; at a certain point when a book becomes that big, I feel like it’s culturally relevant. And I want to understand why. The only thing I can think of is just that we’re such a sexually repressed country, like it has something to do with sexual repression.

Jacket Copy: Like we’ve flashed back to the ’50s, culturally.

MR: I found myself getting angry as I was reading it. Because of how much she [“50 Shades’” Anastasia] wants to be taken care of by a man. Having two daughters myself, I think about this a lot. I’ve always considered myself a feminist. Even though my mom was a stay-at-home mom, you know, I was always told you will always work, for yourself.

JC: You went to work when you were, what, 7?

MR: Professionally, when I was 10. It was always the idea that you will take care of yourself. You will never need a man to take care of you. You will always take care of yourself. It was drummed into my head. This just -- the whole eroticism seems like not even about the sex, because I don’t even find the sex all that interesting or erotic. It’s all that, you know, a man who will take care of you and take you gliding and take you on a plane -- it kind of grossed me out after a while.

My mother was a stay-at-home mom and she went through a huge depression when I left home. I was her last child and she kept saying, "I’m obsolete, I’m obsolete." ... It was all about being a wife and being a mother, which was acceptable in her generation. It’s acceptable now, I’m not saying that it’s not, but most people in my world or my sphere, they have something of their own.

JC: The memorial to John Hughes you wrote was really beautiful, and also complicated. It seems like he actually talked to you about the scripts of the movies you worked on together, in a real and significant way.

MR: He was amazing in that he was so incredibly collaborative. I have not worked with any writer-director before or since who was as collaborative as he was. Like I said in the piece, he really trusted me, and trusted my voice, and my point of view. And he trusted Anthony Michael Hall. He just let us do what we did best. His scripts were already so well written. He was really an interesting writer in that he felt he got worse as he rewrote.

When he first gave me “The Breakfast Club” it was right at the end of “Sixteen Candles.” That was the end of summer, I think. And then we filmed "Breakfast Club" in winter -- the script had gone through so many changes, based on what the studio wanted, what this person wanted, that person wanted. The script we were going to film was very different from the first script that I read. I remember him calling me up on the phone, saying “So, are you excited?” and I was like, “Yeah, yeah” [in an unexcited voice]. He said, “What, what is it?” I said, “I really loved the script and there’s all this stuff that’s not there any more, and I miss. And why do we need the naked swimmer?”

There was a teacher, a naked swim teacher, that had been added probably because of the studio, because they want things like that. The next day he brought in a stack of "Breakfast Club" scripts ... and we sat in the rehearsal room, all of us, thumbing through the scripts and going “Wow, look at that, what happened to that?” And stuff was added back in. And the naked teacher was taken out. What director, what writer-director would do that? It was extraordinary.

And the one thing that I really do remember a lot about John was he was always telling me I had to write and direct. Always. He was like, [thumping lightly on the table] “That’s what you have to do, that’s what you have to do, that’s what you have to think about.” So that’s what I started thinking about. I still haven’t directed anything, but I think about that all the time. Before I die, that has to be something that I do, because John Hughes told me to. (laughs)

JC: You were working on creative projects, both music and writing, that for a long time you weren’t putting out in public. Do you believe in art for art’s sake?

MR: I do believe in art for art’s sake. It’s something that I talk about a lot with my husband [Panio Gianopoulos, whose publishing career included editing Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”]. He’s a writer -- it’s what he’s always done, he’s never wanted to do anything else. As opposed to me, where I’m a singer, I’m an actress, I’m a writer. That’s it, for him, it’s all about writing. I think one of the hardest things for writers is when you’re writing and you’re not published yet. Are you suddenly then a writer when you’re published? No, of course not.

CK: Were you a writer in the beginning?

MR: I think so. I feel like I’ve always been a writer. But there is something abut being paid for it, having your name printed on a book. Really what it does is it just validates you in other people’s eyes. And the more insecure sides of ourselves, it validates it for us. I keep telling him all the time, that we’re creating art, whether or not it has a publisher’s name on it. It’s sort of like if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound. I believe it does.

JC: What’s the actual process of writing like for you?

MR: I’m a very fast writer. I have a writing schedule which is two hours or 500 words, whichever comes first. Because beyond that, it’s like a life sentence to me. It’s all I can do. I really like writing next to my husband. I don’t know if he likes it as much as I do, but I feel incredibly comfortable. I love to have him there so I can pat his knee -- I find it very comforting.

I like having written. I don’t necessarily love the process of writing, I find it kind of torturous. But once I’ve written, once I have a paragraph or a couple pages, I have that sense of joy, that incredible sense of accomplishment. And I’m really proud of this book.

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