We who are part of the entertainment business talk sometimes about the ability of art to affect people; we all seem to have that story about the movie, the book, or the album that motivated us to become the actor, the writer, or the musician. Rarely do we have the opportunity to come face to face with the person who inspired us, and to complete the cycle by showing them what we became capable of because they planted that thought in our heads.
For me, it was a meeting eleven years in the making.
Andrew McCarthy was my high school crush. Not the huge star of such popular 1980's films as Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo's Fire and Mannequin, but the veteran actor I discovered opposite Robert Patrick in a direct-to-video flick called Perfect Assassins in 2001. That was not the best movie ever made, but I connected with his performance in it regardless. There was a certain soft-spoken, no-nonsense honesty about him that appealed to me, and I developed a bonafide soft spot.
At the time, I was writing a film column for my high school newspaper, and I think it was after watching 1991's Year of the Gun and crying my eyes out that I sat back in my chair in our computer lab and went on an unprovoked tangent about how there ought to be more Andrew McCarthy movies. I didn't understand how a strong actor with his experience wasn't working more. I have no idea how long I went on about this, but it was long enough that one of my colleagues finally turned to me and said, "You're a writer. If you want him to star in a movie, why don't you write it?"
The very last thing I wanted to do then was write. After spending almost my whole life writing constantly, I had hit a wall months earlier, and had failed so many times to find something, anything that worked that it was eating away at me. Yet the question oddly appealed to me. The one thing that was stronger than my fear and shame was my belief in Andrew's talent.
I was originally writing strictly for him, but over the course of the next three months, I ended up doing it for the both of us. What started as searching for the perfect idea that he would be proud of became focusing on the next page as the World Trade Center fell in September and my childhood best friend died in a car accident in October. While I grieved through those tragedies, Andrew was my muse. I didn't know where my life was going but I knew where my script needed to go. If I couldn't sleep, I could watch another one of his movies, and make sure I had his voice down. He gave me inspiration as everything else came crashing down around me. When I finished the script, I felt like I'd done something because of him, but I'd also proven to myself that I could still do what I loved, no matter what the circumstances.
Then I put it away almost immediately afterward. It didn't occur to me to do anything else. I'd written it for Andrew, and there was no way he was ever going to read it. I didn't need to see it again; I just needed to have finished it. And so, it went in my desk drawer and life moved on, for another eleven years.
I had no idea that Andrew and I were taking different paths to the same destination. I graduated college (twice), took a flier on working for ESPN and ended up an entertainment journalist instead. He stepped behind the camera as a director, then became a contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler, and a well-respected travel writer. Our trajectories crossed only briefly, a year and a half ago, when I was on a call interviewing him for his guest arc on USA's White Collar. I took the opportunity to thank him for inspiring that now long-lost screenplay. "You never sent it to me," he told me, and so I impulsively promised that I would.
I thought little of those words until I heard that Andrew's first book, The Longest Way Home, was about to be published and that he would be having a book signing at a Barnes & Noble I'd visited a time or two. I had never stopped wanting to meet him, if only so that I could thank him in person, and not just over the phone. Yet at an event for his writing, I wondered if it would be off-putting for me to bring up his acting, and a conversation we'd had a year and a half ago, at that. Would he want to move on? I certainly had. I hadn't written a feature film in three years, having reinvented myself as a successful journalist. But several of my friends - including that colleague who'd had to listen to my rant eleven years earlier - insisted that I should go. They reminded me of my promise, and that I might not have another chance to fulfill it.
That led me to this week, sitting in the Barnes & Noble and feeling like I'd just regressed. When Andrew walked by me on his way to the stage set up for him, I was confronted with a fresh swell of nerves more than a decade old. I couldn't believe that I was in the same room with the man I'd once daydreamed of making a movie with, and I was intimidated. It was only when he started talking that I felt a surprising degree of empathy. He spoke about searching for something in his life over the course of writing the book, and I knew I'd been looking for something in mine when I'd been penning that screenplay. When he mentioned the power of movies, I smiled because that was why I was there. After having admired his work eleven years earlier, I was rediscovering Andrew as an individual, and we had something in common now: a mutual journey of self-discovery through writing.
I stayed after the talk for him to sign my copy of his book. The conversation I'd waited eleven years for and rehearsed countless times in my head lasted maybe two minutes. He was polite as I apologized for my nerves and asked him if he remembered that conference call; I was shocked when he told me that he did. I think I surprised him when I said that I had that script if he still wanted to see it. My hand was shaking as I put it in front of him. Most importantly, though, I was able to look him in the eye and thank him to his face. I told him that I'd done so much as a writer, and that if not for him, I'd have turned my back on that. I saw understanding in his eyes; in that moment, we were equals.
The conversation ended soon after, we took a picture together and that was it. It wasn't as lengthy or as spectacular as I'd once envisioned, but that wasn't the point. Neither is whether or not he ever reads that screenplay, though I'll admit it would mean the world to me if he does. Eleven years later, I'd had the chance to meet the man whose inspiration had convinced me to take one last shot at what was now my career, and tell him that shot had paid off more than I could have ever imagined. I had realized I was able to stop looking up at him, and instead could look him in the eye. It wasn't the fairytale ending I had dreamed of when I was sixteen, but it was the right one.
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Exclusive to Fanbolt. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credit: Barbara Henderson
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