Anyone wondering what Andrew Shue aka Billy from the ’90s guilty pleasure “Melrose Place” and Davis Guggenheim, director of the Oscar-winning doc An Inconvenient Truth, might have in common, let alone what might bring them together to make a movie, only needs to look at their family tree. Guggenheim is married to Andrew’s sister, actress Elisabeth Shue, and she’s partially what inspired them to make Gracie, a personal family drama about their dead brother and how back in the ’70s, Elisabeth became the first girl to play soccer on her school’s all-boy team. The movie stars Carly Schroeder giving a breakout performance as the character inspired by Elisabeth, although as Elisabeth’s brother and husband told ComingSoon.net when we talked to them (in separate interviews), it’s only loosely based on the Shue family history.
ANDREW SHUE (click here to jump to Davis Guggenheim)
ComingSoon.net: Can you talk about this project came together? Was this a movie that you and your sister have wanted to make for a long time? Andrew Shue: Well, in the mid-’90s when I was on “Melrose Place” and playing soccer with the Galaxy, I got it in my head that we needed to do a inspirational underdog story with soccer in it that would honor our brother. Several years passed until came the right time in my mind to actually pursue something like that, so in 2002, about five or six years later, I began in earnest to try to put the pieces together and wrote a screenplay with a friend from college, Ken Himmelman, then we took that screenplay to Davis, my brother-in-law, who at that time also had time in his life to focus on something like this. Later on, it never would have happened because he then became very successful with TV directing and “Deadwood” and everything else. But in 2002, we started developing the story even more. We took our screenplay and rewrote a treatment, we raised funds and hired another screenwriter. It was interesting. Davis was the one who saw that in order to make the story authentic and real, we would need to kind of utilize more of our personal story and our family story. It was his suggestion that we based it more on my sister as the only girl in an all boys family and really being this underdog rather than maybe basing it on my brother as the underdog. He was a great underdog character, but my sister’s also in her situation as in real life, the first girl competing in boys soccer in the mid-’70s in New Jersey. So that’s how it all came to be, and then we got my sister involved and we all played a role. My younger brother John helped in raising the finances with me, so then it was a five-year journey of getting to a journey where you had distribution, you had a bit national marketing partner, you had a great cast, and had all the finances to do an independent film for $10 million where we were controlling all the decisions.
CS: Are a lot of the situations in this movie, such as your brother’s death, similar to what really happened? Shue: A lot of that was changed. We wanted to take the emotional truths from a lot of the different things that happened, rework the order, use a lot of real events from my brother nursing a red-tail hawk back to life, to my sister stealing my step-father’s car and driving down the shore, to my missing a penalty kick that lost the state tournament. I played a game that was dedicated to my brother, the opening game of the season where we all wore armbands, but that was actually in college. We took all these different real things that happened. Our brother didn’t die in a car accident, he did die in an accident, but he was not in high school at the time. Actually, he had just finished medical school and was about to become a doctor.
CS: How much artistic license did you want the new writers to take in terms of your family’s life? Even biodramas about real people veer from the truth in order to make more interesting movies. Shue: Well, we gave them a little bit of freedom. I think that because this story is so important to us, we knew that it had to hold together from an emotional standpoint. It really was a collaborative process. The two women writers who we brought in, both worked very closely with us to make sure that especially the Gracie character was very real and complex in the way that my sister was at that time.
CS: Can you talk about casting Carly as Gracie? She’s been acting for a long time, but this was a case where she had to carry a movie. How did you find her? Shue: We knew that this role was a make or break role for the whole movie. Obviously, if she didn’t have the depth and that fire and spirit that you wouldn’t fall in love with her, and you had to be pulling for her at the end. We looked at literally thousands of girls from all over the country who played soccer and wanted to get into the acting. We were just lucky to find Carly, who had a really strong acting background and experience, but also had the athletic ability and the athletic prowess to train really hard for three months and actually be able to pick up the soccer touch. In three months, you can’t become a great soccer player, but in three months, you can actually develop a touch for the ball, which you can then create some authenticity with the soccer scenes.
CS: Were you able to work with her on that? Shue: She was in L.A. and I was in New Jersey, so I commandeered one of my good friends, who was the former captain of the Galaxy, Dan Couchman, and he worked with her every day for three months, so Dan gets a lot of the credit for Carly’s soccer performance.
CS: As a producer, making a movie with an underage star, was it hard to get in the number of hours needed to get this movie done in a reasonable time or did you have to put in more hours? Shue: We definitely butted up against the hour requirements for the child labor laws, and Carly’s Mom was also there on the set all the time, so she was helpful sometimes if we needed some extra time, because obviously, she had to approve it every time.
