Monday, November 05, 2012
Alec Baldwin: I’m Alec Baldwin and this is Here’s The Thing from WNYC Radio.
Andrew McCarthy has been on a long journey. At 22, he was a rising young movie star with the requisite good looks and talent. After playing a sullen writer in "St. Elmo’s Fire" he woke up one morning to discover me and his co-stars were members of something New York Magazine called “The Brat Pack.” It was news to him and, like it or not, from then on he was permanently linked to that cynical symbol of 1980s self-indulgence.
Fortunately for us, that was only one stop on Andrew McCarthy’s journey. By accident McCarthy discovered that traveling the world was the perfect anecdote to the fame and exposure that came with his acting career. He has spent much of the last decade writing about his experiences in distant and exotic lands. He has a book out called "The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down." Many people travel to escape and disconnect, but Andrew McCarthy, who turns 50 this month, credits his solo adventures with ushering him into adulthood.
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I’m known for my youth. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Not your best movies, but your most well-known movies were the spate of movies you did when you were a young, young leading man. What’s it like for you to turn 50?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, it’s – on that level, it’s a weird thing because though that’s success in those movies of being a boy defined my adulthood. So it’s a weird thing to outgrow youth, and so if you outgrow the success that came with youth what do you carry forward? So it’s an interesting dilemma or a position. So on a personal level, it’s hard to separate those two things because I’m so much an out outgrowth as you are, but you’re carried forward in a more current way, but I’m such a result of that early fame.
Alec Baldwin: What led you to do what you’re doing now in terms of its relationship to your acting career?
Andrew McCarthy: It was a total accidental thing. I had no intention of becoming a travel writer or –
Alec Baldwin: You didn’t?
Andrew McCarthy: No. Not at all.
Alec Baldwin: So this wasn’t a case where you were sitting there and as the…
Andrew McCarthy: Alec, there’s been no plan ever at any point. So when I was a young actor, I still mold into these movies and suddenly I’m in the Brat Pack and suddenly I’m this kind of an actor, which I’m like, ‘Well, wait. That’s not the kind of actor I wanted to be,’ but those were the movies I was in suddenly, and so that was my career trajectory, which is interesting because there was no hands on the wheel then really. I was just reacting to situations. So when I did begin –
Alec Baldwin: What was that like?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, that was –
Alec Baldwin: Describe how you felt back then? Fame, money, success. Movies, which are the most intoxicating of all.
Andrew McCarthy: Well, movies are much more intoxicating and much more like royalty than television is – as you know – and movies people relate to differently when you’re in movies than they do when you’re on television. There’s a certain familiarity on television that people assume, but in movies there is an awe that people have. I think it’s dissipated now to some degree because everything is so watered down and interchangeable, but when we started particularly, you did TV when your career was over and now that’s not the case at all.
Alec Baldwin: Sure. So describe how you felt when you were blazing.
Andrew McCarthy: It was a wondrous, wonderful, confusing time, I think, but again, I didn’t have any real consciousness of like, ‘Okay. I just did a movie about a mannequin. Now let me do one about a drug addict.’ It was just like that was what came next. I had a certain desperate quality of, ‘Well, I just have to keep going,’ and those movies, you have to remember, were not that successful at the time and weren’t respected and iconic the way they’ve become now.
Only later, because I think of VCR and people were able to suddenly take those movies home, whereas the generation before they couldn’t. I think that’s what made those movies so successful because suddenly young people, who were the people who were renting movies when VHS came to the fore in the mid ‘80s, could take us home and watch us 10, 15 times and take ownership in a certain way that was never possible before. So then you’re locked in that moment in time too.
Alec Baldwin: Did you feel that those films were a genre of film while you were making them? They become a genre.
Andrew McCarthy: I just thought they were less –
Alec Baldwin: Substantive.
Andrew McCarthy: – substantive than some other movies. Yeah. Although now you look back and they’re still – said we would have still been talking about "Pretty in Pink" 25 years later.
Alec Baldwin: Now they’re Orson Welles films compared to what’s being made now.
Andrew McCarthy: It’s crazy.
Alec Baldwin: Now they’re like –
Andrew McCarthy: But they did, they captured something about – they took seriously that dilemma of being very self-centered and young. That was wonderfully important.
Alec Baldwin: What was the most – ‘cause you are a very bright guy and you’ve always seemed like a very bright guy on film and very thoughtful. When you go back and you look at it from your perspective now, you’re older, what were the most rewarding parts of your career when you were making films when you were younger?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I worked with Claude Chabrol in a couple films in France and that was a real powerful experience. I – well, I’d like to know your opinion, but I haven’t worked with very many good directors. The are very few good directors and so that one – he was –
Alec Baldwin: What made Chabrol good for you?
Andrew McCarthy: Um, he just had a vision. He had his own vision. He wasn’t interested in other people’s ideas of what his film should be like. He had real passion and vision and he had a unique point of view on what film was and what his relationship to it was and what he wanted to create on screen and what he wanted me to be doing in his film.
He had a real that French auteur kind of, ‘This is my film. This is what I want you to do.’ I’m like, ‘Why do you want me to do it that way?’ ‘Because I prefer.’ I’m like, ‘Okay,’ and he had such appreciation for me. I felt quite appreciated by him so that allowed me to trust him and he trusted me and enjoyed me. I think a lot of directors are afraid of actors. So they don’t enjoy them and they don’t enjoy the process that actors go through. So there becomes this adversarial or at best business like relationship.
Alec Baldwin: Very tense. Yeah. One of my favorite moments recently was I went back and I downloaded on my computer the Stanley Kubrick documentary "Life in Pictures" and there’s this wonderful moment in when Matthew Modine says – ‘cause they’re getting to that part of Kubrick’s career where he made "Full Metal Jacket" and Matthew talks about how he was walking around angsting over, ‘What does Stanley want? What does Stanley want?’
And he said that Kubrick pulled up in a car with people on the way to this thing. He goes, ‘What are you doing Matthew?’ And he goes [laughs] – Matthew Modine says, ‘I’m trying to figure out what you want. I can’t get a grip on what it is you want,’ and he said that Stanley Kubrick looked at him and goes, ‘Oh, God. No. I don’t want you to do that.’ He goes, ‘It’s very simple. I want you to have a good time. I want you to enjoy yourself.’
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, but that’s giving him such great respect –
Alec Baldwin: Oh my God.
Andrew McCarthy: – and bestowing that on the actors so that suddenly the actor relaxes and when actors relax they can do their work.
Alec Baldwin: Which is an art that I think many directors now (a) don’t have the ability to do and (b) feel almost resentful that they have to do it, like the biggest directors I’ve ever worked with. Like Mike Nichols, who I had very small role with, but Nichols was someone who in that brief time I had with him in the movie "Working Girl," what I always would love was him taking that moment to go, ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay. Just relax. I picked you for a reason and you’re going to do this thing for me,’ and the great ones and the good ones want to do whatever it takes to open that channel of communication with you so we can get the job done because we’re not going to get it done if you and I aren’t communicating.
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. Well, they don’t need to exert their power and demonstrate that they’re in charge in any way. They simply are and then they want – yeah – to bring out the best in you for their own purposes.
Alec Baldwin: Other than Chabrol who did you like?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I’ve liked most of them. I liked working with Ted Kotcheff. I thought Ted was – we did "Weekend at Bernie’s" together. Ted was crazy and screaming and a mad man, but I really – I got that. I enjoyed that. He liked me. So he’d be screaming and then he’d just turn and wink at me. I was on the inside then – when you feel like you’re inside and a partner to a director you will do what they want you to do.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. If they make you understand.
Andrew McCarthy: If they empower you to that and feel like you’re in the process. You know, I find many directors just stand behind the box because they don’t really understand actors. They just want them to get it done so they can move on and get their next shot, and that’s just like, ‘The hell with you. Go stand behind your box. I’ll get it.’
Alec Baldwin: Now what about actors – and you’ve worked with a gallery of very well-known people – and what were some of them that you really – it was a joy for you and a positive experience to work among side them?
Andrew McCarthy: I really liked working with John Malkovich. I just did a very small thing with him in a movie called "Mulholland Falls," but I liked watching the way he worked. He had no ownership of anything. He just did completely different things in each take. I’d go, ‘John, that was fantastic when you did that thing and – but it was no good technically. You did something else the next time.’ He said, ‘It’s the movies. It doesn’t matter.’
Alec Baldwin: ‘It’s the movies. It doesn’t matter.’ How Brando-esq of him.
Andrew McCarthy: But he had no – but that’s a wonderful thing about movie acting, good movie acting. There’s no ownership over the – the moment’s passing right by and you catch it as it’s flying past. That’s why I think good movie actors – I like the ones that don’t rehearse. I love to rehearse in theater, but in the movies I never wanna rehearse. I wanna get right to the point and then, ‘Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Now let’s roll.’ So that when you jump there’s that look in the eye and it’s that discovery on camera. I don’t wanna be recreating on cameras.
Alec Baldwin: Well, I’ll tell you that what’s happened to me and it’s only gotten worse as the result of doing this television show, is that I become so technical.
Andrew McCarthy: That’s an asset in a certain way. I know lots of actors that are afraid of the technical part of the movie making, and I think the more an actor knows about the technical part of movie making the more fun it is.
Alec Baldwin: But you direct.
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: And when did you start directing?
Andrew McCarthy: Ten years ago.
Alec Baldwin: And why?
Andrew McCarthy: ‘Cause I worked with so many bad ones I thought –
Alec Baldwin: Seriously.
Andrew McCarthy: I just became – the older I got –
Alec Baldwin: Is that an honest answer -- that that was part of it?
Andrew McCarthy: Somewhat, but the older I’ve gotten the more interested I am in the whole story and the less interested I am in how my hair is. I’m less …
Alec Baldwin: I’m happy to watch someone else do it is my theory now. I am. I’m like, ‘I’m interested in the producing.’ I’ll say – people will say, ‘Don’t you wanna be in it,’ and I go, ‘No. Not really.’
