Judd Nelson takes on a romantic drama

Judd Nelson thinks he got the wrong idea from working with John Hughes on the writer-director’s seminal 1985 teen angst drama “The Breakfast Club.”

“I thought all movies were going to be collaborative and have rehearsals and have a director who liked us,” said Nelson.

His smoldering performance as high school bad boy John Bender made Nelson an overnight sensation and a full-fledged member of the Brat Pack along with his “Breakfast Club” costars Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.

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And like the majority of the former Brat Packers, he’s had career ups and downs. Nelson’s kept working over the years in features (“New Jack City”), sitcoms (“Suddenly Susan”), episodic drama (“CSI”) and TV movies (“Cancel Christmas”), but none of his roles has been as memorable as John Bender.


“Many years ago, when I decided I was going to do this as a profession, my father — who is an attorney, the smartest guy that I know and has always been right — said to me, ‘You know it is a profession where merit is not necessarily rewarded. And you might find that uncomfortable.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ Cut to …"

Now Nelson is back in a new romantic drama from cult favorite Henry Jaglom, “Just 45 Minutes From Broadway,” which opens in limited release Wednesday. Based on Jaglom’s play of the same name, the film features Nelson as James, a button-down businessman who is engaged to his equally no-nonsense co-worker (Julie Davis). James’ life changes when he visits his fiancee’s family for Seder and falls for her free-spirited sister (Tanna Frederick), an actress.

“I have known Henry for a long time,” said Nelson, who despite his predilection for playing hotheaded characters is thoughtful and well-spoken. “I met him in New York 25 years ago. I thought he was smart and an interesting guy. I have seen all of his movies. Some I felt I understood and others I didn’t know what I was watching, but I enjoyed them.”

Nelson arrived very John Bender-like on a motorcycle for an interview at a tiny cafe on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. By the time he walked into the eatery though, the 52-year-old Nelson more resembled a literature professor, sporting wire-rim glasses, suit, multi-colored tie and neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard.

Frederick, Jaglom’s longtime leading lady both on-screen and off, sought out Nelson and brought him to read for one of Jaglom’s plays in 2006. “I am fascinated by talented complicated male actors,” Frederick said. “It’s fun to have watched them growing up and then sort of figure out who would be fun to play with on a set of Henry’s.”

“She showed me some of the television stuff he had done and it didn’t have the power and the specialness he had as a kid,” Jaglom said. “But she was very insistent. He was great at the readings. The grown-up Nelson was a real surprise.”

Still, he wasn’t quite sure he was right for the role of James. “A lot of people cautioned me,” he said, about casting Nelson. “They thought he was more or less stuck in the kid part of his career. Tanna said that it was so unfair. She bullied me.”

And Jaglom became a believer. “Working with Tanna seemed to bring him out,” he said. “We needed him to be very romantic at one point and he wasn’t going there. So she suddenly kisses him. He is a good enough actor to show confusion, which was perfect.”

Nelson and Frederick developed such rapport that she will be directing him next year in the film “Serendipity Green,” which Nelson describes as a romance between “two very odd characters.”

PHOTOS: John Hughes’ teens -- where are they now?

Nelson, who attended Haverford College in Pennsylvania, studied for two years with legendary acting teaching Stella Adler in New York. “I assumed [theater] is what I was going to do,” he said. “I didn’t audition for two years while I was with Stella. I was trying to treat it like college.”

“The Breakfast Club” came after a failed audition he had with Ringwald for a teen movie in which they would play brother and sister. “Months later, Molly mentioned me to John Hughes. She said there is this guy I auditioned with and he seemed to be fun.”

Nelson chuckled when he recalls the fact he was nearly thrown out by security at the first audition for “Breakfast Club” at Universal Studios offices in New York. He was getting into character by harassing people in the waiting room.

“I was teasing them a bit, but not bad,” he recalled. “But the receptionist thought I was bad.”


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