We’re now going back to the 80s – you remember that era: big hair, big shoulder pads, walkmans and a new breed of movie star.
Andrew McCarthy starred in iconic films such as St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty in Pink and Weekend at Bernie’s. Considered one of the so-called brat packs – think Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, boasting young stars who starred in all the hot films that first came true to the wishes and dreams of young people.
McCarthy has spent much of his adult life running away from this label. But in his new memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, he looks back on his turbulent 20s when he first rose to fame.
Highlights of the interview
On the name “Brat Pack”, which dates back to 1985 New York Magazine items
Well I think it came as a shock to all of us because it was on the cover of the magazine. I think it was originally intended to be a small feature on Emilio. And then he invited the writer and some of his friends over for a drink at the Hard Rock Cafe one evening, the writer turned to his subject and it developed into this cover story called “The Brat Pack”. And and it’s interesting because the photo on the cover was a still image of St. Elmo’s Fire that I was in. And then I was removed and cut out for the cover. And when I saw the ceiling I went, oh my god, they cut me out. And then I read the article and went, oh my god thank god they cut me out. And then I was soon swept in anyway.
How Molly Ringwald chose him Pretty in Pink
They were looking for a quarterback guy with square jaws and broad shoulders to play their friend, to play the guy from the other side of the tracks – the right side of the tracks, so to speak. And I had just been to St. Elmo’s fire that hadn’t come out yet, but there was some buzz about the film. And you’re never hotter than when no one saw something you did. And so, I was given this kind of courtesy audition because I wasn’t a square-jawed quarterback with broad shoulders.
Anyway, I went in and Molly was there reading with people, and Molly and I were reading the scene together and John Hughes kind of went, OK, thanks. And he couldn’t have cared less about it. And when I left the room Molly apparently turned to John and said, Well, that’s the guy. And was John like that cowardly guy? She’s like, yes, he’s poetic and empathetic. This is the guy I would fall in love with, not a crazy idiot. And John not only spoke out in favor of respecting young people in his films, he too [actually] did. And he said, OK, I don’t really see it. But if you say he’s the guy, you have him.
On the John Hughes films
They were … about respecting and honoring young people so that the feelings they are feeling are bigger and deeper and fuller and wider than yours or mine. You know, as adults we kind of go, he’s just a kid. And no, my son is 19 years old and in love for the first time. And he’s the first person ever to be in love. And it is powerful and beautiful and it encompasses everything in his life. And we were all like that at one point. And John honored that in a way that other adults didn’t. And so children saw it and left, yes, that’s me, this is my world, and clung to us very deeply. And that’s all John’s credit.
About his relationship with alcohol
The first thing I always say when discussing is that in response to my success, I did not drink in any way. I didn’t feel like oh he’s too young to handle this so I turned to drink. Not at all. I started drinking a kind of parallel at the same time. And drinking was very much about drinking. I drank because I had an affinity for and tendency to alcohol and an alcoholic temperament and neurobiology, you know, and it happened to coincide with the movies. And it was certainly detrimental to my career, certainly in the later stages. But it wasn’t a reaction to my career. You know, I drank better vodka because I went to the movies. It didn’t make me drink.
How fame affected him
As out of date as films may be, the emotions underneath are timeless. … Maybe not the hair, but the emotions.
Oh, I think fame changes you on a cellular level … when you grow up you are the center of the world and the center of the universe. And then when you grow up you somehow come into the world and find that your mother was probably wrong. You are not really the center of the world. And then you get famous and all of a sudden, no, no, no, no, you are the center of the world. And so you stop growing in a certain way, and developmentally, it’s probably not the best thing to be treated that way as a plump adult. You know, I always want to be treated special. Who does not? But is that the best for me? And when you are young, when you are 20, 22, 23 years old, like me was when I started getting successful that way, you don’t even know who you are in some ways. So entering the hollow bottom of fame is precarious if you’re not even sure who you are. So I sure found this a lot to navigate.
About the longevity of the films from the Brat Pack era
I think that’s very nice, you know, I think these kids who find them that way are really reacting to their parents who were so invested. And you know what I represent now, I am like an avatar for the youth of this generation. Not only do they look back on the movies, they look back on themselves when they were young and the moment they were 20 whenever and in the world, they just burst out into the world when their life was there is a blank canvas for painting.
And there is no more exciting and exciting moment in our lives than when we are young and just – avoiding me. I’m coming out world! And these films represented that for a lot of people. And that’s how I represent people in a certain way. And I’ve grown to find that very satisfying while running away from it for so long. But I came to really see this as a gift. And that is, the emotions in these films are true – I think they’re pretty much true. As out of date as films may be, the emotions underneath are timeless in this way. And so children can relate to it. Maybe not the hair, but the emotions.
This story was edited for radio by Isabella Gomez and Melissa Gray and adapted for the Internet by Petra Mayer.