Actor, Director And Writer Andrew McCarthy Takes On Young Adult Fiction
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Andrew McCarthy has made many transformations in his life. He began his career as a teen heartthrob and member of the Brat Pack in films like "Pretty In Pink" and "St. Elmo's Fire." After, he became a television director of episodes of "The Blacklist" on NBC and "Orange Is The New Black" on Netflix. He's also an acclaimed travel writer and memoirist - a lot there. And now he's turned his hand to something new. He's the author of a young-adult novel "Just Fly Away" about a 15-year-old girl whose life is upended after she discovers a secret her father has kept from her for years.
Andrew McCarthy joins me from our studios now in New York.
Thanks for being here.
ANDREW MCCARTHY: Great to be here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So no spoiler alert because this happens early on in the book, what does Lucy, the main character, find out?
MCCARTHY: Yeah, Lucy finds out that her father had an affair years ago and that she has a 8-year-old brother living across town, which sends her world, sort of, reeling and spinning out of control because everything she thought she knew suddenly is not the way it was.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this kind of feels like a story that might be specific to something that you heard or were told about. What is it about family secrets that intrigued you?
MCCARTHY: Well, I think every family's got them (laughter). But this really wasn't anything that I'd heard or heard about. Since I've finished the book, actually, a lot of people have come up and sort of revealed some of their own about siblings and...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Secret siblings?
MCCARTHY: Yeah. And so it's much more common than I thought. I don't think it's true in my life, but I don't know (laughter). But I - you know, I'm, sort of, an accidental YA author. I have to confess, I thought I was writing a different book. I thought I was writing a book about a man who has an affair and has this child out of wedlock that he keeps a secret from his family for years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you were going to focus, initially, on the - sort of the dad?
MCCARTHY: It was. It was about a marriage and how secrecy can corrode a marriage. And I was working on it for years. I'd say seven or eight years, really. And then my favorite character was always the daughter when she was 15. And one day, I just started writing from her voice, her point of view. And it set everything free.
You know, I'd been struggling and struggling. And suddenly, I was sort of in the current. And then it was instantly apparent to me I was writing a YA book, which I had no intention of doing - 'cause there's something about that sort of ferocious vulnerability of that age that really appealed to me. It was liberating and, you know, I identified with it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, I'm curious as to why it appealed to you. You obviously know a lot about being a 15-year-old boy. You were one...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And you also used to play one (laughter).
MCCARTHY: Played one on TV, yeah.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
MCCARTHY: Yeah, I mean, I suppose there's just something about that moment in life that is really powerful. Everything seems so intense and so real and so all-encompassing. And I first started acting when I was 15, and it changed my life. That moment when I discovered acting, I walked out on stage. And I felt the sense of oh, there I am for the first time.
And so, you know, I suppose in an unconscious way, this moment when Lucy - she's 15 - she finds out this thing, it changes her life and changes her whole place in the world. And what is originally sort of horrific, terrifying news, you know, she comes to try and reconcile and deal with it. And she's going to be a different person from that moment after.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How did you tap into the girl part of this? Having been a 15-year-old girl myself...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...It's a really, really horrible period, one that I would not want to go back to, personally. How did you figure out her interior life, your character's interior life?
MCCARTHY: Well, 15-year-old boy's no picnic either, I don't think.
MCCARTHY: But I don't know. I suppose it's sort of like an accent. When you're acting in a certain way, it can be very liberating And suddenly words coming out of your mouth that normally wouldn't come out because you're inhabiting this kind of character. You know, she just spoke to me very clearly in a way that I don't think a 15-year-old boy who would have been saddled by my own personal literal memories and baggage would have spoken. I think the emotions and feeling of isolated and alone and misunderstood and unappreciated and terrified that life is not going to happen to you is a universal thing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Being a father and writing this book about a 15-year-old and family secrets, I'm curious, are there secrets that should be kept from children?
MCCARTHY: I don't know. I suppose that really the truth is always the best answer. And we keep things from kids in the name of protecting them. But often, it's just easier for us to keep from telling them and owning up. My mother - I don't think it's any great secret - when I was young, my mother was ill. And they - my parents chose not to tell us. And I overheard a conversation about it. And only years later did I find out what the situation was. And it was a secret I sort of lived with and kept. And I don't think that burden really particularly helped me.
I mean, it was fine in the long run. It wasn't a massive thing. But it was certainly - any secret separates us and distances us and puts a little barrier between us. And we can feel the barrier, even if we don't know what it is. And I think kids particularly are so sensitized and have their antenna up all the time. And that any secret is a wall. And they are incremental and corrosive. And I think they limit that intimacy and that sense of trust that needs to happen.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As I mentioned at the beginning, you've changed your focus of your career many times. And I...
MCCARTHY: (Laughter) One day I'll get it right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) You seem to have done all of them pretty well. I guess, is the changing hard, especially when you start as an actor and then you turn into a novelist? You know, one is so public. And the other is private. Authors write alone.
MCCARTHY: Well, I'm a bit of an introvert, so I found that aspect of it to be liberating and completely...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Really, you like writing alone?
MCCARTHY: I like as few votes as possible. That's certainly the case. And, you know, when I started acting, like I said, I felt like, oh, there I am. I felt like I had found myself. And then the moment I started traveling in a real way and then later travel writing, I felt again, like, oh, there I am. It was the same feeling to me. And so - and the novel - it just sort of naturally grew out of sitting down. There's something about just sitting down that I like. And it just feels comfortable to me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I just have one last question. Do you still talk to any of the Brat Pack?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you hate the term the Brat Pack?
MCCARTHY: No, I think I used to when I was young because like anything, no one wants to be labeled and put in a box. But now, it's become this sort of affectionate and iconic kind of term referring to - it's more refers to the people who are saying it about their youth and the wistful recollection of their youth and a moment in time that probably never existed for any of us. But no, now it's fine.
You know, my children, against my better - all my wishes, are becoming actors. My son is acting in his first movie. And of course his course his on-screen mother is, naturally, Molly Ringwald.
MCCARTHY: So it all comes (laughter) - it all comes around. There's no escape.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There's no escape.
That's Andrew McCarthy, actor, director, writer and novelist, author of the young adult novel "Just Fly Away." It's out this Tuesday.
Mr. McCarthy, thanks so much for being with us.
MCCARTHY: Oh, thanks.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID FOSTER'S SONG, "LOVE THEME FROM ST. ELMO'S FIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.