Anthony Michael Hall took some time from shooting The Class to discuss the film and a wide variety of projects with Solzy at the Movies.
The Class is a grittier modern-day version of The Breakfast Club. While it’s not a remake of the John Hughes classic, there are certainly going to be comparisons between the two films. Hall also discussed a number of other projects throughout his career including National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Dark Knight, and hit USA Network series The Dead Zone.
How did you first come across Nicholas Celozzi’s script for The Class and what led you to sign on both as an actor and executive producer?
Anthony Michael Hall: I was contacted by a gentleman who works with me named Ben Litvin and the project came through Ben. It led to some conversations with Nick Celozzi and that’s how it developed. We started talking about the process and once I read his script, I was really compelled by it. I thought it was really strong. It was never in my planning to obviously—not that it’s a remake but to kind of redo any John Hughes film. It was really never in my thoughts. I was really pleasantly surprised by how it developed and the script, I thought, was really solid and showed a lot of promise. Tat led to a series of conversations between us.
Does it feel weird to be playing the film’s antagonist after playing one of the main leads in The Breakfast Club?
Anthony Michael Hall: Yeah, I mean, it is kind of funny and ironic. One of the things that I mentioned to him as I spoke to Nick at length about just how John Hughes worked—his process. He was very collaborative. He kind of worked with us one on one with the roles and that included, at the time, Paul Gleason, John Kapelos, and others. One of the things I want to do is make sure that we had a lot of sort of cathartic, funny moments to where the kids could have some laughs and have fun. If you look at the first film it, it had that whether they’re dancing or later in the film, when they’re getting high together, there’s these kind of moments of release for the audience, which are a lot of fun. That’s how this kind of developed and so for myself, I’m drawing from some of the stuff that I got working with Paul Gleason, who was a friend of mine, because he was really funny, but just kind of creating a new character.
He is the antagonist, as you said, and at the same time, I wanted him to be very human and on their level, too, because at the beginning of the film, the way it’s set up is that Debbie [Gibson] is their drama teacher and she assigns this task of bringing a character to class, whether it’s based on their own biography or what have you. And then what happens is it kind of unfolds from there, all the kids, all the walls start coming down, and we kind of get to the meat of the story, and we get more on their backstory. It’s interesting by contrast. I think a lot of the stakes are even higher with the characters in this film because it’s a new generation and at the same time, they’re dealing with real world problems and conflicts so it’s interesting.
Have there been any challenges because of the pandemic?
Anthony Michael Hall: Well, yeah. I saw that obviously, the world was put on hold for a year and a half or whatever it was. Even when I went to back to work on The Goldbergs in Culver City at the studios there, the sort of mask mandate and wearing all of the protective armor. We’re following suit on this project, too. Everybody’s very attention to detail on that and we have COVID testing in the mornings before we all go to work. I joke with a woman who’s in charge that her name is Karen because her email is TheClassCOVIDKaren so we have to always fill out our tests and send them to her and she’s great. I joke with her—it’s like an SAT every morning. I got more work to do on the on the COVID check-in then I then I do in some of the scenes I’m shooting.
You recently did Q&A following a recent Chicago screening of The Breakfast Club. What was it like to revisit the film so many years later with Chicago audience?
Anthony Michael Hall: It was really great. It was just great to see a film with an audience and the fact that it happened to be this one, it was really cool. It was a nice kind of coming together of a number of things. I have an old friend who’s named Sean Finnegan, a guy who’s in marketing and in media, and he was kind enough to help me put this together. He had a friend that he grew up with—a guy named Dan Cantillon, who is unfortunately struggling with MS. We put our heads together and we came up with this theater, which was fantastic. They were hosting us in Downers Grove—the theater there—it was great. We benefited his charity, we helped Dan out. I was able to invite the cast of The Class and they all came and my other producing partners and Nick Celozzi, the director and writer. We just had a great time. It was really cool.
A bunch of people came and saw the film and I did my live Q&A, which is kind of a bit of a stand-up routine. I kind of play with the audience and take questions. We had a great kind of red carpet meet and greet with local people here—people that were here when I made the film many years ago and people sort of my age group and then we had them all bringing their kids, who were fans of The Breakfast Club, and they were excited to meet the cast of The Class. It all came together really beautifully. We even had a red carpet event at the theater in Downers Grove. We actually did it on the stage at the Tivoli. We took everything that was outside and put it inside. Obviously, we followed all the COVID protocols so everybody was safe and it was a great night. It was really cool. It also benefited this gentleman, Dan, so it was really cool.
National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. Rather than asking about working with Chevy Chase, the comedy fan in me wants to know what it was like to act opposite a comedy legend like Imogene Coca.
