They are two of the most enduringly popular teen comedies, both written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deutch. “I owed him then and I owe him now,” said Deutch, a former music video director to whom Hughes, who died in 2014, gave his big break to direct Pretty in Pink, the classic 1986 romantic triangle starring Molly Ringwald as a high school outsider, Andrew McCarthy as the preppie who pursues her and Jon Cryer as her devoted best friend with an unrequited love for her. Some Kind of Wonderful, released the next year, stars Eric Stoltz as an artistic high school outsider whose crush on a rich and pretty classmate (Lea Thompson) enrages her bullying boyfriend and breaks the heart of his best friend (Mary Stuart Masterson), a tomboy with her own unrequited crush. These Paramount Home Entertainment releases are available for rent or to buy on demand from Redbox. In a 40-year career, Deutch regards these two films with particular fondness. “One gave me a career, the other gave me a family,” he told us.
Redbox: You collaborated with John Hughes on three films. How did you two meet?
Howard Deutch: I was very lucky. I had done a music video for 16 Candles. He liked it and we met. I knew Ned Tannen, who ran Paramount, and between the relationships and Ned wanting to get Pretty in Pink made, the impetus was that we liked each other and John felt comfortable with me.
RB: It is now Hollywood lore that Pretty in Pink’s original ending, in which Andie wound up with Duckie instead of Blaine, was rejected by test audiences. This was your first film. That must have been a nightmare.
HD: It was a nightmare. We did the test screening at a little theater on the Paramount lot. All the brass at the studio came. It was going better than well; everyone was laughing and applauding, and then we got to the ending and everybody booed. My heart sank and I thought, ‘Well, there goes that.’ But John took a couple of weeks and he came into the editing room one day with four brilliant script pages and said, ‘I think I got it.’ He said Andrew McCarthy can’t come to the prom with a date, he had to come alone and Duckie has to make the ultimate sacrifice. Then we had to protect Duckie and we gave him a little Duckette. It worked. We tested it again and scores went through the roof. I had aged a hundred years. I remember someone said about the original ending, ‘Forget the politics, she wants the cute boy.’
RB: Pretty in Pink has a great cast. Which actor was the most like their character? That’s my polite way of asking you about James Spader (who plays Blaine’s snobbish best friend who poisons his relationship with Andie).
HD: (Laughs) James was a good guy. When I auditioned him, I said no. John asked why, and I said, ‘Because he’s a dick.’ John said, ‘He’s acting! Trust me, he’s going to be great.’ And he was.
RB: To what casting gods did you pray to get Harry Dean Stanton as Andie’s father? He’s not normally associated with teen comedies.
HD: John always wanted Harry Dean. Harry said he wasn’t interested. We went and visited him at his house. He was in the pool. We told him we really wanted him but were really in a rush. He said, ‘Let me tell you something: hurry up slow.’ John made a couple of adjustments for him in the script and we got him.
RB: You worked with him years later on Big Love. Did you talk Pretty in Pink with him?
HD: He had dementia. It was really sad. He was still so talented, but he had difficulty remembering anything, so we let him improvise. I reminded him that we had made Pretty in Pink together and he said, ‘I still don’t understand why you cut the scene where I buy the prom dress.’ He remembered that!
RB: Both films have scenes that have taken on a life of their own. In Pretty in Pink, it’s Duckie lip syncing to ‘Try a Little Tenderness.’
HD: Kenny Ortega choreographed that. In the script it was written that Duckie comes into the record store and there is music playing. I had a feeling we had an opportunity there and I blocked a little time out to work on it. John and I wanted ‘Try a Little Tenderness.’ Jon wanted ‘Start Me Up’ by The Rolling Stones. Luckily, we went with ‘Tenderness.’ Cryer was amazing, and the scene felt organic. It was a record store; we weren’t trying to force anything.
RB: And in Some Kind of Wonderful it’s the practice kiss that becomes passionate between Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson.
HD: John came to me and said we needed a scene like the kiss that kills. He started to write it right there on the set. He handed it to me and it was off the charts great. It happened that quickly. I don’t know what prompted it, but it is my favorite scene in the film.
RB: That film’s most valuable player may be Elias Koteas (who steals his scenes as Duncan, a punk who befriends Eric Stolz in detention).
HD: Oh my god, yeah. He was auditioning for something else for John and John sent him over to me. I was like, ‘Oh, my god, he’s brilliant and original.’ The more we could give him to do in the film, the better.
RB: You were also introduced to your future wife, Lea Thompson, on the set of Some Kind of Wonderful. Was that terrifying or exhilarating to find yourself falling in love with your leading lady?
HD: Both (laughs). During the movie, of course, I, like everybody, had a crush on Lea. But she was engaged (to Dennis Quaid). I thought nothing like this was ever going to happen; I’m Howie. I didn’t pursue anything until after the movie. We got friendly and nature took its course. My script supervisor, Pamela Alch, was my second mom. She would always tease me and say things like, ‘I think she likes you.’ She was the matchmaker. (Deutch and Thompson were married in 1989. They have two daughters).
RB: John wrote great roles for teenagers. Were you open to input from Molly and Eric on fleshing out their characters?
HD: I’m always open to actors. They are in front of the camera and have a better sense of what does or does not feel kosher for their character. I may not always agree, but I will always listen. John, also. He was never precious with his dialogue. He’d ask an actor, ‘How would you say it?’ He was very collaborative like that.