Questions For. . . Christine Elise McCarthy
We here at Boston Daily fondly remember Christine Elise McCarthy as the volatile Emily Valentine on Beverly Hills, 90210 (especially the male staff members). But the Roslindale native has continued acting since she left the Peach Pit, and she returned to Boston to wait out the writer’s strike (hopefully she’ll stick around a little longer). While she’s in town, McCarthy will display her photography at the 2nd Cup Cafe in Allston.
We talked to the actress-writer-photographer about how her hometown has changed since she left, if she still gets recognized from 90210, and why Hollywood insists blue-collar Boston is ugly.
Boston Daily: What brings you back to Boston?
Christine Elise McCarthy: The writer’s strike. I bought a house in Michigan because friends of mine are opening a movie studio there and I had to fix it up. I was done by Christmas and decided to drive here for the holiday and haven’t had any real impetus to go back.
BD: Is it nice to be home?
CEM: I miss my own bed and that kind of stuff, but it’s nice to be here. I left 23 years ago and I haven’t been here longer than 10 days in all that time. Now I’ve been here for a couple of months. It’s decadent for me to be in the same town with my parents and see them as often as I get to now.
BD: Now that you’ve been home for so long, have you noticed changes in the city?
CEM: It seems a lot smaller to me. Kenmore Square seems really corporate now. When I left, the Rat was still there. I worked at the BU bookstore, and all the little mom and pop things in Kenmore Square have gone away.
I think what’s happening to Boston is what’s happening everywhere in the country. The homogenization of America by big corporations—you can go into a mall anywhere in the country and know 10 certain stores will be there for sure. It’s a drag to see a Starbucks on every corner. But it’s not as bad here. I think Dunkin’ Donuts is digging its heels in and holding its own against Starbucks.
BD: You recently wrapped a movie called Route 30. What’s that about?
CEM: It’s a series of vignettes about overlapping characters. It’s about blue-collar rural Pennsylvanians. The director grew up outside Gettysburg, and it’s a sort of love letter from him to that area.
BD: Is it hard to nail that Pennsylvania accent?
CEM: It actually was. It’s a really specific and wacky accent. And they say “hon” after everything. It’s a funny one. I went to St. Louis with Nelly once, and you can hear the accent in his music—”I like the way your wear your hurrr” and they talk that way when you go there. It’s crazy.
BD: A lot of people remember you as Emily Valentine on 90210. Do you still get recognized from that role?
CEM: I do. It happened to me this morning. But it’s happening to me less and less. If I have short blonde hair, I get busted everywhere I go. I have long dark hair right now so I’m sort of incognito.
I had an audition today, and some of the other actors there recognized me. But one of the women working there said, ‘You look so familiar’ and she asked a bunch of interns who were college-age and they had no idea. She figured it out, and the interns were like, ‘Who?’
BD: How do you feel when people do that? Do you wish people would recognize you?
CEM: I don’t seek it at all. When it happens, it’s typically not a problem. It’s fun. Most people are excited because that show was really popular and really loved. No negative side to that. But kids not having any idea what we’re talking about, makes me feel old.
BD: You did some writing for the show too. Did you prefer doing the writing or being in front of the camera?
CEM: I liked being an actor more. That show was a serial, so you don’t send them all to Italy because you want to. There are story lines that have to follow through. They give you an outline that’s pretty specific and you basically fill in the dialog.
It’s a really easy job, but it gets rewritten a couple times after you hand it in, and I found that frustrating. I felt out of control. They change words, they change sentences, they change tone, they make mistakes, which is embarrassing because your name stays on it.
I enjoy writing, though. I’ve written the bulk of a novel, which many people who fancy themselves writers can say that they have.
BD: If you had to choose writing, acting, or photography, which would you choose as a favorite?
CEM: If I could wave a magic wand and be anything, I’d be a really respected, really successful author. That’s a hard combination to get, though. I really enjoy acting, and it’s easier, frankly.
CEM: On a movie set or a TV set, there are so many jobs, and so much work has been done before you even show up. All you’ve got to do is stand there and say words somebody else wrote. If they’re written well and the actor standing across from you can act at all, your job is done for you. You just stand there and talk. You just can’t fuck up.
BD: Maybe I should have stuck with my high school drama career. My grandmother would be happy. She’s convinced that’s the way to meet a man.
CEM: She’s right in that every time you do a job, you meet 50 new people. There’s not many jobs you can say that about. People with film careers get a whole onslaught of people they spend 12 hours a day with every three months. It’s like speed dating. You’ve got a fast-track to social intimacy with a whole bunch of people.
BD: How did you get started in photography?
CEM: My mother’s a photographer and has been since I was little, and my stepfather is a painter and owns a recording studio. He was in a band that won the rumbles in the ’80s.
BD: Is that how you got involved in the punk scene?
CEM: Yes. They’d let me come with them when I was 15-years-old, just to see bands. It’s funny—in all that time, a good deal of my social life was in bars and never once did I ever have a drink. I was a straight-edge kid. I could have bought a drink, but I didn’t. I was too broke to even buy a $2 syrupy soda.
My parents are creative on many fronts, and they pushed me to be that way too. They wanted me to write, actually. Being a photographer is like listening to music. If you have a camera, by just living your life you’re bound to find some things that are worth taking a picture of. You don’t have to be an audiophile to have taste in music. It happens through osmosis.
BD: What do you like to take pictures of?
CEM: Disappearing uniqueness of America. Of the city and towns that are being taken over by Costcos and Wal-Marts. Giant superstores and chains are just eating up communities and taking away its character. I have a couple of Coney Island shots in the show, and it’s closing.
BD: Will you head back to Michigan when the strike is over?
CEM: Yeah, I’m going to stop there for sure. I had an audition today and I hired an agent in town, but I heard a rumor that the strike’s going to end on Saturday [Ed. note: It’s not technically over, but an agreement is much closer. Don’t leave us!] I’m here until the end of March at least because of the show. [Ed. note: Phew.] But the film industry is booming in this town.
BD: Is it cool to see the city you grew up in in the movies?
CEM: It is, and it’s great because they like the seedier side. It’s sort of satisfying to see those things preserved in those films.
BD: Does it seem accurate to you? Do any of the movies shot in Boston stand out as really reflecting the old-school Boston?
CEM: No, not that specific time. I grew up as a poor kid on welfare in Roslindale and so I’m incredibly familiar with the communities they cover in those films.
Of those Boston movies, the one I enjoyed the most was The Departed. My only negative remark, and I won’t name a specific film, is that I’m dismayed that everybody seems to have this collective agreement in films shot in Boston, that if you are poor or blue collar in Boston, you’re incredibly unattractive. Of course, there are some people for whom that’s accurate, but it seems so circus sideshowy. That’s not a fair representation.
BD: Yeah. It’s a lot different than the men in Good Will Hunting. When I moved to Boston, I think I came in on a wave of women looking for Matt Damon.
CEM: It’s funny that you say girls are looking for that. I have a friend who grew up in Roslindale and she was living in Los Angeles and was working in TV and film and decided to move back to Boston because the men were cuter. So there, those who would make us look ugly.
BD: We’re really cute!
CEM: Yeah! Goddamn it.
Christine Elise McCarthy’s show opens at the 2nd Cup Cafe in Allston on February 22 at 7 p.m.