INTERVIEW : ‘Home’ Again for the Holidays : You want a Shaggy Dog Story? Take it Away, Macaulay . . .


It seemed like a good idea: photograph Macaulay Culkin on his terrace at the Ritz-Carlton, with its spectacular, 24th-floor view of Central Park’s autumnal blaze. But Culkin has decided he should pose on the cement railing. Standing up. And now he’s hanging halfway out over Central Park South.

Yes, that dull thud you just heard was the 20th Century Fox board of directors passing out. But no, Macaulay Culkin, the franchise, the gold-plated “Home Alone” kid, did not tumble out of the Ritz and eliminate the possibility of a “Home Alone 3.” He remains safe and sound, and awaiting today’s opening of “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.”

In the sequel to the most successful comedy of all time, and the third-highest grossing film ever, Culkin returns to the screen as Kevin McCallister, the good-natured, blank-faced 10-year-old vanquisher of bad dudes Marv Murchins (Daniel Stern) and Harry Lyme (Joe Pesci). The first film, which gave new meaning to the term “sleeper,” has grossed about $285 million and made a millionaire of its now-12-year-old star.


Can you feel sorry for a kid who’s getting paid a reported $4.5 million, plus profits, to reprise a role that’s, well, less than demanding? Yes. Culkin’s brief bit of mischief on the terrace was the most animated he’d been since the interview began. It’s near the end of a long day. “I get tired really quickly doing this,” he says.

You forget that this is just a kid, a 12-year-old who, with his blond hair whipped into a pompadour, looks even younger. After what sounds like a cranky phone conversation with his mother, he hangs up the receiver, hits the couch, throws his sneakered feet--each one in a different colored shoe--up on a coffee table, scratches his belly and delivers economical answers to questions he’d been asked a dozen times that day.

Is dealing with the media harder this time around? “Kinda.”

What do you do when you’re not making movies? “I do this.”

You look tired. “Kinda.”

You live near here? “Kinda.”

Is “Home Alone 2” the same film as “Home Alone”? Kinda.

If anyone actually expected “HA2” not to be a virtual remake of its predecessor, they were nuts: Except for the fact that Kevin isn’t home at all--he’s alone in New York--the structure of the film, the nature of the gags and the characters are basically identical. Kevin still feels neglected by his family; he gets left behind, boarding the wrong plane, as they all leave for Florida on a Christmas vacation.

The climax of the film, Kevin’s confrontation with Marv and Harry, is the same, but more so: a Roadrunner-Wile E. Coyote routine gone berserk. The punishment he inflicts on the two is severe, and somehow they keep getting up for more. Culkin hadn’t seen the film yet--”I haven’t had the time”--but said he didn’t think it was too violent. “Not really.”

Culkin, the third of seven children, made his stage debut at age 4 at Manhattan’s Symphony Space in a play called “Bach Babies” and his screen debut as one of Burt Lancaster’s grandchildren in 1988’s “Rocket Gibraltar.” He played the son of Jeff Bridges and Farrah Fawcett in “See You in the Morning,” and then appeared in “Uncle Buck,” whose director, John Hughes, subsequently cast him in “Home Alone.” The youngster was paid about $250,000 for that surprise hit; he got $1 million for “My Girl,” the film in which his character died from bee stings; and if “HA2,” which was written and produced by Hughes and directed by Christopher Columbus, does as well as expected . . . well, Culkin might just as well open his own mint.

Culkin, who played the prince in a recently completed film version of the New York City Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” says he doesn’t know much about the money end of the business--”that’s my parents’ thing”--nor does he read much of his own press.


Over the past year, that press has included a number of stories concerning his next film for Fox, a psychological thriller called “The Good Son.” His father, former actor Christopher (Kit) Culkin, reportedly held “Home Alone 2” hostage, holding up production until the studio cast his son in “The Good Son,” which had been ready to begin shooting. To accommodate Culkin’s schedule, “The Good Son” was postponed at least nine months, and the director, Michael Lehmann, who believed Culkin wasn’t up to handling the complex part of the disturbed adolescent, quit.

Kit Culkin, who wouldn’t be interviewed for this story, was also blamed when Macaulay was dropped from the off-Broadway play “Sam I Am” last spring.

But the son knows nothing about it, or claims not to, anyway. Besides, he’s not in the mood to talk about his father, who got him up at 7 that morning. Why?

“I asked my brother to walk the dog,” he says. “He didn’t. So my dad woke me up early ‘cause my dog had a little bit of an accident. Then I laid down and couldn’t get back to sleep.”

The subject of dogs has come up, and Culkin shifts gears. He has a dog book with him and he rifles through it, looking for a picture.

“She’s a puppy named Bishop. She’s a bearded collie. That’s a bearded collie,” he says, pointing at the picture. “I have to take care of her. You know what you need when a dog whelps? You need scissors, you need the vet’s number, you need cotton, all these things; you need this all on hand in case she has babies unexpectedly before the doctor gets there.

“My dog comes from a large family,” he continues. “I looked back in her history and her grandmother had nine puppies; five were champions. One of them had my dog.”

Culkin then recites the history of the breed, tells you what the biggest dog ever was (a Great Dane) and reads off a list of dogs that originated in the British Isles (“Airedale, beagle, bearded collie, border collie, border terrier, bull terrier, bulldog, English setter, English toy setter, otterhound, pointer, red and white setter--wow, that’s really creative--Scottish terrier, Skye terrier, smooth collie. . . .”)

He may be tired but he’s not dog tired. The conversation, in which Culkin phrases most things like a question, moves on to gross dog injuries. “One person, a friend of a friend of mine? He was playing with this neighborhood dog, it was a pit bull puppy? And it bit down on his finger and wouldn’t let go. They had to knock it out with tranquilizers? And the finger was just kinda hanging there. . . .”

He’s told a story about a turtle that latched onto someone’s finger, and that let go only after a lit match was held under its jaw. Culkin calls an imaginary vet on an imaginary phone mouth. “Hello, Doctor? My hand’s stuck in a dog’s mouth. What do I do? Hold a lit match under its nose? I thought that was just for turtles. . . .”

Culkin mugs shamelessly as his picture is taken, gets a little obnoxious, shows how Bishop stretches, with his arms out straight and his butt in the air. Then he agrees to go have his picture taken on the terrace.

“I am having so much fun,” he says in a monotone. “I swear.”