On the face of it, it's not hard to imagine that there are still places in the United States where people have never heard of jazz.
But there is absolutely nowhere that hasn't heard of Molly Ringwald.
Which is lucky, if you happen to be both Molly Ringwald and a jazz musician, and you're touring your first album of jazz standards and wondering whether your massive celebrity status as the indelible face of '80s teenage angst will be a help or a hindrance.
The answer, according to the woman herself, is both.
It's been years since Ringwald has been in any major movies, and the cult classics she's known for – Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink – are so ingrained and so distinctive that her name is virtually synonymous with red-haired high-school sass.
Many, many years have passed – Pretty in Pink came out 30 years ago – and Ringwald has been busy acting, writing books and having children ever since, and even had a stint writing an advice column for The Guardian for a year.
What does she call herself, by the way, should she happen across the 0.01 per cent of the population who've never heard of her and have no idea what she's famous for? An actor? Teen idol? Columnist, novelist, chanteuse?
"I'm just me!" she says, laughing.
"I'm all of those things. The world wants to confine you and define you, and say you're this and you're that, but I'm a lot of different things. I would say all three of them are equally important to me – I'm a writer, I'm an actress and I'm a musician, and not necessarily in that order, it depends on what I'm doing on the day, and I'm also a mother."
Plenty to talk about, then, but what questions do you ask that you can't already find the answer to somewhere already?
The voice on the other end of the phone from New York is both distant and familiar, exactly what you'd expect to hear from one of the faces on the screen you grew up with. The Valley Girl cadences are there, for sure, but Ringwald is every bit the considered professional, patiently answering questions she's likely been asked multiple times and probably inwardly bracing herself for the inevitable mention of the so-called Brat Pack of 1980s teen actors.
But I'm under instructions not to mention the aforementioned pack, and anyway, what else is there left to ask? Far more interesting is the question of why she waited so long – until her mid-40s – to come out as a jazz musician.
"Well, I was kind of busy!" she says, laughing.
"It was just one of these things that I had in the back of my mind, it was something I wanted to do, and I'd planned to do, and the stars didn't align, I didn't find the person I wanted to do it with."
Ringwald is the daughter of a jazz pianist, and says she learnt to sing virtually before she could talk. Jazz, for her, was the "musical equivalent of comfort food", there to ground her in times of turmoil. But it was never just a singing-in-the-shower, private pleasure – it's long been a passion, along with acting and writing. She's written two books – Getting the Pretty Back, a 2010 guide to aging gracefully, and a 2012 novel When It Happens To You – and performed on Broadway, but the dream of a jazz album has been bubbling beneath the surface all the while.
"I just kept saying, I'll do that eventually, and then I met my collaborator, Peter Smith, who arranges for me and plays piano, and we just had this amazing connection," she says.
"We were like, let's just do this as a side project, and that's really what it was. It was just going to be this little fun side project, but I realised it's kind of hard to do things as a side project when you're passionate about them. If it goes well, it sort of becomes more than that."
That was two years ago, and Ringwald is headed to Australia for her second tour of Except Sometimes, the album inspired by the American Songbook, that emerged from this dream collaboration. But back when the album first came out, she must have had misgivings about how it would be received by a music-buying public who may or not be blinded by the name on the cover.
To put it simply, was it scary to publicly reinvent herself, even though jazz has long been embedded in her DNA?
"I'm not really in other people's heads, so for me there are two answers to that question. One is I think it's good to be a little bit scared, because I think that's just creative energy wanting to get out," she says.
"But I felt really comfortable, because I've been singing jazz longer than I've been talking, it was very familiar and very joyful for me, and – I could be totally wrong – but I feel like if you're that in tune with what you're doing … somebody's bound to respond to it."
Of course, the famous name, combined with the unmistakable red hair and sultry lips, can't have hurt when it comes to putting herself on the stage. But the danger is also the opposite effect; was she apprehensive that people wouldn't take her seriously?
It turns out she needn't have worried. The jazz community has been both small and welcoming of her as the real deal, while everyone else has been pleasantly surprised.
"There have been certain places where we've gone where people have never even heard of jazz, in the south in the United States, where they just came because they liked my movies. I usually meet people afterwards, and they are like, 'Oh my god, I've never heard this kind of music before!' " she says.
"In that way, I feel it's nice. I'm this ambassador, a gateway to this pure American art form, which is really nice. Obviously I think people could be snarky before they really formed an opinion, but like I said, I don't really concern myself with that because you can't really do anything about what other people think."
Molly Ringwald is performing at the Playhouse at the Canberra Theatre on Tuesday, June 14. Bookings and information: canberratheatrecentre.com.au or (02) 6275 2700.
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