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Molly Ringwald breaks free from 'mom purgatory' in 'Feud: Capote vs. The Swans'

"I love being a mom, but I want to play somebody who pushes the story along," says actor Molly Ringwald. She plays Joanne Carson, ex-wife of Johnny Carson, in<em> Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.</em>
Shervin Lainez
"I love being a mom, but I want to play somebody who pushes the story along," says actor Molly Ringwald. She plays Joanne Carson, ex-wife of Johnny Carson, in Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.

Molly Ringwald grew to fame representing Gen-X teen angst in '80s films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. But her early success led to a career predicament: Ringwald says she went from playing teens in the '80s to "mom purgatory" — playing supportive mothers and entirely skipping what she calls the "sexy aunt" roles.

"I love being a mom, but I want to play somebody who pushes the story along," says the actor and mother of three. "You know, where I'm not just sort of patting my kid on the head and saying, 'You'll figure it out, honey.'"

In the new Ryan Murphy series, Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, Ringwald plays Joanne Carson, ex-wife of talk-show host Johnny Carson. Set in the 1970s, the FX series is about the late novelist Truman Capote and his high society friend group, composed of wealthy wives of successful men. The series represents a full-circle moment for Ringwald, who made her stage debut in Capote's The Grass Harp when she was 3 years old.

In addition to acting, Ringwald is a jazz musician, author and translator. Last year, she translated from French to English My Cousin Maria Schneider, a memoir written by the cousin of the late actor who catapulted to fame in the film The Last Tango in Paris.

"It's kind of strange, but I'm really happy with where I'm at right now," she says. "I'm a working actress ... but I can't say that that the opportunities have just been coming my way. So I've also been creating my own opportunities."


Interview highlights

On playing Joanne Carson on Feud

It wasn't that easy because there is not a lot of material on her. I went down multiple rabbit holes online just to look at what she looked like. I actually don't really look anything like the real Joanne. We're physically quite different. I think she was more petite and had really dark brown hair and big blue eyes. But what I got from her was a real kindness and love for Truman. Like, really unconditional love. I think she's kind of the only person in his life that seemed to really love him unconditionally.

Molly Ringwald plays Joanne Carson, ex-wife of Johnny Carson, in<em> Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.</em>
/ FX
/
FX
Molly Ringwald plays Joanne Carson, ex-wife of Johnny Carson, in Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.

On watching The Breakfast Club with her kids

I played it for my now 20-year-old daughter when she was 10, which was really, I think, too young to watch The Breakfast Club. But all of her friends had seen it. And she didn't want to watch it at a slumber party or ... with someone else. She wanted to watch it with me. So we did watch it. And I ended up doinga piece on that experience for This American Life.

It was really interesting to watch it with her and what she got out of it because, you know, at the age of 10, there was a lot of stuff that went over her head. ... We just kind of glossed over [the sexual innuendo] when we talked about it. But what we did get out of it was that ... I was putting pressure on her. Because, at the time, I was having a hard time with making her do her homework. ... I wanted her to be a certain kind of student. So it was really an incredible experience to be able to have that conversation and actually feel like it changed my relationship with her and it changed my way of parenting, basically.

On working with filmmaker John Hughes early in her career, but turning down a part in the 1987 film Some Kind of Wonderful, which Hughes wrote

I was asked to do Some Kind of Wonderful, which was directed by Howie Deutch, who also directed Pretty in Pink. ... I felt like I really wanted to do something different. I felt like I had already kind of covered that. ... My feeling was that I had to work with somebody else because I was going to get typecast. But you know what? I got typecast anyway, so I sort of just kept working with [Hughes].

On feeling conflicted when re-watching some of her films from the 1980s

I don't personally believe that you can erase the past, but you can look at it. And you can debate. And you can talk about it. And I believe that talking about it and understanding it is what sets us free, not trying to erase it.

Those movies are not perfect, but there is so much good in them. And there are also things that are not good or there's things that have changed. The lack of diversity bothers me in those movies. The sexual politics bother me. But they were movies of a time, and they were also movies that represented John [Hughes]. He was writing about something that he knew.

And I feel like it's important to look at where we have come from, because I don't think that we can understand where we're going if we don't look at where we've come from. To me, that is one of the dangers of this desire to erase the past. I don't personally believe that you can erase the past, but you can look at it. And you can debate. And you can talk about it. And I believe that talking about it and understanding it is what sets us free, not trying to erase it.

Heidi Saman and Thea Chaloner produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2024 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Corrected: February 13, 2024 at 12:00 AM EST
In the audio of this story, as in a previous web version, we incorrectly refer to My Cousin Maria Schneider as a memoir written by the niece of the late actor. In fact, author Vanessa Schneider is Maria Schneider's cousin.
Tonya Mosley is the LA-based co-host of Here & Now, a midday radio show co-produced by NPR and WBUR. She's also the host of the podcast Truth Be Told.

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