It has been 13 years since Elisabeth Shue’s Oscar-nominated turn as a prostitute who gets entangled with a suicidal alcoholic in “Leaving Las Vegas,” and a lot has changed since then. For one, the 44-year-old actress has had three children with husband Davis Guggenheim, himself an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker (for 2006’s “An Inconvenient Truth”).
In addition, the onetime teen queen, beloved for roles in Eighties classics such as “The Karate Kid,” “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Back to the Future Part II,” has long since passed the baton to such zygotes as Miley Cyrus and Emma Roberts. But Shue doesn’t really mind, as proven by her hilarious turn as a version of herself — albeit one who has decided to trade in her supposedly stalled acting career to become a nurse in Tucson, Ariz. — in the comedy “Hamlet 2,” out today.
Here, Shue discusses holding her own with comic Steve Coogan, making out with her co-stars and her tennis addiction.
WWD: How did you end up in the movie?
Elisabeth Shue: I think they offered it to a bunch of actresses who turned it down. My manager suggested me…[but] he had never read the script, which was perfect. I’m sure he didn’t realize it was the part of a has-been Hollywood actress. I just thought the script was so fun I had to be a part of it.
WWD: Did you draw upon your own experiences in preparing for the role?
E.S.: I knew I could come up with a character who empowered her decisions. She decided to quit. They hadn’t thrown her out. They had to tailor-make it to me so I got to think long and hard about what I would miss most about this profession. I did feel it would be making out with co-stars, so there was that monologue I helped write. It was [also] really fun to try to come up with things to say about my movies — I told Steve [Coogan] to say, “Wax on, wax off.” And I loved the idea of her being a nurse. If I would be a nurse, I would want to be a sexy nurse. If you are going to play this role, you have to not be afraid to go there.
WWD: Have you ever fantasized about quitting acting?
E.S.: I think every actress has wondered many times, ‘What would I do if I quit?’ At one point I went as far as ordering a course catalogue from Columbia University, thinking, maybe I’ll go get my master’s in creative writing….But I realize that even if I was going to [quit], there’s some part of me that would still need to act out.
WWD: What do you think about the way your career has evolved? You’ve obviously put a lot of energy into your family.
E.S.: I think you naturally pull back to find a balance in your life. But even though you’ve made these choices that will obviously take you out of the pool of actors, you still believe that shouldn’t stop great directors from wanting to work with you. So it is a little shocking that all of a sudden you don’t have the same amount of opportunities you once had. My husband always reminds me that if you look at the choices you’ve made, you realize you’ve chosen this path and it works for you. And to be honest, my life has been much more balanced since I haven’t been working as much.
WWD: There are fewer juicy parts for women these days, it seems.
E.S.: The studios only make certain kinds of movies now. Obviously, they don’t need people at the old age of 40 to be in them….I think that the 30s and 40s are the best time [for women]. Sometimes you look in the mirror and you’re surprised that you’ve actually aged because your insides don’t age. But you’re happier and happier the older you get because you feel more comfortable in your skin and you don’t care what people think.
WWD: How do you stay in shape? Obviously, that’s such a big deal in Los Angeles.
E.S.: I play a lot of sports. I think that helps me pretend I’m younger than I really am. I play tennis psychotically every day with a coach. It’s my drug. It makes me a better mother because I’ve had some time to myself and I’ve gotten out all my aggression on a tennis ball.
WWD: By the way, in “Hamlet 2,” one of the running gags is that none of the young characters know who you are or know any of your movies. In real life, do people recognize you a lot?
E.S.: Sometimes people think you’re somebody else, actually, which I love. I think it’s hilarious. One time somebody thought I was Kelly Preston. I always just go with it.