2016-06-30
Andrew Shue (at left) with "Gracie" director Davis Guggenheim.

There's a moment in the new film "Gracie" when time seems to stop. Fourteen-year-old Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder) lies in bed as red police lights flash across her ceiling. She's about to find out that her older brother, the star of the high school soccer team, has been killed in a car crash. She spends a season training hard to take his place, becoming the first girl in South Orange, New Jersey, to play varsity soccer and help bring the team to victory.

 

"Gracie" is based on real-life events in the family of former "Melrose Place" star Andrew Shue and his sister, Elisabeth Shue, best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in "Leaving Las Vegas." Like Gracie Bowen in the movie, Elisabeth Shue had fought to become the first girl to play on the varsity soccer team at her high school. The Shues lost their older brother, William Shue, a talented soccer player, in 1988. Although that death occurred several years after Elisabeth Shue's graduation from high school (the film takes liberties with chronology), the Shues regarded their brother as their role model, and his death devastated them.

 

"When Will died, our whole world stopped," says Andrew Shue, who co-produced and co-wrote "Gracie." Both he and his sister have roles in the movie: Andrew (who briefly played soccer for Los Angeles Galaxy) as the soccer coach who encourages Gracie and Elisabeth as Gracie's mother. "Gracie" is set in 1978, around the time that Elisabeth Shue was in high school, and filmed in South Orange, where the Shues grew up. Andrew Shue, who is married and has three sons, now lives in New Jersey again.

 

Enlisting as director his sister's husband, Davis Guggenheim (who just won an Academy Award for "An Inconvenient Truth"), Andrew Shue turned "Gracie" into a family movie in the truest sense, raising the money himself to produce it without backing from a studio.

 

After your brother died, your siblings told each other, "You can do anything." Was that a thought that propelled you forward in the making of this film?

 

After a devastating loss, your whole perspective shifts, and you're kind of in a blank space. You feel like on one side nothing matters, and on the other side a freedom because nothing matters.

 

Freedom in what sense?

 

In the sense that you're not being held back by what society thinks you should be. Once you get that blank slate, that's key to then being able say, "Why not? Why not go to Africa and play soccer?" And that is something our brother had—this freedom of just going for life. We told each other we could do anything, and it's really just saying that we found the courage to take on our brother's gamble and go for it without worrying about tomorrow. Thinking about what was going to happen—that's what held us back. A lot of things that we did—what my sister's done, what my younger brother's done, what I've done—they're all just ventures in trying to live a passionate life.

 

Did working on the movie make you rethink how you were living your life?

I've always been confident that the movie would make people think about successfully survived risks in a meaningful way. My waking time is spent making sure I'm pursuing a project that can impact people. "Melrose Place" affected people, gave them a guilty pleasure, but it's probably not the same kind of impact I want to hang my hat on for the rest of my life. When I moved back east [after leaving "Melrose Place" in 1998], I knew I didn't want to be on a TV show. So I started ClubMom, which launched CafeMom, which is now the leading social network for moms.

 

Why not dads?

 

Dads are not as connected [to each other] as moms. That's not saying there aren't dads out there who want to connect; there are. But I think moms need to connect more. And that's something that's still very exciting to me.

 

Do Something is still very exciting to me.

 

Do Something is the foundation you started [in 1993] that empowers young people…

 

…to get involved and reach their goals. It's about being a doer, a problem-solver. 

 

At what point after starting Do Something did you decide to make a film about a girl who becomes empowered?

 

We didn't start going full out on the movie until 2002. That was really because I was in the middle of working on ClubMom and CafeMom, and I had to get money together. Once we decided it was going to be a personal story, when we got closer to home and started mirroring our family, it was a lot more crucial that we controlled the story and we weren't giving it over to a commercial enterprise like a studio. So in order to have that control, I called upon a lot of the skills I've learned over the past six years being more of a business entrepreneur. Somehow I convinced Gatorade to be an investor in the film and also do a nationwide promotion during its release.

 

How?

 

[I told them] this was a unique story. We've seen similar stories in the realm of "Rocky" but they've never had a girl hero. And we would be able to tell it in a real authentic way because we had lived through all those things, and my sister had been that underdog trying to be noticed living in an all-boys world and being the first girl playing competitive soccer in northern New Jersey, and the fact that we had gone through this incredibly painful loss, losing our older brother, and that really would provide the passion and the emotion for the story. And we had an amazing director, my brother-in-law, who at that point hadn't won the Academy Award but we were predicting…

 

Was there a point when you didn't think it was going to work?

 

Yeah, there were a lot of times when I thought it was all about to crumble. Just a couple months before we were getting ready to shoot, we were deep in pre-production and I didn't know how we were going to pull a deal together in time. This was not an easy journey. A lot of times we were butting heads. 

 

How did you get past that?

 

There's no quit in our family. Our dad was the chief proponent of that. [On the set] we were constantly telling each other, "Stay true to the story, we know that we love each other, keep communication open." We knew how unique this was--you're doing a movie that really could be put out there all over the world, and you're telling this personal story about your family.

 

It's wonderfully selfless that you initiated this movie, yet you didn't want to make it about you; you wanted to make it about your sister.

 

That's a good point. I could give you the politically correct answer, which is, "Oh no, it was always going to be about my sister,"

 

It was never going to be about me. It was going to be about my older brother, originally. It was really Davis, my sister's husband, who pointed out to me that my sister was the real underdog in our family. I didn't know the emotional turmoil of a girl in an all-boys family trying to get some credit for the fact that she had this courage to play with boys. She has gone from being a girl who was scared, to being this brave girl who could stand up and play with boys, and [went] into acting before any of us and inspired all of us in many ways. So I wanted to celebrate her and her journey.

 

Why you decide to play Gracie's coach?

 

We grew up as kids making movies together, and this was a family movie. But I didn't feel like I had to have one of the big parts. Once we decided I wasn't playing the head coach—the head coach needed to be someone who could be an obstacle to the girl—we decided it would be better for me to play someone who would show up at just the right time to propel her forward.

 

There's a great scene in which your sister, playing your mother, tells Gracie that she shouldn't quit.

 

There was an interesting dynamic, my sister playing her mom and being able to bring her knowledge of what she would have wanted to tell herself. Through my sister's involvement in the screenplay, she was able to express the balance of having some doubt in her mind about Gracie's goals—what she should and shouldn't be doing—and even the scene when she says, "I don't know if this is right or not."

 

My mom was raised a different generation—how did they view how bold, or not bold, woman were allowed to be? It's a story that has a great chance of inspiring conversation between generations.

 

Gracie isn't a typical movie hero in the Tom Cruise mold. How do you define a hero?

 

I think a hero is anybody who can overcome what society puts in their way and defy people's expectations. We knew right from the beginning that we wanted to have a girl hero with those qualities. My sister has all those qualities. She's brave, and when she has a dream, she never gives up on it.

 

Do you think it's important to fail in order to succeed?

 

I don't think you can grow if you don't fail.