Ally Sheedy is having a moment. The girl best known as America’s favorite reclusive teen in The Breakfast Club is now a 48-year-old actress is riding a double wave of success, celebrating the 25th anniversary of her breakout film as well as the critical success of her latest film, Life During Wartime. The triumph, however, comes in the midst of controversy. While being interviewed at a charity benefit for The Trevor Project – a crisis helpline for gay, lesbian and transgendered teens – Sheedy revealed that her daughter, 16-year-old Rebecca, is gay, unleashing a tidal wave of both internet support and criticism. Though Sheedy declined to speak about the incident, she did open up about surprise sequels, living in awkward social moments, and loving your kids for exactly who they are.
With The Breakfast Club having a second coming and Life During Wartime garnering Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival as well as being named “the best indie film of the year,” you’re at the top of your game. Does it feel like that to you?
I feel like I’m at the top of my game as far as where I am with reference to what I can do. I’ve really grown a lot, so I feel good in that way and good in my abilities. I’ve branched out a lot through the years, but as far as my career? I don’t know. It goes up. It goes down. It goes in circles, so it’s hard to tell.
We’ve heard that when you signed on to Life During Wartime, you didn’t know that it was a sequel to Todd Solodz’s 1998 film, Happiness or that your character was originally played by Lara Flynn Boyle. Was that a shock?
(Laughs). You’re right. I didn’t actually know it was a sequel until after we shot the movie. Todd never brought it up. He didn’t feel like it was necessary to talk about that, and I’m glad because I feel like I had a lot of freedom. Otherwise I might have been a little more self-conscious.
That’s got to be strange though – finding out that the project you’ve spent several months working on is actually only half of a larger project.
I was really surprised, but I trust Todd. If he didn’t bring it up to me, it was obviously because it was something that he didn’t want to be part of the mix. He wanted to do it fresh.
You’ve been quoted as saying that you “live in awkward social moments.” Would you mind explaining that a little bit because we think you exude a confidence and comfort with your roles that makes it hard to believe that you’re even remotely awkward.
Well that’s funny. I like situations where you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what you’re going to say next or what the other person is going to say. It happens every single day. Somebody says something, and I’m not sure what they mean, and I say something that’s not the right thing, and all of a sudden there’s friction.
Those are moments when you’re on the edge. Things aren’t normal or predictable, and you’re not quite sure where the conversation is going to head. I like that. I like the unpredictability.
In The Breakfast Club, you have this amazing line, “When you grow up, your heart dies.” How do you feel about that sentiment now that you are:well:grown up?
I think that line is about a loss of innocence and spontaneity and being able to really feel joy and love. Being that vulnerable at that point in your life when you’re so young, often you feel jaded. You lose touch with that pure immediate response. The best thing about actors is that you can’t – you can’t get alienated from your emotions.
What are you doing to help your daughter be comfortable in herself? What traits do you want to pass on to her?
I want her to know that she’s completely loved and accepted in every single way. I want her to have that security, that she is loved and loved by her parents. I try very hard just to trust in her and let her be who she is and let her become her own self. The best advice I was ever given was to let this wonderful person develop and stay out of her way. I’m trying really hard to do that.
Every parent feels like they did great in certain areas and not so great in others. What is your greatest parenting achievement and what area do you feel that you may have been lacking?
Achievement. I think Rebecca really enjoys being with me, which is a really special thing. She likes hanging out with me. We get along well together. I have a lot of respect for her. The only thing is I get annoying. I ask her too many questions. I can be very emotional, and she’s a much quieter kind of spirit, so sometimes she wants me to tone it down.
I think it’s rare for mothers of teenage daughters to have a close relationship with their kids at that age. How have you kept up that relationship as she’s gotten older?
We spend a lot of time together, and our personalities seem to complement each other. It’s very, very fortunate. I get on her nerves but in general we seem to have a good groove going. I don’t know why that happened, but I don’t want to question it too much because I’m so grateful for it. She trusts me and I trust her and that’s of paramount importance.
You’ve openly admitted a former addiction to sleeping pills. How do you address dark times with your child, especially when it’s already out in the media?
Rebecca already knows about this stuff. I mean she can see it anywhere; she can watch it on E! Entertainment. I have a completely different situation than most people do. It’s out there. She knows about it and she knows that I don’t have that problem any more. I’ve been through a lot of things that most people haven’t been through, so for Rebecca, it’s not like, “Oh, my mother has this average life and then this dark mark.” It goes along with the mix, and as long as it’s something that’s not a problem any more, I think she’s happy it’s in the past and that she doesn’t have to worry about it.
Every parent has at least one freak out moment about something. What is the last Mom thing you freaked out about?
I wouldn’t really call it a freak out. She wanted to go away for a couple of weeks to visit a friend. I really like this friend and I like the friend’s family, but for me, it was a big deal. Rebecca’s going to get on a plane and go away for two weeks, away from me. It’s starting to happen. She’s just turned 16, but it was a big deal for me. It took me a little while to come around and say, “That’s okay.” I got way too nervous about the whole thing.
Is it hard getting used to her getting older and going out into the world on her own? As she starts to come into her own, what are your hopes and fears for her?
I want Rebecca to be happy. I want her to do what it is that she wants to do with her life and have people around her who love her while she figures out her way. My fears are always that somebody will hurt her – a broken heart, anything. I just want to protect her and I know I can’t always do that. I want her to feel comfortable and good in herself and to surround herself with people who make her feel loved. I just want her to be happy.
For a more sobering look at family life, check out the Life During Wartime trailer here: