- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

“It took a lot to get attention in my family,” Elisabeth Shue laughs. “No wonder I’m an actress.”

Actors are normally reticent to discuss their families publicly. But Miss Shue isn’t just opening up about her life in interviews. “Gracie,” a film opening in theaters today, is bringing a fictionalized portrait of the Shue family — particularly Elisabeth — to the big screen.

Carly Schroeder (“Lizzie McGuire”) plays the title character, a teenage girl and only daughter who finds it difficult to get respect in a family of boys in New Jersey circa 1978. Her father Bryan (Dermot Mulroney) and three brothers are obsessed with soccer. Gracie shows some aptitude for the sport, too, but the only one who notices is big brother Johnny. Even Gracie’s mother (played by Elisabeth Shue) agrees that Gracie’s simply not tough enough to play the game.

Gracie is then devastated when she loses her sole supporter. Going to drown their sorrows after losing a big game, Johnny and his high-school teammates end up in a car wreck. Johnny is the only boy killed.

To honor his memory, Gracie decides to try out for Johnny’s spot on the varsity soccer team. She’ll have to persuade the coach and the school board to allow a girl to play on a boys’ team. But harder still will be convincing her skeptical father she’s got what it takes.

“Gracie” is a real family affair. Another Shue — Andrew, best known from his stint on “Melrose Place” — appears in the film and helped produce it, along with Elisabeth. It was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who is also part of the family — he’s Elisabeth’s husband.

“Andrew was interested in telling a story about my brother Will and what he meant to us,” the 43-year-old actress says during a recent visit to the District. William Shue died in 1988 from an accident on a family vacation.

“They were thinking about how much Will was this real scrappy, underdog kid when he was growing up,” Miss Shue recalls. “Davis was like, ‘The real underdog in your family was Lisa.’ Then I think the story started to change.” Lisa, of course, is how Miss Shue is known among family and friends.

She says the film couldn’t have been made if the director hadn’t been family: “It was hard enough to be convinced it was a good idea in the first place.” In fact, she’s “grateful” that Mr. Guggenheim, who was raised in the District, chose “Gracie” as his follow-up to his Oscar-winning Al Gore documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“It was a real gift to me,” she says.

The movie plays fast and loose with the timing — Elisabeth quit soccer at 13, while Gracie’s old enough to be having troubles with boys — but Miss Shue says that there’s truth in every detail.

“The relationships and what the characters need and want are completely true,” she says. “The pursuit of the main character’s need to be seen by her father and to be taken seriously as an equal by her family was the theme of my life.”

The movie may be billed as a girl fighting to play a boy’s game in the early days of Title IX, but the real heart of the film is the difficult but touching relationship between father and daughter.

Miss Shue first made her name in 1987’s “Adventures in Babysitting” and followed it up the next year starring alongside Tom Cruise in “Cocktail.” It was an auspicious beginning but, unlike some actresses, Miss Shue has never been overexposed. She finally got an Oscar nomination for 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas,” in which she played a Las Vegas prostitute who falls in love with Nicolas Cage’s self-destructive alcoholic on one last binge.

“I’ve definitely been choosy. Mainly because I have three children,” she says. She notes that it can be hard to stay on top in Hollywood without constant exposure. “If you don’t work back to back to back to back, your career’s going to suffer.” But she’s happy with her balance of work and family life.

Miss Shue’s next project will take place on a very different sort of stage. With a thin figure though her new baby’s not yet a year old, she’s training to play professional-level tennis. She was inspired by the movie and recalling how she gave up on her soccer dream at the age of 13. She’s been playing tennis for about five years. She is quick to note that she plans to compete at the lowest level of professional play.

“To just get that first ranking for me would be a huge accomplishment,” she says.

It wouldn’t hurt either, she says, if she could beat her brother Andrew. She jokes that ESPN2 could televise the match. But while they’re competitive on the court, they never were on the screen, she insists.

“It was interesting that when ‘Melrose Place’ hit, he became instantly more recognizable than I was. I was on one of the downturns to my career,” she says. “I felt like I’d chosen this career to help with my own self-expression, and Andrew instantly came into it and rocketed to the top.” But losing a brother bonded the family, and they are too close to let work interfere with their relationship, she says.

It’s not the only thing her brother’s untimely death gave her.

Watching “Gracie,” she says, “it’s sometimes very emotional for me to imagine that my brother’s loss, as painful and awful as it was for so many years, has become a beautiful gift that I will always be grateful to him for giving me because I would not have been able to live my life in a way that is as committed to what’s important in life.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide