What I saw in Andrew McCarthy's eyes and the set of his mouth many decades ago in Class is what shone through last night, as he read from his new memoir, The Longest Way Home.
Listening to Mr. McCarthy and, later, in the middle of the night, reading the words he put down for the ages, it was clear he possesses that most rare thing, the thing that separates true artists from others: a vulnerability and an openness, a strange twisted lack of fear about expressing one's fear of relationship.
I giggled as he spoke, bold and slightly sheepish as usual, about coming to terms with the paradox of loneliness even in the midst of love, his book's main theme, downstairs at McNally Jackson on Prince St. I was as unabashed looking deep into his eyes as I had been looking at them on so many screens as a teenager.
I came clean in the Q&A: "I loved you in all your movies," I said. "There was something so different about you, something that came through, which is why I guess you got so many roles." I asked him how he chose, how he knew how to act like himself, like the person he said he'd found when he first played the Artful Dodger from Oliver in a school production at 14.
He balked slightly at the question, offhandedly pegging his too-early success on a series of actions over which he had little control.
"We all really stumble through..." he said. "We don't choose our stories so much as our stories choose us." But still, he acknowledged, staring upward in thought, "When I look back at those movies, I can see it: the essence of me was so unguarded."
The ability to let down one's guard with others and still maintain one's sense of self requires an intense effort of the kind Mr. McCarthy has travelled the world alone to try to figure and put forth. It is not easy, as he shows, to open one's heart wide and let in the people who can take us the places we want to go.
"Fleeting connections that that may seem unimportant and transient at the time can have a huge affect on one's life," he said.
I felt vindicated and happy by the evening, by finally being able to figure what it was that had drawn me to Mr. McCarthy all those years ago. I handed him a big gold star as he penned his name illegibly inside my copy of his first book, his tale of "One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down."
He smiled that sexy sideways smile and put it on his belt. "My daughter will be excited I got a gold star," he said, with clear love in his eyes, unguarded as usual. With such honesty, it is clear that this Brat Pack heartthrob will most certainly succeed in his great second act as a writer.