‘Brats’: Andrew McCarthy Talks His New Doc and Coming to Terms with the “Brat Pack” Label

Andrew McCarthy

Andrew McCarthy, pictured here in 2022, despised the label of "Brat Pack" given to he and a group of fellow actors for years. Photo: FOX via Getty Images

If you’ve been waiting forever for the definitive film about the Brat Pack era – a chance to get a behind-the-scenes peek at the ’80s movies, the baby-faced stars, not to mention the straight goods on who was dating whom, who couldn’t stand one another, what drugs were consumed and all the other juicy details – Andrew McCarthy’s new doc Brats (streaming June 28 on Disney+) is not going to satisfy that hunger. 

 

One of the reasons is that McCarthy, 61, is not at all nostalgic about the Brat Pack flicks that he was in (Class, St. Elmo’s Fire and Pretty In Pink) and has no interest in looking back on his performances. The other reason is that the Brat Pack members were neither brats nor did they travel in a pack. And as soon as that phrase was coined – by New York magazine writer David Blum – all of those young stars ran screaming away from the label and each other. 

A little background: the article, which was supposed to be a profile of Emilio Estevez (one of the stars of The Outsiders, The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, not to mention Martin Sheen’s son), ended up throwing shade on the whole of Hollywood’s burgeoning youth movement, referring to actors like Tom Cruise, Nicolas Cage, Matt Dillion, Timothy Hutton and all the stars of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire as “the young movie stars you can’t quite keep straight.” Meanwhile, McCarthy was only mentioned once in the piece, when one of his co-stars is anonymously quoted as saying, “He plays all his roles with too much of the same intensity. I don’t think he’ll make it.” Later, the media – and the fans – would focus the term mostly on Estevez, McCarthy, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy.

Emilio Estevez and Andrew McCarthy in Brats. Photo: Courtesy of Disney+

 

Instead, McCarthy’s movie (and his 2021 book, Brat) covers  how he came to terms with the term, and his curiosity about how long and how intensely it affected the other “brats” – most of whom he hadn’t seen or talked to for 30-plus years. So, even though McCarthy’s been mostly out of the spotlight for the last three decades – directing TV shows like Orange is the New Black and The Blacklist, becoming a travel writer and raising three kids (two of whom have already taken to show business, despite their father’s warnings) – he decided to get the old “not a gang” back together. The result is more akin to therapy than a joyful reunion – as McCarthy tries to make sense of their collective “trauma.” 

Meanwhile, we do get to see some of the pack in their natural habitat (interviews with Lowe, Estevez and Moore take place in their gorgeous California homes). And if you’ve ever tracked down and confronted your high school tormenter, then you’ll appreciate the scene in which McCarthy interviews Blum about the legacy of his “scathing” article. 

Earlier this month, Zoomer spoke with McCarthy ahead of premiering the doc at the Tribeca Festival  – where  Brat Packers Moore, Sheedy, and McCarthy’s Pretty in Pink co-star Jon Cryer all hit the red carpet as a show of support. 

From left: Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore and Jon Cryer attend the Brats premiere during the Tribeca Festival on June 7, 2024. Photo: Charles Sykes / Invision / AP / Canadian Press

 

SHANDA DEZIEL: Now that you’ve reconnected with your co-stars from the ’80s, and discovered there’s genuine affection and kinship, do you regret not having done more together at the time, and walking away so prematurely? 

ANDREW MCCARTHY: Yeah, I mean, who knows, right? The irony is the minute the Brat Pack was coined, it ended. Everybody just scattered because they didn’t want to be associated with any kind of brats or packs – everyone wanted to be an individual. We all want our own individuality and to be seen, but suddenly people felt like they weren’t being seen. So yeah, it may well have ended things that might have been. But, you know, there were plenty of youth movies.

 

SD: When you interviewed David Blum , he said that he came up with the term on a whim and just thought it was funny – and not particularly indicative of the actual behaviour of you and your co-stars. Considering how much stock you’d put into this phrase over your whole life, how did that make you feel? 

AM: It is funny. I mean from little acorns grow mighty oaks. So it just sort of took on a life. Who would have ever guessed 35 years later, we’re still talking about it? We all hated this thing, this negative kind of pejorative term and the article that came out was really sort of scathing. But over all the years since then, I personally have come to realize it’s probably my greatest professional blessing in a certain way. And I am interested in how nothing about it changed except my own internal experience of it. And I knew, with David, that it would have followed him and his career around too – the way it followed ours around. It’s preceded him into every room, professionally – he’s the guy who wrote ‘Brat Pack.’ I said to him at one point, and I don’t think it’s in the movie, but I said, ‘David, you’re like the fifth Beatle here.’

 

SD: You ended up feeling connected to him as well… 

AM: At one point he says about the article, ‘I hope it’s not the greatest thing I ever did.’ And I said, ‘You sound like a member of the Brat Pack.’ Here’s a guy I didn’t know and didn’t like, and who, I felt, had such a profound effect on my life. I viewed it negatively for so many years, so to have affection for him when I’m sitting across from him, I thought it was a really nice feeling.

From left: Rob Lowe, Mare Winningham, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Andrew McCarthy pictured in 1985. Photo: Columbia Pictures / Courtesy: Everett Collection/Canadian Press

 

SD: What the film showed is that the term followed some people around a lot longer than others. Demi Moore certainly saw early on that it was about the author, not the actors. And that it was an ‘opportunity to rise above it.’ What do you think about her take on it? 

AM: Well, Demi is much wiser than I am. But I think she was absolutely right. And then talking to David, you realize it was about him. It was about him trying to get into [Vanity Fair editor] Tina Brown’s office, just trying to make a splash and an impression. 

 

SD: Back to Demi because… 

AM: Because she’s awesome and why wouldn’t we talk about Demi all the time. [Laughs

 

SD: I wonder about the chicken and the egg: did the fact that she didn’t hold on to it allow her to be so successful? Or did the fact that she quickly became even more famous in the ’90s (with movies like Ghost and Indecent Proposal) mean that she could more easily let it go?  

AM: That’s a good question. I don’t know. All that matters really is that she was able to just, sort of, transform it into something internally. And to me that was the thing of the movie. The point is, how do we transform the events of our lives into giving them meaning? You know, we all write a scenario and a narrative of our life to make ourselves the hero of our own story. And so we view certain events through certain perspectives to fit the narrative that we’ve created for our lives. And Demi was able to, early on, say, ‘I’m going to pivot this into a way that’s useful for me.’ Whereas, it took me much longer to do that. I felt affected by it as opposed to just sort of recasting it.

Demi Moore and Andrew McCarthy on the set of Brats. Photo: Courtesy of Disney+

 

SD: In hindsight, it seems like you needed someone to give you that classic parental advice, that you’re going to look back and laugh about it in 20 years. Have you been passing on lessons from your Brat Pack days to your children? 

AM: My daughter is always like, ‘Oh, God, here comes another dad story.’ So I guess I have. But recently, when she asked me something about myself, my son Sam said, “Willow, if you want to know who dad is, you really should read his books.” I thought that’s interesting, the idea that when you write something, you’re willing to be much more forthcoming in a certain way. And you can honestly engage and be so revealing to these unknown strangers in a way that you just don’t with the intimate people in your life. I find all that fascinating.

 

SD: In the doc, you say that your wife thought you might find this experience of tracking down your old co-stars very humbling. Was that the case? 

AM: She said that it would be good for my humility. She meant that it’s going to take forever to track everybody down. They may have said yes on the phone very quickly, but it’s going to take you six visits for Rob [Lowe] to show up in the room. And it did take me a year logistically to get everyone in a room.

 

SD: The process of watching you try to nail them down and get them to say yes and then locate them and their hidden homes seems to mirror the elusiveness of the Brat Pack itself, like who was in the group, which movies are we referring to… 

AM: It was this notion of the journey. There was an internal emotional journey that I went through of hating this thing to embracing it. So I thought it’d be interesting to do a physical journey – to go to find everybody. And I’d do it in a self-deprecating kind of way: I’m just trying to figure this out and I’m clueless, so I’m going to just go and talk to you, and maybe I got something from you that is really insightful and might change my life, and then onto the next person – which is how we all are in life, we’re just stumbling through. 

 

Author’s Note: One of the members of the so-called Brat Pack who declined to be interviewed for McCarthy’s doc is his Pretty in Pink co-star/love interest Molly Ringwald. But they have been in contact over the years. In fact, McCarthy’s son Sam played Ringwald’s son in the 2018 movie All These Small Moments. And when I talked to McCarthy in 2021 about his memoir, Brat, for another outlet, he had a sweet story to relay: “One day, Molly texted me a photo of Sam walking away from her on-set, and said, ‘Your son just walked away from me the exact same way that you walked away from me 30 years ago.’