"The last thing you want in Hollywood is to be boxed in," says Andrew McCarthy of his association with The Brat Pack
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andrew mccarthy
Credit: Jill Greenberg

For over three decades, Andrew McCarthy has been tethered to the so-called Brat Pack, a group of actors including Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez and Molly Ringwald who rose to prominence with a string of hit movies in the '80s. But in his new memoir, Brat: An 80s Story, available May 11, McCarthy reveals that it never really existed in the first place.

"The Brat Pack represents something more than what it actually was," says the 58-year-old actor, famed for his roles in Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo's Fire. "It was sort of the ultimate insider group. We were held up as this aspirational thing but it had more to do with people projecting themselves onto us."

In fact, McCarthy — who says he hasn't even seen Estevez or fellow Brat Packer Judd Nelson since making St. Elmo's Fire in 1985 — initially struggled with the term, coined by a New York Magazine writer after he'd spent a night on the town with a few of the actors.

st elmos fire
St. Elmo's Fire
| Credit: Everett

"I wasn't even there [that night]," recalls McCarthy. "It was just like boom, there it is. And I recoiled from it. The term was cast in a very pejorative way. And the last thing you want in Hollywood is to be boxed in."

And despite the recognition ("we were all elevated" for a time, by the term, he admits), McCarthy says he was at a loss of how to process the fame and his career moving forward.

"I didn't really understand what to do about it, so I just kind of withdrew," he says. "I was successful in the '80s and in the '90s much less so. I was trying to grind away at something, but at the same time I was pulling away."

pretty in pink
Pretty in Pink
| Credit: Paramount/Kobail/Shutterstock

Eventually, following a fateful trip to Spain in the mid-'90s, McCarthy became an acclaimed travel writer before also segueing into television directing.

"I didn't see travel writing as a lesser thing," he says. "It was a reinvigoration. It used to bother me when people used to say, 'Do you still act?' But once I was feeling fulfilled again, it didn't anymore."

Now, in addition to directing, McCarthy has returned to acting with a guest starring role on Good Girls, and is grateful for his the meandering journey of a decades long career.

"I hadn't acted in so long and it was so liberating to me," he says. "And I realize, I'm a different person doing it now. For a long time, I felt like, 'Why wasn't I as successful as that?' But when I finished the book, I went back and I realized, 'I did just fine.'"

For more about McCarthy, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE.