Andrew McCarthy is an actor, director and travel writer whose career took off in the mid-eighties. McCarthy is best known for his roles in “Class” (1983), “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985), “Mannequin: (1987), “Less Than Zero” (1987), and “Weekend at Bernie’s” (1989). He is also a prolific travel writer and is currently an Editor at Large at National Geographic Traveler magazine. McCarthy is also a television director, having worked on “The Blacklist,” CW ‘s “Gossip Girl” and directed more episodes of “Orange Is the New Black” than anyone else. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the iconic 80’s film “Pretty in Pink,” he talked about his many careers before his appearance at the 11th annual Macon Film Festival on Thursday, July 21, 2016.
Andrew McCarthy: Hi!
Between TV, Film, and stage, what is your favorite medium to act in?
Andrew: Being in a play can be the most fun, although the first performance is always nerve wracking and you swear you never will do another one; that it’s a terrible idea and that you never do another one. Being in a play is the most satisfying thing you can do, but you can only make hundreds of dollars in the theatre. Movie and television are sort of the same thing, with TV being faster in its shooting, which suits me. Movies can somewhat take long, laborious time to make. Just because you good at one doesn’t mean that you are good in another medium. All said being equal, I like being in a play. The most fun I ever had was being in a play. There is much more sense of community in doing a play. Acting in front of a camera is a very isolating experience. It’s my turn now; then we turn the camera on you, and it’s your turn. I might not even be there when you do your part. TV and movie acting is a very solitary experience. So it’s that sense of community that I enjoy doing with a play.
Talk a little about your travel writing. How did you get from doing films where you had an incredible career to being a travel writer?
Andrew: You mean why would I make a career change to be a travel writer? Ha, ha.
Yes, that exactly!
Andrew: Acting happened the same way that directing did; I had a passion for it. I wanted to change my life and travel was a passion that I had. It’s a valuable use of my time. I learned a lot on my travels; the world became your school. I had a passion for it and just started to write about it. I felt I had something to say. I am going to jump on my soapbox: America is a great country, but America is also a fearful country in a lot of ways. If we traveled outside of America, we would realize that a lot of our fears are misplaced, and a lot of preconceptions about the world are inaccurate. I jokingly say “I am out to change the world one trip at a kind.” But it’s not really a joke because 35% of Americans have passports and half of that has never used them. It that statistic doubled, America would change. Travel writing is just like acting to me; it’s just storytelling, and just like acting, I feel like myself when I do it.
You have directed more episodes of “Orange is the New Black” than anyone else. Talk about what that experience has been like.
Andrew: Yeah, I directed nine or ten episodes, in fact; I just directed the first episode of season five just last week. Directing “Orange is the New Black” is great, but it is like herding cats. You have to get comfortable on a set that has twenty women talking at the same time and moving in twenty directions at the same time. I think it’s a really original show and Jenji Kohan who created the show has a unique voice. I think that it’s great that women that aren’t blonde, blue eyed and ninety-eight pounds are given starring roles on Television. I remember doing the first season and thinking this is an interesting show but a). who will watch it and b). what the hell is Netflix? I thought they mailed DVD’s to your house, and now you will be able to watch all the episodes on the same day? That’s a terrible idea. Clearly, I was wrong about that! Since then they have taken over the world. It’s an original show, and all successful shows have unique voices. You know this show is funny, it’s sad, it’s passionate, it’s emphatic, it’s cruel, and it’s like life. I think it’s a valuable show; it has value. I think giving a transgender person her first starring role in television is changing the world in ways that we couldn’t imagine when we started working on the show five years ago. We will look back on it as a real landmark show.
Georgia is 3rd in the U.S. for film production and fifth in the world. Have you performed or directed anything in Georgia?
Andrew: That’s amazing, a real testament to Georgia. I filmed in Atlanta earlier this year directing a show called “Halt and Catch Fire.” That’s the only time I have worked in Georgia but it sounds like I will be back if I want to remain in show business. I had a great crew here in Atlanta, which isn’t always the case when you leave Hollywood or New York. I remember working in Canada when they were first gearing up. You know, it was a lot cheaper, but the crews weren’t very good. But when I came here to Atlanta, it was one of the best crews I had ever worked for. The only real challenge we had was we were trying to fake a Texas look, which was hard here. Georgia is just not Texas in the summer.
