How Andrew McCarthy Became the Movies' Favorite Rich Kid

·7 min read
Photo credit: Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock
Photo credit: Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

There’s a lot wrong with the world, but, thankfully, Andrew McCarthy is still very good looking. That’s probably of little surprise to those that saw him in 1980s classics like St. Elmo’s Fire or Pretty in Pink; he has the sort of face that should age gracefully, with sweet blue eyes and the head of hair is still perfect. But, like any dad, the 58-year-old actor, director, and writer still has to convince his kids that he used to be cool.

“It's so funny to see my kids wearing these massively oversized clothes, the way Billie Eilish is now,” he tells Town & Country over Zoom. “And I'm like, See! That was me in 1982.”

Photo credit: Silver Screen Collection - Getty Images
Photo credit: Silver Screen Collection - Getty Images

How McCarthy went from a middle-class kid from New Jersey to the face of the American preppy is explored in his new memoir Brat: An '80s Story. The book is an honest exploration of the highs and lows of being part of the Hollywood crowd dubbed the “Brat Pack” along with Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez, among others. In his book, McCarthy chronicles characters who either came from money or learned quickly to fit in around rich people. But as he’s quick to point out, he was just acting. He didn’t grow up a rich, but did attend the esteemed New Jersey prep school Pingry, an experience he claims didn’t influence his 1983 debut in the comedy Class, about a middle class teen at a Chicagoland boarding school who hooks up with his friend’s mother, played by Jacqueline Bisset.

“That movie was easy in the sense that [my character] felt like such a fish out of water and I felt like such a fish out of water,” McCarthy says. “I had no idea what was going on. I was some kid who had got kicked out of school and I was floating around, and then I'm in a movie doing love scenes with Jacqueline Bisset.”

Despite his good looks and charm, things weren’t always easy for McCarthy. In his book, he details a troubled relationship with his father, as well as his own battles with alcoholism. There are also plenty of tales about luck and the near misses that would have likely changed the Andrew McCarthy story entirely, like how he was offered the part in St. Elmo’s Fire because Joel Schumacher remembered McCarthy from another audition for a role he didn’t get and thought the young actor would be perfect for a role in his next movie about Georgetown post-grads struggling to make it in the real world.

Photo credit: Patrick McMullan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Patrick McMullan - Getty Images

Similarly, his most well-known role, as Blane McDonough in Pretty in Pink, the film written and produced by John Hughes that featured McCarthy as a rich kid from the North Shore of Chicago falling for the film’s star, Molly Ringwald, as a girl from the literal wrong side of the tracks, almost didn’t happen.

“I went in to audition, Molly was there, which is very rare that an actor would be there doing that. I read the scene once, everybody went, okay, thanks a lot. And I was like, well, that went over like a lead balloon.” Hughes—who didn’t actually direct the 1986 classic, but was well-known for not straying too far from the director’s chair in films he worked on—had a vision that the romantic lead would be a typical hunk along the lines of Ringwald’s love interest in 1984’s Sixteen Candles, Jake Ryan. Hughes didn’t like McCarthy, he called him “wimpy” after the door closed behind the young actor. But Ringwald, still a teenager, saw something deep and different in him that other young actors didn’t possess. She believed he was “sensitive, poetic,” and that swayed Hughes. “That's what John did,” McCarthy says. “He gave young people credit for having valid thoughts. He knew his audience and he respected Molly enough to go, ‘OK, you want him? You got him,’”

For McCarthy, the wardrobe for the teen film was not what he had in mind. “They put me in these baggy white pants, and I didn't particularly feel comfortable at all,” he says. Although he did keep one item of clothing from the film. “I still have that straw-colored, unconstructed blazer that I wore in the poster in my closet.”

Photo credit: Johnny Louis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Johnny Louis - Getty Images

The clothes may not always have fit right, but McCarthy says the roles didn’t either. A 1987 adaptation of Less Than Zero, the Bret Easton Ellis novel that shocked readers with its dark portrayal of rich and nihilistic Los Angeles kids, looked nothing like the source material. “It was a movie about the subculture, which was rich Beverly Hills kids, but also movie executives’ children,” he says. “I don't think it presented them in a bright, flattering light, so they wanted to soften it up.” Although he didn’t like his own performance in the film, he does point out “Jimmy Spader is fantastic” in it.

While Brat doesn’t spill a ton of dirt on what went on off the sets of some his more iconic films, McCarthy is open to how some relationships with people he met during the ‘80s stayed in the Reagan era. Spader is one of the few people connected to the Brat Pack McCarthy works with anymore, directing his old Pretty in Pink co-star in episodes of The Blacklist. While McCarthy writes about a falling out with another star from the 1986 film, Jon Cryer, he writes about bumping into him years later backstage at a talk show and laughing about the old days. There are also a handful of people McCarthy met once and never again during his younger years. One particularly funny story involves Rob Lowe inviting McCarthy to dinner at Spago during the filming of St. Elmo’s Fire and sitting him next to Liza Minnelli. After a slight detour to a party at the home of Sammy Davis Jr., McCarthy ended up hanging out at Minnelli’s mansion before the star drove him home in her Rolls Royce. That was the one and only time he ever met Minnelli, he says.

Yet throughout Brat, it’s hard not to get the sense that maybe Hollywood life didn’t agree with McCarthy. He’s a Jersey guy, after all. One who cut his teeth in New York City. It sounds like he had a lot of fun in the 1980s, but it also sounded like it could be lonely. McCarthy recalls nights at the Chateau Marmont, for instance, that aren’t the grand, debaucherous affairs you’ll read about other stars having. People come and go and are never heard from again. He says he loves L.A. and makes it out there regularly, but points out that there is a difference between the Hollywood and New York actor, “The New York actor was someone who is serious, they're trying to do theater and things,” he says. And that Los Angeles “seemed to swallow me up. There are a lot of cracks you could fall through there.”

Thankfully, McCarthy has gotten himself out of those chasms that others who find fame might get stuck in forever. He likes some of the films he made in the ‘80s, others he’s not so fond of. All he’s trying to do now, it seems, is convince his kids that once upon a time, everybody wanted to either be him or be with him. He mentions that his son had never seen any of his films until recently and started with the movie McCarthy closed out the 1980s with, Weekend at Bernie's. The film involves McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman carting around the body of their dead boss so they can take over his Hamptons house for a weekend and might not be the first film you’d think about as one of McCarthy’s shining moments, but he’s fine with it. McCarthy sounds like a person totally at ease with his past. “He saw it a couple of years ago and he said, ‘dad, I love you, but that's the stupidest movie I ever saw.’ And I'm like, ‘dude, that's the point.’”

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