Andrew McCarthy has finally made peace with being a member of the Brat Pack.
Playing off of the 1950s and 1960s’ Rat Pack, the term Brat Pack represents a group of actors who often appeared together in coming-of-age films from 1983 to 1994, and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire are often considered to be the linchpins of the enterprise. From Molly Ringwald and Demi Moore to Emilio Estevez and Rob Lowe, McCarthy has forever found himself in their company even though he downplayed the association as a media invention for many years.
However, everything changed for McCarthy when he confronted his true feelings through the writing of what would become his memoir, Brat: An ‘80s Story.
“[Writing the book] made me have more affection for my youth and myself in that situation than I did previously. Any time you shine a light on something, you’re going to see things you didn’t see before,” McCarthy tells The Hollywood Reporter, in support of the book’s paperback release.
McCarthy is also reminiscing about his 1989 black comedy, Weekend at Bernie‘s, co-starring Jonathan Silverman. For the uninitiated, the premise of the film involves McCarthy’s Larry and Silverman’s Richard carrying around their deceased boss, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), as if he’s still alive, out of fear of being implicated for his mob-related murder. Despite the morbidly hilarious premise, McCarthy had a good feeling about the film’s prospects during filming.
“There’s the old saying, ‘If it’s funny to you on set, it ain’t going to be funny on screen,’ but we found it really fucking funny. We loved Bernie, and we just wanted to do more shit to him. So a lot of the shit we just thought of on set. I love Bernie’s. I think it’s great,” McCarthy shares.
You’re certainly no stranger to writing, but what set this particular book in motion?
Well, people had asked me over the years if I’d ever write a Brat Pack book, and before they could even finish the sentence, I always said, “Nope.” But several years ago, Jonathan Karp, this publisher [Simon & Schuster], asked me if I’d be interested in writing a Brat Pack book, and I went, “Huh. Maybe.” So I was surprised at my answer. It wasn’t the knee-jerk response I always had. So that suggestion is what set it in motion.
From that point, when did the writing process begin in earnest?
I thought about it for about 6 months, not actively, and then one day, I just sat down and started writing it. I wanted to see if I actually had something to say, as opposed to just trying to sell a premise or a pitch. I also didn’t want to deliver a different book than the one they thought they were getting. That time had been such a defining moment in my life, but I never really considered it other than to react against it. So I thought it would be worth looking at before I got so old that I couldn’t remember anything. (Laughs.)
Memory is certainly a strange thing. Did you recall stories as best you could remember, or did you reach out to people to compare notes?
I wondered at the beginning if I would do that, but I chose not to… In the book, I make a disclaimer that I’m not saying this is what happened; it’s just my recollection of how things transpired. I’m an outgrowth of those recollections. Along the way in life, I haven’t stopped and fact-checked with people. So I was more interested in the accumulation of my own experiences, as opposed to the facts of my experiences. I am the accumulation of those recollections, and that’s what I was interested in chronicling. So I didn’t reach out to anyone. It wasn’t of interest to me because I was just trying to write about one young person’s attempt to get through their twenties and my recollection of that.
Was it therapeutic or cathartic to write about things you probably haven’t shared all that much?
I didn’t experience it as such when I was writing, but my attitude toward it has pivoted since. So I suppose in some ways. I don’t know if cathartic is the word or if catharsis needed to happen, but I certainly incorporated [the Brat Pack] into my life in a more organic or fluid way than it had been. The Brat Pack had previously been this thing that happened to me in my twenties, so it became more integrated into my life. It also made me have more affection for my youth and myself in that situation than I did previously. Any time you shine a light on something, you’re going to see things you didn’t see before. We are the accumulation of these narratives that we tell ourselves, and there were moments where I was like, “Well, what have I always told myself? Was that really my experience? Or was that something I said to justify behavior and/or things?”
Did your relationship to the Brat Pack change a lot over the years? I know it’s been complicated for some of you.
Well, I recoiled from the title. I found it pejorative and dismissive. When people are in their late teens, early twenties, they’re just trying to define who they are. Your life is this blank slate to be written upon, and suddenly, it felt like it was defined for me in a way that didn’t seem to have anything particularly to do with me on a personal level. So I felt disempowered by it in that way, and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Over time, it’s become this warm and fuzzy phrase for this iconic moment in the ‘80s and is a time capsule for a certain demographic of a certain generation. It’s youth fondly recalled, and I am an avatar for that group of people. But it’s come to be a lovely thing that I didn’t expect, and in writing the book, that was clarified for me in a way that it hadn’t been before.
Did you have the title [Brat: An ‘80s Story] early on in the process?
Someone read an early draft of the book when there was no title, and he said to me, “What are you calling it?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “Well, there’s only one title for it; it’s Brat.” And I said, “Fuck you! This book will never be called Brat.” (Laughs.) So I knew in that instance that I hadn’t really done my work about it, and I went back and rewrote it. My reaction to that told me that I needed to really take a better look at that. I was missing that affection and the personal gold that it’s in there now. So the public always saw the Brat Pack as this fun term for the ultimate insider group, but it wasn’t experienced that way by me at the time and some of the others didn’t feel that way either. But in time, that morphs and changes. Had I been in the same movies and the Brat Pack label did not exist, my place in any kind of cultural asterisk would not be what it is now because of the Brat Pack.
So it sounds like you guys never viewed yourselves as an acting company of sorts.
