Being Rejected from the ‘Brat Pack’ Films Wasn’t a Bad Thing for Laura Dern

March 20, 2015


In the mid-1980’s, teenage Laura Dern screen tested for both “a popular Brat Pack film” and a for Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask during the same period of time; she ended up landing a supporting role in Mask–a movie that went on to receive highly positive reviews. “Then, same thing: a Brat Pack option became a possibility in my teen years, and ‘Smooth Talk,’ which was a film that was a huge turning point for me in terms of my career. And I started to see how filmmakers who had real vision luckily for me were picking me, ” Dern shared with Off Camera. “So I got to learn about acting through people who were very independently minded. And I think you know that shaped my career far more than me making the choice. It was just how I got chosen.”

One of the Brat Pack films for which Dern auditioned was The Breakfast Club. It would have been hard to miss the John Hughes’ coming-of-age comedy The Breakfast Club which was released in February 1985. The film delved into the interactions of five high schoolers from different cliques while stuck in detention one Saturday. The movie poster attempted to allure audiences by stating, “They were five total strangers with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. A brain, a beauty, a jock, a rebel and a recluse.” The fame of starring actors Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, and Judd Nelson was catapulted especially when the film came to be known as the “quintessential 1980’s film,” received generally positive reviews, and was a box-office success.

The other Brat Pack film Dern referred to was St Elmo’s Fire released in June 1985. During casting, Laura dressed up as a prostitute–ripped stockings, smudged make up, and all–and walked up to the Warner Brothers’ studio guard asking if he’d allow her into audition for the hooker role in the film. Although she was permitted to audition, Casting Director Marci Liroff ultimately passed on Laura.

As it would turn out, also in June of that year, New York magazine featured a story entitled “Hollywood’s Brat Pack” which portrayed Emilio Estevez and a group of his partying acting pals in unflattering terms. The result of the article was that many highly successful young actors of the time, many of whom were not among those mentioned in the article, came to be implicated by the phrase. Those whose professionalism was called into question largely included the young cast of both The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire.

The Breakfast Club has been digitally remastered, and is set to screen in 430 theaters from March 26 through 31 to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy recently opened up with Variety about how they felt the Brat Pack term hurt them and their careers. “After ‘The Breakfast Club,’ I got to do a whole bunch of things. Then there was a period of time, ‘the Brat Pack’ thing became a backlash. It felt derogatory–these kids had too much too quickly. There was a dip in my career.” Sheedy said she had hoped to make a smooth transition into adult roles, but, “…this thing called ‘the Brat Pack,’ which basically means young and bratty. It made things a little difficult.”

After the article was published, the community of young actors stopped socializing with one another. Sheedy has said it “destroyed” the camaraderie of the actors, insisting, “I had felt truly a part of something, and that guy just blew it to pieces.” “That guy” was writer David Blum, who has since went on to admit that he shouldn’t have written the article.

Ringwald admits her career was impacted by moving to Paris as well as the inevitability of new talent entering the Hollywood talent pool. But regarding the Brat Pack term she shared, “It didn’t feel like a positive or fair moniker for sure. I found it objectifying.”

As a teenager, Laura Dern was steadfastly set on her acting aspirations, and it had to hurt when she took chances and was rejected from some top, high-profile roles of the time. But her determination kept her going on auditions until she was able to be found by others who recognized her unique qualities as a good fit for their projects. And as it turns out, entering Hollywood through a less-traveled path may have benefited her long-term career. Certainly, it paved a distinctive career journey. The result has been a prolific body of work in celebrated productions like Wild, Enlightened, Recount, and Rambling Rose.