Brat Pack Act: Judd Nelson

American actor Judd Nelson is perhaps best known for his part in the 1980’s brat pack. With over eighty six movies and television appearances under his belt, Nelson has played everything from a rebel teen to a comedic serial killer. While the most high profile portion of his career took place in the beginning, Judd Nelson has continued to take part in well received acting and writing work for decades.

Life At Home

Judd Asher Nelson was born November 28th, 1959 in Portland, Maine to Merle and Leonard Nelson, both of Jewish decent. His mother was a mediator for the court and at one time served on the Maine state legislature; his father was a corporate lawyer. Judd has two younger sisters named Eve and Julie and he attended elementary school at St. Paul’s Preparatory School in Concord, NH.

Judd attended high school at Waynflete School in Portland, Maine. During high school, he played sports, received good grades and was popular with the girls. Once, when Judd was set up on a blind date by his father, he ran a light and hit a car because he couldn’t stop noticing how pretty she was. Obviously embarrassed, he didn’t dare ask her out again after that.

Judd was accepted at Haverford College in Pennsylvania where he studied philosophy. Nelson became interesting in acting when he watched a friend audition for a role, a friend that convinced him to audition as well. Judd, much to his disbelief, was given the role and he left school after his sophomore year to pursue acting.

Initially, he performed with the Shoestring Shakespeare Company. When Judd left school he relocated to Manhattan and began his studying acting under Stella Adler. The Stella Adler Studio of Acting was responsible for talented actors such as Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro.

It took Judd a while to become comfortable with the filming process, causing him to favor theatre over onscreen work. In an interview once, he stated that he prefers the way performers and crew pull together each night for a great theater production. With onscreen work, filming a scene can be done multiple times to get it right, limiting the feeling of camaraderie among the crew.


Early Career

Judd Nelson began his acting career in the early 1980’s placing him in the “Brat Pack.” The term Brat Pack was a nickname given to group of actors in the 80s by New York Magazine writer David Blum. All of the actors were in their 20s and worked together often in films during that time, typically in movies by John Hughes. The actors that Blum placed in this so-called group immediately disliked the term and have protested the label ever since, believing it insinuates a poor work ethic and misbehavior on their parts. The group includes Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore and Ally Sheedy. The majority of the actors in this group have struggled to remain successful in Hollywood since the 1980s.

Judd’s first movie was Making the Grade, a 1984 comedy in which he played the character Eddie Keaton. The film is centered on a rich kid named Palmer Woodrow who is in danger of losing financial support from his parents if he doesn’t graduate from school. Palmer is enrolled at Hoover Academy where he meets Eddie, a con artist. Eddie is in trouble with a loan shark and needs money to pay his debt. Palmer hires Eddie for $10,000 and a sports car to complete school for him and graduate, so that he, Palmer, can play around in Europe. Comedian Andrew Dice Clay is the loan shark harassing Eddie. Critics commented on Judd’s believability in the film, and this movie is often cited as the beginning of Judd’s career.

Nelson’s diverse acting ability won him a role in the famous film St. Elmo’s Fire, by director and screenwriter Joel Schumacher, where he played a determined Democrat named Alex Newbary who is trying to build a political career. The film follows seven friends after they all graduate from college. The characters cover a wide range of career paths from Alex’s political aspirations to Kevin, a newspaper writer played by Andrew McCarthy. Judd Nelson made an appearance in the music video “Man In motion,” by John Parr for the movie.

For the 1985 film The Breakfast Club, Nelson was cast as a troublemaker that spends most of the movie tempting Molly Ringwald’s character. The set for the library was built on three basketball courts inside of Maine North High School, an abandoned high school. The books that lined the walls of the set were donated from the Chicago Public Library. This movie has since been listed a classic, and is one of the most well-known films Judd was part of.

