Previously Known For: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink
|Currently Known For: The Secret Life of the American Teenager and Riverdale|
“I just did in my early twenties what most did when they were teenagers, being free and exploring and making mistakes, but I did it in France. I did it privately.” From first taking the stage as an orphan in a production of Annie to becoming “America’s princess” in the 1980s, Molly Ringwald has certainly done it all over the last four decades. After her performance in Annie earned her a spot in The Facts of Life in 1979, Ringwald was on the fast track to stardom when she caught the eye of director John Hughes who cast her in soon-to-be classics like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink throughout the 1980s. Enjoying similar success over the next decade, Ringwald has managed to find lasting fame in Hollywood as a beloved member of the Brat Pack but, more importantly, she’s also remained incredibly grounded after a lifetime of fame. So, how does she do it? From her early fame and a hiatus in France to her grand return to television, let’s take a look at Ringwald’s stellar career!
The daughter of a blind jazz pianist and a chef, Molly Kathleen Ringwald was born on February 18, 1968 in Roseville, California where, from an early age, she developed an interest in performing alongside her dad. Making her stage debut at five years old in a production of Alice Through the Looking Glass, she joined her father’s band and recorded “I Wanna Be Loved by You” on their 1974 Dixieland jazz album. Even bigger things were on the horizon for Ringwald who was later cast as an orphan in the West Coast production of Annie. Taking the stage for the first time in Los Angeles in 1978, Ringwald’s performance caught the attention of a casting director in the audience who invited her to appear in an episode of Diff’rent Strokes.
Ringwald’s television debut left such a lasting impression that she was soon cast as the perky Molly Parker in the Diff’rent Strokes spinoff series, The Facts of Life. The show was revamped for its second season and Ringwald was cut from the cast, but she spent the next year lending her voice to Disney albums—Yankee Doodle Mickey and Disney’s Merry Christmas Carols—before she made her feature film debut in Tempest in 1982. Earning a Golden Globe nomination for her performance, she caught the eye of director John Hughes who cast her in his 1984 film, Sixteen Candles. The following year, Hughes cast her opposite Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club, which sealed Ringwald’s fate as a member of the Brat Pack. In 1986, she starred in the most iconic role of her career, Pretty in Pink.
“John saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself,” Ringwald said of working with Hughes. “He had complete confidence in me as an actor, which was an extraordinary and heady sensation for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old girl… Before I made movies with John, whenever people thought of teen movies, they thought of Animal House and Porky’s. John was doing something very different. He wasn’t creating slapstick. His pictures were from a teenager’s point of view.”
At the height of her fame, Ringwald graced the cover of Time magazine in 1986 and joined Robert Downey, Jr. in The Pick-Up Artist in 1987 before marking the end of her teen film career with Final Keeps. During this time, her collaboration with Hughes ended when she declined to be in his next film, Some Kind of Wonderful. Coincidentally, she also declined roles in Pretty Woman and Classic, neither of which Ringwald regrets since it allowed her the chance to finish high school and move to Paris, France.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been good at following other people’s advice or counsel. That’s not my strong suit. I have a very independent spirit. I was always advised to go to college. I applied and got accepted, but went to Paris instead,” Ringwald said. “I went there for work, but I fell in love with Paris—and then I fell in love with a guy from Paris. It was great. I learned to speak French, worked in French, and traveled all over. Eventually, I missed my family and home.”
After starring in several French films, Ringwald returned to the United States an entirely different woman. More selective in her work, she appeared in Strike It Rich and starred in Betsy’s Wedding, Something to Live for: The Alison Gertz Story and Malicious. She returned to television with credits in Townies and Since You’ve Been Gone before earning an MTV Movie Award nomination in 2001 for her cameo in Not Another Teen Movie. Even then, she wasn’t the same Ringwald of the 1980s. “Hollywood was never as important to me as it once had been,” she recalled of her transition from France to America, from teen star to adult actress. “I wasn’t driven in the same way—and I’m still not. I enjoy what I do and I love filmmaking, but I’m not interested in the game and politics of Hollywood.”
Instead of playing the Hollywood game, the now 49-year-old Ringwald has carved out her own career path and has spent the last decade doing projects that she truly enjoys. She’s starred in Broadway and Off-Broadway productions like Cabaret, Modern Orthodox, and tick, tick… BOOM! in addition to made-for-television films like The Wives He Forgot. In 2008, she returned to television as Anne Juergens in The Secret Life of the American Teenager and spent five seasons on the show before snagging a leading role in the Canadian sitcom, Raising Expectations, in 2016. Most recently, she joined former teen heartthrob, Luke Perry, as a guest star in the CW drama, Riverdale.
Beyond television, theater and film, Ringwald also finds time for her first passion—music—and released her debut album, Except Sometimes, in 2013. “I grew up in a home filled with music and had an early appreciation of jazz since my dad was a jazz musician,” she says. “I like to say jazz music is my musical equivalent of comfort food. It’s always where I go back to when I want to feel grounded.” And, speaking of home, while jazz music offers another world of comfort for Ringwald, she also enjoys her life at home with her husband, writer and editor Panio Gianopoulos, and their three children who are just now old enough to appreciate their mom’s early career and her reputation as one of the greatest teen stars in the history of film.