Matthew Broderick Makes Peace with Ferris Bueller

Matthew Broderick Makes Peace with Ferris Bueller

Matthew Broderick knows his decades-long legacy as an actor will be summed up in two words. No, not “Tony Award.” Not “Emmy nominee.” Not even “SJP’s husband.” No, when cinephiles look back on the career of Matthew Broderick, they will likely encapsulate a 40-year-old body of work with the words, “Ferris Bueller.”

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Broderick and SJP — that’s wife Sarah Jessica Parker — both recently received lifetime achievement awards from a theater in the Hamptons, but those kinds of honors are weird. Like “hey, I’m still here!” weird. “I’m not ready for people to start discussing my legacy,” Broderick told The Guardian. “And I have this Pollyanna streak that keeps me going. I always like to think there’s something coming that’s better.”

Like it or not, his legacy was changed forever in 1985 while he was acting in the stage play Biloxi Blues with future Ferris co-star Alan Ruck. During an actual scene, Broderick scribbled a number in a notebook. According to Ruck in You Couldn’t Forget Me If You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes and Their Impact on a Generation, Broderick nudged Ruck during the scene and showed what he’d written: The amount of money he’d been offered to play Ferris. Broderick had also jotted down a question: “What should I do?” (He’d also been offered the lead in the movie adaptation of Brighton Beach Memoirs, a play in which he’d starred on Broadway.)

Ferris producers were also considering John Cusack but preferred Broderick for his ability to play both confidence and warmth. That was necessary, says casting director Janet Hirshensen, because “the character, unless done right, could be a real obnoxious brat.”

His representation had a clear preference for Ferris. Come on, Matthew, this was John Hughes at the height of his box-office powers! “My agents basically flew in and surrounded the theater with cop cars to make sure that I would do that movie,” Broderick says. “They were petrified I wouldn’t like it. But even when I wanted to just take my time and read it, they were like, ‘No! You’re not allowed to even get to the end; you have to just say okay!’”

Broderick did say okay, and he’s been dealing with the consequences of being Ferris ever since. “People associated me with younger roles, but I wanted them to come with me and get used to the fact that I’m wrinkly. And it was hard,” Broderick told The Guardian. “The ’90s were hard. Lots of ups and downs. But I always tried to keep at it, keep my heart in it. Hopefully that keeps you in the game. I always wanted to have a long career. And it’s been 40 years, so I guess I must have done something right.”

Forty years is a long time, which is why guys like Broderick start getting lifetime achievement awards. And that means coming to terms with legacy, like it or not. “What’s my legacy? Well, I’m Ferris Bueller, I suppose,” Broderick says. “I have to accept it. And I like it. I’ve made my peace with it.”

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