Molly Ringwald has done a great many things that do not involve wearing a chiffon bridesmaid dress while sitting on top of a dining-room table, leaning across a birthday cake and locking lips with a fictional ’80s hunk named Jake Ryan.
She has starred in Broadway shows, numerous films and the current ABC Family drama “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” She has given birth to three children. She has written two books, including her recent, well-received fiction debut, “When It Happens to You: A Novel in Short Stories.”
We know all this. We do. Yet while discussing that debut work of fiction with Ringwald — who has called to chat from her L.A. home in advance of a Wednesday appearance at D.C.’s Sixth & I Synagogue — it is impossible to resist mentioning “Sixteen Candles,” the 1984 high-school-crush classic that concludes with the chiffon and the cake and the kissing of Jake, dreamiest movie character to ever don a sweater vest.
Which brings us to an important series of questions . . . um, Molly Ringwald? You know that scene in “Sixteen Candles” where your character, Samantha Baker, confesses to her dad that she has a crush and then her dad says, “When it happens to you, Samantha, it’ll be forever”? Even though the title of “When It Happens to You” clearly refers to the shattering moment when one of your characters realizes her husband has been unfaithful, doesn’t it also refer to that moment from “Sixteen Candles”? Like, kinda sorta?
“Wow,” says Ringwald in a tone that suggests she is either amazed by the acknowledgement of this synchronicity or just decided this is the dorkiest John-Hughes-movie-related inquiry she’s ever confronted. “No, I never thought of that. . . . No, I never made that connection.”
The Films. At age 44, with a half-lifetime of myriad experiences and achievements behind her, Ringwald cannot escape The Films, the ’80s teen-movie trifecta — “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink” — that transformed her into writer-director Hughes’s chief muse and a copper-haired role model for anyone attempting to navigate adolescence with the sound of Simple Minds thumping through their Walkman headphones.
Ringwald was the rare young actress who could pull off back-to-back roles as the outcast with the neglected significant birthday and the popular rich girl capable of performing impressive lip-gloss-application tricks. She embodied the person Gen X females thought they already were, as well as the one they hoped they could someday become.
Ringwald seems to understand all that, and she has publicly handled the continued obsession with her Hughes era with grace and a sense of humor.
“What am I going to tell people?” she laughs. “Don’t like those movies? You know? They mean a lot to a lot of different people, and I would never try to take that away from them. I just want to stay focused on what I am doing.”
What she’s doing now is writing, a pursuit that benefits from having a battalion of fans who double as potential book buyers. Those same book buyers also happen to be, in many cases, like Ringwald herself — 40-something moms and dads dealing with the same heartbreak, regret and parenting conundrums that ripple through the lives of the Californians in “When It Happens to You.”
Even though this is her first attempt at fiction — her previous book, “Getting the Pretty Back,” was a combination memoir/guide to mid-life — Ringwald says she has been fascinated with storytelling since she was a little girl burrowed into the “snuggle chair” and losing herself in tales told by her mother.
It’s taken some time to translate that love of books into a career as a published fiction writer.
“I never went to college,” she says. “I didn’t do the MFA program. Everything that I’ve learned is self-taught. I think it just took a long time for me to get to the point where I felt like it was up to a standard.”
Given the mostly positive response her debut has received, she reached that standard. A review that recently ran in this newspaper was full of praise. While the New York Times review was slightly harsher, critic Dan Kois ultimately concluded that “ ‘When It Happens to You’ is sort of bad. But! It’s not so bad that you don’t think she might get there someday.”
Whether she’s gotten there or not, Ringwald fully intends to keep propelling herself forward. She’s already working on her next novel, though she says she’s still in the research stage.
She’s also been honing her skills in the social-media sphere. In April, she joined Twitter and, a few weeks later, hosted an AMA (“Ask Me Anything” discussion) on Reddit, an online community.
During that AMA she shared something revealing, something that indicates that, as much as she’s evolved since the days of bunking with Long Duk Dong, even she is not immune to nostaglia. She told the Reddit crowd that her husband, Panio Gianopoulos — also a writer, with a novella due to be published this fall — accompanied Ringwald to an ’80s party at their daughter’s school. And he showed up dressed as Jake Ryan.
So did Ringwald go as herself?
“I kind of went as a new-and-improved version of myself then,” she says, laughing. “I did all the best of the ’80s. I was, like, me on a good day.”
“And he went as Jake Ryan,” she adds, “because he actually looks like Jake Ryan.”
So Molly Ringwald really did end up with the dreamboat in the sweater vest. Yeah. We always knew she would.
at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW, on Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6. Tickets are $15 to $30 and can be purchased online via Ticketfly.