Elisabeth Shue’s performance in the opening scene of “Adventures in Babysitting” will likely have the same effect on teen-age boys that Tom Cruise aroused in young girls when he lip-synced a Bob Seger song in “Risky Business.” The 23-year-old actress doesn’t prance about the living room in her underwear like Cruise did, but she twirls around her bedroom kissing various objects to the old Crystals’ hit “Then He Kissed Me.”
“You don’t think teen-age boys are going to take that scene seriously, do you? The last thing I ever wanted was to have someone see the film and see me as a sex object,” says Shue, a political science major about to start her senior year at Harvard.
In the funny and fast-paced “Babysitting” comedy, Shue encounters problems when she’s mistaken for a Playboy centerfold model as she tries to keep the kids she’s baby-sitting from being attacked by a bevy of weird Chicago street people.
In actuality, Shue had to pose for a mock centerfold to be used in the movie--looking nude although she wasn’t. “Please emphasize I did not take off my clothes for the shoot,” she says. Posing for the mock centerfold “was the toughest thing I’ve ever done.”
“Elisabeth has a strong sense of morality that clearly emerges in her acting,” says screenwriter Chris Columbus, who made his directorial debut on “Adventures in Babysitting.” Although the movie did not fare well with many critics and has been a slow starter at the box office, Shue’s performance has been generally welcomed.
She grew up in a middle-class New Jersey family where her goal was to emulate her father and become a lawyer. She successfully auditioned for a Burger King commercial, figuring the money would solve her problems of college tuition.
“My family was very entertainment-oriented in making up skits at the dinner table, but the last thing my parents wanted was for me to pursue this as a career. An acting teacher at high school convinced me I should study it seriously. Soon I discovered I got a spiritual satisfaction from acting that I hoped to receive as a lawyer.”
At 19, Shue became a regular on the critically acclaimed ABC-TV series “Call to Glory.” The show lasted barely a year so she returned to Harvard to continue her education. School was again put on hold when her agent called her to come back to Hollywood to audition for the female lead in “The Karate Kid.”
The movie turned out to be a boon for her career but soured her on Hollywood for a while. She says she was disappointed by the way some of the film makers went about their business.
“Doing ‘The Karate Kid’ was not a happy experience for me, and I think my performance reflected my feelings,” she says. “I didn’t feel anyone had passion for the work, at least during what I observed on the set. After feeling such a warm and positive commitment from the ‘Call to Glory’ cast, I thought I should re-think my future. The last thing I wanted to do was a ‘Karate Kid’ sequel.”
Shue has a strong concept of herself and her career. She firmly refuses to “do nudity on camera or a ‘Porky’s’ type (exploitation) film to become a star.”
“I don’t think it’s necessary to promote yourself as being sexy and placate the fantasies of a film’s audience,” she says. “I don’t imagine men will desire me after seeing ‘Babysitting.’ When I actually was a baby sitter, nobody paid me much attention--except the kids liked me because I let them stay up late.”
Mention stardom and Shue’s face contorts as if she’s imitating a monster. “I think it would be presumptuous to say that stardom is going to affect me at this point. If stardom means people will recognize me, then I’m prepared to lose some of my privacy. But I’m determined to lead a real life and not become a victim to the trappings of stardom. I have enough confidence in my ability to know when someone might fall in love with me or the image they see on screen.”
She laughs almost to herself. “I wouldn’t go out and buy a television in hopes of seeing me appear on a game or talk show.”
Nor are you likely to see Shue play the Hollywood game of new celebrity roulette. “I like visiting here but my whole family, my roots, exist on the East Coast. To leave that would be too painful for me.”
Shue confesses to be very rebellious and unlike her wholesome image on screen, but pressing her for an example produces a silly grin. “I’m not going to explain any rebellious act I did. Can you imagine how my parents would feel if they read I was a rebel in a family newspaper? Suffice to say nothing I did produced criminal charges, and who cares? Rest assured, if I’m given a role to play a wild girl, I will give a realistic performance.”
And as much as she enjoys the business, don’t be surprised, however, if she walks away.
“I just fell into acting and could easily drift away to a normal life. I’ve seen a way of life in this business that’s special and unique and creatively fulfilling. There’s also a level in this business that’s none of that and tears you apart. I could see myself teaching or working for a political cause helping people. My life on a basic level is more important than my career.”