It would’ve been nice if it was an acting company. I always felt like a freelancer who was trying to get the next job. But I don’t think anyone experienced it as a company. That was borne out when the Brat Pack name caught something in the zeitgeist, and everyone sort of scattered, as opposed to banding together in any way. I think a bunch of young people were scared of their careers being affected and ran for the hills. Whereas if it had been some kind of company in solidarity, we might have said, “Yeah, we’re the guys!” But that wasn’t the case in my experience.
I’ve been told that John Hughes sometimes welcomed actors into his family’s home. He also took people to record stores or to hear live blues music. Did you experience anything like that despite only working with him once on Pretty in Pink?
That was not my experience at all. I don’t recall having a meal with John or having a personal conversation with John. (Laughs.) But I liked him. I found him to be very smart, facile, agile, perceptive, defensive and guarded. He had an actual respect for young people and their opinions, which his movies bear out. He didn’t direct [Pretty in Pink], but he’d come to the set most days with a boombox and play us snippets of music to see if we liked the songs. I was cast in the movie because Molly [Ringwald] wanted me in the movie, and he listened to her. He didn’t want me in the movie. So it wasn’t just lip service. He did respect young people and listen to their opinions, thoughts and feelings. But my personal experience with him wasn’t one of any kind of intimacy.
Paramount told me a couple years ago that the original ending’s footage is missing, which is why it’s never actually been included on any of the home releases. So have you ever seen the original ending to Pretty in Pink?
No, but I thought we did a DVD box set, with the ending, for some anniversary. But I certainly don’t know that; I never actually looked at it. So I never saw the ending, no.
Yeah, there have been featurettes on home releases where you guys talk about the original ending, but beyond the script’s pages, some B-roll and a still image or two, they’ve never actually shown it.
I always joke about the wig I had to wear during the reshoots. I was in New York doing a play and my head was shaved, so I always say, “If they knew we’d still be talking about it 30-odd years later, they would’ve paid for a better wig.” (Laughs.) I don’t think anybody thought this movie was going to do anything beyond being the next little teen movie, so I don’t know that there was great archival care taken. (Laughs.)
Were you elated when they called you and said that they were retooling the ending in your character’s favor?
That I don’t recall. (Laughs.) I do recall reading the original script for the first time on the plane to go shoot it, and that’s when I discovered that [Blane] turned out to be this asshole who was peer pressured into not going to the dance with [Ringwald’s Andie]. So when I landed, I called my agent and said, “You gotta get me out of this movie. This guy is an asshole.” (Laughs.) And my agent said, “But you read the script already.” And I was like, “Uhh.” So was I elated that they changed the ending to me getting her? I suppose I was pleased by it, but I was also in a different mindset because of the play I was doing in New York. I was probably like, “I don’t want to get on a plane on my Sunday and go do one day before coming back.” But I still probably thought it was a good sign. The movie is [Ringwald’s character’s] fantasy in a certain way, so she has to get what she wants for those things to work.
I watched Weekend at Bernie’s an obscene amount of times growing up. Since it’s such a wild premise, was everybody questioning themselves at the time as to whether it was working or not?
(Laughs.) We thought it was funny shit as we were doing it. Everyone I know who was involved in that movie — Ted Kotcheff, the director, Bob Klane, the writer, the actors Jonny [Silverman] and Terry [Kiser] — had a great time. We did at times go, “This is a bad sign.” There’s the old saying, “If it’s funny to you on set, it ain’t going to be funny on screen,” but we found it really fucking funny. We loved Bernie, and we just wanted to do more shit to him. So a lot of the shit we just thought of on set. So my recollection is that we all thought it was really funny at the time, but we all did go, “We might be crazy, but this seems funny.” I love Bernie’s. I think it’s great.
Even before the pandemic, the studio comedy had started to disappear from movie theaters. The genre and its subgenres are now thriving on streamers for the most part. Does it bum you out that the major studios have seemingly moved away from a genre that helped shape past generations’ movie-going experiences?
The first thing I ever heard when I got to Hollywood in 1982 was, “Ah, you should’ve been here a few years ago in the ‘70s when the auteurs were making their films. That was Hollywood, baby.” So the first thing I ever heard was how much Hollywood had changed, but I kind of just shrug when I hear things like that. When you pointed it out like that, I thought, “That sounds like a loss,” but it’s always been changing. I’m not a superhero fan; I don’t think I’ve gone to see any except for one or two that my kids have dragged me to. Those movies just aren’t of interest to me. But I’m not a nostalgic person who laments for those kinds of things. Formative things for kids change with each generation, and they never really respect things that have come before. They’ll imitate those things until they stop being profitable, but I don’t particularly pine away over it.
You also went on to direct a lot of television over the years. Do you ever find yourself passing on notes that you were once given as an actor?
Yeah, but I learned way more from bad directors. I learned more about what not to do than what to do. I understand where actors are coming from, but I’ve certainly stolen from the best and learned from the worst. (Laughs.) And there were more worst than best, I’ll tell you. I’ve worked with 100 to 150 directors, so I know what works and what doesn’t work when I’m talked to a certain way. So I try to act accordingly when I direct.
If you were to program a double feature featuring the work that you’re most proud of, what two projects would you choose?
Well, from that early era, I’d certainly say Heaven Help Us. It was the most successful movie and probably the most durable movie. And then I’d put it up there next to Bernie’s, which is still funny.
Interviewed edited for length and clarity.
Brat: An ‘80s Story is now available on paperback.