Interview – Anthony Michael Hall

Interview – Anthony Michael Hall

One of the ’80s brightest young stars, Anthony Michael Hall’s face was all over film throughout the decade. From playing the original Rusty Griswold in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation, to his breakout role in 1985’s The Breakfast Club and Weird Science, Hall made a name for himself with his distinctive comedic talents. Branching off to more serious roles as the years went by – from The Dead Zone to Murder in the First series – he solidified himself as a multi-faceted actor. 

Now decades into his career, Hall continues to seek new challenges, but also reflect on what has led him here. Speaking of which, he most recently stars in and executive producers the new film The Class. An homage to The Breakfast ClubThe Class is a film that follows the story of a group of students who have been thrown together, only to find they are as human as the other. Excited to be a part of The Class, Hall sat to talk about his lengthy career, what he has learned, plus a whole lot more.    

Cryptic Rock You began your career as an actor at a very young age and found tremendous success. Working in Comedy, Dramas, and everything in between, briefly tell us, how would you describe your career to this point?

Anthony Michael Hall – (Laughs) A long journey! It’s been pretty epic. I started when I was eight years old in New York City where I was raised; I was cast in a play and worked with the late, great Steve Allen. It’s interesting when I think back, it’s been a long time because here I am at fifty-four, so it’s been decades. It’s been a long and very gratifying journey. I have really enjoyed the decade from childhood until now, it’s been very interesting. It has also been very challenging at times, but very gratifying. I love working for myself too… that’s something that has been really gratifying for me. It is also a very collaborative effort when you make a film or a television show. 

It’s really a combination of things. I think it takes a lot of resolve and determination to work in any kind of career in the arts or any kind of creative life. I’m grateful, proud of myself for having endured, plus grateful for all the great people I’ve worked with and experience I have had over the years. That is a very interesting question and this is kind of a long form answer, but I’m just really grateful for the journey.

Warner Bros

Universal Pictures

Cryptic Rock It sounds like it has been a really exciting experience. Starting at eight years old, you would go on to work extensively in your teenage years during the ’80s. Starring in a list of great films, ones which are still watched today, what was that time like for you as you were coming into your own as a person in the limelight?

Anthony Michael Hall – That’s a great question. It was surreal. I did so much from that time. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) was the film that kind of changed everything for me. It was directed by Harold Ramis, but written by John Hughes, and even though I didn’t meet John on that film, from working on Vacation, it led me to meet him on Sixteen Candles (1984). 

I often joke it took me from age twenty to age forty to process what had happened from age fifteen to twenty. (Laughs) It was a lot to be thrust into the limelight and suddenly have public exposure as a kid, I’m not going to lie. It kind of compounded the normal things you feel as a kid anyway; the self-consciousness and awkwardness at times. It was exciting, shocking, surprising, but I also felt a deep sense of gratitude. 

Again, the collaboration with John Hughes was incredible, I really wouldn’t even be here without him. It was a wonderful way to enter into the business; I was able to work with such a great guy like him as a collaborator. Dealing with the ramifications of success, celebrity, or whatever you want to call it… it was a lot to deal with both for myself and I think even my family. But I learn, you adjust, and you just keep growing. You grow through the experiences and just keep going. That is something I also feel very grateful for… to have that sense of determination and work ethic that kept me going forward.

Cryptic Rock  Absolutely. It would be a lot for anyone coming into their own as a person and having themselves in the spotlight. You have done a lot of work since those years and diversified. Was it important to you to step out from playing similar characters and try different things?

Anthony Michael Hall – That was definitely part of the plan… if there was any that I had. I wanted to mix it up. A lot of my favorite actors or actresses are greats who can do that. Someone who comes to mind for me is Ben Kingsley; I always admired seeing him play Gandhi when I was a kid. Then I did a movie with Brad Pitt called War Machine (2017) for Netflix and I got to work with Sir Ben Kingsley. Again, it was a great experience. I was with my now wife at the time and I had her come to the set with me on a day where Ben was working and I wasn’t actually going to be shooting. I got to see him, meet him, and it was great. My point is he is a great example of diversity – he can go from a film like Sexy Beast (2000) and then do The House of Sand and Fog (2003). The idea is going and playing complex characters; whether it is so called good guys, comedies, or someone villainous. That said, I think there are so many great actors and actresses in the world. I’ve often sought inspiration from those kinds of people and those kinds of careers where they were able to diversify over the years.

It’s interesting, I kind of just had an instinct for that when I was a kid. I just felt like that was the route for me and I wanted to kind of mix that up. That is something I’ve tried to do, but you don’t always have the luxury of choosing your parts; you always have to hustle and get the work. That is also something that cultivated a good work ethic in me, because you always have to earn it. Those things in combination helped create a real work ethic and certain determination that I generated in myself. 

I’m grateful that I hung in there with it and for having an eye for being able to mix it up and play a lot of different parts; it’s enjoyable. A lot of the time, because of the ‘celebrity’ and the things I had to deal with as a young kid actor, I applied that to my life. I felt like it was important to disappear into the work and diversify the work for that reason – to keep going, keep surprising myself, and hopefully others with my work. 

That was part of a working philosophy that I earned… it generated over time. I learned I wanted to work and mix it up. Like I said, honestly, you have to really earn the work, it’s not always handed to you. I’m proud of those aspects of my career.

Universal Pictures

VH1

Cryptic Rock Rightfully so, because you really have mixed it up quite well over the years. Your latest film, The Class, is a fun one with a lot of depth. Clearly it is an homage to The Breakfast Club (1985) in many aspects. So, how did it come about for you? 

Anthony Michael Hall – I met Nicholas Celozzi through a mutual friend, we struck up a conversation, and he sent me the script. This was over two years ago, and to be honest with you, I was really struck by the quality of it; I think he really struck all the notes. As you said, it’s an homage, not a remake. It’s a new entirely different screenplay with new characters. I thought what he did was take the structure of what John Hughes had created, adapted it, overlaying it with a completely new set of characters and all new material. I think he did a great job because when you see the film, what you see is all the kids are dealing with real world issues. It is not like these issues did not exist thirty to forty years ago, it’s just people were mostly concealing about it and not out in the open with it. I think with this it was really important to expose all of that. 

In The Class, these kids are dealing with real world issues such as life or death, health issues, alcoholism, their own sexuality, etc. These are a lot of things that are prevalent, real-world issues we all deal with at any age. The fact that he gave these challenges and character traits to our characters in the film made it really strong. Again, I think what makes any film, or Comedy in general, great is that sense of conflict with the writing. You have all these characters with great arcs, a lot of interesting backstories, and then there is the collision of them all coming together creating a really nice, true to form, honest homage to The Breakfast Club. At the same time, I think Nick took it a step further, because their personal conflicts and personal biographies, in some ways, are much more intense than we had all those years ago with John. 

I’m very proud of The Class as a producer and an actor. I’m proud of our Writer/Director Nick Celozzi, and this whole young cast, but also John Kapelos who was great; he worked with me on the John Hughes films and he was kind of to join us and play in The Class. Debbie Gibson also does a great job; she’s a real natural actress and very likable on the screen. 

Cryptic Rock Yes, everyone does a fantastic job. As mentioned, there is a lot of depth here. What is interesting about The Class is at first you might not like these characters, but then the layers start to peel off and you see there is more to them. 

It is important for a film like this nowadays because with the current social climate, there is plenty of judgement to go around. A film like The Class humanizes us again. We have been very much dehumanized and a film like this makes you feel human again.

Anthony Michael Hall – That is a great point. You are right, we have seen our world evolve, but there have been some sad aspects of that too. People feel more pressured and certainly the pandemic had a huge effect on it. You also have the downward spiral in the economy and all these different things combine to create bigger challenges. 

You are right, I think people have become in some ways more tribalistic and judgmental. I think it’s a wonderful outcome to view The Class that way; if it helps break that feeling up and that’s a great thing. I think art should reflect life and ultimately movies and TV should be about redemption. When you are dealing with real conflicts, you also have to redeem those people in the eyes of the audience. 

I really appreciate your commentary that you felt it did that as a film and a piece of work. At the same time, there are a lot of moments of humor where there is a cathartic release from all the intense conflicts happening.

Cryptic Rock Yes, it’s that cathartic release that makes it enjoyable to watch as well. In the real world, the climate has become extremely serious and it feels like many have lost any humility or humor. In The Class the character realizes, even though we are different, we are also the same in some ways. 

Anthony Michael Hall – Right, and that was the message of The Breakfast Club. Again, hats off to John Hughes and to Nicholas Celozzi, because The Class represents that same notion/idea. I have had many years to think about what made The Breakfast Club work. I think it is about the deconstruction of stereotypes, but at the end of the day what’s unifying about it, is what you said, it brings people together to realize they are more alike than dissimilar. That’s a really important lesson for all of us in life. Sometimes there is a tendency in human beings to put up walls, separate themselves, us and them, etc. We’ve seen all of that magnified in society, certainly more so in the last three years which I think is shocking for a lot of us. I think anything that kind of chips away at that is a great thing. I think The Breakfast Club did that, and I think The Class does it too. 

Brainstorm Media

Cryptic Rock Agreed. Also, if you are paying attention, you will see The Class has a lot of Easter eggs for The Breakfast Club fans. For example, there is a scene where there is a poster on the wall in a classroom where Molly Ringwald’s name is reversed. 

Anthony Michael Hall – Right! (Laughs) There is another one too where there is a picture of a young African American student whose name was Michael Hall running for student council. The art department had some fun playing with our names and making little homages to John Hughes and the rest of us.

It was a great experience. We shot at Elmhurst University in the suburbs of Chicago. They were really helpful and supportive. A lot of it felt like a homecoming for that reason. I was going back to Chicago with my now wife and I was able to show her the town and I really got to see Chicago and enjoy it again. 

In a very similar way to The Breakfast Club, we didn’t have a long lengthy production schedule. It was around the same amount of time; we had five weeks back in the day and the same for The Class. I have this theory that people thrive under adversity whether they are aware of it or not. When you are making a film, it is that same type of thing – people are thrown together, much like the tension in The Class, and they have to make the best of it. People have to see the same goal, and at the same time, interpersonally work things out and find a way to work together to gel.

Cryptic Rock Very true. There is also an original song which is performed on screen by Hannah Kepple and written by Debbie Gibson. This song works very well with the film. Was it added after the production or a part of the original idea?

Anthony Michael Hall – I think that was something Nick Celozzi worked out with Debbie and she was kind enough to include Hannah in that process. She wrote the song, recorded it with Hannah, and it was something that was done in conjunction with the making of the film. 

I was really impressed with Debbie Gibson as a person. She’s really a nice lady, super down to earth, and very cool. She was all for it, she really loved the project and the script. She delivered… she is a really natural actress and very likable in the film too. We were all really happy she was a part of the film. She also became like a mother to the kids on the set. In the university we were using a faculty lounge as a green room; it was a dressing room, hang out room, everything. We would often all be in there together in between scenes. It was a nice bonding time and nice experience for all of us making the film.

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a fantastic time. People should really check out The Class, it is a breath of fresh air. Speaking of Debbie Gibson, she also began her career very young as well. She was writing and recording her own music while only a teenager. 

Anthony Michael Hall – Yes, it was interesting learning about her personal details. Sadly, she lost her mother since we made The Class and I’m very sorry for her loss; she was very close to her mother. She told her great stories on set how dedicated her mother was. Her mother was the one taking her to the shows, going into New York City to clubs/venues and getting her out there. Debbie really had that work ethic, but not just as a songwriter, but as a singer, performer, and producer from such a young age. It was really interesting hearing about the bond she had with her mother and how her mother was really instrumental in helping her. 

Debbie and I share a lot in common. We both started out as young kids, my mother wasn’t as involved in my career as much, but she was very much supportive; my mother is an artist herself, she was a singer, still is, and teaches voice. It was very cool getting to know Debbie, we have a lot of common connective points; we’re both Italian Americans, started out as young kids, etc. She’s a great lady and a lot of fun.

Lionsgate

Lionsgate

Cryptic Rock – That is very interesting to hear. You seem like someone who is a big fan of film yourself. That in mind, what are some of your personal favorites?

Anthony Michael Hall – To this day my favorite director of all was Martin Scorsese. That was a really connecting point for my father and I. Growing up it was Raging Bull (1980), Taxi Driver (1976), etc. Even as a kid in the ’70s I was watching all those Comedies with Chevy Chase and Bill Murray with Stripes (1981). 

I love all those Comedies that came out of the ’70s, like Animal House (1978), which made me fall in love with movies. I also from a young age I remember loving the James Bond films in the era of Roger Moore. I also loved The Pink Panther films with Peter Sellers. These are the films that made me fall in love with movies as a kid; I would go to the movie theater and seek out Comedies. 

Growing up I loved SNL too. I also loved watching comedians. I think my two heroes growing up were Richard Pryor and George Carlin. I would listen to their albums and watch all the Comedies in the ’70s. I have a lot of favorites.

For more on Anthony Michael Hall: Instagram 

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