Weekend at Vroman's
Actor Andrew McCarthy of Bernie's fame talks about his new life as a world-traveling writer at Vroman's Saturday
By Carl Kozlowski 09/27/2012
Throughout most of the 1980s, it seemed the world was at Andrew McCarthy’s feet. As part of a group of young and extremely popular actors dubbed “The Brat Pack” by the media, he played a heartthrob with soul in hit movies like “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “Pretty in Pink”, and mixed that image up with the role of a lovable doof in the two “Weekend at Bernie’s” films.
While those four movies in particular have stood the test of time, continuing to run frequently on cable boxes and DVD players to this day, A-list roles eventually proved hard to come by for McCarthy. So, while he continues to receive a steady stream of supporting roles and TV movies, he has taken on an additional career in recent years as a world-class travel writer that literally puts the world at his feet.
In an unlikely twist of fate, McCarthy has received his greatest acclaim yet for those travelogues. The Society of American Travel Writers named him their 2010 “Travel Journalist of the Year” and awarded him their 2011 “Grand Award” in addition to his winning the 2011 “Grand Award” from the North American Travel Journalists Association. He is also the editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler and has written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Travel + Leisure, Afar, Men’s Journal, Bon Appetit, National Geographic Adventure and other elite publications.
McCarthy’s also released his first book, “The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down,” which chronicles his quest to tame his restless nature and marry his longtime fiancé. In the process, he guides readers through both his relatable, emotional journey and his adventures in such far-flung places as Mount Kilimanjaro and Patagonia.
“Travel really changed my life. I see myself and see what I’m doing well when I’m away out there, and I gain insight into who I am and what I need to be doing, because I don’t meditate at home,” says McCarthy, calling from New York City. “There’s a lot of that dilemma: ‘I love you but I’ve got to go,’ and asking, ‘Why?’ I was sad to be leaving, but at the same time I was thrilled to be going off on my own, yet wanting to be close to a loved one. It’s about coming to terms with that dilemma.”
McCarthy grew up in New Jersey and was studying drama at New York University when he landed the plum role of a college student who’s seduced by his best friend’s mom in the 1983 film “Class,” opposite fellow new star Rob Lowe. From there, he was riding the rollercoaster of fame, with “St. Elmo’s Fire” establishing the “Brat Pack” brand in 1985 and a strangely iconic turn as the boyfriend of America’s Sweetheart Molly Ringwald in 1986’s “Pretty in Pink.”
“It’s funny, I remember very distinctly doing it and thinking at the time ‘This is a silly movie about a girl going to a dance, will anyone see it?’” he recalls. “I don’t think anyone realized it would strike such a chord and continue to, and now it’s on a second generation. It captured something for a lot of people, and when you get lucky to be part of a film that becomes such a phenomenon, you just get out of the way and enjoy it.”
One might assume that McCarthy would choose not to discuss “Bernie’s” now that he’s an erudite, published writer, but, in fact, he loves the films and even credits them with saving his life. That’s ironic, considering that the films were about a man whose employees try to make him look alive for a weekend after he dies.
“Who doesn’t love Bernie?” he laughs. “It was amazing how he kept a straight face. He never lost it once. We made a lot of it up on the set. What if he lost a toupee and we staple it to his head? Or what if I play Monopoly with dead Bernie? I was in Zimbabwe on my own once and turned down a street no outsider should have been on, with people looking threateningly at me until one of them recognized me and yelled, ‘Bernie?!’ and everyone became friendly.”
McCarthy’s acting gigs inspired his decision to become a travel writer, as he started writing a detailed journal while spending time on sets in foreign locales for a decade. He then decided to write actual stories about people and places he encountered and asked a travel magazine editor to give him a shot.
“If my writing wasn’t good, they wouldn’t have to pay me,” he says. “But thankfully he did, so it all grew from that first story. I didn’t plan it to be a career, but it was a passion, like acting, that grew. Then, when you win awards, you’re legitimized so people came after me, and the curiosity of an actor doing this became a good curiosity instead of an odd one.”
Ultimately, McCarthy — who also works as a TV director — has found that it isn’t the adventure and potential dangers of exotic traveling that inspires him most. Rather, it’s the surprising human connections he’s made in unexpected corners of the globe.
“I was in Sudan, where there’s no tourist infrastructure, and had the most extraordinary experience with the most gentle people,” says McCarthy. “I’m not a danger junkie, but I found the world a much more welcoming place than we’re led to believe.”
Andrew McCarthy discusses and signs his book, “The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down,” at 5 p.m. Saturday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit vromans.com.