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EXCLUSIVE: 'Pretty in Pink' Director Howard Deutch on Why He Owes Everything to John Hughes

by Stacy Lambe 9:25 AM PST, February 25, 2016
Photo: Paramount Pictures

More than a teenage romantic comedy, Pretty in Pink became an '80s cult classic, helped cement what would become known as the Brat Pack, and made John Hughes a voice of a generation. And for director Howard Deutch, it would launch his 30-year film and TV career.

A first-time director, Deutch was at the helm of the 1986 coming-of-age film about a girl from the other side of the tracks (Molly Ringwald), who pined for the popular guy (Andrew McCarthy) while unaware of the admirer right in front of her (Jon Cryer). And admittedly, Deutch didn't know what he was doing.

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"It was very important to me," he tells ETonline about getting chosen for the job by Hughes, who just came off directing The Breakfast Club and Weird Science. "In terms of interpretations or judgment calls, the stakes were so high."

Lea Thompson with her husband Howard Deutch at the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Photo: Getty Images

Yet, making it wasn't without its hiccups. Thirty years after the film hit theaters on Feb. 28, 1986, the 65-year-old director recalls difficulties on the first day of shooting. "It wasn't working," Deutch says of the title scene with Ringwald getting woken up by Harry Dean Stanton, who played her father. "It was early in the morning and John wasn't there yet and I called him on a payphone -- shows you how long ago it was -- and said, 'This isn't working.'"

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Quick on his feet, Hughes re-wrote the scene over the phone with Deutch. It was a key moment into understanding his collaboration with the filmmaker. "I realized his understanding of behavior and life," Deutch says. "If you're able to put humor into something, just like it happens in life, you might get away with it. And we did."

"That was, many times, his approach to life," the director continues, "and that's something that not a lot of people can do."

The most notorious problem with Pretty in Pink came much later, after the initial film was finished. During a test screening, it was revealed audiences hated the original ending, which saw Ringwald's character, Andie, getting together with Duckie, played by Cryer. It was a major blow to both Deutch and Hughes.

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"The whole design of the movie was 'true love endures' and that Duckie loved Andie," the director says, adding that the "young girls" got what they wanted. "Forget the politics; they wanted her to get the cute boy that they wanted. In the end, we had to find a way to do that with a certain truth to it. It took John a couple of weeks to figure out a way to do it and that would make sense."

Jon Cryer as Duckie and Molly Ringwald as Andie in Pretty in Pink. Photo: Paramount Pictures

The end result is McCarthy's character, Blane, showing up to the prom alone, while the film's original version with Andie and Duckie dancing to David Bowie's "Heroes" was left on the cutting room floor.

Ultimately, the film was a success, bringing in $40 million during its original theatrical run. Today it holds a 79 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet, for Deutch, it was much more than a big hit.

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He and Hughes, Deutch says, had a great relationship that lasted well into their second collaboration on Some Kind of Wonderful. Since then, Deutch has gone on to direct Grumpier Old Men, The Odd Couple II, several episodes of True Blood, as well as his wife, Lea Thompson, on Caroline in the City.

But it always comes back to the 1986 comedy, which returned to theaters in February for a limited run and is now streaming on HBO NOW and HBO Go.

"I've done a lot of movies and they didn't all stick. So, it's rewarding and gratifying that his movie means so much to a lot of people. I know it was always a special one to John and I was lucky to get it," he says, owing "everything" to Hughes. "Whatever parts of me John felt were right to direct this, leaked into this movie."

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