Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A wild night of “research” with Robert Downey Jr. and other stories from Andrew McCarthy’s new memoir

Center, cover image: Grand Central; background photos: Screenshots/YouTube
Center, cover image: Grand Central; background photos: Screenshots/YouTube
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Andrew McCarthy will forever be known to most people as Blaine, the “major appliance” who steals Molly Ringwald’s heart in the 1986 John Hughes classic, Pretty In Pink. Before that, the East Coast native had gotten his start in bawdy prep school comedy Class, then reteamed with co-star Rob Lowe in Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire, the ultimate Brat Pack film about dissatisfied twentysomethings. In an effort to break out of the Pack, McCarthy went on to star in films like Less Than Zero, Mannequin, and Weekend At Bernie’s (and its sequel). Although he still appears onscreen occasionally (most recently on NBC’s Good Girls), he’s more focused on writing, including publishing a travel memoir and a YA novel, and TV directing (for Orange Is The New Black, The Sinner, The Blacklist, and more).

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With his latest book, Brat: An ’80s Story, McCarthy chronicles the years in which his fame was at its peak, and it’s a fun, fast read. McCarthy writes about growing up in New Jersey and studying acting at NYU before getting his big break while still a teenager. Alongside the hits were also some flops (Kansas, Fresh Horses), as well as a drinking problem that he eventually conquered by going into rehab. Throughout Brat, McCarthy’s stories not only offer dishy name-dropping, but also near-constant humorous self-deprecation as he looks at his past with the advantages of age and time. Here are some of the most amusing and insightful anecdotes from the book.


1. He stayed at Jacqueline Bisset’s house in L.A. after the filming of Class

Class was McCarthy’s first movie, and a lot of it was filmed in Chicago, including a memorable love scene in the glass elevator at Water Tower Place with Jacqueline Bisset, who played the classmate’s mother with whom McCarthy’s character was having an affair. After the movie wrapped, McCarthy headed to L.A. to find an agent, at the advice of his manager. Bisset told him, “You don’t know anyone in L.A. It can be a lonely place. It’ll be a pleasure to host you.” McCarthy didn’t have a car, so Bisset drove him to some meetings with agents who would probably have signed him on the spot if they knew who was waiting for him in the car outside. One afternoon, McCarthy was looking at a picture of Bisset in the den and she came in and “kissed me, deeply.” The next line gets its own paragraph: “Just the once.”

2. He blew his audition for The Sure Thing by whistling

McCarthy had previously met his St. Elmo’s Fire co-star Mare Winningham when he was paired with her for an audition for The Sure Thing, director Rob Reiner’s teen rom-com follow-up to This Is Spinal Tap. McCarthy thought the reading went well, but soon learned from his manager that he was out of the running. Years later, while directing Reiner on a TV episode, McCarthy asked him about the audition. Reiner replied, “I was seriously considering casting you, and then suddenly in the hallway I heard you start to whistle, and that was it. I don’t know why, but that did it for me. You were out.” Another one-sentence paragraph: “Cockiness never suited me.”

3. On a night out with Liza Minnelli, he wound up at Sammy Davis Jr.’s house

After the filming of St. Elmo’s Fire, Rob Lowe invited McCarthy to join him and his then-girlfriend, Little House On The Prairie’s Melissa Gilbert, for a night out at Spago. There they ran into Liza Minnelli (like you do), who kept saying she was going to take them all to Sammy’s, which McCarthy assumed was a bar or club. “But as we drove deeper into residential Beverly Hills and then turned into a private driveway behind a large gate, it became clear that this was no nightclub we were going to… The door was swung open by a small man who spread his arms wide and shouted, ‘Cats!’”

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4. He and Robert Downey Jr. went for a night on the town as a test run for Less Than Zero

In Less Than Zero, the 1987 adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel, McCarthy plays Clay, an L.A. kid who comes home after his first semester at an East Coast school to find his best friend, Julian (Robert Downey Jr.), in the midst of a full-on drug-fueled breakdown. (Downey was having his own real-life substance abuse problems at the time.) McCarthy said that they didn’t really rehearse for the movie, but one night the director, Marek Kanievska, sent the two out and had secretly told Downey to “get into as much trouble as you can. Have Andrew get you out of it.” Downey spent the evening charging into traffic and invading strangers’ restaurant tables as McCarthy chased after him. Finally, in frustration, McCarthy demanded, “What the fuck are you doing?” Downey revealed the director’s ruse, and McCarthy went home.

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5. He was initially offered the Jonathan Silverman part in Weekend At Bernie’s

McCarthy’s career was on the wane when he made a bona fide hit in 1989: Weekend At Bernie’s, about two guys who find their dead boss at a beach house and for some reason spend the rest of the movie trying to convince everyone else he’s alive. McCarthy was first offered his typical “nice guy” role, of Richard, ultimately played by Jonathan Silverman, but he convinced the director to hire him for the trouble-making role of Larry, playing against type. He based the character on an old friend from New York, right down to the purple high-tops. McCarthy remembers that the director encouraged a lot of creativity on set, especially in regards to the comedy that could be drawn from dragging Bernie’s corpse around: “Want to staple Bernie’s toupee to his head? Go for it. Toss him over the side of the balcony onto the sand? Why not? The tide washes him out to sea? Even better.” It was McCarthy’s idea to set up the Monopoly game for Larry and Bernie to play. He still holds some affection for the movie, but not, apparently, the one that followed: “The movie was a modest success, is still revered today among a certain type of fool (this one included), and spawned an ill-advised sequel about which nothing more will be said.”

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