Thursday 19 April 2018

Travelling solo to get together

Brat-Pack movie star turned author Andrew McCarthy has just written about his extraordinary solitary odyssey before his wedding to Dublin girl Dolores Rice. They both tell Barry Egan how the separation helped to draw them closer

YOU can tell a lot about Andrew McCarthy by the title he gives his latest book, The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down. In it, he tells his Irish fiancee Dolores Rice -- who is referred to as 'D' throughout -- not long after they'd become engaged that he plans to spend the next six months travelling on his own around the globe (Patagonia, Tanzania, the Osa peninsula of Costa Rica, Kilimanjaro, etc).

"I guess I'll see you at the altar," D replies, possibly realising that her future husband's journey was as much an inner one as a physical one.

As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, pointed out about McCarthy, and perhaps in general about emotional closeness: "How does a loner connect? How does a traveller settle down? How do we merge into families without losing ourselves?"

McCarthy, who has been a famous actor and heartthrob-- with starring roles in St Elmo's Fire, Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero, among others -- as well as an acclaimed author and travel writer (he is an editor-at-large at National Geographic magazine) is a quiet, almost Zen-like presence when I meet him in the bar of Brooks Hotel in Dublin.

Was there any doubt for him that he might not make it to the altar? (He and Dolores were married on August 28 last year in Ireland.) Andrew shakes his head emphatically. "In a sense, that is the whole crux of the book," he says. "It is not in any way, 'Will he or won't he make it to the altar?' It is more of a 'How will he make it to the altar?'"

He adds that Dolores knows perfectly well why he goes away. It wasn't, bye honey, and he was jetting off to find himself months before their wedding.

"That's the crux of the book, again. I was going to do the right thing. Someone said, 'So it's a midlife crisis book?' Hopefully, actually, it's the opposite of that. I'm not looking to go get a red convertible and a 22-year-old girl. I'm looking to find a way that I can be more intimate with you," he says, meaning Dolores, "and not run away from you.

"Dolores knows me. She is a traveller herself and has her own vital life. So she is not waiting for me. This idea that we should be together all the time to have a successful relationship is a bit odd and arcane to me."

The central paradox of The Longest Way Home is that he had to go away from Dolores to find intimacy.

"Yes," he says with a smile, "to come closer. And my life is full of those kinds of paradoxes of 'go toward, go against'. That, to me, is a very natural rhythm of going that direction to come this direction. That makes complete sense to me. It doesn't to a lot of people."

"To me," he continues, "the challenge and the paradox is that I am a person who tends to pull back from people and yet I am very, very interested in the moment right here. That's what I'm really after. So it was about coming to terms with that dynamic inside of me. It is about reconciling the push-pull."

McCarthy has lived in New York for 32 years, but would never call himself a New Yorker. He grew up in New Jersey -- he was born there on November 29, 1962 -- but he has never been back since he left for New York in 1980, nor has it ever occurred to him to go back. "I don't feel any roots anywhere, but I certainly feel attached to certain places because of people I have met in them all over the world. That's my roots. That's what I am interested in."

Some people go to therapy, I say to Andrew; he seems to pack his bags and travel the world and write.

"You know that great Joan Didion line: 'I write to know what I'm thinking'? I travel to know what I'm feeling, and I write to figure it out. So travelling for me is much more of a form of self-discovery, self-revelation. I definitely find that."

Since we're in the business of quoting, I joke, Socrates said: 'The unexamined life is not worth living.' Is that Andrew's rationale?

"No. But the counter to that would be, 'Oh, to be fat, dumb and happy'. I don't think people really have a choice in those matters. Sitting at home is not where the action's at for me. For some people, it is.

"I have been married," he continues, referring to his marriage to Carol Schneider in 1999; they divorced in 2005 and have a son, Sam. "I think that's the biggest education. I also found that there was a certain withholding that I didn't even know I had in that first marriage."

