Andrew McCarthy the travel writer - not an act

Andrew McCarthy, on assignment in Brazil, says acting taught him to be observant of people, which has helped his travel-writing career.
Andrew McCarthy, on assignment in Brazil, says acting taught him to be observant of people, which has helped his travel-writing career. (Chris Sanders)
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By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 15, 2010; 11:46 AM

Yes, he is that Andrew McCarthy.

Let me back up: The Society of American Travel Writers announced last week that among the 2010 Lowell Thomas winners, the highest honor - Travel Journalist of the Year, gold - would go to Andrew McCarthy. What a boon for that guy, we thought, sharing the same name as the famous actor who once turned Molly Ringwald into a puddle of pink and shows no sign of retiring his leading man status. But then we realized that this was not a case of mistaken identity. Andrew McCarthy is one and the same. Check his Web site if you don't believe us. On his home page, he lists his vocations/talents/crafts as acting/directing/writing. (We assume he chose that order for alphabetical reasons.)

Interested in his double rainbow of careers, we arranged a tete-a-tete at a bar in Manhattan, after a travel writers' salon called Restless Legs. McCarthy, 47, was dressed casually in jeans and a dark sweater, his hair a little floppy, as if he had used the open window of a cab as a stylist. He blended in well with the downtown decor and jaunty audience, like a true chameleon travel writer.

He debriefed us on his back story.

"I used to travel a lot before having kids. Travel changed my life. I believe in the transformative powers of travel." Among his adventures: plying the Amazon and walking through Spain. A dedicated reader of travel literature (sample: Paul Theroux), he also became a casual writer, jotting down notes to "seal" the experiences in his mind. These, he assures his audience of one, were not the sentimental scribblings of a diarist, but the sharp-eyed observations of a journalist.

About seven or so years ago, he asked Keith Bellows, editor of National Geographic Traveler, out for a drink. Bellows agreed. Over beverages, McCarthy expressed interest in writing about travel. Bellows asked for clips; McCarthy had none, but he reasoned, "I can tell a story, because that's what I've been spending my whole life doing." Bellows acceded and sent him off to Ireland, a place both familiar and familial to the actor. That 2006 piece begot more pieces in such top-notch publications as Travel and Leisure, Afar and Bon Appetit. Next month, he sets off for Patagonia on assignment for National Geographic Traveler.

Now, onto the questions we were itching to ask the actor (slash) travel writer.

Is it fair that you have not one but two dream jobs? Isn't that a little selfish?

I pursued what I wanted to do. They're the same job really. They're my passions and they let me be creative, something I grew up doing.

Has acting helped you with travel writing?

Acting taught me to be observant of people. Acting teaches you to keep an eye on the story.

As a celebrity who tries to stay private, is it hard to write in the first person and expose yourself?

[For a NGT assignment on Los Angeles], I had to marry my two worlds. Before I had kept them separate. They told me to come clean about what the city means to me. That makes it more difficult, that degree of disclosure. Writing about what's titillating - I shy away from that stuff. . . . But you have to disclose feelings and emotion if you are invested in that piece.

Do you get recognized when out reporting?

Often I am not recognized because I'm in a different mode. I'm just a curious, interested traveler. . . . Sometimes [being a known actor] does open doors. It relaxes people in a certain way because they think they know me.

How are you going to spend the prize money?

What? I won money. I didn't know that.

Yeah, I think about $1,500.

I guess I'll buy new kitchen table chairs.

If you were on a cruise ship . . .

I wouldn't be on a cruise ship.

If you could win only one award in your lifetime, which one would it be: an Emmy, Oscar, Razzie or Lowell Thomas?

I'll take them all.

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