Andrew McCarthy: No. See I much – I have no interest in producing, but the – I like the director. I like the idea of the whole story and being responsible for that and keeping all of that in my head and I like –
Alec Baldwin: You and I could have a great company together, by the way. Two cynical actors, one who has no desire to direct, the other has no desire to produce. I could produce your films.
Andrew McCarthy: Is it cynical or is it just –
Alec Baldwin: Seasoned.
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. That’s the nice word. But I like the idea of directing as being something that I’m doing and applying all the things that I know and have learned, whereas acting it’s still very much me focused and I – the older I get I find self-consciousness still shrouds me at times, and with director there’s none of that. I’m never nervous or anxious when I’m directing.
I never have any kind of a sense of internal sort of doubts and failings. I’m like, ‘Well, this is what I have to do. I have to get this shot. I have to get that. I have to make sure’ – so it’s a skill that I’m applying and I’ve worked with 100 directors so I know what works with us and I know as an actor when I’m behaving in a certain way it usually means this and when I see an actor behaving that way I just go, ‘Oh, he doesn’t know his lines. Okay. Listen John, I’m just going to do the first line from this set up,’ and then suddenly he’s charming again.
Alec Baldwin: He relaxes. That’s very cool of you.
Andrew McCarthy: Because I have all those actor defenses. So I know them when I see them.
Alec Baldwin: How are you directing women? That’s an art I think.
Andrew McCarthy: Well, directing women is a different thing because it’s – but largely it’s flirt and appreciate. Flirt and appreciate.
Alec Baldwin: How – what a sexist thing of you to say. I agree by the way [laughs].
Andrew McCarthy: Well, any time people is [sic] – feel sexually attractive they relax and guys too. If I flirt with a particular guy then he likes it too, but other guys – I don’t flirt with guys. I just sort of …
Alec Baldwin: I flirt with the guys more than the women. It’s less dangerous. I say, ‘God, you’re handsome.’
Andrew McCarthy: But I say that too, but then they laugh and they relax. So if people laugh they relax and they like you then and then they go, ‘Okay. I can’ – and what I try and do is – I forget who taught it to me. I remember Robert Redford taught it to me. I worked Sundance a million years ago and he noticed detailed behavior right away, and so when I saw that he noticed my detailed behavior I knew he was paying attention. When I act as director to an actor I will notice their details and so then they know, ‘Oh, he’s watching.’ So then they show up.
Alec Baldwin: Do you think –
Andrew McCarthy: Marlon Brando had that great thing and he used to say, ‘If I work with a new director, the first day I’ll do the real deal and then I’ll fake it and if he can’t tell the difference I write the movie off.’ But that was Marlon Brando. He said those things.
Alec Baldwin: He was a ninja.
Andrew McCarthy: He was.
Alec Baldwin: He was on a different level than the rest of us.
Andrew McCarthy: But he also said that great thing that acting is really just ultimately this childish kind of behavior that – I think I have somewhat of an agreement with that to a certain way. There’s a certain shame I feel. If I’m directing and I’m auditioning a middle-aged man and he comes in and reads his scene for me I just feel a certain embarrassment for them.
Alec Baldwin: Why?
Andrew McCarthy: I just feel – I hate the hat in hand feeling that actors go through. I hate it. I hate being it. When I have to do it I hate that hat in hand feeling and I hate when people have to do it for me. I just don’t – I’ve recently been doing a lot of press for this book and so I see a lot of clips with me when I’m very young and they throw them up on the TV and I see that young, youthful, wide-eyed passion for it …
Alec Baldwin: And the guy working hard.
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah and loving it.
Alec Baldwin: When we were younger we worked hard.
Andrew McCarthy: And loving it, and the acting may be dubious, but you couldn’t deny or look away from the thrill that, ‘I’m getting to do this and we’re doing it together and it’s so good,’ and that was what was attractive about what I had to offer when I was a kid.
Alec Baldwin: Is your passion for acting less?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, it’s waxed and waned over the years for sure and I’ve found – you know, it’s a complicated question for me to answer because if I were as successful as I might have wanted to be as time has gone on, would it have waned – I don’t know – or is it just a mask for disappointment? But on the other hand –
Alec Baldwin: When you say if you were successful as you wanted – but you were very successful.
Andrew McCarthy: Yes. No. I was very successful when I was young and then as time’s gone on I’ve been – I haven’t gotten the opportunity to do movies and certain things that I would have wanted to do. So then my interest has waned, but would it have waned had I been doing those movies –
Alec Baldwin: But the question is did you wanna do them?
Andrew McCarthy: – which came first. Well, that’s a bigger question and part of me did not.
Alec Baldwin: What do you think the answer is?
Andrew McCarthy: Part of me did not.
Alec Baldwin: You’re not doing that because there’s a part of you that didn’t want to.
Andrew McCarthy: And that’s been very – that’s been something I’ve been slow to accept and um, but it’s a good valid point, but again, I was in the theater the other day in Ireland. I was just there and I watched this Tom Murphy play and I went, ‘God, I’d like to be playing the part that guy’s playing.’ I haven’t felt that in years and I was thrilled to feel that again, to feel that like, ‘I would like – he’s very good, but I could do that part.’ And I rarely feel that. To feel that kind of jazz again, ‘cause to my core and at essence and initially what I am and how I locate myself is an actor.
Alec Baldwin: Who’s someone you really liked directing?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I’ve only directed theater. I directed Dana Delaney in a play and I thought she was a delight. She’s – I like a nimble sort of actor and I like one that actually is interested in input.
Alec Baldwin: But you directed TV too. Right?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, and when I do TV – I do a lot of that show "Gossip Girl," and I particularly liked working with Ed Westwick. I thought he was really interested in input and I would suggest things to him and he would just take that idea and do the idea and then go, ‘Oh, and then I’ll do this,’ and I go, ‘That’s exactly – take what I offer you and now just make it and bring – don’t just do what I tell you. Now take it and then create your own thing with it,’ and I like that feeling. You just offer it, nudge them in the direction and then off they go and they discover it and, ‘I’m a genius.’
And I just like working with the crew particularly too. I like to create more than – almost more than any actors – working with a crew because if you can engage a crew they’re suddenly leaning forward and they’re coming to me with ideas. It’s like the craft service dude suddenly come and go, ‘It’s really cool when he does that.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a really good idea. I’m glad I thought of it.’ You know what I mean? As opposed to –
Alec Baldwin: I’ll take the good ideas where ever they come from.
Andrew McCarthy: Absolutely, and that was something Chabrol taught me ‘cause he’d love an idea from anybody and he co-opt it and took it as his own [music playing]
Alec Baldwin: I’m Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s The Thing. I’m talking with actor Andrew McCarthy about what motivated him to leave comfort and safety behind and to chronicle his solo travels in his new memoir "The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down."
What’s your relationship been to travel since you were young? Did your family travel a lot?
Andrew McCarthy: No. We went – I grew up in Jersey. We went down the Jersey Shore for one week of summer.
Alec Baldwin: What’d your dad do?
Andrew McCarthy: He structured tax shelters and all sorts of various mysterious things.
Alec Baldwin: He was like a Bain Capital guy?
Andrew McCarthy: [Laughs] Not quite. I think he aspired to that, but we did not travel. Travel came into my life later, but when I discovered travel it was the same thing that happened to me when I discovered acting. I discovered acting when I was, I think, 15. I was in – I was the Artful Dodger in "Oliver!" in high school and that changed my life in the way that that Tennessee Williams line - I’m misquoting - 'A room that had always been half in the dark was suddenly in the light.’ That kind of – that was my experience when I first acted. It was like, ‘Oh my God. There I am. Wow.’ It was done. There was never a discussion, ‘Would I be an actor?’ There was no thought. There was no nothing. I said, ‘That was what was happening to me,’ and that’s what happened. And I had no idea how it would happen. I just knew that it would happen and then I’d go to college sort of and then I’d be in the movies and that’s what happened.
There was no plan after that, but that’s where I got into trouble, but – and when I began to travel it was this – a similar sensation of -- not travel for work, which is an entirely different, insulated experience of getting picked up, going all that and that’s fun.
Alec Baldwin: And never enjoying or experiencing the location so much.
Andrew McCarthy: I always did. I loved being away, in locations and things, but travel to me was not vacation and not work. Travel to me was something you go do alone and you go off into the world and you make yourself vulnerable into the world. It’s not going to the spot.
Alec Baldwin: How so?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I – the first time I traveled it changed my life in the same way that acting did. I walked across the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It’s 500 miles across the north of Spain and I was like – I’d never hiked. I’d never backpacked. I’d read a book about it, and suddenly I went and did it and something just told me to do that and so I went and did it and that changed my life. That sort of – I’ve located myself.
Alec Baldwin: When was that?
Andrew McCarthy: It was ‘93.
Alec Baldwin: God. Almost 20 years ago.
Andrew McCarthy: So it was 20 years ago. Yeah, and so that changed my life, doing that, and I felt myself again in a full way, in a way that I had stopped – felt less and less in diminishing returns in acting and –
Alec Baldwin: What happened to you on that trip?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I just had one of those comical classic breakdowns where I had a weeping fit in a field of wheat and sort of in a moment of clarity discovered I was ruled by fear really and that fear had been so dominating my life, which is such a – is a strange thing for an actor and someone who is very public and all that kind of stuff. And so the minute you’re aware of something it begins to change and so that started to change for me and so I traveled more between jobs.
If I didn’t have a job by say, November, you know you’re not going to get one before Thanksgiving and Christmas, so those last two months of every year I would go travel. I’d go down to Southeast Asia or I’d go to Africa, buy a ticket into Cape Town and a ticket for two months later …
Alec Baldwin: You went by yourself or did you travel with someone?
Andrew McCarthy: No. Alone. I would always go alone.
Alec Baldwin: When – you say that – the way you said, ‘Oh, no, no, no. Please dear boy.’
Andrew McCarthy: [Laughs] Well, traveling with you – no, no. If I travel with you we’re gonna have a nice experience. We’re gonna have fun, but we’re gonna have our experience of each other and there’s a certain safety, illusionary maybe, but we’re gonna have a feeling of safety and camaraderie.
Alec Baldwin: So by design you do it alone?
Andrew McCarthy: By design I did it alone. Yeah, because I think you can find –
Alec Baldwin: You still do it alone that way.
Andrew McCarthy: I do. Yeah. Now mostly for – almost always for writing assignments, but I rarely get to travel the way I did then because I have kids and so you can’t travel for two months alone just wondering around.
Alec Baldwin: How many kids do you have?
Andrew McCarthy: Two.
Alec Baldwin: How old are they?
Andrew McCarthy: Ten and six.
Alec Baldwin: Do you really?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: So traveling now – so when you went across the Camino in Spain 20 years ago you had a 10 year period before you had children. Were you traveling – was that a very aggressive time you were traveling?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. Very much so.
Alec Baldwin: And what are some of the more memorable – pick two, let’s say, like the Camino which was the dawning, I’d say –
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I followed a girl down to Singapore. I knew her here and she worked down in Singapore and she said, ‘Why don’t you come down and visit me in Singapore,’ and I could read between the lines. So I went down to Singapore for a very nice weekend and then someone said, ‘While you’re going to Singapore while you’re in that part of the world you ought to go to Angkor Wat.’ I was like, ‘Angkor Wat? What’s – Angkor Wat. Okay,’ and so I went to Angkor Wat. I’ve – you hear people talk all the time about, ‘Oh, you should have been there 20 years ago.’ I was at Angkor Wat 20 years ago and I can tell you –
Alec Baldwin: ‘You should see the Angkor Wat, the old Angkor Wat.’
Andrew McCarthy: – you should have been there 20 years ago. Yeah. It was amazing.
Alec Baldwin: It’s like Soho and how it’s a big boutique now, but the old Angkor Wat was great.
Andrew McCarthy: So whatever –
Alec Baldwin: Coffee shops …
Andrew McCarthy: Exactly right. And so that’s –
Alec Baldwin: You’re kidding me [laughs]?
Andrew McCarthy: You’ve been there obviously recently.
Alec Baldwin: No. I haven’t. Why was that a great trip?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, it was just one of those things where I just stepped out into the world and the world meets you. You go make yourself vulnerable to the world and the world receives you. That’s my experience. The world is a much safer, more welcoming place than we are lead to believe by our politicians and so that was – been my discovery. And I find when you ask for help – I’m that guy in New York or home where I will never ask for directions. I’m like, ‘Don’t turn on the GPS. We’ll find it. We’ll find it. I’m fine,’ but when I travel the first thing I do is I go hiking. ‘Can you help me?’ And the minute you said, ‘Can you help me,’ you go whsshh. You shrink back to being the right size. You know what I mean?
You make yourself vulnerable to the world and that is good thing in my opinion and the more I – so it’s a weird empowering thing. I ran from acting because I felt vulnerable and yet I go out into the world and I open myself up and feel vulnerable in a more powerful way. That’s an authentic sort of vulnerability in the way that it connects me to you, and so that is of interest to me. And so anyway, traveling changed my life in that way. So then I eventually just started writing about it.
Alec Baldwin: When did that begin?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I try to keep a journal and I thought – and I was not good at journaling. Journaling seemed to me silly and self-indulgent and it was just stupid. I read it and I was embarrassed by my journals and – but I met a guy. One time a kid, I was in Saigon and this kid pulled up and wanted to give me a ride on a scooter, and so I spent the day with him on the back of his scooter going around and he gave me a tour. And I went back to my hotel and wrote it down, because when you’re traveling alone particularly you’re very untethered and so writing grounded me in a certain way. I just – I didn’t know that, but when I did it I went, ‘Oh, I feel better now.’
And so I wrote this scene of what happened and it captured my trip in a certain way and was very personal to me, and so I did that for like ten years. I would just write this stuff when I’d come home. I’d throw it in a drawer and I’d forget about it and then continue acting and all this, but when I travel I would write this stuff down of my encounters with people. And I was an actor so I know scenes. I know dialogue. I know good – I’ve said so much bad dialogue. I know good dialogue when I hear it. So I’d hear a good quote, I’d write it down, and then eventually I thought, ‘But none of the magazines or travel stuff I’m reading is capturing the personal experience that I’m having. I could do this,’ and so I met an editor.
Alec Baldwin: You thought that they didn’t capture it?
Andrew McCarthy: They did not. No. They were writing about places and stuff, and I’m like, ‘That’s not what travel is. Travel is’ –
Alec Baldwin: And how would you describe their angle? What were they doing?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, they were trying to sell stuff.
Alec Baldwin: Exactly. So you think it was just completely about marketing?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. In essence, and so I found travel much more internal, personal, private experience, and I think Paul Theroux –
Alec Baldwin: Did you read a lot of – well, I was going to say. Did you read a lot of literature from people who were traveling?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. Paul Theroux books really changed my life. His notion that, ‘Go. Go far. Go alone. Don’t come back for a long time,’ I found inspiring and absolutely correct and so that notion – I think he said – a travel – any kind of good traveler literature is ultimately about the traveler, not the destination, and so that’s what interested me and how the universal things that were happening to me when I would talk about the emotional kind of things that were happening to me when traveling when I would communicate that to a person they go, ‘Yeah. That’s really – yeah. I feel that way,’ or – and so that’s what’s of interest, you trying to find that moment of connection and identification with somebody, not talking about a place. And so I started writing for magazines about that.
Alec Baldwin: When did that premiere? When was the first one?
Andrew McCarthy: That was in 2004, I wrote my first article.
Alec Baldwin: So not that long?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. Like eight years ago.
Alec Baldwin: That was for who?
Andrew McCarthy: The National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
Alec Baldwin: Really?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. I met the editor. I knew somebody who knew him. I asked to meet him and we met in a bar in the East Village and I said, ‘You ought to let me write for your magazine,’ and he said, ‘You’re an actor, dude.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, but I know how to travel and I know how to tell a story ‘cause that’s what I do and nothing I’m reading is capturing the essence of why we travel.’
Alec Baldwin: Nothing.
Andrew McCarthy: And so – nothing that I was reading, and so he said, ‘That’s a good answer,’ and after a year or so he said, ‘This is’ – while ago, after a year of cajoling and pressuring and e-mailing and badgering him he sent me a first story. I said, ‘Look, if it doesn’t work just don’t pay me,’ and he said, ‘Yeah. Okay. I can do that.’ So I wrote – where went to Ireland and I wrote a story and it worked and then –
Alec Baldwin: Don’t tell people in the movie business that. ‘If it doesn’t work, don’t pay me.’
Andrew McCarthy: [Laughs] but again, it was the same kind of thing that acting – ‘I wanna do this. I don’t know why. It just touches something in me. I feel like me when I do it. That’s what I most like in the world is feeling like myself. So I wanna do that,’ and so it worked out. I did another one. I did another one.
Then he was like – I kept bombarding him with pitches and things he goes, ‘Look. Here. Talk to these other people. Go bother them,’ and so I did that and I also knew in a way that I didn’t when I was acting that I wanted by the time I was sort of outted as being, ‘Wait. The guy from "Pretty in Pink"’s a travel writer?’ By the time I was outted for that I wanted to have written for a lot of good publications so that I wasn’t easily dismissed.
Alec Baldwin: Did you find that there was any sense of people playing that note with you, ‘The guy from "Pretty in Pink" is a travel writer?’
Andrew McCarthy: Not initially, because most of it’s done by e-mail. I didn’t meet many editors, and so I’m just writing, and then finally a magazine I wrote for knew and they – when the magazine came out they said, ‘We sent Andrew Brat Pack or Andrew McCarthy to Ethiopia and he got arrested. Read about it in our magazine.’ I got arrested writing a story, and so it was a good lead.
So I put it in the story and so then I was suddenly – my two worlds collided, but by then I’d written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The National Geographic. So I had a stable body of work under me where I wasn’t so quickly dismissed, but yes. To answer your question, I still encounter it all the time. People going – thinking I’m some kind of interloper or dilettante.
Alec Baldwin: But I think what’s interesting as much as anyone I’ve met in this business, and I’ve only met you a handful of times, you’re someone who whatever people wanna say your persona is from those films, you’re so different in person from your persona in those films. Where those films are – what’s the word – high concept. All those Brat Pack films are very high concept and very amorphous and the characters are – everybody’s doing their own thing.
Andrew McCarthy: But what anybody – there’s certain aspects.
Alec Baldwin: There’s not really much of an applaud to the – yeah.
Andrew McCarthy: There’s certain aspects to those characters –
Alec Baldwin: It’s a personality driven thing.
Andrew McCarthy: – that very much suited me which is why I was successful in them. And yet would anybody wanna be labeled forever as what they did when they were 21 years old? You would probably change.
Alec Baldwin: No. No. Of course not.
Andrew McCarthy: It’s not that I would even mind it. It’s just that it catches people unaware. They didn’t know they’d locked me in that box and then I meet them and they go, ‘Oh, you’re – huh. Okay.’
Alec Baldwin: Interesting. ‘Cause when I meet you in your person you’re every inch a person who I would give a contract to write for a magazine and have direct my TV show or my movie.
Andrew McCarthy: Right. So usually when I meet people they get over it quickly and if they don’t it’s usually their insecurity and their problem and I can recognize that very quickly as you can very – and so life is too short and I go elsewhere.
Alec Baldwin: Do you find that this is the role – where you’re out there and it’s a bit of a public thing for you? You’re out there –
Andrew McCarthy: Well, it’s become one, but I found that –
Alec Baldwin: And you like this role?
Andrew McCarthy: It’s much less a role than – well, that’s the interesting thing about it.
Alec Baldwin: Is it like a role?
Andrew McCarthy: It’s not like a role. It’s more just me. That’s what people – I’ve been doing a lot of publicity for this book and people say, ‘What’s the difference between doing publicity for your book and movie publicity or junket?’ I go, ‘Well, movie junket or any kind of movie publicity or television acting publicity you’re presenting still. You’re behind it and you’re talking about the role and you’re certain – you’re adopting a certain person. Whereas when I’m talking about this book that I’m written it’s more just like’ – as a friend of mine says, ‘Well, you’ve written a memoir. Now your ass is hanging out.’ It’s just me and I’m being the book which is very open in a certain way. So I find it much more vulnerable.
