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John Kapelos will never forget his ‘The Breakfast Club’ role

By Cindy Pearlman | For the Sun-Times

“This film is like a good Beatles song. It’s just not going to go away,” says John Kapelos.

He’s talking about “The Breakfast Club,” which amazingly celebrates the 30th anniversary of its release this year.

The character actor who launched his career in Chicago and appeared in several John Hughes films is reflective about the anniversary. “There are enough things that remind of us our age…this is one of the good things,” he says.

Kapelos wasn’t one of the Brat Packers who starred in the film. Those roles were for Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson.

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Instead, he played the now-iconic role of Carl, the janitor, or the only adult who seems to have a beat on what these kids were really feeling. It’s a role that Kapelos can’t shake, and doesn’t much want to push away. “There isn’t a day that goes by where someone doesn’t ask me a ‘Breakfast Club’ question.”

Kapelos did a turn in 1984’s “Sixteen Candles” for upstart director and Chicagoan John Hughes. “At the time, he told me, ‘John, I have this really cool other script called ‘The Breakfast Club.’ You’d be perfect for it.”

Kapelos was a character actor who grew up in London and Canada and came to Chicago in the ‘70s to break into theater.

“Chicago was a cauldron of working theater,” says Kapelos who ended up working with Second City. “The city of Chicago jumped up at me, licked me in the face and told me, ‘You’re an actor.’”

Enter Hughes who almost didn’t keep his promise. In fact, Rick Moranis was almost going to play the janitor role, but that didn’t work out. “I was in New York in a play when I opened Variety and there was a headline: ‘Breakfast Club’ lensing in Chicago.’ They listed the cast and I wasn’t in it. I thought that boat had sailed. The next day, I got a call from my agent saying, ‘John Hughes wants you to do this movie.’ I got a few days off to go home to Chicago to film it.”

Filming took place at the abandoned suburban high school known as Maine North.

“The funny thing was that Judd Nelson was 23, only four years younger than me during the shoot,” Kapelos muses. “Between takes, I really hung out in the real janitor’s office to rest up. I thought it would help the character.”

As for the infamous Brat Packers – the aforementioned Ringwald, Nelson, Estevez, and Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall – they really were a pack.

“They were a little bit to themselves. They really were a club. The adults were the interlopers. I used that energy for my part because I wasn’t one of them.”

Interestingly, Kapelos’ biggest scene was left on the cutting room floor.

“I had a scene telling the kids where each would be in 25 years. I started with Molly Ringwald’s princess Claire and said, ‘You’re going to have five kids and stretch marks from here to Zion. And you’ll be an alcoholic.’

“Then I told, Anthony Michael Hall’s Brian, ‘You’ll be a big Chicago lawyer and have a big heart attack at age 43 and a big funeral.’

“I told Judd Nelson’s Bender, ‘You think detention is bad? You’ll spend four years at Attica.’

“I tell Ally Sheedy’s Allison, ‘You’ll be the artist living in a loft and living off the kindness of strangers. And you’ll make no money.’

“I tell Emilio’s Andrew, ‘You’ll be a failed athlete teaching gym and very unhappy.’

“I improved a lot of it and it was very dark, but all sanctioned by John Hughes.”

In the end, it wasn’t used in the movie.

“I did conclude that speech by telling all of them, ‘By the way, the clock is 20 minutes fast,” Kapelos said with a laugh.

One question remains: What happened in his own mind to his janitor Carl over these years?

“Oh, he really did go through those kids’ lockers. Now, he’s working for the NSA reading everybody’s everything.”

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