Pretty in Pink is rightfully considered a teen movie classic. The story of an awkward young girl (Molly Ringwald) who feels torn between her nerdy best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) and the handsome prep who has taken an interest in her (Andrew McCarthy) vie for her attention. Released at the height of John Hughes’ considerable stronghold over the American teenage movie market, the film often gets confused for one of his directorial efforts. But it was actually the debut feature of Howard Deutch, who would go on to have several more collaborations with Hughes and a prolific career in television and movies.
Amazingly, Pretty in Pink has never been on Blu-ray, until today. To mark the occasion, we chatted with Deutch about the making of the film, collaborating with Hughes, and how James Spader was already a pill when they shot the movie.
Collider: When you were making the movie, was there any sensation that this movie was going to have the longevity that it ended up having?
HOWARD DEUTCH: Oh yeah we knew from the beginning … No! We didn’t have a clue. We were just grateful we could get the movie.
John Hughes is a fascinating character and an elusive figure for much of his life. I think you and Chris Columbus are the only two filmmakers to work with him three times. What was your relationship like?
DEUTCH: It was very close. John was elusive. And he was close with very few people. It was like, if you were going to be close, it had to be very close. He had two young boys and his wife Nancy and you were part of that. You had lunch and dinner and breakfast with them, pretty much. That’s what it was. You were all in, or you were not in. I know Chris a little bit and I think he was spared that. But in the beginning, I was at the very beginning of all of this, I experienced that. I don’t regret it. I loved it. I didn’t know that many people in LA. And plus it helped me be with John while he was writing and creating, thinking about stuff. He would call me at all hours of the night, previewing ideas or sharing thoughts, or what ifs, or how-abouts. I think that’s what leaked into the movie and the work that we did.
Do you remember any of your suggestions that made it in?
DEUTCH: Oh yeah! Early on I was talking, I remember, about jealousy. How jealousy was a great thing to play, in terms of talking about Duckie. It’s been a long time, but I think that when he did extra passes into Pretty in Pink, he put a lot of that into Duckie’s character.
In a number of interviews, Hughes’ collaborators would talk about going through a “break-up” with him. Is that what happened between you or did you go your own way naturally?
DEUTCH: Well we had a long relationship. And there were bumps and hills and valleys. But we ended up being close for a long time. So no, we didn’t split. There was a moment when we did, but then we got back together.
Looking back on the film now, is there anything you wish you could have done or changed?
DEUTCH: I like it. I think it works. I think it’s simple. I think I didn’t know how to overthink it because I didn’t know what I was doing. The naivete worked for the movie. I was just about the performances. John said, “You’ve got to get these performances. You’ve got to interpret. That’s what a director does. You’re my interpreter.” And I took that to heart. He also said, “Take your comedy seriously.” Those are the things he instilled in me. They were like the bible to me. I always feel like that’s what he gave me. And the movie does mirror that, I believe.
Whose idea was it to cast Harry Dean Stanton?
DEUTCH: John’s. He always wanted Harry Dean. I remember that I wasn’t that crazy about the idea. But I went to meet Harry and he turned it down and didn’t want to do it. Then we went to meet him again, went to meet him at his house. Somebody said to him, “You have to hurry up.” And he said, “I’ll hurry up slow.” But he ended up doing. I worked with Harry years later on Big Love and he had dementia and he was very, very close to dying. And even with all that, when I saw him for the first time and said I was directing him, he said, “Why’d you cut that scene in Pretty in Pink where I buy the dress?” He still remembered that there was a scene in the script that we didn’t shoot. Amazing.
Well, the most famous rejiggering the movie went through was shooting a new ending. Can you talk about what that experience was like?
DEUTCH: No that’s the original ending.
DEUTCH: No I’m kidding. We tested it and it was a disaster and we were all shocked. And then John figured, okay we’ve got to find a way to get Andrew to the prom alone and then we can reverse engineer it and have Duckie make the sacrifice of his own love. And he did. It took him a couple of weeks to figure out. Paramount was freaking out. Finally, they gave me one day to reshoot it. It was hard. Then we showed the movie and it went great. People went crazy. So it was worth it. Dramatically, now, in retrospect it’s easier to see the forest from the tree, it’s a surprise this way. The other way, it’s not a surprise.
And the OMD song was written specifically for that scene, right?
DEUTCH: Yeah. They met with me. I said, hey, “I have this prom and right now I’m using ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ from Breakfast Club as a temporary piece of music.” And they said, “Okay.” And went off and wrote that.
Was it one test audience that did you in? I would hate to think that the Sherman Oaks Galleria had so much power.
DEUTCH: No the original test audience was on the Paramount lot. And after we re-did it we went to a theater. They knew they had a hit the second time.
What do you make of the Duckie character these days? He’s pretty weird!
DEUTCH: Originally, we wanted Anthony Michael Hall, who passed. A lot of people wanted to do it. But I remember seeing a movie [Jon Cryer] was in with Demi Moore and I said, “This guy is talented and funny.” But I always remember thinking, You don’t want to hurt this guy or he’ll die. And I said that to John. And John said, “Well let’s meet him.” And we did and he auditioned and John said, “That’s the guy.” There’s something so vulnerable and so much in love and so unusually eccentric so that was it, we knew.
Have you looked at the different reads of the character?
DEUTCH: I didn’t even know there was that. He’s just desperately in love. He lives for her. It’s a great line. He says, “I live for you and I can’t do that anymore.” That’s beautiful.
What was it like working with that many kids? You weren’t even 40 so you weren’t totally unhip. But what was that experience like?
DEUTCH: I’m always unhip. Molly was the tour guide. I hitched my wagon to her. She had the instincts for the clothing and the music and everything. I just knew to trust her. She was great in it. I loved working with everyone in that cast. Even Spader, who was a pain in the ass.
Spader was already a pain in the ass?
DEUTCH: In the right way. You want somebody to hate. But I was lucky. They’re all great performances. Annie Potts, the first thing I shot was her in the window of the record shop going, “Applause, applause.” That was all improv. I remember my mom saying to me, I wasn’t in a relationship at that point and I said, “I’m so lonely.” And she said, “Your girlfriend is the movie.” It was my whole life. It wasn’t like, “My job is to direct that movie.” It was like that was my life. I’d given up and risked so much. I had my own company. Even my shrink said, “Are you crazy? You’re giving all this up to direct a movie?” I said, “Yeah.” And I was. The lesson I got was – no risk, no reward. That’s really how I know I made the right decision.
Going forward you did Some Kind of Wonderful where you met your wife and The Great Outdoors. Did your relationship with Hughes and that process get easier? You made them all so quickly.
DEUTCH: It was exhausting. We did a lot of work in a short period of time. And Hughes was a genius. He was at work, at night, never slept, write write write. It was difficult for me to get him to be as close to me as we were on Pretty in Pink because he was doing Ferris or Planes and Trains. But we were close. I was prepping Planes and Trains at one point and then he said he wanted to do it. It was like an old studio thing. But we were partners. Eventually I felt obligated. I needed to do my own movie and I did. But I was lucky to have the time I had with him. He was unique and a great talent and a great person.
What was different about your version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles?
DEUTCH: I was in prep with it. It was John Candy. And we hadn’t cast Steve Martin yet. When Steve Martin said yes, John always loved Steve Martin and called me into his office and said, “Can I do it?” And I said, “Yeah, you wrote it!” So he ended up doing it.
Pretty in Pink is on Blu-ray and digital HD right now.