Alec Baldwin: You think your ass is hanging out with this book?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. Much more so than certainly with acting. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: How so?
Andrew McCarthy: The book’s much more memoir than travel book. It’s much more about internal journey that happens when we travel as opposed to the external.
Alec Baldwin: But you don’t feel that writer is a role you’re playing now? You don’t look it as a role you’re playing, the role of writer?
Andrew McCarthy: No. I’ve found writing a relief when I found it because I felt like I was – so I don’t particularly feel like it’s a role. I feel this certain similarity in acting towards in acting you have a certain skill, tool chest, and in writing you have also a certain tool chest that you need to apply to create what you wanna create and I feel like I have more of one in acting because I’ve done it longer. So inspirations and acting happens very rarely. Most of the time you’re laying brick, so –
Alec Baldwin: The reason I ask this is because when the acting thing, which is also just what we ended up doing when you do that and it works well, it feels a certain way and then –
Andrew McCarthy: It’s a great feeling.
Alec Baldwin: It’s a great feeling and then when you –
Andrew McCarthy: It’s a similar feeling when I write too and –
Alec Baldwin: Well, I was gonna say is –
Andrew McCarthy: I’m writing a sentence and I don’t know where that sentence is gonna end and I’m typing and I don’t know where there sentence is gonna end. There it is. That’s a thrill. It’s the same thrill I get when you nail a close-up and that moment happens and the close-up between us like, ‘Ah, Jesus that was fun.”
Alec Baldwin: So I guess what I’m asking is, is this where you are more reliably getting that thrill than you did from acting? Can you count on this more to give you at least the opportunity for that thrill, for that high?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I’m getting received at it in –
Alec Baldwin: Quite well, I think.
Andrew McCarthy: – yeah – more so than I am in acting in a certain way. So I’m – that’s where my jazz is coming from now because I’m getting the opportunity and it’s always something I can create my own opportunity here with the writing ‘cause I just do it and because I’ve been successful at it I’m getting more opportunity to do it. Whereas acting you’re waiting for somebody to give you the chance to do it, but it’s also that moment of connection that you have. We’re having a conversation, suddenly it sparks and we feel connected. You go, ‘A-ha,’ and so you have that human instinct.
Alec Baldwin: Do you feel like tomorrow there’s a great – is acting still alive for you? Are you gonna stay at it?
Andrew McCarthy: Very much so, but like we just said, I suppose the jazz is coming from writing ‘cause that’s where the opportunity is coming, but I – in a certain way it doesn’t matter. They’re the same thing because what you’re talking about and what I feel – I need to – I hate the word, but create every day. It doesn’t even have to be good creativity or bad creativity. I have to feel in essence, that’s how I locate myself, by employing creativity in my life. I don’t lay bricks. I don’t turn widgets.
That’s how I – that’s what I do. That’s how – who I am and so that’s how I find myself and so I need to – I find that if I can do that every day then I’m in a better mood. You know? And again, it doesn’t have to be good or something anybody sees, but and so writing is one of those things where I can do that on a regular basis that is cumulative and feel substantive and feels like I’ve spent my time well.
Alec Baldwin: So describe for people, if you would, one observation or one instance of where your ass is hanging out in the book. What was something you wanted to deal with in the book and talk about in the book that was important to you to communicate to readers?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, I suppose I wanted to just communicate the humanness and I wasn’t writing a book about –
Alec Baldwin: Specifically how?
Andrew McCarthy: This is what I felt and why I – the book – the odd paradox – the book’s really about trying to come to terms with someone I loved and to get married by leaving and going as far away from them as I could possibly get. That’s what the book – the essence of the book is how do we find intimacy with people and yet still maintain our own singularity?
Alec Baldwin: Have you succeeded at that do you think?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, a day at a time [laughs], but it’s something I hadn’t read about and it’s something I hadn’t seen people grappling with and I’m very singular and solitary in a lot of ways and yet I love now my wife and my kids desperately in a painful way and how do you reconcile those two things? And I wanted to find an answer for that as much as I could or at least I wanted to put the question on the table and go, ‘This exists for me. Maybe it exists for other people too where I hate you how much I love you. How am I gonna reconcile that with me wanting to be alone and write well?’
Alec Baldwin: Sure. ‘I hate how much I need you.’
Andrew McCarthy: I don’t know if it’s need, but –
Alec Baldwin: Or want. Yeah.
Andrew McCarthy: – it’s how much I love you, how much I’m making myself vulnerable to be slammed by you and yet that’s the only game in town. I have to do that.
Alec Baldwin: I’ve given you this power over me.
Andrew McCarthy: To let – yeah. You could stab me here.
Alec Baldwin: You could hurt me.
Andrew McCarthy: But that’s the only viable game in town and how does someone who desperately wants to run away deal with that and knowing that’s the only game in town. So it was just a conflict and a push pull that I wanted to wrangle with and so to wrangle with that I had to expose myself in doing that.
Alec Baldwin: What does your wife think about the book?
