John Kapelos Reflects On 'The Breakfast Club' – 30 Years Later

By Laura Hertzfeld

Each big anniversary of John Hughes’ iconic 1985 film The Breakfast Club has been marked with interviews, movie house revivals, and even commemorative cocktails (fortunately the cast is old enough to drink by now!). But this year’s big number – 30 – holds a special meaning for the cast, given the friends they’ve lost since the 25th anniversary, namely Hughes and actor Paul Gleason, and the inevitable changes in their own lives.

In the 30 years since actor John Kapelos played Carl the Janitor – the high school soothsayer voted ‘Man of the Year’ at the Shermer High School in 1969 – the movie has continued to strike a chord with audiences young and old.Kapelos spoke with us about why the movie still holds true in the digital age and about his continued friendship with much of the Brat Pack cast.

Larry King Now: Why have John Hughes’ movies stood the test of time?

John Kapelos: John’s films, if you’re a part of that generation, they didn’t condescend to you. In the 60s there wasn’t anything like that.Teenagers weren’t a discovered market. Hughes caught up to that. 

How do you feel about all the references to The Breakfast Club that come out in more recent pop culture – like Pitch Perfect using Don’t You (Forget About Me)?

I did Psych with James Rode – you don’t know how far the pollen has spread. I think it's great. When someone says they made a Carl reference on Modern Family I’m like “Cool, I’m there!”

30 years! You weren’t much older than students in the cast – did you stay friends with the group?

I ran into Molly [Ringwald] a week and a half ago went to see her [sing] at Catalina’s. She’s a very poised, put-together woman. She recorded a version of Don’t You (Forget About Me) on her album and I did one recently as well. Judd [Nelson] I see occasionally and he’s always – “Hey, Carl!” [The movie] has given me a nice perceptual franchise, a nice brand.

You took over the role of Carl from Rick Moranis who was fired after he and Hughes disagreed on how to play the part of the janitor. How did you see the role differently?

For me, you just read the script and there’s the beat where you see him [Carl] in the trophy case -- I get it, he’s a failed person in some way. One of the questions I ask most directors is ‘Where’s this person’s problem? What does this person not want to show?’-- and work out from there.Those types of characters are better when they are rooted in reality – like Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, and Alan Arkin – they are so freaking funny, but they are honoring the characters. Not that Carl was a laugh riot, but he had a sense of his own irony. He’s a bit of a reality check.

Who do you think is making good movies for teenagers today?

We’re looking through a refracted lens now. The audience is so segmented because of the ubiquity of places to watch things, I don’t know if the audience is as focused. I don’ t know if there’s a filmmaker today who speaks exclusively to a teenage audience the way John did. A lot people working today are the offshoots of Hughes, and John was an original. I don’t know too many filmmakers that would do a film like The Breakfast Club.

How has your perspective on the film changed as you’ve gotten older?

You have more sympathy -- even for the teacher. It’s like a prism; you look at these things in different ways and they mean different things at different points of your life. That’s the mark of a great movie.

Have you shared the film with the young people in your life?

I don’t have kids, but I have shared it. A friend of mine has kids and the last time I saw them they were [babies]. Then recently, his 13-year-old calls me and says “I just saw your movie, you’re really good.” This has happened a lot of times in the past 20 years – this movie is being seen by successive generations – it’s got resonance.


The Breakfast Club turns 30 this weekend and is being rereleased in theaters around the country. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

Continue the Discussion