Was your sensitivity your strength as an actor?
I was certainly oversensitive and very wary, elusive. A combination of being open and yearning and then, in the next breath, pulling back, being scared and defensive.
What was Pretty in Pink director John Hughes like?
Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy on the set of "Pretty in Pink."
Wary. I responded to his wariness with my wariness. John was so worried. He was exposing his own youth and vulnerabilities in all those Brat Pack movies. Then he retreated behind his facile comedies, like Home Alone, to stay safe. But those Brat Pack movies were very openhearted, in a way that none of his other work was. What people are remembered for is when they show their heart.
Why do people in their 40s and 50s still relate to old Brat Pack movies?
John gave young people credit for having emotions that are valid and true and important, and not to be dismissed. Nobody feels anything with more passion than a 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kid. My son is 19, and it is Romeo and Juliet — he's the first person to have ever been in love. And that's as it should be. There's not any kind of buffer between you and your emotions. John honored that. I thought Pretty in Pink was a kind of silly movie about a girl who makes a dress and wants to go to a dance. But it was about so much more than that, which is what resonates with people still. It wasn't about beach blanket bingo.
What do you know that your young self didn't?
The one thing I would have told myself is, You can afford to believe in yourself a little bit more. And I was probably less patient or trusting than I might have been.
Do you think Hollywood is wise to fear aging and dump talents after they turn 50?
Our whole culture worships young people. If you lose that appeal, what do you have to offer? And that's a scary place. And so most people want to cling on to youth as long as possible. It's taken me years, well past my youth, to give up trying to be youthful. Writing the book helped me release a lot of that baggage of whatever disappointment or judgment I had about my own career in my youth. So it was kind of liberating. To dismiss older people is as stupid as dismissing young people. I directed Jane Fonda, and I marveled at how intensely curious she was — just fantastic, remarkable and smart.
Besides acting and directing, you're a travel writer and were an editor at large for National Geographic Traveler. Is that your true vocation?
Unfortunately, travel writing doesn't really put three kids through private school, but you know, if it did, it certainly is a fantastic job. I drank the Kool-Aid on travel. Travel changes your life; I believe it is a transformative experience.
Is travel an antidote to aging because it makes everything seem new and fresh?
Yeah. I think it gives you that sort of sense of awe and wonder again, if you allow it. I defy you to go to Rome's Trevi Fountain or a pyramid or the Patagonian steppe and say all jaded, “Eh, yeah, kinda nice.” You're gonna go, “Wow!” And then you're going to turn to your wife or husband and see the same one you fell in love with 40 years ago. Travel is the easiest, fastest way to have that sense of wonder and excitement and connection with someone else.
So what are you in the end? An actor? A director? A writer?
Travel, writing, acting, directing — like, they're all the same. I just feel like me when I do them.
Tim Appelo covers entertainment and is the film and TV critic for AARP. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at Amazon, video critic at Entertainment Weekly, and a critic and writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, The Village Voice and LA Weekly.