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Interview

What's Up With... Anthony Michael Hall

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How you know him: Anthony Michael Hall first appeared on TV in the early 1980s in Rascals and Robbers: The Secret Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, The Gold Bug, and Jennifer's Journey. His first feature film break came in 1982 with Six Pack. At age 14, he filmed Vacation. "I went to Warner Bros. in Midtown New York, read for the producer Matty Simmons and the director, Harold Ramis," Hall recalled. "All of a sudden I was exposed to all of those great comics and actors, not just Chevy [Chase] but John Candy and Imogene Coca. I was really in awe of their ability. I think it was definitely an education in film acting that summer in terms of comedy. I sponged it up. I would hang out and joke with John Candy and Chevy. It was a pivotal project in my life."

The Puberty-on-Film Trilogy: That pivotal project led to working with one of the most talented teen-genre directors, John Hughes. "What happened was Vacation was actually a short story by John Hughes called 'Vacation '58' that appeared in National Lampoon magazine. They spun it into a film. And to make a long story short, the next three John Hughes movies that I did I got because I caught his attention in Vacation, but I had never met him before that. After Sixteen Candles, he gave me the role in The Breakfast Club, and about halfway through Breakfast Club he came up to me on-set and said, 'I've been working on the script for Weird Science.' He had written like 30 pages in one night. That guy is very prolific. His output was intense. I refer to those as the 'puberty on film' trilogy. I was in my late teens but I discovered, OK, I have a career now."

Work vs. fun: Like many showbiz kids, Hall was a very outgoing child, performing in front of his family any time he could. "What was that Eddie Murphy movie where they had the kid playing him as a little boy doing shows for the family?" he asked, thinking of Raw. "Well, that was me as a kid. I was always doing shows for the family at wakes, funerals, weddings, and such. I would get up there and imitate all of my uncles and just clown a little. I think that was my foray into it."

Hall decided to pursue acting as a hobby, thought of trying commercials, and went with the blessings of his family. "I never had the stage mom type of thing," he said. "No one was following me around with a brush or something forcing me to act. But I did have this work ethic as a young kid. After school, I would go out on auditions in New York City, where I was raised. I would get on a bus, go to some advertising agency to audition for some commercial, and then go back home and do homework. What's interesting is, subconsciously I was developing a work ethic toward my craft. I didn't know what it was at that point; I just thought it was fun."

Forever young: Hall has been in the business for 28 years, yet he remains most recognized for his young teen roles. But he doesn't gripe about it; indeed he is very grateful for the recognition. "A long time ago I came to peace with that because I realized that I'm privileged and blessed to have this life," he said. "If people remember me for anything, it's great. I think on a very basic level we all want to be recognized, acknowledged, and congratulated for whatever we're doing. The fact is that those films have found a life on cable. They're on like four times a day. It's like watching a yearbook come to life."

Zoning in: Hall is heading into his second season (airing on Sun. July 6) on USA's The Dead Zone a series based on the Steven King novel of the same name. "It came to me as an offer," Hall recalled. "I read the script and I was blown away. I was really excited about it. The first thing I said to myself was, I am not going to emulate on any level what Christopher Walken did in the film. There are enough people who try to imitate him. But I watched the film, and the thing I thought was cool was, he wore a peacoat and carried a cane. I started to figure out what the look and feel of the character was." After completing the show's second season, Hall is thrilled that six more episodes have been ordered. "If it does continue on," he said, "I'm prepared to continue to do the work, and if not, I feel good about what I've done."

Of his craft, he said, "One of the things that I am proud about the show is that we've done many episodes where you're getting these little movies. I made a note to myself early last season to treat each episode like the biggest movie I've ever made. I sort of blurred that line, and I don't draw any distinctions between television and film acting. Fifteen years ago, there was a very different perception about acting on TV. It was like, Ah ha, you've fallen, and you're on TV. Now all the TV stars have film deals. But with this show, I've definitely grown as an actor. It's taught me a lot about what it's like to be a leading man."

He is also developing and writing a project based on a true story about a boxer in the early 1980s, Billy Ray Collins. Said Hall, "I directed a film for Showtime when I first came out here. I moved out here to direct this film called Hail Caesar. It was a little comedy that I did with Sam Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., and Frank Gorshin. That was a great experience, and I would love to direct again. Directing a film teaches you what you don't know about directing. And it gives you a new respect for the screenplay or teleplay. I learned a lot."

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