Video Marketplace Magazine - March/April 1988
Mary Stuart Masterson
Written by Ruth Kelly
Sometimes it is who you know, or even better, who you are related to, that helps you get your foot in the door. Certainly, Mary Stuart Masterson would be the last to deny it. The daughter of writer/director/actor Peter Masterson and Tony Award-winning Carlin Glynn (who played Molly Ringwald's mother in Sixteen Candles), Mary Stuart has benefited from her parents' support and assistance. But she would also point out that it takes more than family connections to get roles with such illustrious filmmakers as John Hughes, James Foley and Francis Coppola. To get to the threshold of stardom, it has taken hard work, determination and the cultivation of her abundant talent.
Mary Stuart was raised in New York, where she attended Dalton School. At the age of eight, she was afforded an unforgettable opportunity -- to make her film debut in The Stepford Wives, as, naturally, the daughter of father Peter Masterson. With that part, she confesses, she became devoted to the idea of making acting her craft. Again her parents proved to be helpful, this time by providing an intensive education in the arts. She studied with Rebecca Guy at Juilliard, attended summer camp at the Stage Door Manor in the Catskills and took drama lessons with Estelle Parsons.
A stint as an understudy of Kate Burton in Eva Le Gallienne's production of Alice in Wonderland was followed by two summers at Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. While at Sundance, she made a performance tape which led to her first teenage role as a tough-but-soft Brooklyn girl who helps her father run a soda fountain in Heaven Help Us, a Catholic school comedy co-starring Andrew McCarthy and Donald Sutherland. She next interrupted her studies at New York University, where she was majoring in anthropology and film, to appear in At Close Range, James Foley's controversial film based on a true incident. Mary Stuart played Terry, a courageous farmgirl whose love affair with Brad Whitewood Jr., portrayed by Sean Penn, leads to trouble at the hands of Whitewood's father (Christopher Walken). This was followed by the television movie Love Lives On, co-starring Sam Waterston and Christine Lahti, in which she appeared as a teen whose battle with cancer gave her a drug addiction.
Three films followed in rapid succession. First came My Little Girl, a sensitive drama which reaped critical acclaim for Mary Stuart's role as a rich, naive young woman who volunteers to work one summer in a children's detention center. Then, producer/writer John Hughes and director Howard Deutch chose her to co-star with Lea Thompson and Eric Stoltz in Some Kind of Wonderful. Mary Stuart was especially thrilled with having the opportunity to fulfill a longtime dream: to study the drums with Billy Moore, a seasoned session man in Los Angeles.
"One of the best things about my part," notes Masterson, "is that I got to learn to play the drums. On one hand it requires terrific concentration and yet you have to be totally loose. A lot of people think that playing the drums is getting out your aggressions, but it is more than that. It's really about getting in touch with your inner rhythm." The young actress' character, Drummer Girl, comes to the realization that she has fallen in love with her oldest friend, played by Stoltz. Suddenly, she must push aside her tough and independent facade and let him see her true feelings. Mary Stuart believes there is much to admire in this character. "Drummer Girl is a very self-reliant and strong individual," she explains, "who has dealt with a lot of blows and confronts her daily life as though it's a major battle. Yet, she's an extremely optimistic person. It would have been easy for her to be bitter and resentful because she has had such a terrible family life, but she's not. She has great dignity."
Mary Stuart's career came full circle with her next film, Francis Coppola's Gardens of Stone. In this drama on the effects of the Vietnam War back home in the States, Mary Stuart finally had another opportunity to work with her parents, again playing their daughter. It was an interesting and ironic experience. "It's a curse and a blessing," she shrugs. "I have a wealth of knowledge of them and they of me -- the kind of things that are instinctive, yet the circumstances of this relationship were so different that there were impulses I had to repress. Since Rachel's feelings towards her parents were not the emotions I have toward mine, I had to alter my natural responses, which was very challenging."
While the relationship her character had with her family was very different from Masterson's real-life experience, the actress does share a large part of Rachel's character. "Rachel's a survivor and I'm always attracted to characters who are survivors. I wouldn't be able to play her if I didn't have her strength myself." The entire atmosphere of Gardens of Stone was familial according to Mary Stuart. It was that closeness that proved the saving grace after the tragic boating accident of Coppola's son during filming. The cast responded to Coppola's sorrow with an outpouring of affection, as Mary Stuart would have expected from such people.
"There is a very warm, loving feeling on this film. Everybody trusted and respected each other. And Francis was at the center of the emotion."
Mary Stuart continues to seek roles that will successfully utilize her fragile beauty and indomitable spirit. Unlike some young actresses, she will not take the easy path by accepting parts in the unending stream of teen comedies. Instead she slowly travels the high road, steadied by parental advice.
"There are three good reasons to have parents in the profession," Mary Stuart laughs. "They don't expect instant success, they're always ready to rehearse with you, and they understand when you need a loan."