As both an actor and a director, who were you biggest influences?
Andrew: When I was a young actor I was a great admirer of Montgomery Cliff. He was a real influence on me because his style of acting was natural. As a director, I liked Roman Polanski’s movies. His personal life is another thing, but his movies told a story. And also Steven Spielberg’s movies, the unsentimental ones.
We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Pretty in Pink” at the Macon Film Festival. Do you have a fond memories of making that film?
Andrew: I have to confess that I was shocked that “Pretty in Pink” has had the shelf life that it has had. Now I get it. But at the time, I didn’t even want to do the film. I hadn’t even read the script all the way through. I thought it was a silly movie about a girl wanting to go to a prom. But it captured something about a generation. Those movies of John Hughes gave credence to young people’s dilemmas and problems that most movies didn’t. They took them seriously. When you’re young, everything is so important; it’s so life and death. You have to have the right dress to wear, or your life is over, and you feel that way. To have a movie validate that feeling, to take you seriously was a powerful thing. Music in his movies was so important. That was john’s real genius. I was surprised when it came out that it was so successful. I didn’t have any emotional attachment to it; there were movies that I liked better. Over time though, it’s become this thing, almost as if I have another arm. “Pretty in Pink” is part of my public experience. I have great affection for it now because it’s clear that it has affected and touched so many people that took it to their heart. It has made people feel better about their lives and feel less alone which is a power of movies, to form that connection. I have grown to have respect and have much affection for it, whereas when I was a punk actor I didn’t.
What are some other films that you hold dear?
Andrew; Of that era, my favorite movie is called “Heaven Help Us” which was a very lovely movie that twelve people saw. My favorite experience was a French film directed by Claude Chabrol called “Quiet Days in Clichy” which no one saw. And then I acted on a show last season called “The Family” that I enjoyed working on. I hadn’t acted in about five years and to go back at it again was a real pleasure. I forgot how much I enjoy acting; it’s just a part of me like breathing. I forgot how much a part of me acting is, and I was thrilled that I got such a simple pleasure from doing it. And I was playing a pedophile, so it wasn’t the part that I was enjoying.
So those five years away from acting, was it just because you wanted to work on other projects like directing or travel writing?
Andrew: Yeah, I was just directing and travel writing a lot. I didn’t consciously step away from acting. I was offered some things, but they just didn’t interest me. When “Orange is the New Black” because widely successful, then the thought in Hollywood was that I must be really good at directing. It’s like anything if you are associated with success than you are better than you are. And you can do excellent work on something that fails, and no one knows.
What advice would you give to your younger self, the guy that was just starting out by making “Class” and “St. Elmo’s Fire”?
Andrew: I would certainly tell myself to make more connections, relationships. I am a solitary person, and I was not interested or comfortable with cultivating relationships, networking as it were. But that’s the business, networking and that’s how you succeed. I would tell myself to get out there and meet more people. I still struggle with that. Then on a purely business level, don’t worry. It’s hard not to, even today. If you are a free-lance actor, the road ends at the end of the job. Something always comes up to meet you. I would tell myself not to worry, and things will show up.
Thanks, Andrew, enjoy the film festival.
Andrew: Thank you.
Later at the Q&A before the film screened before a sold out audience, Andrew talked about making the film. He said that John Hughes consistently consulted with Molly Ringwald about what music was hot and popular. He also said that when they shot the ending, that Blane dumped Andie and Duckie took her to the dance as a friend. They tested the ending in front of audiences, and it didn’t test well. The studio decided to reshoot the ending, but McCarthy had shaved all his hair off for a role on a Broadway play about the Viet Nam war. So when you look at that final scene, McCarthy is wearing a cheap wig as he is kissing Molly Ringwald.
The 11th annual Macon Film Festival was July 21 – 24 in Macon, GA
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For more information on the Macon Film Festival go to www.maconfilmfestival.com/