Exclusive Interview: Andrew McCarthy on Ugly Holiday Sweaters, the 80s, and Learning How to Waltz for Come Dance With Me

December 7, 2012

It’s been over 25 years since Andrew McCarthy captured the hearts of a generation with his preppie charm and wholesome good looks in the 80s cult film Pretty in Pink. While he has continued flexing his acting muscles in film, theater, and most recently as the wealthy financier Vincent Adler in the hit show White Collar, he’s now showing off his dance chops in The Hallmark Channel’s Come Dance With Me. McCarthy plays Jack, a financial executive who plans to propose to his girlfriend on the day of the family Christmas party, and decides to learn how to dance in order to win the approval of his future in-laws and their friends. He ends up falling for his dance instructor Christine (Michelle Nolden). We caught up with McCarthy this week and learned more about his new movie, his thoughts on the 80s, and his newly minted second career as a travel writer.

Watch Come Dance With Me Saturday, December 8, at 8 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

Why did you decide to be a part of Come Dance With Me?
Andrew McCarthy: There’s something about Hallmark Christmas movies that I think works because the Hallmark brand is so uncynical and unjaded—and there’s something about Christmas that’s exactly that. There’s no room in Christmas for cynicism, and I thought it was a good match that way emotionally. I thought it was a lovely story. And I was curious to learn how to dance [chuckles], which I had no experience doing. So it was a good excuse to have to learn. I thought the story was ultimately heartwarming and a nice Christmas thing. I have kids and what not and it seems there’s something about doing uncynical movies that’s sort of appealing.

What was it like to learn how to dance?
AM:It was one of the reasons that the movie was appealing, because as an actor you get to learn all sorts of things that you might not in your real life. We were on every weekend, actually two weekends; we only had four long dance sessions. And I started with two left feet and by the end I could, sort of, waltz. I can’t do anything else, I can’t foxtrot or tango or anything, but I can waltz now. It was a lot of fun. There’s something in the structure and the formality of waltzing that’s very liberating.

Will we be seeing you in Dancing With the Stars in the near future?
AM: [chuckles] They have asked me a couple of times to do it, but I don’t think so. I would love the dancing, but I don’t think I can take the wardrobe.

Are you planning to show off what you learned this holiday? Do you have any parties or anything that you have planned?
AM: My wife is Irish so we end up going to Dublin to her home most Christmases so that’s sort of become our family tradition.

What was your favorite part of the movie to shoot?
AM: I loved the dance sequences the most. I was dreading them, and then they turned out to be the most fun. I really enjoyed them. We had a choreographer slash dance instructor. Dance instructor for me, choreographer for Michelle [chuckles]. She knew how to dance and I had no idea, so he was teaching me the whole way.

Do you own an ugly sweater?
AM: No, luckily I do not own any sweater as remotely ugly as the one I was forced to wear in the movie. My mother once gave me an ugly Christmas sweater, a big red one with a big reindeer on it, and it’s buried deep in the dresser drawer.

Let’s talk about your career in the 80s. What was it like to work with Molly Ringwald? You guys seem to be so compatible onscreen.
AM: Molly was lovely to work with. She’s just a very accessible actor; her emotions are very accessible for her, so she was very nice to work with. Those movies really captured something for a generation of people, which is wonderful. I don’t think we imagined that 25 years ago we’d still be talking about Pretty in Pink all this time later.

What do you think it was exactly that these movies captured?
AM: I think they took young people seriously in a way that movies before them hadn’t. When you’re a teenager or you’re in your twenties, everything is pretty life and death, all the time, and has deep urgency and meaning. I think those movies resonated with that import, the emotional velocity those things could have. I think people could identify with them because they took those emotions very seriously.

Do you think that these kinds of movies could be made nowadays?
AM: I suppose people try in a certain way but all things now seem to be faster and slicker. There’s something about the unpolished quality that gave them a human resonance that might not exist as much today in teen slick films.

What has been one of your favorite movies that you’ve done recently, and what was one of your favorite classic 80s movies?
AM: From that period, I suppose the movie I liked most was Heaven Help Us. Recently, I really liked the part I played on Lipstick Jungle — that was a lot of fun. The character [Joe Bennett] was smart, funny, aloof, and he was just interesting.

What was it like to work with John Hughes?
AM: Well, I didn’t really work with John Hughes. He produced Pretty in Pink; he didn’t direct it, so I didn’t have a lot of one-on-one contact with him. I liked John very much. He was very savvy, very in tune with young people, and very interested in young people. But I didn’t have a lot of direct working experience with him.

Do you have any other projects in the works that you would like your fans to know about?
AM: In my other life, I’m a travel writer and I have this book that just came out. It’s called The Longest Way Home. I’m going off to India to do some travel writing for National Geographic next week.

Did you always want to be a travel writer? How did this come about?
AM: It came about 10 years ago. I’d always done a great deal of traveling. Travel is very important to me — it changed my life in a lot of ways. I wasn’t reading anything that sort of captured my experience of travel so I just started doing it. That resonated with people so I kept doing it, and it became this accidental second career.

Any exciting places you’ll be visiting next year?
AM: On Saturday, I’m going off to Darjeeling, India, and Calcutta to do a story about looking for the perfect cup of tea. I’m going down to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil to do a story soon after that. Going up to Alberta, Canada, for another story. So yes, I have a bunch of those lined up.