Anthony Michael Hall: She was a sweetheart. She couldn’t have been nicer. She was such a great lady. As you know, her history in comedy goes back to Your of Shows with Sid Caesar. She was just really a sweetheart. What a nice lady. I loved working with her.
People like Brian Doyle Murray, Bill Murray’s brother, who’s here from Chicago as well. A lot of great people, John Candy, the whole cast—Dana Barrett, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, all these people. It was really great because as a kid growing up in the 70s—I’m 53 now—but all those comedies really impacted me whether it was Animal House or Stripes or Meatballs. That whole generation of sort of 70s comedies was really influential to me, personally. So suddenly, there I was in 1982 or whatever as a kid and I’m on set with Chevy and John Candy and all these great people. Eddie Bracken was another great character actor. He was essentially playing Walt Disney but he was Roy Walley in the film.
Imogene was great. She was just a sweetest pie. She was a nicest person. She really was very loving, very kind, and attentive to people. The one thing that had freaked her out, this is interesting—she unfortunately, earlier in her life, had some kind of car accident, and I think it led to her losing an eye, sadly. I remember as a kid, we would be brought down to—we were shooting in Monument Valley in Arizona. I remember I was driving to set and the Teamsters had to drive us down a hill. It’s like driving into the Grand Canyon to a degree and she was very scared and frightful about cars. She didn’t like being in cars at all. I remember her—my images of her holding the kind of the roof of the car as we went because she was very timid about car rides but she couldn’t have been a better sport. She was really great. She really played it up as Aunt Edna—she had a lot of really funny, comedic moments that I’m sure, for her, kind of hearken back to the vaudeville days in a way because Harold Ramis, another legend from Chicago, was such a great director. He and John Hughes really shared that kind of just—they put a lot of heart in their work. They really cared about every detail and every person in front and behind the camera. Harold was great with Imogene. She was a really nicely to work with.
That poor dog.
Anthony Michael Hall: Yeah, Dinky the dog. What’s funny is that dog was named Popeye. Believe it or not, I did two films with that dog. I worked on a movie called Out of Bounds in 1985 and Popeye rode again. Once again, it was Popeye the Dog. He was Dinky in Vacation and then he went on to play my sidekick in a film I made for Columbia in 1985 called Out of Bounds. He was a great dog.
What happened was he actually had—his owner was an Australian guy and he had a fake set of teeth. The trainer literally could put these dentures in his teeth and give him like a permanent growl or scowl look—it was hilarious. He came with a whole kit of tricks and he was a great dog, Popeye. Even though he didn’t make it through Vacation, he was obviously left to the bumper.
I was going through your Wikipedia page on Sunday night. Do you ever imagine an alternate universe in which you sign on for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
Anthony Michael Hall: (Laughs) Well, actually, believe it or not, it was written for me—that role. I was actually intended to play Ferris. John Hughes wrote that script for me but at the time, it was just a scheduling issue. I’d gone on—because of the opportunities he created for me, I was working on other projects and it just didn’t work out at the time, unfortunately. It was actually written for me to play Ferris and I thought it was a great script. I was really bummed that I couldn’t do it.
But in the years since, I’ve met Matthew Broderick. I met him at the Oscars in 2010. Really nice guy. I knew his wife, obviously, Sarah Jessica Parker. We all kind of started out as kids together many years ago and she’s really cool, too.
I had a great pleasure working with Alan Ruck, who is a great guy, too. We worked on War Machine together in London, which is a film that I did with Brad Pitt for Netflix back in 2017. Alan’s a real great guy—he and his wife both had worked with Plan B before. His wife was in those films where he was attacking the zombies. In any case, yeah, Alan and his wife are really nice people. It was really fun to work with him. He’s got a great way about him. He’s a lot of fun.
I have to ask about another Chicago movie and one of the biggest comic book movies of all time, The Dark Knight. What was it like to work on this film and be directed by Christopher Nolan?
Anthony Michael Hall: That was incredible. I tell you—when I auditioned for that, I was thrilled because I have to admit I’ve never been big into comics or gaming or any of that. But again, back to the 70s, when I was a little kid, man, I loved the original Batman series. That used to freak me out. I was so excited to watch it every week and I would beg my mom and so to be a part of Batman was really special for me. I actually went in and read for another role and then what happened was Chris, I think, had me in mind, I guess, to play the newscaster. I’m like the Gotham City news anchor.
It was a great thrill to work with him. I had been a fan of his since I saw Memento many years ago—his first film, I thought, was completely brilliant. He was a really interesting guy. You know who I liken him to? I’ve worked with a few really great directors, I would say, but certainly, John Hughes is one of them. Tim Burton. I think Chris reminded me of Tim in a way. He’s very kind of shy in a way and very kind of calm and very centered, very focused, but has kind of a quiet personality, really interesting. When I worked with Nolan, it was the same type of thing. He was just laser focused but very calm and very interesting. And then his wife, Emma, was his producing partner and she would often just be offset taking care of other business related to the film. He’s certainly very visionary as a filmmaker who really gets it.
