This Actor Played The Geek In The Breakfast Club, But Off Screen He Wasn’t So Innocent

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Anthony Michael Hall was the brain who joined a bunch of misfits for Saturday detention in 1985’s The Breakfast Club. But behind his naïve on-screen persona, the star led a very different life in reality. And more than 30 years on from his career-defining performance as geeky Brian Johnson, the actor is a shadow of the shy nerd he became synonymous with.

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One Saturday morning in Shermer, Illinois, five students reported for detention in the library of their high school. Seemingly, none of them had anything in common. Indeed, the group consisted of, by their own descriptions, a brain, a criminal, a basket case, an athlete and a princess. But by the end of the day, these diverse characters had let their guards down and forged unlikely bonds through their shared experiences.

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Of course, those who grew up with 1980’s cinema would have instantly recognized that plot. Released in 1985, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club would become one of the defining movies of its generation. And 35 years on, the film’s themes of teenage angst and alienation still resonate with high school students to this day.

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But Hughes’ film wouldn’t have earned that reputation had it not been for the chemistry of its young actors. Part of what would be called the Brat Pack, The Breakfast Club’s five stars each played a different aspect of youth. On display was Molly Ringwald’s rich girl Claire, Emilio Estevez’s jock Andrew, Ally Sheedy’s weirdo Allison and Judd Nelson’s rebel John.

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Rounding out the film’s cast was the then-17-year-old Anthony Michael Hall as nerd Brian Johnson. Hall, like his co-stars, pushed past his character’s stereotype to find an underlying truth universal to any adolescent. In this case, his sensitive creation was struggling with suicidal thoughts brought on by the pressures of academic success.

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Off-screen, however, Hall would become tortured by a different form of success. And just as Brian did in The Breakfast Club, the actor would go to great lengths to try and shed the nerdy persona that others perceived him to have. In the process, though, the star would take himself to some dark places.

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Naturally for an actor who made their name at such a young age, Hall got his foot on the showbiz ladder early. As the son of jazz singer Mercedes Hall, the future star spent his childhood on both the east and west coasts of the States. And thanks to his mom, the young boy would also get to go backstage at famous venues like New York’s iconic Copacabana.

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“I was like this little showbiz kid,” the actor chuckled to People magazine in 1984. Owing to his star-studded background, it may have seemed like Hall’s decision to start acting was parentally motivated. Nevertheless, he asserted that this was never the case. “I was never forced to do it,” he added. “I don’t have a big, bitchy stage mother.”

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By the age of seven, Hall had already made his first commercial. And within a couple of years, the young actor was appearing in theatrical productions alongside big names such as Woody Allen. And just as he became a teenager, he starred as Edgar Allen Poe in the TV film The Gold Bug.

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What made Hall’s success even more remarkable was that he had only the smallest amount of formal training. “I really don’t know how to act,” the star remarked. “I studied once for a couple of weeks in New York with the Lee Strasberg school. The teacher would say, ‘Now feel the lemon going down your throat,’ and I’d think, ‘Please! Can’t I just go watch cartoons?’”

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Nevertheless, Hall’s natural talent in front of the camera garnered him immediate and important admirers. At 13-years-old, the actor was cast as Chevy Chase’s son in National Lampoon’s Vacation. And the youngster’s ability to match his more experienced co-star’s jokes blow-for-blow made an instant impression on one John Hughes, who wrote the script for the movie.

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“For [Hall] to upstage Chevy, I thought, was a remarkable accomplishment for a 13-year-old kid,” the filmmaker told People magazine. Consequently, Hughes approached the youngster with a new script he was developing. Titled Sixteen Candles, the project would provide the fledgling actor with his biggest platform yet.

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The story of a lonely teenage girl, played by Molly Ringwald, on her 16th birthday, Sixteen Candles cast Hall in a major supporting role. In the film, he played Ted, a geeky outcast with an unrequited crush on Ringwald’s character, Sam. Rather than lean into nerd caricatures, however, the actor made a different choice. Instead, he imbued the role with a relatability unique to then-current portrayals of geek culture.

