June 13, 2007
Elisabeth Shue Revisits Her Past
Peeling off her swimsuit and pouring alcohol down her body wasn't enough to halt Hollywood screenwriter Ben Sanderson's self-destructive spiral in Leaving Las Vegas. Yet it was sufficient to earn Elisabeth Shue an Oscar Award nomination and Nicholas Cage a gold statue as Best Actor in 1995.
After appearing in a handful of youth-targeted flicks like Adventures in Babysitting, The Karate Kid, Cocktail, and the two final outings of the Back to the Future franchise, it looked like the South Orange, N.J.-reared woman had finally graduated to the dramatic major leagues.
Instead of capitalizing on Leaving Las Vegas's thunder, Shue chose instead to concentrate on her new husband – director/documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who helmed Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth.
Sporadically, she appeared in films like The Trigger Effect, The Saint, Palmetto, Molly, and Hollow Man, while channeling her energy into the role of mom to Miles William, 9, Stella Street, 6, and one-year-old Agnes.
It was family that drew the 43-year-old actress to the inspirational story of Gracie, due out in theaters this weekend. Shue plays Mom to the title character, Grace Bowen (Carly Schroeder from the TV series "The Lizzie McGuire Show"), who defied gender barriers to take her brother's place on the high school varsity soccer team.
The catalyst for Gracie was tragedy. In 1988, Shue witnessed the death of her older brother William in a freak fall. Depression, anger and numbness set in, while the entire Shue clan grew closer.
Several years ago, brother Andrew of "Melrose Place" fame, and Elisabeth's husband Davis began working on a semi-biographical script that revolved around the female character. Completing the first draft, the collaborators sprung the news.
Still looking like the proverbial all-American girl with her shoulder length blond hair, and blue eyes, Shue recalled, "They came to me and said, 'We've decided the story is about you and about our family. Don't you want to be involved?' So at that point, I didn't have any choice. Looking back, I'm glad that they did get me involved."
She claims "85 percent of the movie is really true, but rearranged time-wise in a lot of ways, like a puzzle, and fictionalized on purpose."
Shue elaborated, "Most true is really what it feels like to be the only girl in a family of three brothers, to have played on boys' soccer teams myself for about four years. To have tried to get my father to pay attention to me in my life, and to be treated as an equal in my family, to have soccer be the sport that everyone was obsessed with.
"The playing field was where you could prove yourself. Gracie shows what it's like to lose your oldest brother, how that changes your life forever in both positive and difficult ways. My brother was star of the soccer team, but if he had died when I was 13, I really do believe that I would have tried to fill his place."
She continued, "What I find beautiful about Gracie is that the death of her brother, as painful as it is, is probably the gift that gives her the guts to go after something she probably wouldn't have gone after."
Disarmingly candid, Shue confessed to being "a very shy kid in a lot of ways." Sports served as refuge, shielding her from life's unpleasantness. "I was attracted to sports to balance the confusion of life. My parents got divorced when I was nine, and there were a lot of tough moments, not having enough money for this and that," said the actress, who now calls L.A.'s Venice neighborhood home.
The irony of portraying her own mother in Gracie doesn't escape Shue, who returned to Harvard University after dropping out 15 years earlier to earn a degree in political science.
She explained, "There were many surreal moments during the filming that really took me by surprise, very emotional moments. Obviously filming the scene where the older brother dies. It actually took a few hours for us to become detached enough just to do our jobs.
"There were also wonderful moments such as seeing Carly out on the field with all the boys – her own spirit and fierceness. And for the first time, I acknowledged the loneliness of what it was like being the only girl out there, but that was all I knew. I could see it and feel it and that was intense."
Breaching the somberness of that insight, Shue chuckled, "Maybe that's what they should do in therapy. People should have to make movies of when they were younger and play their parents."
Sports still represents an integrated part in Shue's life. Only now instead of soccer or gymnastics, she's become an avid tennis player. "I've been working with an amazing coach for the past five years. There's a very low level of professional tennis that most people are unaware of, but if I could get my first ranking that would be a huge accomplishment.
"I think it's important for girls of any age to have a goal, but to beat my brother Andrew on the way to that goal will probably be more satisfying than getting an Academy Award," she laughingly concluded.