There were certain times and sequences that we shot like when we blew up the hospital. That was an abandoned structure, I guess, on the south side that Warner Brothers purchased for about $350,000, I remember asking. What they did is they added sort of the shell of a bridge so it looked like a bigger hospital than it was. And on that day, for example, back in 2007, when we shot it, everybody was waiting around because it was like the Fourth of July, we wanted to see this hospital get blown up. In terms of his visionary approach, he had six or seven cameras running. He was often like that—we’d be doing a sequence and he would have cameras deployed everywhere almost like shooting multiple scenes at once. Even that scene with—there were about 800 cops, a lot of them were local Chicago police cops that worked—when we shot that scene when the mayor goes under attack and all that.
He was really brilliant and really interesting to work with. He was one of those directors you really can’t take your eye off him. I just really wanted to kind of study him and see how he approached it. And typically, with a great director, that relationship they have with the cinematographer is vital because that person is usually shoulder to shoulder with them. We had a great guy named Wally Pfister, who shot the film, and I was really often just kind of watching them even more than the other actors that I was working with. I was kind of studying that dynamic between the two of them and how they approached making The Dark Knight. I was super thrilled to be making that film, to be a part of it, and then to come back to Chicago, which was like a second home to me because of all the stuff I did with Hughes.
Yeah. It’s kind of funny—when I was growing up, I didn’t really watch all those John Hughes movies but I did watch The Dead Zone when it aired on USA.
Anthony Michael Hall: Cool. Thank you. Yeah, that was another great experience. I made the show. We did the pilot in the year 2000—2001, it aired. And at the time, it broke records—it was the top show on cable. This is before streaming taking over the world and before Netflix and Amazon and everything so I was really thrilled with it. I really was honored to play that part. I was a fan of Stephen King, I hadn’t read too many of his books but I read the novel when I got the job. It’s where I met my wife up in Vancouver, where we shot it. That was a beautiful city. That was just a really a highlight—I mean, I’ve had a 45-year-career and counting since I started when I was eight years old.
When I made that show, it was really a great life experience. I kind of moved to Canada. It really taught me to reinvest in myself both as an actor and also because I was a producer on the project. I had additional responsibilities of working with my producing partners and kind of overseeing the quality of the show. Some of the things to be very honest, we just kind of stumbled into—the kind of the look and the feel of the show. It developed from the camera department—how we shot different frame rates to create all these visions that I had. It was a really interesting and a wonderful experience for me as an actor and a new producer at that point because I had so much to do.
I also—to be very honest—had struggled through my 20s with getting work because I had made a big impression working with and for John Hughes in those early films. And then, as it happens to a lot of child actors, unfortunately, they can sort of struggle in those sort of middle periods where people can kind of find them again or they’re not sure how they look as an adult or any of that stuff. But for me, I always had that sort of tenacity of a fighter or an athlete, I just really always approached it like, No one’s gonna take this from me. I’m just gonna keep developing and keep working. It really meant a lot to me to have a series and we went on to do six seasons of it—we did 80 episodes. It’s kind of a silly little fact but I think if you do a show that long—every episode is an hour—it’d be like making 40 movies of one thing—we did like 80 episodes, 80 hours of television.
It was really a great experience because it really helped me develop as an actor. I mean, there were episodes, as you might recall, where I was playing multiple characters. I would go into these visions and I kind of never had a day off. The crew and I were always there because even when I had a vision, my character would be in this third-person reality watching what’s happening in his vision. It would take me into the vision of the person that I had a vision of, if that makes sense. Just a great experience for me as an actor—it really stretched me.
I also learned a lot from a lot of really talented directors, television directors, that mainly were Canadian. Some of them were real, legitimate filmmakers who really approached the work with those sensibilities; they really cared about what they did. I learned from many vantage points as an actor, as a producer, I learned about directing in a new way. I just had a great experience. The Canadian crews are wonderful. They really—what’s that thing that they say—by contrast, in America, we live to work. I think with Canada, they really work hard but it’s almost like a European sensibility in many ways because they work to live. They still enjoy life. They’d be watching hockey games on the set and it’s a very sort of outdoorsy city so people really enjoy their time off. I just had a great experience, overall, in the five years that I made it. We did receive four years in Vancouver and then the fifth and final season, we shot in Montreal. I guess it equated to six seasons of the show on the USA Network so I’ll always be grateful for that experience. It really helped me grow up in many ways as an actor and as a producer.