CS: Was there some kind of strange Freudian thing for Elisabeth to play her own mother in the movie? Shue: Ah, I dunno. It really didn’t seem to come up very much. I think my sister gave Carly lots of freedom to interpret the part the way she wanted to. We knew that Carly was already very similar at that age to my sister, so you didn’t have to really steer her to some other place. You kind of let her bring out that spirit that she has and that femininity and sensitivity that she has, and she really is an interesting, strong-willed young woman, who when you look at the performance, all of her personal colors come out. There’s a great depth there. She loves to have fun, that smiles, when she laughs, she really comes alive, and when she was doing some of the rebelling, you can see her enjoying it. That really helped, because if it was too heavy and she was too serious, I don’t think you would have fallen for her the way the boys and girls are falling for her.
CS: Did you always intend to play the mentoring coach character in the movie? Shue: Originally, way back when, I had envisioned myself playing the Mr. Miyagi trainer, the guy who is going to be helping the young underdog play, because I obviously knew that it demanded all the soccer elements, but then as it became clear that we were going to do this as a family, I wanted my sister to have a role. As soon as we decided that she was going to play the mom, we decided that I wasn’t going to play the dad
CS: That might have been even stranger Shue: Yeah, and at that point really the only part would have been the head coach or this teacher character. The head coach, we felt that it needed to be an older, more chauvinistic looking person. My sister thought that I was too sympathetic to play that part, which I think in the end she was right, so I’ve enjoyed the part I play. Even though it’s a small part, it’s kind of the angel who’s looking out for her and constantly kind of steering her the right way.
CS: You hadn’t done any acting in a long time, so was it strange returning to that and acting in a movie that you were also producing? Shue: Yeah, the day that I was doing a bunch of my scenes in the school, it was very odd because there was just so much going on behind the scenes, doing with all the producer things. I’m acting and then the next second, we’re talking about the script. You didn’t have time to think about what I was doing on the acting side of it, didn’t really have time to come to it with that mindset, just had to get it done. I enjoyed it. This whole project is a one-time deal, it was something where I was trying to reinvent my acting career. It’s not something where I’m now going to become a big movie producer. This is an entrepreneurial project that we all worked on, and it was just fun to all work on it together.
CS: So is Do Something still your main focus these days? Shue: No, Café Mom is my main focus. It’s an internet company that I’ve been working on for about the last six years. It’s the largest social network for Moms, kind of the MySpace for Moms. 30,000 Moms join every day, and we have over 1.5 million page views every day now, and it’s really taken off. That’s kind of my day job. Do Something I still spend a considerable amount of time, it’s still really important to me, and it’s also going really well.
CS: How did you get involved with Café Mom? Shue: I started this company with a friend of mine who I started Do Something with, Michael Sanchez. As soon as I got back from the West Coast in 1999, we raised money and launched. Originally, it was Club Mom and then it involved to Café Mom, so I see myself more as an entrepreneur and a business person than an entertainer at this point.
CS: Even though the soccer is a big part of the movie, it’s not really a sports movie per se. There are a lot of girls playing soccer in school these days, but it hasn’t really taken off in this country. I was curious how you felt about that. Shue: It’s funny because people keep saying it’s never taken off, and I don’t know what they think “taking off” means. If they think all of a sudden, we’re going to get rid of all the other sports and there’s only going to be one sport ’cause that’s the way it is around the world. There is no other sport, and it owns the whole society. Obviously, that’s never going to happen, but I believe literally within the next 20 years, soccer will take its place as the number three sport in our society. Unfortunately, as much as I like basketball and hockey, I think they will fall behind soccer in viewership, participation and even stadium attendance. I think that the ethnic crowds in our society are growing as far as our population. The soccer-only stadiums are now happening everywhere. Soccer is now on TV and has TV rights that it never had before. The national women’s league is coming back. There are more and more kids playing at a much higher level. I already see my own 10-year-old playing at a much higher level than I was when I was 10 years old by far. And they’re getting obsessed with heroes that maybe aren’t in major league soccer right now, but are heroes in England. My kid loves Wayne Rooney, who he’s watching every night on the Fox Soccer Channel, and the world is shrinking in that sense, so his hero can be Wayne Rooney, and it can impact how he loves the game, how he plays the game and how he will then take his kids to these stadiums. It’s interesting. I was on the front-end of youth soccer, just when the Cosmos were coming in the late ’70s, soccer was just starting, but even though I played the game at a high-level, I’m not so hooked that I’m like “I gotta take my kid to the Red Bulls game” but I can see how my son when he’s a dad, he absolutely will be doing it. Because the level will be higher at that point, there will be the soccer-only stadiums, and he’ll remember as a kid, every night before he went to bed, he was watching the Fox Soccer Channel report, where I was watching “Charlie’s Angels.” There wasn’t anything like that. It’s just going to take that 20 years till these kids got kids, and I’m telling you, it will happen. There’s never going to be one moment where it just takes off. It’s just going to be this steady climb, that’s happening right now. In fact, Beckham’s coming over, it’s inevitable. We’re a sports-crazed country, this game being so ubiquitous all over the world, it’s just inevitable that a country with 300 million people and this many immigrants and ethnic groups are going to make the sport grow.