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“I didn’t play [Ted] with 100 pens sticking out of his pocket,” Hall explained at the time. “I just went in there and played it like a real kid.” As a result, his creation arguably struck as big a chord with viewers as Ringwald’s character. And it would lead to the star receiving a slew of casting offers in the process.

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Like Ringwald’s Sam in Sixteen Candles, Hall would have an interesting 16th birthday. Based solely on his performance in the soon-to-be-released comedy, that very day, Hughes cast the teenager in multiple movies. “[It was] really one of the greatest nights in my life,” he later recalled. “I got two film offers, went to Chuck E. Cheese, got a bass guitar and saw James Brown in concert.”

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The first of those films would be The Breakfast Club, the ensemble coming-of-age story that reunited Hall with Ringwald. Although billed as a comedy, the film gave its actors plenty of opportunities to stretch their dramatic muscles. In particular, a cathartic scene in which each character explains their reasons for being sent to detention was entirely improvised by its stars.

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Hall’s next movie with Hughes was Weird Science, a more straightforward comedy with a lighter tone than The Breakfast Club. In it, the actor again played a geek, but one who uses his scientific knowledge to make the ideal woman via his computer. Production, however, clashed with that of a sequel to National Lampoon’s Vacation. Which meant that the teenager declined to reprise his role as part of the Griswold family.

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With a combined worldwide gross of $90 million, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science ensured that Hall had a successful 1985. However, some felt that the actor was already “outgrowing” the geeky role that made him famous. To wit, in Sheila Benson’s review of Weird Science, the Los Angeles Times’ writer stated that the teenager “should be let out of the playpen to grow up on screen.”

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But it wasn’t just critics who wanted to see Hall expand his repertoire. Indeed, the actor himself was growing tired of playing the geek. “I always wanted to be like Eddie Murphy, cool with a cool image,” he confessed to People magazine in 1992. “[Instead] I found myself walking down the streets of New York looking to see if people were looking at me.”

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Furthermore, Hall was finding his work with Hughes less and less challenging. “[He] spoilt the s*** out of me,” the actor told The New Yorker in 2017. “[He] laughed and cried at every take… But I was an embryo on two pencil legs, and the things that work when you’re pubescent and cute don’t last.”

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Following Hall’s Breakfast Club ubiquity, he tried to diversify his career with new projects. In 1985, at just 17, the actor was cast on Saturday Night Live, giving him the honor of becoming the show’s youngest-ever member. He even persuaded his Weird Science co-star Robert Downey, Jr. to join the show as well.

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What’s more, the actor then declined to appear in Hughes’ following two projects, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the Howard Deutch-directed Pretty in Pink. While actors Alan Ruck and Jon Cryer, respectively, played the geek roles in these films, Hall took a different path. Instead of sticking with comedy, in 1986 the star chose to appear in the gritty thriller Out of Bounds.

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Unfortunately, the star’s career-changing gambit didn’t exactly pay off. Following a lukewarm response from audiences, Hall – alongside five other cast-mates, including Downey, Jr. – was fired from Saturday Night Live after just one year. Moreover, Out of Bounds fell far short of recovering its $9 million budget and failed to impress critics.

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If things weren’t bad enough, Hall’s career would face more obstacles in the following two years. The actor first turned down a part in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The film would eventually gross $120 million and is now considered a classic. And to add insult to injury, his 1988 comedy Johnny Be Good – which holds a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes – was a commercial flop.

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On screen, then, Hall had little luck in developing as a performer. But it was off screen, away from the movie cameras and film sets, that the actor’s troubles were really starting. In his teenage years, he began to dabble in drinking. And barely into his 20s, the actor had developed a problem.

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Throughout Hall’s stint on SNL, he regularly imbibed the demon drink. By the time of Out of Bounds’ production the following year, the actor was consuming a worrying amount of liquor. “I was drinking vodka by the quart every day,” the former-child star confessed. “I’d mix it with Sprite.”

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Moreover, Hall proved to be a terrible drunk. And that propensity for boozing and partying would lead him to do horrible things in public. “I sometimes got in fights and punched people in the face and got drunk,” the actor would later recall. Despite his tendency to lash out, though, he believed things could have been much worse.

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“The truth is, I had my partying nights. But I never really bounced at the bottom,” Hall once admitted to Underground Online. “I never went to rehab.” That being said, his friend Downey, Jr. – who also very publicly suffered from alcohol and drug issues around this time – served as a warning for what the former child-star’s life could become.

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“I visited Downey [Jr] in jail, though,” the actor continued. “That’s about as far as I want to go with experiencing the other end of the spectrum. I’ve seen it happen with other people.” Clearly, something had to change in Hall’s life. And to this end, the star decided to take a break from the public eye.

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In 1988, Hall took a hiatus from acting and spent the next two years working on his issues. While he didn’t quit alcohol entirely, the star managed to curb his consumption to manageable levels. Moreover, he used the time to forge a relationship with his father who had been an absent figure for most of the star’s life.

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“The reason my career had a lull is that it took me a while to conquer my demons,” Hall admitted to People magazine. But after two years of personal growth, he was ready to return to the limelight a “changed person.” And via his comeback in 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, the star showed that he’d transformed in more ways than one.

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Cast against type as the film’s villainous bully Jim, Hall made a staggering physical transformation. In order to prepare for the role, the actor bulked up to a muscular 180lbs that stood in contrast to Johnny Depp’s fragile titular protagonist. Far from being the lovable Breakfast Club nerd, in Edward Scissorhands, the star was an imposing and terrifying figure.

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In the following years, Hall would continue to play a diverse range of characters. To wit, he’d appear as a gay con artist in Six Degrees of Separation, a psychic crime fighter in The Dead Zone, and a meat-brained army general in War Machine. Perhaps ironically, however, the star would earn considerable acclaim for playing ultra-nerd Bill Gates in 1999’s Pirates of Silicon Valley.

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By any standards, though, the star’s career has definitely managed to grow past its John Hughes roots. But while Hall may have changed as an actor, the now-51-year-old still shows signs of the irresponsible teen he once was. Indeed, it seems the star’s public persona now more closely resembles the Edward Scissorhands bully rather than the sweet nerd from The Breakfast Club.

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Within the last ten years, in fact, Hall’s behavior has resulted in repeated police intervention. In 2009, the star allegedly assaulted and stalked a former girlfriend who, it appears, then filed a restraining order as a result. Two years later, he was arrested, seemingly at the behest of his neighbors who claimed the actor had been verbally confrontational with them.

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However, it wouldn’t be until 2016 that Hall’s conduct reached a new low. In September of that year, the actor was once again arrested. But this time it was for attacking a neighbor at his Playa del Rey condo building. Subsequently released security footage of the incident shows the star pushing resident Richard Samson to the ground.

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According to Samson, the dispute happened after the resident intervened in an argument between Hall and another neighbor. “I told [Hall], ‘You need to calm down,’” he recalled to People magazine in 2016. “Within two seconds, he was in my face and said some very unpleasant things to me. He then shoved me and I fell to the ground.”

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As a result of the incident, Samson was left with a broken wrist and pain in his back. During Hall’s initial court summons in December, he pleaded not guilty to charges of felony battery. However, the actor would later accept a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault the following September. That, in turn, lead to a formal criminal conviction.

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In the end, Hall received three years probation and was required to perform community service amounting to 40 hours for his crime. Considering that the star was initially facing a seven-year prison stint, his final sentence seems like a lucky escape. Moreover, it meant that the star narrowly missed “experiencing the other end of the spectrum” that he once described.

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Throughout Hall’s four decades in show business, he has dealt with fame, failure, addiction and notoriety. But the star is still apparently struggling with the issues that plagued him during his ‘80s heyday. With his probation set to end later this year, maybe he’s had time to reconsider his actions. And here’s hoping we see that good-natured geek once again.

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