Andrew McCarthy: Well, she likes how it ended. We got married. So but she knows who I am and so she knew it. She knew it all before. She heard it all. And when you’re writing that great Joan Didion line -
Alec Baldwin: But when you see it in print…
Andrew McCarthy: Well, it’s different. It’s different. Everything’s different in print. That great Joan Didion line I’m misquoting that she said, ‘I write to know what I’m thinking.’ I said that I travel to find out what I’m feeling and I write to figure it out. Again, but like you said when you see something in print it’s very different. I write in the book a lot about my relationship with my father, which surprised me. I didn’t know I was going to be writing about that and then consequently being a son and being a father and my relationship with my father was not great or close.
Alec Baldwin: Is he alive?
Andrew McCarthy: He is. Yeah.
Alec Baldwin: Is it better?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. It has an amicable distance and affection now that it didn’t have. I was afraid of my father very much and then –
Alec Baldwin: Do you come from a large family?
Andrew McCarthy: I have three brothers. So there were four boys. And now we have – I have great affection for him. We’re not particularly close in anyway, but and I feel that lack. I feel that –
Alec Baldwin: Did you say that in the book?
Andrew McCarthy: Yes. Yes.
Alec Baldwin: How did he respond to that? Did he?
Andrew McCarthy: I don’t know that he’s read it, but I found the writing of the book made me feel more affectionate toward my father in a certain way and that it’s in print and it dissolved a lot of this stress between us on my part anyway. Again, I don’t know what his reaction is.
Alec Baldwin: I find that for me I have child and aside from my specific relationship with her, just parenting in general the great reality is is that you look and see what the boundaries and the nature of it was of your own relationship with your parents and therefore you must accept that the same is true in their eyes.
But at least now I look at like my mother, I understand her better. It’s similar to your dad. I look at my mom and I go, ‘Well, she was this way and this way and she was an animal trainer with four sons and two daughters. I get it. I understand her better now.’
Andrew McCarthy: I heard someone once say, ‘I was an event in my parents’ life. I wasn’t the event.’ I went, ‘Wow. That makes’ – but yes. I have this idea of how I think my son and my relationship is and my daughter – it is still with my daughter ‘cause she’s only six, but my son is becoming – he’s ten now and he’s becoming cool. And I went up to his classroom today and he was mortified that I came up to his class. ‘Dad, what are you doing here? Get out of here.’
Alec Baldwin: ‘Go write a book.’
Andrew McCarthy: Again, something – he’s embarrassed already. I’m like, ‘Wow. Yeah. That’s starting to happen,’ but interestingly my son – I always tried to protect my kids from this acting person and people come up to me for an autograph to have a picture taken and I would always say, ‘Well, I’m with my family right now. I’d rather not if you don’t mind,’ whereas other times I would be fine to.
And this summer we were in Wyoming camping – a family camping trip – but we were in a diner and I was with my son and the woman comes up to me and the waitress and she says, ‘Are you from "The Mannequin?"’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. Hi. Hi,’ and so suddenly it’s big news in the diner. ‘Oh, and "Weekend at Bernie’s,"’ and so there’s nowhere to run and I – we take our pictures and sign the autographs and have our chats and my son is sitting next to me the whole time and I turn to him afterwards and I said, ‘Sam, how did that make you feel that – how is that for you?’
And he said, ‘Oh, Dad. I was so proud,’ and I got tears in my eyes. I realized I’d done everything wrong trying to protect my kid from this because I thought I should be protecting him so he wouldn’t resent it or think it’s something – he’s different than other kids or his dad’s different and weird, but he just saw a certain part of me that I hadn’t – that I withheld from him that was a very important part of me that I shouldn’t have been withholding all this time.
Alec Baldwin: Yeah. There was no point in that.
Andrew McCarthy: So it’s interesting. You think you’re doing all these kind of things and who the hell knows.
Alec Baldwin: The last thing I wanna ask you is you said, ‘It’s the journey and not the destination,’ and would you say that you are – I hate this word – but would you say that you’re content and that you’re happy where you now?
Andrew McCarthy: Ah, Interesting. I’m – you know, the director in me is always going, ‘What’s next? What’s next? This shot’s good, but what shot am I doing next?’ So I’m – I love the travel writing. I enjoyed having to bring this book forth and creating that. That was the next sentence, but I’m always looking for what’s the next challenge to do and what’s the next thing to do. Content? Am I content? I don’t – that’d be hard for us to say, ‘I’m content.’
Alec Baldwin: Screenwriting? Have you done any screenwriting?
Andrew McCarthy: I’ve kept them separate for – I think I’ve had so many disappointments and so much baggage involved with acting and I know what happens to screenplays so much that I haven’t done that at all yet. I’m too protective of my words in a certain way to have them just ravaged like that without care.
Alec Baldwin: More books?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah. I have another idea for another book. I have another one that I’ve almost finished. So there’s more I’d like to do there. There’s more I’d like to do acting. Again, that’s come back into my life in a way of desire again. But I wouldn’t say content. No, but I’m pleased to feel vital in myself in a certain way [music playing].
Alec Baldwin: Andrew McCarthy. His book is called "The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down." Next month you can see him in his latest project, a film called "Christmas Dance." This is Alec Baldwin. Here’s The Thing comes from WNYC radio.