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UPI Spotlight: Andrew McCarthy on joining 'The Family' and the 'Brat Pack' era

The Maine-set, television thriller was created by Jenna Bans and co-stars Joan Allen, Rupert Graves, Alison Pill and Zach Gilford. It airs Sunday nights on ABC.
By Karen Butler   |   Updated March 11, 2016 at 2:51 PM
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NEW YORK, March 11 (UPI) -- Actor, writer and director Andrew McCarthy says he didn't hesitate when offered the role of a man wrongfully accused of murdering a child in the ABC series The Family because the complex character offered fascinating dimensions to explore.

"I have empathy for him. He's an unfortunate," the 53-year-old New Jersey native told UPI about his latest on-screen alter-ego in a phone interview Thursday.

The Maine-set, television thriller was created by Jenna Bans and co-stars Joan Allen, Rupert Graves, Alison Pill and Zach Gilford. It follows the Warren family -- led by ambitious politician Claire -- whose lives are turned upside-down when youngest member Adam [played by Liam James] appears years after neighbor Hank was convicted of killing him.

McCarthy plays Hank, a socially awkward man who spent a decade behind bars for a crime Adam's return proves he did not commit. Hank, who has a public lewdness conviction on his record, confessed to killing the boy after police found child pornography on his computer.

What initially appealed to you about "The Family"?

I think the first draw was Joan. When I heard that Joan Allen was doing it, I said, "Oh, let me read that." And then, when I read it, I just thought it was really smart and it was interesting to me that I didn't know what was going to happen next. [Laughs.] That's always nice and I thought the people were not talking about what was really going on and I thought that was really interesting. You know, in TV, people are often talking directly on the nose and I thought [these] people all had an agenda and sort of a secret they were keeping. Then I thought the character [of Hank] was just really unique. I hadn't seen him on network television before. I thought he was complicated and he was something I hadn't done before. So, it was a bunch of stuff. It was an easy decision.

When we meet Hank, he is angry and bitter after being released from prison where he was wrongly incarcerated. What was he like before that experience?

Oh, probably angry and bitter. [Laughs.] I don't think prison is good for anybody, but I think he is a complicated, lonely guy, full of self-loathing and I think people who are filled with self-loathing tend to then point that out toward the world sometimes, too. ... And there are certain sexual aspects of his character that he hates about himself, yet he can't run from.

Is there a small part of him that might be comfortable in prison because he doesn't always have to keep himself in check the way he does around children in the outside world?

That's a really astute observation. Yeah, I think that's really smart. Yes, I think somewhere he thought he deserved to be there anyway, that's why he confessed. We don't know why we do lots of things, but underneath we know why and I think that's it. I think he felt so guilty about his very nature that he felt he should be punished. For sure. Absolutely. And, so, it was a relief to him when he finally was.

Why did Hank return to his home next door to the Warrens -- in a town where everyone knew him -- instead of moving away after he is released?

I think he has a pretty small world and there was really nowhere else to go. And then he gets there and his life was being with his mother and then he gets there and his mother has died and no one had told him. So, I mean, Hank's world is pretty darn small and getting smaller all the time.

In a lot of your scenes, you are completely alone. Is it exhilarating to walk that high wire by yourself?

One of the most exciting things to me about Hank is that he speaks very rarely. I thought that was great. Particularly on television, it is very rare for characters to speak so little and most of his stuff was alone and, so, I thought that was just behavior stuff. ... I love that. As an actor, that is my favorite thing to do. So, that, I thought, was really nice. One of the first things I asked Jenna was, "Can I be alone a lot and not talk too much?" [Laughs.] And she said, "That's what I'm planning." And I said, "Oh, good." I think Hank is very much a solitary person and an alone person. Someone who is very alone in the world and to show him always with other people, you wouldn't get that.

Because Hank is by himself so much, when he does have to deal with people, you can really feel the tension and awkwardness. Was that appealing to play with, too?

He has absolutely no social abilities and he is interacting with these people he perceives have ruined his life, so, yeah, it's fraught with tension and good, dramatic conflict in the writing.

What was it like directing episodes of "The Family," as well as acting in them?

I enjoyed it very much. I knew everybody and I find directing myself to be a breeze. I am a very compliant actor. [Laughs.] But it was a bit tricky. Hank is a very remote kind of guy and, when you are directing, you don't have the luxury of being remote. You have to be very present, so just switching hats quickly took a second sometimes. Directing is something I really enjoy and particularly these stories... It is interesting because you could go either way. In directing, you could direct it as a melodrama or as kind of a mystery-thriller, which was much more of what we were after and, so, consequently, that should dictate how you tell the story and move the camera and things if you are directing it as a thriller as opposed to some kind of family melodrama. It is much more active and dynamic, hopefully, visually. So, that part is very interesting to me. And it's fun to tell the whole story versus just being very subjective. When you are acting, you're just doing one facet of the story. You see the world through that character's perspective and when you are directing you have the whole overview of it all. I like going back and forth [between acting and directing.]

You have also helmed episodes of "The Blacklist," another small-screen thriller...

I love doing Blacklist. I start one in a couple of days. Blacklist is fun. It does have that thriller aspect to it and, like, that old-fashioned Three Days of the Condor kind of mystery to it. Yeah, I love doing that show. It's fun. It's very cinematic and that's a lot of fun to do. And I also direct shows like Orange is the New Black, which is a bunch of ladies standing in a room and that has its own set of challenges.

What was it like working with James Spader again on "Blacklist" after co-starring with him in the 1980s movies "Pretty in Pink," "Less Than Zero" and "Mannequin?"

I love Jimmy! James is great. He is fully himself and a pleasure. We get on great. I hadn't seen Jimmy in the 10 years before that, so to come back together, it's been a lot of fun.

As an accomplished actor, director and travel writer, how important is variety to you?

I prefer it. Thank God, I'm not sitting around waiting for the phone to ring with someone asking me to act. I'm so glad that other things happened in my life and I get to do other things. And I suppose it's my ADD that I like splitting the morning doing this and the afternoon doing that. They all sort of feed each other and give me distance and perspective and stuff. I very much like sitting alone in a room and writing and then I love standing in front of a set and telling 60 people what we're trying to do. So, then they are very different kinds of things. I'm very grateful [my career] has evolved in that way.

You've starred in many movies a generation regards as beloved touchstones. How does the "Pretty in Pink"-"St. Elmo's Fire" era fit into your legacy as you see it?

Those things were all the foundation from which I set out into the professional world. Pretty in Pink has been very, very good to me in the long run. And I think those movies are wonderful. They touched something for a generation of people. I think they're great. I think we're all surprised we're still talking about Pretty in Pink 30 years later and that it was re-released in movie theaters. [Laughs.] Clearly, it captured something for people. I can't perceive what my life might have been like had those things not happened. I'm a result of all that.

Are you binge-watching anything good right now?

I have three small kids. I'm not watching anything. I'm trying to keep them out of trouble. [Laughs.]

"Zootopia" is really good, so, you can go check that out...

We were just talking about that this morning! They were asking, "When are we going to see Zootopia?" And I was like, "What's Zootopia?"

The Family airs Sunday nights on ABC.

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