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Andrew McCarthy's Second Act

By Gary Wien

originally published: 02/01/2006

The voice on the other side of the phone sounded so familiar, yet we had never met. It was then that I realized that one of the interviews we sought for this issue was about to begin. An interview I wasn't sure was going to happen. Thankfully it was an interview with someone who most of my generation grew up with, so what to ask wasn't very difficult.

"Hello, this is Andrew McCarthy," said the voice.

Instantly, images of 80s movies like "Pretty In Pink", "St. Elmo's Fire", and "Less Than Zero" came to mind. My mind quickly began racing through his 80s catalog - don't forget "Mannequin", "Weekend At Bernie's" or "Class", the film that started it all. Damn, I thought. Forget about six degrees of Kevin Bacon - Andrew McCarthy was the eighties. So, why are we talking to him now, you might be wondering? Well, for the past several years, Andrew McCarthy has been embarking on the second act of his career; a return to his original dream of performing on stage as well as taking turns behind the camera and writing scripts. And, for the next few weeks, he's one of the stars at McCarter Theatre's revival of A Moon for the Misbegotten by the legendary Eugene O'Neill.

This is a play that has interested McCarthy for a long time. "I'm a fan of O'Neill's and I had done Long Day's Journey Into Night several years ago," explained Andrew McCarthy. "Basically it's the same character that I played in Long Day's Journey Into Night. You don't get a chance to do that very often - play the same character in a different play. And it's sort of ten years later in his life, so I just thought it was a great opportunity to do that. It's a great play that they don't mount often because it's such a difficult bear of a play, so when it came up I wanted to jump on it."

McCarthy's rise to fame as a member of the vaunted "Brat Pack" really came out of nowhere. While attending New York University he went to an open casting call and found himself the lead in a Hollywood movie two weeks later. That film, "Class" (playing opposite Jacquelyn Bisset), was an immediate hit and led to a run of successes that any actor would be proud of. But stage acting was always his first love and he's glad to have the opportunity at this time in his life to take advantage of it. I wondered if having such early success in films might have steered him away from the stage for a while.

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"When I was a kid at NYU, I was studying to be in the theatre," said McCarthy. "I was in the theatre program and that's all I really wanted to do. I never thought about it in those days, but very quickly I got into movies and it just sort of happened. So, it takes a conscious effort to try and go back and do a play because it's very time consuming and there's not much money in it. It's something you just have to want to do, and it's easy to get sucked away from it because things usually happen very quickly and money is always involved.

"At certain points of my life I've wanted it more than others. Acting is sort of a movable thing too. Sometimes you really want to do a play and other times not so much. I think for a number of years, nerves got the best of me and I didn't want to do one. But I try to do a play a year. Like last year I did Fat Pig by Neil LaBute, which ran here in New York for four months or so. You can't really make a living in the theatre, so doing one a year is sort of a nice thing."

McCarthy made his Broadway debut in 1985 in the Vietnam drama The Boys of Winter but it's really been the last five or six years when he has been able to devote himself more to the stage. He has starred in such productions as the Tony award-winning Sideman on Broadway, the off-Broadway hit, The Exonerated, a one-man show entitled A Distant Country Called Youth, and revivals of Long Days Journey Into Night and The Glass Menagerie. Most recently he was seen in Fat Pig at the Lucille Lortel Theatre and directed Mr. Morton Waits For His Bus at the Ensemble Studio Theatre where he is a member. He is also a member of the Actor's Studio.

During the interview, McCarthy seemed relaxed as if he's truly content with where his career is currently and where he has come from. He laughs several times - that same sort of nervous laugh you've seen in his films. It seems very genuine with McCarthy. In fact, McCarthy himself seems very much like the characters he played in those classic eighties films. Fast forward twenty years and you can see how the writer in "St. Elmos's Fire" or the popular high school student in "Pretty In Pink" have aged. In fact, McCarthy himself still looks very much like he did twenty years ago.

Even though I got the feeling that Andrew doesn't like talking about his past, I couldn't resist bringing up some of those 80s films. I mean, what writer in his thirties didn't recite McCarthy's lines from "St. Elmo's Fire" by heart a million times? Lines like when Emilio Estevez says "I understand the fold but what's the fluff about?" and McCarthy replies, "the fluff is the stuff I write about in the newspaper." Ah bulla bulla bulla... uh, uh oh!

"Oh, you know, it's all part of the stew now," says McCarthy. "I suppose at a certain point in my life I didn't like it but now it seems so long ago and so much water over the dam it doesn't matter to me. People just sort of use it as a form of identification and that's fine. Those were some nice movies. I was glad to be part of them. Personally, I have no nostalgia for my past. It doesn't mean much to me, but for other people sure why not?"

But what about the quotes, I ask. I mean, McCarthy was part of some of the most quoted films of the decade.

"Yeah!" he laughs. "People bring them up to me all of the time on the street. It's funny."

Ever get the "Quick! What's the meaning of life?" I ask.

"I do occasionally," he replies. "I get 'Where's Bernie?' a lot."

Part of me feels bad for dredging up the 80s material that he's been forced to relive probably every interview of his life, but then again the original press release sent to us from McCarter Theatre promoted the play as being starred in by the former Brat Pack member, Andrew McCarthy. So they were obviously hoping us fans of the 80s would pay attention.

Hey, wait a minute... What's this about being a "former" member of the Brat Pack. Did they kick him out?

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"I have no idea!" bringing on another laugh. "I guess I didn't pay my dues!"

Getting back to the serious part of the interview I asked him about the challenge of approaching a role that has been done successfully several times before. A brief pause indicates that it's a question he's thought about many times himself.

"Well, you've just got to try and sort of not have the ghosts of various people in your head because you can't win. No matter how good they were, they're even better in legend. You just sort of try and start over."

This production is his first play at McCarter Theatre and it's been a very good experience. He calls the theatre a beautiful and first-rate place. It's a bit of a homecoming for McCarthy, who says he grew up in North Jersey but hasn't been back since high school.

So you got out, huh? I asked.

"Got out!" another laugh. "Well, you said it!"

As I hung up the phone, I could still hear Andrew's laugh. It brought me back to 1985 and I reached for my dvd of "St. Elmo's..."

Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at gary@newjerseystage.com.



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