The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Ally Sheedy

The Mother Brain Files Underrated Actors Special: Ally Sheedy
By Mother Brain

Changing gears from underrated actors to underrated actresses for a change, I decided to focus on one particular actress whom I almost had the chance of working with a few years ago. As a small child, I had a bit of a crush on Ally Sheedy. I must have watched Short Circuit dozens of times to the point where I wore out the VHS tape. She had a girl next door quality along with her youthful but articulate personality that few actresses lack today. As I grew older, I began to appreciate her more for her versatility as an actress and I truly believe that she has gotten better over time.

Ally Sheedy was born in the Big Apple in 1962. Her mother was not only a talented writer and press agent but she was also heavily involved with both the civil rights and women’s rights movements of the 1960s. Sheedy’s father was an advertising executive. At an early age, Sheedy studied and performed with the American Ballet Theatre. Dancing was a huge passion for her and she had planned to pursue it as an adult; however, puberty and the sensitivity of her weight ended that dream. By age 12, Sheedy wrote a children’s book called She Was Nice to Mice, a fictional encounter between Queen Elizabeth I and a curious mouse. McGraw-Hill published the book and not only became a best seller in 1975 but also served as the catalyst for Sheedy to pursue an acting career.

After appearing on The Mike Douglas Show along side her mother, Sheedy, at age 15, immediately got representation and started working in Broadway shows and commercials. By 18, she moved to Los Angeles, studied drama at USC, and worked in various television shows and made-for-TV movies. Her first major film was in the Sean Penn 1983 juvenile prison movie, Bad Boys. It served as an interesting choice for a film debut as Sheedy played the sympathetic girlfriend of Penn’s troubled character who lands in a juvenile facility after a robbery gone bad. To make things worse, Penn’s enemy decides to rape Sheedy and get caught on purpose so he can kill him in the slammer. The rape scene alone was very graphic for the time. But it was an early sign that Sheedy was not just another pretty face in Hollywood.

Sheedy’s next film, John Badham’s Wargames, proved to be an even bigger hit in 1983. She played the girlfriend of Matthew Broderick’s likable computer nerd who unlocks a gaming program that immediately stages a possible World War III. Some film enthusiasts may say that this was the performance that made young men fall in love with Sheedy. She embodied the girl next door persona with a mix of wonder towards Broderick’s hacking skills with an almost innocent sensuality. There’s a small moment in the film when Broderick is about to leave his room and Sheedy’s character playfully barricades him with her legs. The awkward moment of flirtation to me is one of the most realistic depictions of teenage puppy love in cinema history.

Sheedy continued to be pigeonholed in love interest roles until two significant 1985 films forever cemented her place in an exclusive club of 60s-born actors known as the ‘Brat Pack’. The first was John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club where Sheedy played the reclusive Allison Reynolds who is one of 5 Chicago teens stuck in detention on a Saturday. Hughes already had a winner in his hands with the combination of talented actors he had in place (Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, and Molly Ringwald). But it was Sheedy of all the actors who was willing to trash her good looks in favor of playing a character who couldn’t give a damn in the world about how people perceived her but still has a great deal of vulnerability. The scene where she talks about how your heart dies when you become an adult still sends chills up and down my spine. The other Brat Pack flick, St. Elmo’s Fire, was inferior in comparison to Breakfast Club but still had the same appeal to teens and young adults. Sheedy played the yuppie girlfriend of the more ambitious Judd Nelson and winds up in a love triangle between him and Andrew McCarthy’s poetic but lovelorn writer character. Sheedy displayed more strength as a character in this film. Her ultimate rejection of both men at the end is almost a reflection of her mother’s stance in the women’s rights movement where a woman should not even be caught in a tug of war between two men trying to control her.

Short Circuit came next in 1986 and reunited Sheedy with director John Badham had had Sheedy playing an avid animal lover who takes in the living, breathing military robot called Number 5 (known best to fans as Johnny 5). Not much to say about this classic except that it takes a lot of talent to act with a robot controlled by puppeteers and Sheedy pulled it off with ease. Short Circuit, however, was Sheedy’s last big hit of the 80s. The stigma of being part of the Brat Pack had more of a negative impact on her young career which led to box office misfires like Blue City, Made to Order, Heart of Dixie, and Betsy’s Wedding. On top of that, Sheedy was battling her eating disorder and her addiction to prescription drugs. What could have been another Hollywood tragedy was not as Sheedy successfully fought both addictions and started to look and feel more healthier.

After fighting her personal demons, Sheedy reunited with John Hughes was producing the Chris Columbus 1991 romantic comedy, Only the Lonely. Sheedy played the daughter of a funeral home owner who falls in love with a Chicago cop played by John Candy who still lives with his mother. It should have been a big comeback performance for Sheedy who was also sharing the screen with icon and John Wayne regular, Maureen O’Hara, as Candy’s obsessive mother. But the movie underperformed and for the next several years Sheedy found herself in one bad movie after another. Then in 1998, Sheedy turned her attention to the independent scene by playing a drug addicted lesbian photographer in Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art. The role, based on the eccentric grunge style photographer Nan Goldin, won Sheedy various indie awards and rave reviews from critics. By then she found her true calling as an actress and turned her back on Hollywood for good.

Ally Sheedy today continues to perform in various independent films and guest star on television shows such as Oz, The Dead Zone, CSI, and Psych. She’s also done numerous specials and interviews on the career of her Breakfast Club writer/director, John Hughes, who sadly passed away in 2009. While she never made it to the level of her contemporaries like Julia Roberts and Demi Moore, Sheedy formed her own identity as an actress without the Hollywood machine. To cap this piece on a personal note, I almost had an opportunity to work with Ally on my first feature film called Priceless back in 2007. I could never forget the feeling I got the day I received a phone call from one of my actors who actually went to school with her and told me that she was in the running for one of the smaller but significant roles in the film. Unfortunately, I was too scared at the time to take the chance of working with her because of her extensive body of work and my perception of her as a movie star. I do hope that I’ll get another chance to work with her one day. I even have a particular script in mind for Ally to play a character far different and perhaps tougher than her usual roles.

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