CS: When I watched the movie, you looked exactly like you did on “Melrose Place.” For some reason, I remember it being ages ago, but it really was only in the ’90s. Do you still have a lot of people come up to you on the street recognizing you from the show? Shue: It happens less and less, which is nice for my family, but people are still very nice and appreciative of the show, and I guess it still plays on the Soap Channel so people still see it. Yeah, but “Melrose Place” afforded me a lot of opportunities, things I’d never have the ability or the desire to do, like this movie, even starting Café Mom or Do Something. These were all things that the confidence I gained from being on that show and the platform I gained has helped me succeed in other fields.
CS: It was kind of the “Desperate Housewives” of its time in that everyone was watching it but no one would admit it. Shue: I think “Desperate Housewives” is the “Melrose Place” of its time.
CS: This is going to be like the Family Feud because I’m going to ask you all the same questions I asked Andrew and we’ll see if you give the same or different answers. How did you first meet Elisabeth and get involved in the whole Shue family legacy? Davis Guggenheim: I met Lisa in November of 1989 and her brother had passed away a year before. She was still sort of reeling from his death, and when I met her family, it was like a broken family, and they would talk about Will like as if he was still alive. They were all touched by this tragedy, and they all found a sort of greatness out of that tragedy, and I found that really interesting. That was what was exciting about making the movie.
CS: Were you already directing at that point? Guggenheim: That was like starting out. In 1989, I was just about to start getting paying work, directing but not making a living.
CS: At what point did they start thinking or talking to you about making a movie out of this tragedy? Guggenheim: Ten years he’s been trying to tell the story, Andrew has. He first wanted to make a movie that remembered Will. He wanted to make a movie about soccer, and he would always go, “Let’s make a movie, let’s make a movie!” and I was like, “That’s your story.” And then one day, one of us said, let’s make it about a girl, and that’s when I became interested, because if we could tell Lisa’s story (Elisabeth), as the only girl in a family of boys, who’s sort of invisible. She’s got the right stuff, but she’s a girl, and she has to fight to get noticed. That’s the woman I fell in love with.
CS: You already knew about the stuff from her past in terms of being a girl on a boys’ soccer team? Guggenheim: Yeah, and she’s still fighting those demons. When I went home to meet her family, they were living in that house, and they were eating food in that kitchen. Soccer wasn’t a sport, it was a religion. When I met her, they were still playing soccer in the house. John and Andrew, I guess they were in college, but this was not a house where you ate and slept, this was a house where you played soccer.
CS: Was Elisabeth still into soccer when you met her? Guggenheim: Not in the ’90s when I met her. She didn’t play in high school. She played in 7th, 8th and 9th grade, but she was the only girl on an all boys team when there were no girls teams and she had to fight to get onto it and fight for respect.
CS: Can you talk about how much of their actual life you wanted to include and how much artistic license you wanted to take to make it a better movie? Guggenheim: I think you can get all the facts right and miss the point or not tell a good story. Or you can tell a good story that gets the spirit right, and that’s what we wanted to do. A lot of the things that happened really happened, and a lot of things that didn’t happen in the movie happened in spirit, if that makes sense. When Carly came on board, we made a conscious decision and Lisa told her, “Don’t try to play me. Try to find your own character.” But the situation was real of a girl growing up in a family of boys. We weren’t making a documentary.
CS: I was curious about bringing your documentary background into this. Can you talk about that transition? Guggenheim: Well, documentaries you have to be really careful to get the facts right, but also, good documentaries also have to tell a story. The reason why documentaries are so good right now and exciting are that they’re good stories, and they’re bringing in dramatic elements. I like going back and forth. I think it helps. People are saying that documentaries are getting better because they’re being influenced by features. I think features are getting better because they’re being influenced by documentaries. I really wanted this to feel truthful. Some of the details are different, but I wanted it to feel authentic. I’m sick of seeing family dramas that have nothing to do with my family, that seems like they were created on the backlot and made by a set designer from West Hollywood. I wanted to portray a real house with a real family with real issues.
CS: So you’re saying that “Cheaper by the Dozen” isn’t based on a real story? Guggenheim: No, in fact my son’s classmate’s father did “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and that’s a fun movie with different ambitions. Shawn Levy is a good director, he did “Night at the Museum” too, but we don’t have any dinosaurs that wake up in the middle of the night.
CS: As far as Lisa playing her own mother, was there any kind of weird Freudian thing with that? Guggenheim: Well, I think that the scene most audiences talk about when we have Q ‘n’ As is the scene where she comes into Gracie’s bedroom and says, “Don’t let anyone take your dreams from you.” That’s the scene that people talk about and it was beautiful, because she comes in and tells the character based on her. She’s like the little angel that comes in and puts her back on the path. Imagine what it would be like to go and parent yourself. We had a therapist who was always saying, “You can parent yourself.” You’re an adult and you can help yourself. That’s a weird idea, but the idea that there’s a therapy, there’s kind of a thing that you can work out when you’re making the movie where Lisa can go back and give her character this gift. And she’s still working that out. My wife, she’s still fighting to be heard, fighting to be respected.
CS: Carly’s been acting a long time, so was it easier working with such a young and impressionable actress than working with, say, oh, I dunno a former Vice President? Guggenheim: (laughs) I haven’t been asked that question. That’s a very good question. You can get past a lot of things in this movie, but if you didn’t have an actor who could play Gracie, you wouldn’t have a movie. Carly, a lot of the burden of the movie was on her shoulders, whether she could really fight and be this character, and she really pulled it off, and she deserves all the credit. It was great to have my wife there as an example and tell her stuff about what it was like, but Carly has a spirit. Isn’t she special? I’ve worked with a lot of actors in my time, some really good ones, and she’s up there.
CS: I’m a big soccer fan, so could you talk about shooting some of the soccer sequences. Are you a fan yourself? How did you get ready to shoot those scenes? Guggenheim: Wasn’t a soccer fan. I was very interested more in a family that loved soccer, but Andrew’s always felt that no one’s gotten it right, so I liked the challenge of trying to get it right, to hear him talk about what soccer is and try to capture that. Soccer’s never really been shot right, and I couldn’t figure out why. Halfway through shooting, I figured out why, because soccer doesn’t stop. If you’re making a movie about a football player or a baseball player, they stop between plays and you can have them talk to each other and think and look back. When you’re moving that fast and you’re always moving, you can’t stop and tell your story. We figured out that if we stopped for the free kick or the penalty kick, then we can have them think and say “You can do anything” and look to your father and all that sort of stuff. So finding those moments where they actually do stuff and also getting real soccer players. You can fake it in football because there’s one play, and you can stop and put in a stuntman, and in baseball, you can put in a double, because there’s one swing. Soccer, you can’t fake it because they’re always running, always playing, it’s really hard.
CS: How about mixing the amount of soccer into the drama, because it’s really not a sports movie, how did you decide how much to include? Guggenheim: Right. I learned a lot from “Rocky.” “Rocky” has one fight at the beginning, just one shot, and then you don’t have any matchesyou have trainingbut you don’t have any matches until the last scene and that’s similar to ours. So we actually have more than “Rocky” but that idea. All the great sports movies are never about the sport themselves. They love it, and you honor it and do it right, but it’s really about people fighting against adversity.
CS: What are you doing now, post Oscar, post family project? Guggenheim: I’m going to take a break. I’ve been working a lot, and maybe make some documentaries and raise my kids, but wait for the next story to capture my imagination.
CS: Do you have any thoughts about returning to TV work? Guggenheim: Yeah, I love television. I have a pilot deal at Paramount and “The Unit” just got reordered, so yeah, I love television.
CS: Is it nice that you can just work on something for a week and then move on? Guggenheim: Pilots are great, because you get to create something new and it’s a new cast, and that’s a couple months, and then if it keeps going, it’s very lucrative. To go from “Deadwood” to “Alias” to “24,” it’s great. I feel confident enough now that I can go into any world and figure it out because television is like a trial by fire. I don’t mean to be arrogant, because every time it’s hard, but you do feel like you can be thrown into a fire and figure your way out.
CS: How was the experience making this movie different from the TV work, especially since you had your family producing? Did you have a little more control over things or did you have them wanting things a certain way? Guggenheim: You know, Samuel Goldwyn had a theory of relativity, which is “Never work with your relatives.” (laughs) You should do that very carefully. I love Andrew Shue, and I love my wife, and I love their family, which made it worth it, but it’s also harder to do it with your family because it’s so intense and the boundaries shift, and everyone cares so much. And everyone’s like, “Well, I don’t look good in that shot” and I’m like, “Tough luck.” But you can’t say that to your wife. (laughs) I can’t be the hard-ass that I’m supposed to be.
Gracie opens nationwide on Friday, June 1. Check back later this week for our exclusive interview with the movie’s young star, Carly Schroeder.