Forever known as one of the 1980s Brat Pack, actor Andrew McCarthy has expanded his horizons well beyond early films such as "St. Elmo's Fire," "Weekend at Bernie's" and "Pretty in Pink." Although he still acts and directs, he's taken on a second career as travel writer, contributing to National Geographic and other magazines. He recently published "The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down" (Free Press). It's part memoir, part travel story and a search for answers that journeys through the human experience. At 50, the New Jersey native is on his second marriage and has two children. He is starring in Hallmark Channel's original movie "Come Dance With Me." It airs at 8 p.m. Tuesday and noon Sunday.
In the movie you dance. So I wondered: In real life, can you dance?
No, not a lick. My wife is a big dancer, and she's always trying to get me to go dancing and I'm always resisting going dancing [laughing], so I'm not a huge dancer.
So there won't be any "Dancing With the Stars" in the future?
Well, they have asked me to do it a number of times, and I'm sort of tempted, but I don't think that's going to happen. No, but I loved it. I mean once I was doing it and sort of got over myself and they taught me how to do it, it was quite fun.
Speaking of fun, when you do the English accent in "Come Dance With Me" were you channeling both Hugh and Cary Grant?
[laughing] Exactly! That's exactly it. I'm just bad at accents, and I was just doing the best I could. [laughing] Accents are funny. Accents are very liberating to people, so it allows you -- you know, things come out of your mouth that normally never would.
Did growing up with all brothers make for a competitive childhood?
I suppose it can. It didn't really in my house, I mean everybody sort of fell into their slot in the family. My oldest brother was the smart one, and my other older brother was a jock. I was the sensitive one. My little brother was the youngest one. You know what I mean? So everybody fell into their role so we weren't particularly competitive.
What was Christmas like for you as a child?
Christmas was and actually is my favorite holiday. It was always a wondrous time as a little kid. Coming in and making your parents get up before dawn and coming down the stairs and going around the corner and that first sight -- Like everyone does, I have very vivid images of that. The tree and all the stuff under the tree. I found that I've always loved that moment. Watching my kids now come around the corner and the look in their eye when they see Santa has been there, it's thrilling. It's Christmas morning. You know there's nothing like it, like that instant.
On to your travels. Was it hard for you to write "The Longest Way Home," being sort of vulnerable?
It wasn't particularly and since I've been getting that question it makes me think oh gosh, what did I say? I didn't want to write a straight travel narrative, and the memoirs I found most moving and the ones I identify with are when the writer reveals themselves the most. I wasn't writing a book about cool stories that happened to me in the Brat Pack. I was writing a much more personal kind of exploration. You sort of have to do that. If you are going to go there, you go there. I wasn't conscious at the time of like wow, this is really revealing. Also what I reveal, I think, I hope, is more sort of human emotion as opposed to personal details. I'm just talking about feelings. I think everybody's got those. [laughing] We either identify with them or judge them or whatever we do with them. In a certain regard I am revealing my humanness, not my personal life.
You've mentioned in other interviews that you were ruled by fear and that this writing was liberating. But, fear of exactly what?
Yeah, interesting. I think fear begins to feed on itself, and fear becomes sort of a general thing. I always had a great fear of people when I was younger. Yeah, I suppose that was largely it -- a fear of, sort of, people. I was talking to my son the other day and he asked me if I was ever afraid of anything, and I said, "Yeah, I used to be afraid of people." He looked at me and just laughed and said, "Why would you be afraid of people, Dad? That is so stupid." [laughing] I had to go, "Yeah, you're right!" But I think that was just my experience. Fear becomes a condition, a state, as opposed to something specific. I think I had a floating fear. I think a lot of people do, and they just mask it with anger or all sorts of things because fear is something you don't really want to acknowledge. It feels weak. People make a huge amount of decisions based on fear and keeping fear at bay. Like fear of other countries, of other people. I travel with my son to a Muslim country, and people say, "You're insane. What are you doing?
That's the thing about travel. Once you get there you realize people are just people.
They're fear mongering on TV. Politically we've been fear mongering so people can play their agendas. Mark Twain had that great line: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow- mindedness." Like you just said, if you go somewhere you realize, wow they are just like me. They eat different, they dress different, but you come back changed and the better for it. This is my soapbox, you know. What is it, 30 percent of Americans have passports and only half of them have ever used them. Americans don't travel because we're afraid.
I think it should be a requirement in school -- a semester abroad.
I do too. It would change people's lives if they get out of the country.
It would change the world.
It totally would. If we traveled, we would be less fearful. If America was less fearful, the world would be much different because they would be reacting to us less fearfully. So my goal is to change the world one trip at a time. [laughing]
When you travel does your personality change?
Yeah, that's a good question. You are obviously a traveler. I suppose it does. I become a better version of myself. I'm more curious. I'm more interested. I can be more gregarious. I'm less guarded. I like who I am better when I travel. Absolutely. I find I engage in a way that is less defensive because I'm vulnerable to the world. You know at home you sort of wrap a shell around you, and you construct your world so you can stay in your comfort zone as much as possible. When you travel, you are out of it. Stepping out the door you are out of your comfort zone. You are forced to ask for help, and I think the minute we ask for help, we're better off.
Do you find traveling more fun when you are on assignment rather than when you just sort of wandered?
Yes and no. No one's ever asked me that. I'm forced to engage and interact more than I would if I'm just traveling for myself because I need quotes. You know what I mean. Gotta have quotes. It forces me to follow and pursue a story. For example, I had to do a story in Tahiti where I am looking for a black pearl. It forced me to go on these kind of quests. I am going to India next week to look for the perfect cup of tea. If I were just on my own, I wouldn't go looking for the perfect cup of tea. I do enjoy it. It moves me further out of my comfort zone when I'm writing for sure.
While promoting this book and the movie, do you ever get tired of repeating the same things, or is it kind of like acting and you look at it like a script?
That's another good question. [laughing] All of the above. You get sick of it and you try and change things, but then I realize I am commenting on something that only I know the baseline of, so the original answer is an authentic, truthful answer. But generally when I'm chatting with an interviewer, I try to be present.
Patricia Sheridan: email@example.com or 412-263-2613.