I ask if the journey was a test for him to see whether he could resist physical temptation before he committed to a life of sex with the same woman.

"I don't think so," he laughs. "What do you mean? Was I trying to go get laid on the road?" he laughs. "I don't think temptations pass. They present themselves again and again. It is just our response to them. You can be tempted walking across the street. So I don't think going away is that. I never hit the road to get laid. It wasn't ever my motive. But I do think there was a certain sense of emotional infidelity in travelling alone. I think that's true."

His father comes across in the book as being emotionally distant. I wonder how much that contributed to Andrew's almost contradictory push-pull way of connecting with people.

He says he hasn't a clue. "My father said to me: 'No son of mine is going to be a f***ing thespian'. I just think he wanted me to grow up and have a regular job. Only when you have children of your own do you realise what your parents were about. A lot of my father's anger which I write about in the book was really just fear of not being man enough or being able to supply for his family enough. All fears that I would identify with. So you sort of forgive those things once you realise you got them and once you realise what they are."

He says that travelling has always been about facing his fears. His life, to some degree, has been "about walking through fear". And when McCarthy says 'travel', he is not talking holidays and going to the spa. He is talking about going out into the world, and going alone.

"Travel obliterates fear, in my experience. You know that Mark Twain line about travel being fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness? That has been totally my experience. That's the reason I started travelling, to walk through fear."

Did he go off on a similar journey before he got married the first time? He says no. If he had, does he think he'd still be married to Carol? "No -- I think that was a very different relationship. We also got together when we were kids, 18, and so our marriage was the culmination of our relationship, not the beginning of our life together. I didn't marry the same woman again."

Growing up in New Jersey, Andrew had a be-home-at-six-o'clock-for-dinner-on-the-table American suburban childhood. "Nowadays, you don't have that," he says.

"I was a shy kid; I was a bad student. I didn't get into any colleges except for acting. So I did that for a couple of years. And I was a bad student at that. So they kicked me out. I didn't have any interest. It didn't occur to me to have an interest, apart from acting."

He says whenever he tries to tell his 10-year-old son Sam anything, the reaction tends to be: "Are we done?"

"All kids are that way," he continues. "They see their parents and they know exactly what's going on." Asked about his family life in New York with Dolores and Sam and six-year-old Willow, he says : "We just take the kids and run around and stuff. We just sort of hang out and go to the park.

"My son picked up the book recently and he read the first page. 'He was like: "D"! What's "D", dad? "D!"'"

Four days later, I find out for myself when I meet 'D' for tea in the Shelbourne hotel.

She looks like Uma Thurman in her heyday, for starters, and went to Notre Dame school, just up the road from me in Churchtown, Dublin.

The daughter of hoteliers Colm and Margot Rice, Dolores was born in Vienna, where her dad was the manager of the InterContinental. They moved back to Dublin to live in Rathgar a few years later.

In September 2005, Dolores and Andrew bought a house in Rathgar -- "a five-minute walk from my parents' house. That was the point of getting it , because I knew I'd be living in New York."

It was somehow always fated that Dolores Rice would live in New York. Aged nine, she was with her best friend, Erica Traynor, in her house in Ballinteer after school, watching on the telly a film called Catholic Boys, starring one Andrew McCarthy. At the end of the film, Dolores turned around to Erica and said: "When I grow up, I'm going to move to America and marry that boy." And that's exactly what happened. They now live with their brood on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

"It wasn't that I had a crush on him when I was nine," Dolores says, looking back all those years.

"I was too young for a crush. I think it was his vulnerability. Interestingly enough, the girl he starts dating in the movie is working in a diner-coffee shop and my parents had a hotel and I used to work in it. So I think there was some kind of strange projection."

In 2004, Dolores, who is a film screenwriter, had just come out of a screening at the Galway Film Festival for the film News For The Church, when she noticed Andrew McCarthy's name on the closing credits as the director. She then saw him in the lobby.