Judd’s role as John Bender was the last to be cast in The Breakfast Club and director John Hughes said at the time that it was between Judd Nelson and John Cusack. Nicolas Cage read for the part of Bender as well. Judd was almost fired when he became too much like Bender and filmmakers had to remind him to be nicer, so that Bender was still liked by audiences. The movie was among the top twenty highest-grossing movies for 1985 with earnings of $46 million while in theaters. Judd was awarded The MTV Silver Bucket of Excellence in 2005 for his role in the movie. The films St. Elmo’s Fire and The Breakfast Club have been referred to as the ultimate Reagan-era representations of anxiety of those who were just about to start college and those just graduating from college.

Nelson was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television in 1988 for the movie Billionaire Boys Club. Based on a true story, the movie was about Joe Hunt, founder of the club. In 1987, Hunt was convicted of killing Ron Levin, a con-man. Judd also co-starred in the movie Fandango with Kevin Costner, about a group of recently graduated college students that have been drafted for war taking a road trip before they have to report to the military. He gave Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime his voice for the animated film The Transformers: The Movie and has worked with fellow actors Pierce Brosnan, Forest Whitaker and Leonard Nimoy.

Later Career

Judd Nelson’s career took a hit after his two Brat Pack films and several of his movies, such as Blue City with Ally Sheedy and From the Hip, failed during their respective opening weekends. The movies were bad enough for him to receive a Razzie nomination, which is recognition for the worst movies of the year. Nelson even attempted a role as a serial killer in the movie Relentless, but his portrayal of murderer Arthur ”Buck” Taylor didn’t reinvigorate his career at that point.

He continued acting in the 90s with movie The Dark Backward, a satirical comedy that was written and directed by Adam Rifkin. The film was released in 1991, and Judd then made the movie Primary Motive with Justine Bateman about a press secretary discovering that the man running against his party has been impacting the campaign with lies. Next he filmed Conflict of Interest, where he played the owner of a café specializing in heavy metal music. A police detective who is convinced that Gideon was involved in his wife’s death harasses Judd’s character Gideon.

The movie Flinch was released in 1994 co-starring Gina Gershon and Judd Nelson. The film features Harry and Daphne working as living mannequins in a store display. If either of them move or flinch while working in the shop window, then they will be fired. One night they see a murder and when the police refuse to investigate, Harry and Daphne become the ones in danger.

The film Light it Up gave Nelson the chance to play kind high school teacher Ken Knowles. In the movie New Jack City Judd plays the character of cop Nick Peretti, working in a tough area of Harlem. His partner, Scotty Appleton, is played by musician and actor Ice T. Together they try to stop a powerful drug dealer played by Wesley Snipes.

He wrote the screenplay and starred in the film Every Breath, was released in 1994. The movie is about an actor named Jimmy, played by Judd, who is struggling with his career. He is hired by a rich man to entice his wife, Lauren. Jimmy quickly discovers that the couple is playing a game with him after he is degraded and beaten up, but when they ask him to join in for their next target he is tempted. Once he sees that their games often turn deadly he wants to get out. The couple is not so willing to let him go. While the movie did not receive the best of reviews, Judd Nelson fans have helped to make it a cult favorite.


Judd filmed an episode of Tales from the Crypt about a failing restaurateur played by late actor Christopher Reeve. A nasty landlord is threatening to close down the restaurant and Christopher’s employee Gaston, played by Judd Nelson, offers a recipe for steak making the restaurant profitable. With this being a “Tales from the Crypt” episode the steak, of course, is not actually steak, and Judd has a blast serving it up.

In 1996 Judd was given a role as Editor Jack Richmond, starring in the NBC comedy” Suddenly Susan” with Brooke Shields. Actor Eric Idle replaced his character when Nelson later left the show. Idle also voiced one of The Transformers in the same animated movie with Nelson earlier in his career. Judd left when his friend and fellow actor on the show David Strickland committed suicide on March 22nd, 1999. The show was popular for the four years it was on the air.

Judd Nelson has filmed several TV movies including Cabin by the Lake, a black comedy about script writer Stanley who is writing a movie about a serial killer. For research purposes Stanley begins murdering girls to understand how his main character thinks. Judd was then in a remake of The Spiral Staircase, a suspense thriller about a mute woman tracked by a murderer. The film was released in 2000 as a made-for-cable movie and spooked viewers with a twist at the end. Judd agreed to a cameo role of a police chief for the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001 to appease his fan Kevin Smith, the writer and director of the movie.

