“I don’t really do the Hollywood party thing. Some people party every night, but years ago I figured out that people who are getting ahead are getting it done before 6 p.m.” The youngest member of the Brat Pack, Anthony Michael Hall was once known for playing unpopular and nerdy characters thanks to his early fame in The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. Luckily, Hall was savvy enough to avoid being typecast his entire career and, at 49 years old, continues to prove his talents outside of his 1980’s fame and has taken on more character-driven roles in projects like Six Degrees of Separation, Pirates of Silicon Valley, The Dead Zone, Murdered in the First and War Machine. Today, after over four decades in the spotlight, let’s take a look at Hall’s early career, the height of his fame with the Brat Pack, and how he became the youngest cast member in the history of Saturday Night Live!
Michael Anthony Thomas Charles Hall was born on April 14, 1968 in West Roxbury, Massachusetts as the only son of an auto body shop owner and a jazz musician. With his parents divorcing when he was six months old, Hall’s mother was desperate to find work and moved the pair to the West Coast before eventually settling down in New York City where she married a show business manager named Thomas Chestaro. After years of watching his mother pursue her dreams as an actress and musician, Hall was only seven years old when he got his own start in the business after snagging several commercials for brands like Bounty and Honeycomb cereal. Two years later, he made his stage debut in a production of The Wake and joined Woody Allen in St. Joan of the Microphone.
Making the transition from theater to television and film, Hall starred as a young Edgar Allan Poe in the 1980 made-for-television film The Gold Bug, before turning heads for his performance opposite Kenny Rogers in Six Pack in 1982. Continuing his studies at Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School while going to every audition he could find, Hall won the part of Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation, which truly launched his career since his performance caught the eye of a talented director named John Hughes. Arguing that Hall upstaged Chase in the film, Hughes was determined to cast the young actor in his next film and did exactly that when he offered him the part of the nerdy Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles in 1984.
Hall’s performance opposite Molly Ringwald earned widespread praise and made him an overnight star as both his relationship with Hughes and his career blossomed. In 1985, he made headlines as the youngest member of the Brat Pack when he starred alongside Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. He followed up the classic with Weird Science and became the youngest cast member in history to join Saturday Night Live—he was only 17 years old at the time.
“Despite the frustrations of the six-day preparation and the around-the-clock rehearsing and all that, just the doing of the show is amazing,” Hall recalled. “That hour and a half when you’re going out live to the world. And also, I have to admit, the parties afterwards were unbelievable. You know, I’m 17 or 18 years old, and we did the show and okay, Madonna’s the guest host. You look up into the crowd and there would be Sean Penn. And then at the post-parties at the Rainbow Room, I get there and I look to my right and there’s Andy Warhol with Jean Michel Basquiat and I look to my left, and there’s David Bowie. It was just surreal.”
Coincidentally, SNL played into Hall’s reputation for having a party-hard lifestyle, which is ultimately why he left the show and later entered rehab. Before his two-year hiatus and sobriety, however, Hall turned down offers from Hughes to star in Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to avoid being typecast, a decision many critics argued was like putting a nail in his Hollywood coffin. “I felt that I was being true to myself in doing that,” Hall said. “Even as a teenager, I’ve always thought in terms of longevity. My family’s always been wonderful in terms of supporting me in that regard, in thinking of the long term. Robert Downey Jr.’s father, Robert Downey Sr., had a great line to me years ago. He was with Downey and I when we were writing a script together. He blurted out this line, ‘In the long haul, the short one won’t make it.’ I had my mind set even at that age that I would continue to make films and hopefully be a presence in the industry for many years.”
In 1990, Hall was sober and ready for work when he starred in Edward Scissorhands opposite Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder. He then focused on establishing himself as a more mature actor and finally achieved that with his performance in Six Degrees of Separation in 1993. Admitting that the role was the hardest of his career, Hall followed up the performance with the Emmy-nominated television film, Pirates of Silicon Valley, where he made his performance as Bill Gates appear effortless. By the new millennium, he returned to television full time when he was cast as Johnny Smith on The Dead Zone, which rekindled Hall’s fame as the series became the highest rated on the USA Network.
Developing the character over the next five seasons and even working behind the scenes as a producer, Hall wrapped up The Dead Zone in 2007 and has spent the last decade making appearances in series like Entourage, Community, CSI: Miami, Psych, Z Nation, Rosewood and Murder in the First. As for film, he’s stayed busy on the silver screen in Dead in Tombstone, Foxcatcher, Natural Selection and Results with his most recent projects including his performance as General Hank Pulver in War Machine and as Professor Merkin in Bodied, both of which were released in 2017.
Despite spending years working to avoid being typecast as the awkward teenager, the 49-year-old Hall hasn’t forgotten his roots and how those early performances established his career. “I grew up in the public eye and I can’t hide from that. I always embrace the work I’ve done before,” he says. “I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for those movies… I feel very fortunate to have been able to do those films. It gave me the tools I needed to be where I am today.”