She went up to him to tell him how wonderful she thought his film was. "It was a beautiful film about a young Irish woman in the 1950s, confessing her first sexual encounter to a priest. It was a very profound, intense film. So, I was just telling him how beautiful the film was," she recalls.

"Then I just told him my story [about Catholic Boys] as a little anecdote. I wasn't really thinking about it in any real terms. We were just laughing. We met for literally 30 seconds."

She went home to Dublin; he flew back to America. They neither exchanged phone numbers nor email addresses. It was left almost oddly hanging there.

"Andrew," she explains, "I think he talks about this in his book, has a real gift for kind of sensing a moment that is very relevant for him and running with it. He just had a feeling that something was in that meeting. And he just followed through on it."

Some time later, he emailed her. Asked about what she felt when she saw Andrew's email appear in her in-box, Dolores says: "Looking back, it is all very strange because I didn't have big reactions to any of these moments. It felt all very normal, which it shouldn't have, but it did. And so when I got his email, I was like: 'Oh, ok'."

Between the jigs and the reels, they were drawn inexorably together and became an item not long after.

Dolores, who graduated with a first-class degree in French and Philosophy at UCD (as well as also spending two years teaching film at UCD and another year teaching theatre and English at the Sorbonne) says The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down has been broken down into soundbites by the media.

"It has been taken from this idea of Andrew coming to terms with commitment. But actually Andrew is a very committed person. He is a very solid person in terms of being a father."

What about the apparent paradox of Andrew having to go away to find a deeper type of emotional intimacy/connection with her?

"He doesn't have problems with intimacy at all, but I think the book is about how a man really learns to be himself completely and learns how to make that ok within a relationship to a woman. I had no doubt that he was going to turn up at the altar. We have a whole life together."

She adds that she was just joking when she said, "I guess I'll see you at the altar."

"I also recognised his need, before something as big as getting married again, to really be himself completely and go on all these trips and do something major. He needed to do that. That was fine with me."

What does Dolores Rice do for herself?

"I travel. I used to travel a lot before I met Andrew. I spent a lot of time in deserts in Egypt and Morocco. I haven't done as much of that since I've been with him, but that is more because I am a mother. I travel less because of that, but I come back to Ireland every two months. I spent a lot of time coming here; and I go on retreats a lot."

"I lived in Paris for seven years," she says adding she would like to go back to teaching. In New York, the family live beside Central Park in a big old apartment with a "very Parisian feel. I guess kind of Bohemian-looking -- very unlike our house here. It is not this modern, minimalist place. It is books and low Moroccan couches.

"All our time together is spent talking. Our kids are very talkative children. It is all about storytelling and discussing and chatting. That's what we do with each other and the children. There is nothing else really going on."

I say it sounds like an early Woody Allen film.

"I'm not a fan of Woody Allen," she says, adding that she has never bumped into him on the streets of his hometown of New York. "It is odd, because his daughter/wife goes to my yoga class."

Does she ever find herself in the dog position next to Soon-Yi Previn, wondering how he could marry his former stepdaughter.

"I just don't get it," Dolores says. "I really don't. I would have a strong reaction to that."

She and Andrew are flying back to America the next morning -- she to New York and he to Los Angeles to direct a TV movie (they are coming back to Ireland for Christmas).

Dolores is always very happy for Andrew to travel, because she knows how solid it makes him in himself.

"And anyway," she says, taking a sip of her mint tea, "I like my independence. I also think it is very healthy. I think people should live a bit more like that. I think having someone in your life all the time is very oppressive."

It breeds co-dependency, I suggest.

"And resentment," she concurs, adding: "People want space; people want independence; people want to discover themselves. And you can discover a certain amount of yourself with someone, but you discover a lot more by yourself. I guess that's why we're here today."

'The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down'. by Andrew McCarthy. is published by Free Press, £12.99

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