DIALOGUE: Molly Ringwald & Brian Kerwin
By Jamie Painter
Back Stage West
Thursday, February 18 1999
Stage West recently met with actors Molly Ringwald and Brian Kerwin
during a rehearsal for Mark Taper Forum's upcoming production
of Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning How I Learned To Drive
now in previews and opening Feb. 25. Ringwald stars as Li'l Bit,
a role she first played Off-Broadway. Likewise, Kerwin reprises
the lead role of Uncle Peck, which he played at Seattle's Intiman
began her career at the age of 10 and, at 13, starred with John
Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands in Tempest, for which she was nominated
for a Golden Globe. Shortly after, she starred in a string of
coming-of-age blockbusters, such as Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast
Club, and Pretty in Pink, followed by The Pick-up Artist, Fresh
Horses, and Betsy's Wedding. In 1992, Ringwald decided to take
a leave of absence from Hollywood and moved to Paris for four
years. Her foreign films include Seven Sundays, Jean-Luc Godard's
King Lear, and Enfants de Salaud.
She returned to America in 1996 and starred opposite Billy Bob
Thornton in the short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade, which
was later adapted into the Oscar-winning Sling Blade. Her recent
credits include Cindy Sherman's feature directing debut Office
Killer, the TV series Townies, the miniseries The Stand, and the
Emmy-nominated Allison Gertz Story and Women & Men. Her upcoming
film work includes Killing Mrs. Tingle, Hearts and Bones, and
Lifetime's Two Cups of Joe.
Ringwald has participated in readings of Sun Bearing Down for
the La Jolla Playhouse, and Salome with Al Pacino for Circle-in-the-Square.
She made her New York stage debut by originating the title role
in Horton Foote's Lily Dale.
Brian Kerwin's many theatre credits include Who's Afraid of Virginia
Woolf?, directed by Edward Albee at the Doolittle Theatre, The
Subject Was Roses at the Callboard Theatre, Strange Snow at the
Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and the Coast Theatre in L.A.,
Torch Song Trilogy, and Little Foxes in New York. His film credits
include Love Field, Torch Song Trilogy, and Jack. His many television
credits include Dead Man's Gun, Sheriff Lobo, The Young and the
Restless, Tales From the Hollywood Hills, Angel Falls, and myriad
movies of the week.
West: I understand, Molly, that you moved to Paris for four
years back in the early '90s. Were you burnt out?
It was the wine and food.
Ringwald: Exactly. I was in my early 20s and I knew that
that was probably going to be the only chance to ever do anything
like that. I had worked all of my teenage years pretty much and
I just needed to have a time-out and have an education. I had
just applied to USC before I went and I was accepted and I was
supposed to start in the fall and that summer I went to Paris
and thought, I think I'd much rather stay here and have my education
here. It was really like I almost did a college education, developing
my own curriculum.
Kerwin: I went to USC and I can tell you, you did much
better in Paris.
Ringwald: I think so. It really opened me up. I learned
another language, which I never would have done if I was at USC,
probably. I don't know if formal education is for me. I learn
from doing things. I'm not good at reading directions; I'm good
at trial and error. I've always been that way. I've sort of done
my studying by working with great people, and I've been lucky
in my life to constantly meet people who've inspired me and taught
me. When I started on this play with Paula [Vogel], I said, "Can
I be one of your adopted students?" And she said, "Of
course. Any time. Ask me anything. I'll look at your writing,"
because I write also.
I've been lucky to meet mentors like that. And that's pretty much
what you would hope you'd be doing in school, having good teachers.
You just have to learn how to be disciplined.
Kerwin: I started acting in New York and very quickly came
out here and got involved in that whole Equity Waiver swirl, and
out of that came actually paying television work. Whenever I was
doing TV work or whenever there was a lull, I was always going
back and doing theatre because that was the good and the bad side
of Equity Waiver. There was this ultimate respect for paying jobs.
