The Shues tell their story through film and soccer

Gracie (Carly Schroeder)
Gracie, played by Carly Schroeder, takes the field in "Gracie."
Image courtesy of Picturehouse K.C. Bailey photographer

In 1988, the Shue family suffered a tragic loss.

Will Shue, older brother of Elisabeth, Andrew and John, died in an accident. They'd always looked up to him, and they wanted to honor him by making a movie.

But the story didn't take shape until someone else joined the family -- when Elisabeth married filmmaker Davis Guggenheim. Guggenheim directed the Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" for Al Gore.

The team
Carly Schroeder, Andrew Shue, and Elisabeth Shue, the trio behind "Gracie," a movie loosely based on Elisabeth Shue's teenage years.
MPR Photo/Euan Kerr

Andrew Shue remembers when Guggenheim shifted the focus of the family's story.

"He was the one who really said, 'The real underdog in your family is your sister,'" Shue says. "And I agreed with him, reluctantly. And we started thinking about how we could put this story together that would honor our brother, and tell a story about a family getting over loss."

Growing up in New Jersey in the late 1970s, Elisabeth Shue wasn't known as an actor. She was known as a soccer player. And not just any soccer player. From ages 9 through 13 she was the only girl playing in her hometown's year-round soccer leagues.

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"Every time I played, I knew everyone was watching me, and they definitely hit me a little harder. But I would always hit them a little harder back," Shue recalls. "But it was tough. And I think just psychologically, it's tough for girls at a young age to find their sense of self-worth in a very male-dominated world. And sports is really the first place where you can prove yourself as a kid."

"Every time I played, I knew everyone was watching me. And they definitely hit me a little harder. But I would always hit them a little harder back."

Shue says she believes her spirit was formed on the soccer field and it gave her a psychological edge as an actor.

"I hated when people would say 'Oh, she's good for a girl.' That drove me crazy. So I had to work extra hard so that wouldn't happen."

She had help.

The entire Shue family is mad about soccer. Their father captained the Harvard soccer team in the late 1950s. Oldest brother Will led the 1978 New Jersey state high school champions. Andrew played pro soccer, first in Africa and then during the first two seasons of the LA Galaxy franchise.

Even as he was playing for Los Angeles, Andrew was following Elisabeth into acting with a regular role on the TV show Melrose Place.

Working with Guggenheim, Andrew came up with the story for the film "Gracie." It's the tale of a New Jersey girl who deals with the loss of her older brother in a car wreck by trying to win his place on the boys high school soccer team.

Elisabeth and Andrew produced the movie, and both act in it, too. Davis Guggenheim directed. Andrew Shue jokes it's the most expensive family movie ever made.

The character of Gracie takes both physical and verbal abuse in her quest to win a spot on the boys high school team in "Gracie."
Image courtesy of Picturehouse, K.C. Bailey photographer

Elisabeth Shue says they needed the right actor in the title role. They looked at 2,000 audition tapes. But then they saw 15-year-old Carly Schroeder, a regular on the Lizzie Maguire TV show. They immediately knew their search was over.

"What's extraordinary about her is her talent, and her bravery at allowing herself to reveal her vulnerability, which is hard for any actress," says Elisabeth Shue. "And for somebody as young as Carly to have that talent already so young is very, very, very, special."

Vulnerable perhaps, but also very fit. Shroeder had to learn how to play soccer at a top level.

"I trained with the former captain of the Galaxy Dan Calichman, Monday, Wednesday, Friday," Schroeder says. "We would do circuit-training, and then we would do about three hours of just working with the ball and just making sure we had some sort of touch with it. And then Tuesdays and Thursdays we did six hours, and we trained with a Division I girls soccer team, and then after we would play a game."

Both Schroeder and Elisabeth Shue hope the story will inspire young female athletes. Andrew Shue says the family thinks his late brother would have approved, with some reservations.

"In the story itself, he'd probably feel like he got the raw end of the stick," Shue says, smiling. "Because in real life he scored the winning goal in the state championship, and in the movie he's missing the penalty kick which is something that actually I did."

"Gracie" opens nationwide this weekend. Even as she promotes the film. Elisabeth Shue is working on another sports project -- she's now training to get on the pro tennis tour.