If, as the wise man said, you live your life going forward but understand it looking backward, then Andrew McCarthy is understanding a lot more about his life these days. The actor who starred in a string of '80s movies is out with a book ["Brat: An '80s Story," published by Simon & Schuster, a division of Viacom/CBS], examining the years this charter member of the "Brat Pack" was just getting started, hitting it big on the West Coast while still living the life of a starving artist in New York's Greenwich Village.
McCarthy pointed out a modest apartment building at West 12th Street to correspondent Jim Axelrod: "I lived here in this one early, mid-'80s, so I was here for 'St. Elmo's Fire,' 'Pretty in Pink,' 'Mannequin.' Actually, it was painted pink then. I found, literally found my mattress right there, across the street on the corner, when I moved in, and I just dragged it upstairs!"
Overnight McCarthy was walking the red carpet, and not always handling things very well, like at the premiere of "Pretty in Pink": I was completely drunk. It was my first premiere of a movie. My name comes up on the screen. I just got up and left and went to the bar across the street and got drunk."
McCarthy, born 58 years ago in Westfield, New Jersey, was pulled to acting in high school. Next was NYU, where a teacher warned him to master his craft, and not rely on charisma.
Axelrod asked, "When she says to you, 'If you keep smiling like that, you're gonna charm us all, and it's gonna be your downfall'?"
"But what's interesting about that is that I was like, Yeah, yeah, downfall. Who cares? You like me and want me to keep going? You know what I mean? So, I really did want that."
He kept going, catching lightning in a bottle cast opposite Jacqueline Bissett in the movie "Class" before he was 20. Knowing he was new to the business, the then-38-year-old international sex symbol invited him to stay at her home in the Hollywood Hills.
Axelrod asked, "When we're talking about things that were happening to you that weren't happening to other 20-year-olds …"
"That would be one of 'em," McCarthy replied. "That would definitely be one of 'em!"
No, McCarthy was not living the life of your average 20-something, as he writes about one interaction with Bissett when he was lying down in her den when she approached. "She kissed me once, deeply."
"Oh, now you're just goin' right for trash," McCarthy laughed.
"No, I am asking the question that 15-year-old me would want to know the answer to," Axelrod said.
"It was just one time. It was one of those adolescent fantasies that just happened. And that just happened."
It may have just been one kiss, but McCarthy was getting the idea life was changing. Two years later, when "St. Elmo's Fire" came out, he knew for sure.
He said, "If you were a New York actor, you were a New York actor. But the second the Brat Pack happened, that went out the window, and I was a Brat Packer."
An article in New York magazine profiled a group of actors they called the "Brat Pack": Judd Nelson.. Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, among others – and it wasn't complimentary.
"This wasn't the Rat Pack, this wasn't Sammy," said Axelrod.
"No, this wasn't cool dudes! This was a bunch of little punks who thought they were hot stuff," McCarthy said.
Airbrushed off the cover, Andrew McCarthy was making acquaintance with a feeling that's been with him when thinking about the Brat Pack for the last 35 years: ambivalence. "At first, when I saw the cover, I was like, 'Wait, I'm in that picture.' And then I read the article and, 'Thank God I'm not in that picture!"
From there it was on to "Pretty in Pink," and the lead male, Blane, opposite Molly Ringwald.
McCarthy recalled, "They weren't interested in me auditioning for the part because it was written for a square-jawed, hulking quarterback stud dude. And I read with Molly. And they went, 'Okay, thank you.' And when I walked out, Molly, you know, turned to [screenwriter] John Hughes and said, 'That's the guy.' And John Hughes is like, 'That wimp?' And she's like, 'No, he's sensitive. He's poetic. That's kind of guy I'd fall for.' That changed my life. Molly changed my life."
It was all happening so quickly – too quickly – to feel that he'd earned it. The words of his teacher at NYU echoed painfully. "I didn't know who I was yet," he said. "And so then suddenly, stuff is comin' at you. And so, you either ride that or you recoil from it. Or you kinda go, whoa, I'm faking it, or I'm fooling them, you know?"
His struggle played out under bright lights on about the biggest stage there is, at the 75th anniversary of Paramount Pictures in 1987. He was alongside Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Olivia de Havilland, Jimmy Stewart.
"And Gregory Peck!" McCarthy laughed. And there's Andy over in the corner, yeah."
And not thinking for a split second that he belonged.
"The publicist kept coming up, 'Do you want to meet somebody? Do you want to?' I said, 'Well, I'd like to meet Jimmy Stewart, you know?' So, they brought me over to Jimmy Stewart. And I just, I said, 'Mr. Stewart, it's a pleasure to meet you, sir.' And he went, 'My, my pleasure, Andrew.' But I remember him looking right in my eye, his sort of water-blue eyes – and I knew I was projecting at the time, this sort of disappointment and shame as he looked at me. And that was exactly what I felt about myself.
"And there's Tom Cruise in a bright red sweater, center third row, standin' there like this in the photo. And I just go, wow, I just never was that guy. I could never in a million years have been in that red sweater, standin' in the third row. I'm not that person. And I never wanted to be that person."
In the years since, Andrew McCarthy has learned what kind of person he is, one happier behind the camera, directing TV shows like "Orange Is the New Black" and "The Blacklist."
"I always say directing is stressful and acting causes anxiety. I'd rather be under stress than feel anxiety from within. And I have every actor anxiety that there is, so when I see another actor, I'm able to disarm it quickly. Because I'm like, Dude, I know."
Which has finally left him ready to explore the journey he's taken over the last four decades.
"People over the years have said, 'Would you write a book about the Brat Pack?' And I was always, like, 'No.' I mean, before the sentence was done, I was like, 'No.' And someone again recently mentioned, 'Would you consider writing a book about the Brat Pack?' And I went … 'Huh. Yeah.' You know, you kinda want to be free of all this stuff. I mean, I'm no longer, you know, young! And so, why keep running from my youth?"
Andrew McCarthy is no longer running, choosing instead to make peace with a group he'd never aspired to join … and make peace with himself.
He said, "We're here talking because I was in the Brat Pack. Had I been in a bunch of those same movies and the Brat Pack, quote-unquote, didn't exist, quote-unquote, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
"Like, I did just fine. With who I was, and who I am, I did just fine."
"That's a lovely place to get to in life," Axelrod said.
"Well, I mean, it's 'cause I got so old! But to come to some kind of peace with what happened so long ago and to have dragged it around to finally look under the rock and go, you know what? It's okay. I did just fine, yeah."
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For more info:
- "Brat: An '80s Story" by Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central Publishing), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available May 11 via Amazon and Indiebound
- Follow AndrewTMcCarthy on Twitter
Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Joseph Frandino.