Elisabeth Shue was inspired by making her film “Gracie,” based on her own early life, which included playing soccer, to pursue her ambition to play tennis professionally.
A Los Angeles Times article [Whose life is it anyway?, By Gina Piccalo, in 2007] notes, “After months of intense training, the 43-year-old aspires to be ranked by fall… she’s relishing the uphill climb toward a goal.”
“I like the road toward excellence. I like that it requires work. Everyday work. And it’s fulfilling to reach a goal of being as good as you can possibly be. And to push yourself. It just becomes a metaphor for how you live your life in other areas.”
If the film can inspire girls to fight for their goals, Shue said, then “it’s worth putting my life out there.”
The story also includes the accidental death of one of her three brothers, William. “The heart of the movie,” said Shue, “is that his passing away really is what has changed our lives and in some ways has been one of the most painful gifts that we could have ever been allowed to have.”
Shue’s husband, Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”), directed the film, and comments about the loss of her brother in 1988 when she was 24: “I don’t think you can continue after that and live on the surface. You cannot approach life without seeing there’s a wonderful, horrible duality to things.
“What it means is that she can suddenly, as an actress, dig a whole lot deeper. Boy, when you see [her Oscar-nominated role in] ‘Leaving Las Vegas,’ you saw a woman who dug very deep and was not afraid to live in the depths of a really dark world and then find beauty out of it.”
Speaking of what helped move her into that level of exceptional acting – beyond her previous “wholesome girlfriend” roles – Shue acknowledged her husband’s influence in an article in Interview magazine in 1996:
“He made me feel loved the way Will had loved me. Davis also knew that I was fighting my urge to become a great actress, which was something that was very important to me. I was afraid to want it for fear that it would never happen, and he challenged me and encouraged me to start studying and growing as an actor. He just loved me into taking acting seriously. So I went and studied – and that was the moment that everything changed.”
“I don’t necessarily blame Hollywood people for putting me in the ‘good girl’ box,” she said, “because when I was younger and playing those roles, that was what came easy to me. I can’t really bitch and say that it’s all their fault.
“I take responsibility for not knowing what I was capable of. It was definitely frustrating, because I never got near parts like the one in Leaving Las Vegas. Deep down, though, I started to realize that these were the kinds of parts that I would feel most comfortable playing, if I could only get in the door. I got glimpses of these parts, but there was like a five-year period when I got nothing.
“But I was in therapy and I was studying with an acting teacher regularly, and I began to know inside that I am capable and that my time would come, so I didn’t give up. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was just ready to strip everything away and do the work.”