You may still be focused on his classic movies — Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Mannequin, Less Than Zero, Weekend at Bernie’s — but Andrew McCarthy’s had at least two more careers since starring in those flicks. He’s a travel writer, a prolific TV director, and he just added a new section to his résumé: young-adult novelist.
His debut YA book, Just Fly Away, tells the story of 15-year-old Lucy, whose world is rocked when she accidentally discovers her father not only had an extramarital affair years earlier that her mother knew about, but that it resulted in a half-brother who lives nearby.
As he prepared to leave on a book tour to support Just Fly Away, McCarthy talked to Yahoo TV about how it feels appropriate that he’s writing for the same age group in which he found movie stardom, how his children are not only following in his footsteps but also working with one of his Pretty in Pink co-stars, and what it’s like to be reunited with another Pretty in Pink colleague — James Spader — when he directs The Blacklist.
And, as the director of the upcoming Season 5 premiere of Orange Is the New Black, he gave us the tiniest hint at what to expect after Season 4’s cliffhanger ending.
Yahoo TV: Just Fly Away is fantastic. I fell in love with the characters right away and didn’t want my time with them to end. Is it true the book started out as an adult novel?
Andrew McCarthy: Yeah, this started back seven or eight years ago. It was a novel about a man who has an affair, and how he keeps the secret that this child came out of his one-night affair, and how the secret corrodes his marriage over the years. My favorite character was always the 15-year-old daughter, who had a very minor, minor part in the book. I struggled with that book for a number of years, and then one day I just started writing from [the daughter’s] point of view by going, “My dad’s an a**hole. He has this other kid across town.” Suddenly, I was writing an entirely different book. The second I started, I knew, “Oh, this is the book I was struggling to write for seven years.” It just changed focus instantly. Nothing else about the two books is the same, except the inciting incident of the girl realizing she has a brother across town like that, as a result of her father’s affair. Once I started writing, I knew instantly I was writing a YA book too, writing from that moment in life … the vulnerability people have at that age. I was very surprised.
That’s a cool way to get into the character, though, isn’t it? Did you feel like this is what it was meant to be from the beginning?
Yeah, absolutely. Totally. I struggled with it for years, and the minute I start writing for her voice and her perspective on what went on, and her journey about the whole thing, it was a very liberating deal. It was great because I already knew all the characters. I knew the world she lived in. I knew the town she lived in. I knew her sister. I knew who everybody was. It was like I was revisiting a world I’d already known, and yet starting over again, so it was great in that way.
Do you have any desire to turn the story into a TV series or a movie?
Coming from being an actor and directing, everything I do is visually focused. As I was writing, I was picturing the whole thing as I was going. That’s how I create — visually. I would see it in my mind and then write it. Hear them talking and then write it down. There’s some chatter about that, and I think it would be interesting, because I think they’re interesting characters too. I like spending time with them.
You have starred in several young-adult films. You know how much they mean to so many of us. They’re iconic and such an important part of our lives. Does it feel especially appropriate to you that you are telling a story about this age group for your first novel?
Yeah. That didn’t dawn on me until very late in the game, and then when it finally did, it was like, “Hello? Duh!” It’s a very volatile time in life, that moment of waking up, and the irony is not lost on me, because I did movies about people at that point, in that moment in their life. Here I am again. You can run but you can’t hide. [Laughs] There is something about that moment that, I guess, does appeal to me. I suppose for years you try and outgrow these movies, and yet at a certain point, you just turn around and embrace them and realize they’re really quite potent and touch a generation of people in a wonderful way, and you embrace that. Then, here it is again with this same moment in a person’s life, that adolescent moment of discovering your parents actually have their own lives and aren’t just there to service your life. It’s a really daunting moment in, I think, anyone’s life, and one of the themes of this book is the discovery that your parents are people too. That you’re an event in their lives, not the only event in their lives.
Really great YA fiction is as important and entertaining as any great fiction aimed at adults. As a writer, was it interesting to go back and dive into that time in a person’s life, revisit those feelings and be reminded that you too were once dealing with those kinds of issues, but from an adult’s perspective?
Yeah. The exact feeling is that it’s so important. No one else has ever been through this. No one else is going through it remotely as strongly as I am, and that sense of “all or nothing” all the time about stuff, and that secret fear that “my life might not happen here for me.” I was surprised to discover half of YA readers are adults. At least half. I knew very little about the YA world when I started, and I think there’s amazing YA literature out there, tackling some really interesting issues. It is a very exciting genre of writing.
Is it one that you think you’ll continue in?
Yeah, I have an idea for another thing that I’m messing around with, and we’ll see if it takes root. I do love the urgency and the immediacy and the absolute front burner of your life that YA demands of its characters. I think that’s very exciting. I think that’s why people respond to it as readers, because it’s instantly, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” That revelation. And at the same moment, very vulnerable too.
You are also continuing your amazing TV directing career: The Blacklist, The Blacklist: Redemption, Orange Is the New Black, Halt and Catch Fire, Grace and Frankie … What is it about directing that attracts you to go behind the camera?