During the late 90s and early 2000s Judd kept his career intact by starring on stage, acting in low-budget movies and taking roles in television shows like Las Vegas from NBC. He played the friend of a man who was killed on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and he was a psychologist investigating PTSD in soldiers coming back from Iraq for the show the Eleventh Hour.

The movie National Lampoon’s TV: The Movie had Judd starring as a host on “The Real Fear Factor,” which was a spoof of the reality show Fear Factor. Judd was also in the sequel The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day playing the character Father Charley Lock. Judd repeated his vocalization for Rodimus Prime for the animated Transformers television show.

Judd had a guest star appearance on the CBS show Two and a Half Men as Courtney Thorne-Smith’s ex-husband and came back to repeat the part in another episode. He also guest starred on the USA show Psych playing an odd doctor that wants to cut up main character Shawn’s brain.

Nelson has recently completed the film Endsville, a mockumentary style film that is set in New York and portrays a religious cult waiting for the end of the world. He was also in The Cure for Boredom, and played the character of a hit man who kills the mob boss and is on the run with his partner. Judd worked on a screenplay with Steve Bing and together they are creating Guys Without Lives, which is a movie about real life stories featured in the National Lampoon.

The actor’s stage productions include the off-Broadway play Carnal Knowledge, which also stars Sarah Jessica Parker. Nelson performed in The Seagull produced by the Los Angeles Theater company. Judd and other cast members of The Breakfast Club honored director John Hughes in a tribute for the deceased film maker at the 2010 Academy Awards.


Personal Information and Interesting Facts


Judd Nelson enjoys riding his motorcycle, playing golf and reading. He and his father would read and talk about classic novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nelson admits to being disappointed when he reaches the end of a good book and he sometimes starts the book over after he’s finished reading it. Some of Judd’s favorite authors are Dickens, Melville and Poe.

He is a writer who is 5’10’’ and his favorite sports team is the Boston Red Sox. He lives in Los Angeles and at one time he was engaged to Shannen Doherty. Judd once owned a Staffordshire bull terrier named Talluah Bighead who has since passed away; he speaks of his beloved pet often and with great affection. He is a Sagittarius who has hired Steven Siebert to manage his career.

Judd is a fan of boxer Muhammad Ali and owns a pair of his boxing gloves, which he displays in a glass case at home. Judd’s favorite meal is steak and shrimp, and his perfect evening would be eatin surf and turn while listening to the Blues. He loves driving vehicles with a big V-8 engine, as he often says, the faster the better, and prefers to vacation near the water. One of his favorite parts of his career is his ability to travel. He has listed The Silver Surfer as his preferred comic book hero and Judd is also a huge fan of athlete Jim Thorpe.

Judd is a sports fanatic and even as a child he wanted to be a professional athlete. He has been given the opportunity to play in several celebrity golf tournaments partially fulfilling his childhood fantasy. He decided to take up golf after his grandfather died and Judd found his old golf clubs in the garage. Nelson is admittedly an impatient person and could only play nine holes at first. While golf is not necessarily his game he has improved and has on occasion scored into the low 80s. The actor has said that his only regret is not taking up golf sooner, so that he could have played with his grandfather.

One of his best friends is actor Robert Downey Jr. and Judd is known to be a charming and unassuming friend; he was one of many of Downey’s friends who helped him through his period of recovery. He has expressed a dislike for the way Hollywood works and doesn’t believe that if one person succeeds then another person must fail. He believes that there is room enough for everyone to do what they love. Before Nelson was able to support himself by acting he worked as a candy maker, a bartender and a waiter. He first started working in junior high at a candle factory and would come home smelling like spices or flowers. He supports several charities including Recording Artists and Actors Against Drunk Driving, TLC for the Blind and The Ark Trust. He prefers to contribute to charities that help those who are young and alienated.

Judd Nelson is an actor known for his kindness and work ethic. He is talented and able to play a wide range of characters accurately. Judd has proven longevity in his acting career, and he is sure to continue performing and will be appearing in future films, television shows and theater productions.