Anthony Michael Hall on going from '80s 'kid actor' to 'elder statesman' on 'Trigger Warning' decades after Brat Pack

“I'm grateful for it all,” Hall says of his wide-ranging career. “I know how long I've been at this, and there are no guarantees in this industry.”

The actor Anthony Michael Hall in front of a car in a scene from the movie.
Anthony Michael Hall says he dug into his role as a bad guy in Netflix's new action thriller Trigger Warning. (Mark Binks)

Anthony Michael Hall has gone from The Breakfast Club to the “elder statesman” on film sets — and that’s OK with him.

Launched to movie superstardom as a teen in the ’80s, Hall continues to grow his list of acting credits, currently in Netflix’s action thriller Trigger Warning, starring Jessica Alba as a special forces commando, out June 21. While his quintessential geek characters will forever be part of film history, “it’s a lot of fun playing the bad guy too,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment.

Hall talks about portraying a “dirty senator” in the film — one that sees him as the dad of adult sons — and working with Alba, whom he calls a “force to be reckoned with.” He’s also in production on TV’s Reacher and runs his own production company, not a bad spot in a notoriously unpredictable business, one that can be hard on former child actors.

“I'm grateful for it all,” Hall says. “I know how long I've been at this, and there are no guarantees in this industry.”

Hall brings us up to speed on work and life — including becoming a first-time dad last year at 55 with wife Lucia Oskerova.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Ezekiel Swann is a corrupt senator in the fictional town of Creation. There are some moments where your age hits you — like when you're on set and suddenly you have two adult actors playing your sons. You're like: “OK, I guess I've been at this for a while.” Having been the kid actor all those decades ago, now I'm an elder statesman. I don't want to give it away, but I'm gonna meet the hero in Jessica's character. It was fun to play a dirty character. I dug into it.

Jessica is a force to be reckoned with. She was very cool, prepared and professional. She's done a bunch of action stuff with Robert Rodriguez obviously, so she really knows her stuff. She would offer suggestions — just like the stunt coordinator would – about how to handle certain aspects of the fighting. We had a great powerhouse team of women at the helm: director Mouly Surya and a great team of women supporting her, also including female cinematographer Zoë White.

 Anthony Michael Hall, Mark Webber and Jessica Alba in a movie scene.
Hall as Ezekiel along with Mark Webber and Jessica Alba in Trigger Warning. (Ursula Coyote/Netflix)

Nick Celozzi wrote the beautiful, original homage to The Breakfast Club. We made the film for under $2 million. It’s not a remake, but the stakes were much higher. It was relevant and current. There are six kids, instead of five. I was the Paul Gleason character — the maligned teacher who's watching them in class. So funny how times have changed [laughs]. Debbie Gibson was wonderful as the drama teacher. The kids have to come to her class on a Saturday, and she gives them a task of bringing some truth to life, setting it up as a sort of modern-day Breakfast Club, and I was very proud of that film.

That was a big film. I was honored to work alongside Brad and share the screen with him. Unfortunately, a lot of people missed it because sadly he and Angelina Jolie were getting divorced when the film came out. So I think Brad's commitment to publicity was limited due to that because he was dealing with a lot of personal stuff — and all due respect to that. But he was a great guy to work with. I'm happy to say he's what everybody thinks he is: a stand-up guy, very personable, easygoing, nice.

That was pretty cool. I had read Brad was a Steve McQueen fan, so I gave him a picture of McQueen [as a wrap gift]. The next day I was in my hotel suite and the concierge arrived with a box. It was a beautiful watch. Believe it or not, months went by before I flipped the watch over — I must be out of my mind — and on the back I saw that he engraved four stars, like four-star general — Brad’s character in the film was based on General Stanley McChrystal and my character was based on General Michael Flynn — “War Machine” and “AMH” on it. It was a nice nod from Brad, like: “Good job, general.”

What's so trippy you said that is that one day we were shooting and he brought that to my attention. We were on a bus and right before the takes, Brad and I were alone for a second. He was like, “Mike, I was watching your movies in college.” It was surreal.

My wife is from Slovakia and has seen some of my stuff on TV while switching channels. I don’t think we've actually sat down and watched it. I don't know if I've ever done that myself. It’s funny, though — we have a son now, [Michael, who turned 1 this month], and I bought him a Batman action hero the other day. In the store, I was really processing it, going: I can’t wait to show him The Dark Knight. Your dad was in this movie. Then I get home and it's back to reality. I caught shit from my mother, who's visiting us in Toronto while I shoot Reacher, and my wife saying: “He’s too young for an action figure! He can hurt himself!” He's at the point where he's putting everything in his mouth.

I really did — ever since I was a kid. All those years ago, I knew I would start a family later in life. I thought it might be in my 40s — I had my first child at 55 last year — but nonetheless it's a joy. My wife and I are so in love with him. All the talk of the early get-ups and being woken up for diaper changes, honestly it all pales when you're looking at your own child. We'll be just watching him when he's asleep. I also admit there's a joke to be mined: All due respect to two of my great heroes, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, but in a year where they both sired children, I feel young again. I was a spring chicken.

I've had a clear idea about this for years, and I shared this with my wife and she feels the same, and it’s: We want to give him everything — sports, music, the arts. But I think your child will show you where their interests lie. If he really wanted to, of course I would support him, but I'm not going to be pushing it.

Yeah, that predated the Daniel Day-Lewis “I'm gonna go be a cobbler” thing. Michael and I were great friends when we made the film, and then, sadly, I never saw him again. He made Vision Quest or one or two other films, but that was his choice [to retire from the industry]. For me, there wasn’t a Plan B and that was my outlook even as a kid. After the success of Sixteen Candles, I remember processing a very personal thought when I was alone: No one's gonna take this from me. I want to keep doing this for the rest of my life. I never considered another option. That's why after all these years, I'm flush with gratitude, and for that reason, I just kept at it. I look back on all the time that's passed and I’ve played these bad guys, teachers, parents and all these characters I never thought I'd play, but it certainly refined me as a person and an actor too because I've grown and learned to appreciate it more and more. For Reacher, I remember doing the read-through in my hotel room, and it was just a quick passing thought: I'm the oldest guy on the Zoom casting. But also thinking: I'm cool with it. I've earned this place now that I'm 56 years old.

The movie poster for the film Sixteen Candles.
Sixteen Candles came out in 1984 — and made the teenage Hall, with Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling, a movie star. (Universal Pictures)

It’s true because in my career, there have been many sad, unfortunate stories of kids that have succumbed to mental illness, or other issues, and early death. I attribute it to having a strong family that raised me properly and maintaining my [Catholic] faith. Being raised in New York City, by the kind of parents that I had, gave me a foundation. Over time, the things I've learned in this business are numerous. There are so many lessons. But I learned to be more grateful for the work and adaptive too. I'm grateful for having stuck it out.