|Famous For: The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire and Suddenly Susan||Currently Known For: Empire|
Currently Known For Empire
“My Brat Pack buddies and I didn’t exactly handle celebrity very well. Success at an early age is far more difficult to handle than failure.” Often considered one of the most misunderstood actors, producers and screenwriters in the industry, Judd Nelson doesn’t seem to mind especially since he never planned on a career in show business in the first place. Only auditioning for a part in Haverford College’s theater department because he wanted to spend time with beautiful actresses, Nelson surprised himself when he discovered he had a natural knack for acting. Ultimately leaving college to pursue acting full time, Nelson rose to fame as part of the Brat Pack with classics like The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire before proving his staying power with credits in Suddenly Susan, The Transformers: The Movie, and New Jack City. Currently starring as Billy Beretti in Empire, the 57-year-old also has a few films in the works including Billionaire Boys Club and Cojot.
The only son of three children born to well-known attorneys in Portland, Maine, Judd Asher Nelson came into this world on November 28, 1959. He attended New Hampshire’s prestigious St. Paul’s preparatory school and enrolled at Haverford College in Pennsylvania where his interest in theater only blossomed after he discovered the prettiest girls were on the stage. “When I was in college, all the pretty women were in the theatre, so I auditioned for a play,” Nelson admitted. Winning the part, he was instantly bitten by the acting bug and, after wrapping up his first production, he risked everything by dropping out of college during his sophomore year and moving to Manhattan where he studied acting under Stella Adler.
It didn’t take long before Nelson made his film debut in Making the Grade in 1984 before he auditioned for and won the part of Phil Hicks in Fandango opposite Kevin Costner. “When I read the script, the role that was interesting—so everyone thought—was the role that Costner played,” Nelson recalled. “He was the cool guy. And I read the script, and my representation at the time said, ‘That’s the role you should read for.’ And I was like, ‘Really? How about I read for this other role.’ And they went, ‘Well, you’re not going to get that role.’ And so, I go, ‘How about I get the role and then we don’t work together anymore?’ And they laughed. And so, I got the role and then we didn’t work together anymore.”
Snagging the part was a huge boost for Nelson’s confidence but even bigger things were on the horizon when he won the part of John Bender in John Hughes’ 1985 coming-of-age classic, The Breakfast Club. While the film was a huge success at the box office and sealed Nelson’s fate as a beloved member of the Brat Pack alongside Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald, the experience itself was incredibly memorable for Nelson. “I remember Emilio and I were at John’s house during the rehearsal process and John had mentioned he wrote the first draft of Breakfast Club in a weekend,” Nelson recalled. After learning Hughes had four other drafts of the script, Nelson and Estevez happily poured over the material. “We asked if we could take some things that weren’t in the shooting draft, but from earlier drafts… and Hughes was very amenable to all that,” Nelson said. “It was just wonderful...”
Not yet realizing just how big The Breakfast Club would be, Nelson wrapped up filming and jumped into his next project, St. Elmo’s Fire, starring his Breakfast Club costars as well as Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy and Demi Moore. A year later, he voiced Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime in The Transformers: The Movie and joined Ally Sheedy in Blue City in 1986. He then ventured over to television with credits in Moonlighting before earning two Golden Globe Award nominations for his performance as Joe Hunt in Billionaire Boys Club in 1987. Adding in credits in Relentless, Never on a Tuesday and Far Out Man, Nelson welcomed the 1990s with credits in The Dark Backward and New Jack City before making his debut as a producer in the 1995 thriller, Every Breath.
Nelson proved his staying power when he landed the role of Jack Richmond on NBC’s hit sitcom Suddenly Susan. Spending three years on the series, Nelson struggled emotionally after the death of his costar, David Strickland. “I just couldn’t go back to Suddenly Susan after David Strickland’s suicide,” Nelson admitted. “I didn’t see how we could make the show light and funny anymore.” After leaving the series in 1999, Nelson appeared in a string of television movies and made cameos in popular television series like CSI: NY, Family Guy, Transformers: Animated, Psych and Two and a Half Men. In 2013, he was cast in Ben 10: Omniverse and appeared in two episodes of Nikkita.
Today, the 57-year-old Nelson stays busy with his recurring role as Billy Beretti in Empire in addition to film projects like Billionaire Boys Club and Cojot. Of course, he’s still recognized for his work in The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire and his association with the Brat Pack, which isn’t a term he necessarily embraces. Instead, he’s quick to shift the focus to the films themselves, especially when it comes to John Hughes and his experience working so closely with the legendary director. “He was the first filmmaker that could look at someone who was young without seeing them as being less,” Nelson says. “The only thing someone young is less of is less old, that’s it. And Hughes was well aware that to ignore the seriousness of young people is to encourage things like Columbine, so you might want to listen. And we were all pretty serious, a little bit, in high school. Some a little more than others. I think most of us aren’t really willing to remember it, you know? We kind of gloss it over. And Hughes really wanted it to sound authentic. He was a real collaborator. He encouraged us to bring to the material things we thought were maybe more truthful.”
Taking a cue from Hughes and working to leave a lasting impression on Hollywood, Nelson’s approach is simple: “I like every single actor or actress in the world because we never know what the conditions are like when they are working. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and root for them like a psychotic sports fan.” Coincidentally, that’s exactly how we root for Nelson, one of our favorite 1980’s stars!