Face Time: Andrew McCarthy

travel writer, actor, brat-pack alum

September 28, 2012

If you were a teenage girl in the ’80s, actor Andrew McCarthy was probably your dream prom date. But the yin to Molly Ringwald’s yang in “Pretty in Pink” and the star of other Reagan-era fare (“St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Mannequin”) isn’t resting on his pop-culture laurels. He’s still acting (2008’s “Lipstick Jungle”), directing (episodes of “Gossip Girl”) and — surprise! — turning out well-received travel writing. The last fills his new book, “The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down” ($26, Free Press).

How did you get so into travel?
It changed my life. I’ve had very big experiences when I’ve traveled. I’ve drunk the travel Kool-Aid. It changed my life in a way that it hadn’t occurred to me it might.

How did you get started in travel writing?
It happened by accident. Whenever I tried to keep a journal, it was embarrassing and silly. So I started to write down scenes and encounters I had with people. As an actor, I knew about dialogue, place and a story getting from A to Z. I did that for years. Then I would get home and throw the stories in the dresser.

How did your scribblings go from the dresser to the pages of National Geographic Traveler and the New York Times?
I finally thought that I’d like to do something with my writing. I met an editor at National Geographic Traveler, and his response was, “You’re an actor, dude.” But I know how to tell a story, and after about a year of me emailing him, he agreed to let me do one. I did a story on a place in Ireland I felt connected to. It worked. So he gave me another and another, and it branched out.

What do you try to do with your travel tales?
All the travel stories I’ve ever read, none seemed to capture anything of the essence of why I traveled. They seemed to just be about places, and that wasn’t why I traveled. The essence of why I travel is that travel changes your life, so that’s sort of underneath every story I write and what gave me a voice.

Do you find similarities between your acting and directing work and your travel writing?
They all cross-pollinate in a way. They’re all just about communicating an experience without it being sentimental, trying to create an emotional response.

What do you get out of traveling? How does it affect you?
Travel dissolved my fear in the world. I think it’s because you leave behind all the safely constructed scenarios of life that insulate you. When you get out on the road alone, you’re forced to confront your vulnerability in the world. You’re saying, “World, I’m at your mercy,” and you need to ask for help. I think America is a great country, but it’s an incredibly fearful place. If more Americans traveled, I think the world would be different.

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