In the 1980s, Molly Ringwald wasn't so much a gay icon as she was a gay surrogate, taking on the roles we often saw ourselves in: the prissy prude (The Breakfast Club), the fifth wheel of the family (Sixteen Candles), the lonely outsider with the curious fashion sense (Pretty in Pink). Living alternately in Paris, London and New York since the '90s, Ringwald, 40, has returned to Hollywood—and the small screen—as with-it mom Anne Juergens in ABC Family's groundbreaking new teen drama, The Secret Life of the American Teenager. And while she's transitioned from a Brat Pack poster girl to a working actor and blissfully contented mom, she proves that redheads, not blonds, have more fun.
ABC has been pushing the envelop with Greek, but The Secret Life of the American Teenager is kind of a big step forward, don't you think? Well, my character, Anne, is the mother of two teenage kids at a Midwestern high school. And in the first episode we find out that Amy, my 15-year-old, is pregnant. But there's really a lot of different stories going on. That's just the one that sort of launches the show.
What's your take on Anne? What I like about her is that she’s still finding herself. She’s not June Cleaver or Clair Huxtable. She got married young, when she was pregnant herself, and she finds out her husband is cheating on her. So while she’s trying to be there for her daughter, she’s also grappling with the choices she made in her own life. I think she’s going to be changing and growing a lot.
A scene from The Secret Life of the American Teenager
Has public opinion about teen pregnancy changed since you played a 17-year-old mom in For Keeps? I think it’s still a very big deal. Amy is 15, and there’s a world of difference in those two years.
But it seems like Hollywood treats the subject a lot lighter than it used to. I mean, Juno was a comedy. I think its more something we talk about now, rather than try to sweep under the carpet, but teen sexuality is still a hot-button issue. The show was originally going to be called The Sex Life of the American Teenager, but it was changed.
Your own daughter, Matilda, is only 4. Is working on the series forcing you to think about the birds-and-the-bees talk already? I think I have a little time. [Laughs] But you can't help but personalize the story. I want to be there for her when the time comes, no matter what she came to me to talk about. I still remember going through all that stuff as a teenager myself.
Given her predicament, I guess we can assume Amy is straight. Are we going to see any gay classmates or parents? I think I can tell you this—I checked with [executive producer] Brenda [Hampton] and she said it was OK. Amy ultimately decides to put the baby up for adoption, and one of the families she interviews is a gay couple. Brenda knows my politics, so when told me I started jumping up and down and screaming “Oh, my God! Really?” It’s so cool that any show is going there, but especially one on ABC Family, which still has a huge Christian demographic. The show is really representative of what’s out there—the different issues teens face and the different kinds of teens you find in high school today. Obviously, gay kids are a part of that whole fabric, so it would make sense for there to be a gay student on the show at some point.
On the other hand, your neighbors on the show are a perky Christian family who are too wholesome for words. Are they the butt of all the jokes? I call them "the Blond Christians." Josie Bisset from Melrose Place is the mom and John Schneider plays the dad. The family doesn’t share the same values my character does—or I do—but they’re not caricatures. They’re presently fairly, which I think makes it more powerful. But we do get to have some fun with them.
Is it difficult getting back into a regular gig after taking some time off? I haven’t really taken any time off, it’s just what I’ve been doing hasn’t been seen by the vast majority of people. [Laughs] But that’s what happens when you do theater. Honestly, the show kind of came out of the blue for me. I was planning on moving to Los Angeles anyway because my husband is attending Stanford in the fall, and I knew I couldn’t live in Palo Alto. After doing so much theater for the last 10 years, I'm pretty excited to be working on a series, where my schedule is more normal and I can spend more time with my family. I'm sure after a while I'll want to do more stage work. But I'd like to do another movie too and maybe direct -- and learn how to play the ukulele. I'm eyeing one on eBay right now.
I hear you're a bit of an eBay junkie. Yeah, I love it. All the furniture in the house I just moved into is from eBay and CraigsList. Brenda says I should do a reality show where I go around the country and pick up all the things I've bought online. You know, when I go to pick things up now, I can sometimes see people looking at me in the doorway, thinking, Is that her?
Is L.A. a big culture shock after Europe and New York? It’s been a big adjustment. But I chose to live in Venice because my daughter Matilda’s godfather lives two blocks away with his husband.
Your daughter has a gay godfather? Yeah, Matt and I have known each other since I moved to L.A. the first time, when I was 10. And we’ve been best friends ever since. I was the best girl at his wedding, and he was a witness at mine. He’s the vice president of here! TV.
Are you going to have to be best girl again, now that gay marriage is finally legal in California? Well, it’s funny—Matt and Greg first got married in Catalina when it wasn’t legal, and then again in San Francisco when it was legal for a split second. I think they’re going back again in a few weeks to seal the deal.
I can imagine a lot of gay men would want you at their wedding. You must get a lot of them telling you how much movies like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink meant to them. All the time—it's really sweet. Also, for some reason, a lot of gay guys tell me that when they were growing up, they thought if they had to marry a woman, they would've wanted it to be me. Which I take as the highest of compliments.
Maybe it's because it'd mean they'd be one step closer to Jake Ryan. A lot of men have been pining for Jake. He's a bit of a gay icon.
I have been commanded to ask you this by all my friends: How could you choose Blane over Duckie? Are you kidding? Duckie was so totally gay!
Really!?! Oh, my God, yes! I didn’t realize it at the time, but he loves Andie the way gay men love their best female friend. We filmed an ending with me ending up with Duckie and it was a disaster. There was no energy at all.