I don’t know. … I love the collaboration. I know how to talk to actors. The older I got, the more interested I was in telling the whole story and not just my subjective point of view of it, the acting point of view, so I really enjoy that notion of telling the whole thing.
That’s what’s interesting about the writing too: the sense that you’re sort of doing both. Whereas in acting, you’re very subjective and you’re telling that side of the story; in directing, you’re overview-ing the whole thing. In writing, you’re kind of doing both, because you’re very subjective with the characters, and then you’re responsible for telling the entire story as well. I enjoyed that aspect of that. Directing is just a job I know how to do. I understand the dilemmas of the actors, and I understand the dilemmas of the people on the technical filmmaking part of it too, and you’re just trying to create an environment on the set where everybody can do their best.
You’ve directed multiple episodes of The Blacklist. We have to note that Blane is directing Steff when you’re directing James Spader in The Blacklist. We’d like to think that you two are talking about Pretty in Pink, and whether Steff really liked Andie, and how cool Duckie actually was, but in fact, I’m guessing you’re not.
Oh, that’s all we talk about. Very rarely do we get to the shots of the day. I’m glad you remembered all those names, because I didn’t. But really, it’s great to work with James again. I hadn’t seen James in a number of years until [The Blacklist], and we didn’t miss a beat. Someone on the set saw us laughing about something, and they said, “Are you two different than how you were when you were acting together in movies?” James just looked at him and said, “We’re exactly the same, only more so,” which kind of sums it up.
That seems like a very James Spader-y thing to say.
It is a very James thing to say, isn’t it? Yeah. I love him. I love him. He’s one of a kind.
Your daughter just starred as Matilda on Broadway, and, is this true? Your son is starring in a movie with Molly Ringwald?
Yes, it’s true. I swore my children would never be actors, and here they are. My daughter Willow was Matilda for nine months, and my son Sam is doing a film [All These Small Moments] with Molly Ringwald as his mother, yes.
Have you and Molly talked about that?
Oh, we did email back and forth about it. We kind of went, “Oh, my God. Crazy.”
You’ve directed more Orange Is the New Black episodes than anyone, and you directed the upcoming Season 5 premiere?
I did. Yeah, I’ve done several season premieres. This year I did the first one and one more later in the season. When we start up again [for Season 6] later in the year, I’ll get to do some more of those.
Season 2’s “Low Self Esteem City,” which you directed, with Gloria’s backstory, is one of the best episodes of the series. They are such a talented cast. What is it like on the set, working with them?
Oh, Selenis [Leyva, who portrays Gloria] is wonderful. She’s a wonderful actress who should be doing much more. She’s so wonderful, and that episode, it’s very well written. The show is wonderful, and I love it. It’s like herding cats, that show. It’s absolute chaos. You can’t control it, but you can ride it. It’s like a wild bronco. You’re not going to be able to tame it, but you can hop on the back and ride it. I find it to be a lot of fun.
I know there are people that come in, and all the ladies are screaming, and there’s all this energy. In that show, you have scenes with 25, 30 people talking in it, and it can be absolute chaos. Most shows you’re doing, you have to say, “OK, quiet. All right, ready? And action.” This show, it’s like, “OK, quiet! OK, go!” The minute [the director says], “Action,” they calm down, or not, but it’s a one-of-a-kind show. I really enjoy it.
Has there been any discussion about you appearing on the show?
No, I have heard no rumblings of that. Maybe I’d be a guard or something? But no, I haven’t heard anything about that happening.
Can you say anything about the new season? I know it’s a very secretive production.
About the new season that’s coming up? No. How could I? I’d have to kill you, of course, if I told you about that. No, I can’t tell you anything except that it left off at a very exciting point, and picks up at a very exciting point.
What’s your next directing project?
I’m producing and directing this new show called Condor. If you remember the Robert Redford movie Three Days of the Condor, a sort of spy thriller, [Audience Network] is doing a TV version that is really quite wonderful. So we’re starting up that with Max Irons, Jeremy Irons’ son.
You’re off on a big book tour for Just Fly Away. Are you looking forward to that?
I am. This book is peculiar in that it’s about a family secret, and I have had more than a dozen people come up to me since I’ve started talking about the book, going, “I had a brother I never knew about.” “My father actually turned out to be not my father.” Sharing their family secrets. I got an email yesterday from a woman who said she found a letter that her father never sent to her that said, “I was not your real father, which is why we never got along, and I always resented…” Just crazy stuff that is going on. So I look forward to going out and meeting more people [and talking] about that ocean of secrets that families have. I think it’s really interesting.
I think people need to be heard, need to tell their story, and especially with a book, people certainly feel like they’re having a relationship with you, and they can identify and they can share that with you. To write a book, at a certain level, you have to open up, open yourself up to that. Even in a novel. After the travel memoir I wrote [The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down], I was talking to a friend of mine, a writer, and he said, “What are you working on?” I said, “I’m working on this novel.” He said, “Oh, good. Now you can put in all the things that are too personal to put in your memoir.” In a very real way, that’s true. You can open yourself up and hide behind these characters in doing it.
Just Fly Away is available now from Algonquin Young Readers. Orange Is the New Black Season 5 premieres June 9 on Netflix.
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