WESTFIELD, NJ – Though he may best be known as Blane McDonough from the John Hughes classic “Pretty in Pink,” actor/director/writer Andrew McCarthy is, as he says, always moving onward.
McCarthy, 54, recently released his first young adult novel, “Just Fly Away.” The novel tells the story of Lucy, a 15-year-old girl who discovers her father had an affair eight years ago that resulted in a brother she’s never met, who lives in the same town as her. McCarthy, a Westfield native, based the novel’s setting after his own hometown.
“It was a classic, suburban, ‘kids running around outside and be home by 6 o'clock for dinner’ town,” McCarthy said of Westfield. “It was my childhood, my youth.”
McCarthy spoke from New York City, where he currently lives with his wife and three children. He speaks quickly and with the vaguest hint of an Irish accent. (His wife, Dolores, is Irish). As he talks, the sounds of sirens and honking cars can be heard in the distance.
McCarthy grew up in Westfield until his family moved to Bernardsville at age 15. He attended Pingry School, a New Jersey preparatory school, where he first realized that he wanted to be an actor.
“I was in the play ‘Oliver,’ where I played the Artful Dodger,” he said. “That changed my life.”
Since starring in “Pretty in Pink” in 1986, McCarthy went on to play lead roles in films including “Mannequin” and “Weekend at Bernie’s.” He directed episodes of “Gossip Girl,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Grace and Frankie,” in addition to travel writing and editing for National Geographic. His memoir, “The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down,” was published in 2012.
Does he ever take a vacation?
“Not in the last several years,” McCarthy laughed. “Whenever I travel, I seem to write about it.”
Currently, McCarthy is touring for “Just Fly Away.” He will return to Westfield for the first time in many years this Saturday to promote the book.
“It’ll be very interesting to come back,” McCarthy said. “I hadn’t considered how it would feel until my wife asked. Although I was disappointed to hear Duke’s Deli is an Indian restaurant now. I used to go there and get a number 12.”
Westfield locations pop up frequently in “Just Fly Away.” McCarthy writes about Lucy walking past Tamaques Park, flattening coins on the train tracks and driving down to the Jersey shore. They are, of course, things McCarthy did when he was a teenager.
“It’s the memory of my childhood, of walking the train tracks and playing basketball at my friend Bruce’s house,” McCarthy said. “It was the place in my head, always. When I needed something and thought about it, I went back there.”
That doesn’t mean that McCarthy always enjoyed his early teenage years, though.
“I remember looking in the mirror and begging to see what I’d look like in 10 years,” he said. “I was a scrawny 15-year-old.”
Even though he juggles so many different projects and roles now, McCarthy doesn’t believe he still feels the teenage burden of trying to figure out who you are or what you’re meant to do.
“I came to all these things very late in life,” McCarthy said. “But I do think we’re constantly evolving and changing. At least, I hope so.”
When speaking to McCarthy, it is easy to sense that his words are carefully chosen.
“No,” he said, when asked if he has anything he wants people to know about him. Then, after a pause, he asks … “In what sense?”
In any case, he’s not bothered that he will be perennially associated with the “Brat Pack” label he’s touted since the 80’s.
“It had a huge impact on a generation of people,” McCarthy said about “Pretty in Pink.” “It took young people and their problems seriously, and was one of the first movies to ever do that.”
In some way, McCarthy finds it ironic that he wrote a young adult novel, as his early movies could be considered the film equivalent of today’s YA books, which depict the intense feelings of coming of age.
“It’s a calling to that moment of youth,” he said. “Coming of age is powerful, fraught and very intense. Its poignancy is never forgotten and it’s such a powerful thing. It’s a mess and it can’t be anything else. It’s powerful. I’m proud to do honor to that.”
But don’t expect McCarthy to read any young adult novels. He only read one Harry Potter book, with his son, and he didn’t care to read any more.
“I’m much more of a kitchen sink guy,” McCarthy said. “I’m currently reading Raymond Chandler [a British-American detective fiction writer]. Although ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' would probably be considered YA literature now."
While McCarthy’s next project will be producing and directing “Condor,” a TV version of the movie “Three Days at the Condor,” his kids are now experiencing their own turns in the spotlight.
His son, Sam, is set to act in the comedy film “All These Small Moments.” Sam’s on-screen mother will be played, fittingly, by Molly Ringwald. McCarthy’s oldest daughter, Willow, recently played the title role in Broadway’s adaptation of “Matilda.” She’ll return to Broadway soon in the stage adaptation of “1984,” McCarthy said.
“It’s against my better judgment,” he said with a laugh when asked about his kids becoming actors. “But they’re very much themselves. They grew up around acting. And if you have the acting bug, then it’s something you should try. Whatever people find that makes them happy, they should pursue it.”
Near the end of his interview, McCarthy mentioned returning to his hometown again.
“I guess it will be a little weird now that I’m thinking about it,” he said. “It’ll be really interesting. I’d like to get there a little early and walk around the town a bit.”
He expects the town to have changed since he left, but does hope to visit some of his old haunts.
“I look forward to going to the Rialto, where I spent a lot of time in my youth. I saw ‘Jaws’ there and it changed my life,” McCarthy joked. “It terrified me.”
Andrew McCarthy will sign complimentary copies of “Just Fly Away” at Lord & Taylor in Westfield on April 29 at 1 p.m.