Basically, you could be halfway into rehearsal and get a job and
say, "I'm out of here," and leave. And that was one
of the given gambles to anybody putting a show together.
But I was constantly doing theatre. I never felt unemployed for
the first few years, although many times I was, because I was
always doing one stage show or another. That's what kept me going.
Now, I have a wife and three kids and that keeps me very busy
in between jobs.
If you're still in school, I would really strongly recommend that
you finish your education. Also, when you go to college, think
about studying something outside of acting. Not to say that acting
schools aren't positive, but I think there's just as much that
you can put into your acting from having a scientific education,
knowing something about chemistry or archeology. All that stuff,
I think, really helps your acting. People who just focus too early
on this business are very limited in what they can do ultimately.
Kerwin: I've always held that there is no reasonable or
rational behavior to how careers work out. In other professions
in life, you can expect that if you put in this much, you will
get out that much. But for anybody starting out in acting, you
just hope that they really like what they're doing, because there
is no guarantee that anything is going to work out, no matter
how talented they are. There is no rationale to it. Some of it
is pure dumb luck. A lot of it is persistence and perseverance.
You really have to be able to deal with rejection. If you're getting
rejected nine times out of 10, you're doing well. But then you've
got to be able to deal with the fact that it really may all not
work out. That is a real possibility. That's the most likely possibility.
Look at all the people in acting schools and drama workshops,
and then look at how many people are employed in a given year.
It's a heartbreaking statistic. So really only do it because you
love doing it. That may be the only thing you get out of it?personal
Ringwald: And have a really strong center. Not necessarily
a fallback, but have something that fires you up besides acting.
Sometimes it can be something that feeds into the acting. But
have something so you don't crumble every time you put everything
into this and then everyone says, "No. We don't want you."
Have something else that makes you strong in your center.
BSW: Why do you love acting?
Kerwin: I don't know. It never occurred to me that I love
acting. I just do it. It's more like a need to express myself.
I think I tried as a young man to find some way to express myself.
I played a lot a music. I fancied myself a singer/songwriter.
I wrote poetry. I tried painting. I tried opening a business.
I was trying anything that would in some way get out what I was
trying to express. The bottom line was this is the one that actually
And it was interesting. Because I was trying this, trying that.
And it's not that I didn't try them in earnest and study and try
to be the best I could. But acting was the one that two years
into it, I felt, My God! I haven't failed at this yet. This is
odd. I had a career going before it occurred to me that I was
attempting to have a career. I never went through that period
of aspiring for the goal of "I want to be an actor."
I was just doing a whole bunch of stuff, part of which was acting,
and it started working out.
Acting is really a love/hate thing for me. So often when I'm working
in films or in rehearsal, not so much onstage, I hate it. It's
frustrating. It drives me crazy. I wish I could find a better
way to express what I'm trying to do. So I don't always love it.
It's really grueling for me sometimes. This just seems to be the
one place that I am able to vent. And every so often you get that
chance and Uncle Peck in this play is one of those roles that
really meshes nicely with who you are. I've done one or two other
plays where I've realized I'm hitting the nail on the head. Then
it's very gratifying, because I'm in some way saying to this whole
group of people, "Life is like this..." You show them
and they understand it. It's lovely to be able to express that.
Ringwald: I don't know exactly why I'm still acting other
than the fact of the matter, it sounds immodest, but I do it well.
I'm good at what I do and I find some satisfaction in doing it
well. I don't suspect I'll be acting forever. I think I can have
a long career, but I have other interests. When I was younger,
I found acting pretty much in anything enjoyable, because when
you're younger I think you have less lucidity. Now I'm a little
bit more selective and more private as a person and I only want
to act for certain projects. Acting, as an adult, I find more
difficult, just because I do have more distance and I do have
more lucidity. The older that you get, if your mind continues
to develop as you hope it will, you ask yourself, Why am I doing
this? What is this about? What am I getting out of it? But I have
no definitive answer about why I'm acting. I think it's totally