Macaulay Culkin, a superstar at age 12, isn't in it for the money: He genuinely likes to act

December 01, 1991|By Ryan Murphy | Ryan Murphy,Knight-Ridder News Service

Los Angeles -- Already, at age 12, he's worried about being typecast.

"Everybody always says to me when they see me, 'Oh, that's Macaulay Culkin, the "Home Alone" kid,' " says the towheaded star of the third-highest grossing film of all time.

He signs with a theatricality worthy of Barrymore. "But I don't always want to be thought of as just the 'Home Alone' kid, you know?"

He leans forward in his chair menacingly, affecting a look of pain even Al Pacino would envy.

"There's more to me, you know? I'm not Macaulay Culkin, 'Home Alone' kid. I'm Macaulay Culkin . . ." he searches for the word, and finds it: ". . . actor."

To be honest, he's more than that -- much more, thanks to the international success of "Home Alone," which last year grossed more than $300 million in the United States alone. In the past year, he has nabbed more magazine covers than Cher and become the most sought-after Hollywood child star since Shirley Temple. Last week he hosted "Saturday Night Live."

He is, in short, a prepubescent phenomenon who makes as much per picture as Meryl Streep (for "Home Alone" he received $150,000; for the sequel, his paycheck will be $4 million).

But Macaulay, --ing in jeans and what looks to be a Garanimals top, says you must understand something: He's not in it for the money.

"I only get 5 bucks a day," he says coolly. "My parents take care of the rest." His concern, he clarified during a recent interview during which he displayed both preteen flakiness and decidedly adult concerns, is the work. "I like to act. Acting is my thing. And that's why I wanted to do 'My Girl.' "

Indeed, the part Macaulay plays in his "Home Alone" follow-up is the juiciest child part to come down the pike since the role of Bonnie Blue Butler in "Gone With the Wind." In "My Girl," he plays Thomas J. Sennett, a shy, sweet child allergic to just about everything, who pals around with Anna Chlumsky's Vada

Sultenfuss, the hypochondriac daughter of a mortician (played by Dan Ayk- royd).

While Anna has the larger part, Macaulay's is more dramatic. After all, he gets to play out every actor's fantasy: a death scene.

"I get stung to death!" he says, incongruously chipper as he explains the film's climax. "What did I think when I was doing it? I thought, 'I'm crazy! What am I doing here! Cut, cut, cut!' "

His lips curl into a smile: "It was the most challenging scene of my career."

A matter of taste

News of Macaulay's death scene in "My Girl" filtered out of Hollywood in mid-October, and has since become widespread.

"That was irresponsible," Macaulay says of the columnist who broke the news. "And it's been blown way out of proportion."

Macaulay suggests his younger fans enter the theater with a stiff upper lip and an open mind. "It might upset them," he says, completely stone-faced. "But this movie shows what kids should learn -- that people do die." He throws up his hands. "You live, and then you die. That's life, you know?"

Macaulay has done a lot of living in the last year, though the child actor would have liked a slower pace. "I do wish I could do the things that other kids do," he says.

When he's not traveling or attending private school in New York state, where he lives with his parents and six brothers and sisters ("My mom's trying to have another, but I don't think so!"), Macaulay says he concerns himself with trying to find the plum roles. "My dad reads the scripts and then tells me about it. Then, we decide."

Some Hollywood insiders have a different tale to tell, however. Kip Culkin, the stories go, has become a Svengali who is more than happy to exploit his son's star power.

One story revolves around director Michael Lehmann (of "Heathers" fame), who for the past year has been working on a film called "The Good Son." When actor-turned-manager Kip Culkin saw the script, he reportedly asked if Macaulay could read for the starring role, a 14-year-old bad seed of a boy.

Mr. Lehmann agreed, the story goes, but after the meeting, told the senior Culkin that his son was too young and unseasoned. Mr. Lehmann continued the process of casting and mounting the film. Sets were built, and the lead roles were cast.

But suddenly, Kip Culkin reportedly chose to play hard ball. Sources say that he told 20th Century-Fox chairman Joe Roth that Macaulay would not do "Home Alone 2" unless he landed the "Good Son" role (Fox is producing both pictures). So, even though the cameras were ready to roll in February, "The Good Son" was postponed until after the "Home Alone 2" winter shoot, resulting in a Fox loss of millions of dollars.

Mr. Lehmann, who is said to be devastated over being usurped by a 12-year-old, isn't talking; neither is Kip Culkin.

A 'normal little boy'

There are rumors, too, that Macaulay has become a prima donna, who, some whisper, actually demanded rewrites on "Home Alone 2" because he didn't like his lines. He denies this. "I just do it the way it was written," he says.

Jamie Lee Curtis, who stars in "My Girl" with Macaulay, agrees that he's no handful. "He's a normal little boy who listens to Vanilla Ice on his Walkman and likes to ride his bicycle. He's the farthest thing from a brat you could find."

Like all superstars, of course, Macaulay says he is pursued brabid fans. But the kids who corner him aren't too bad, he says. "They just want to know, 'Hey, can you get me a role in 'Home Alone 2?' "

As for all those little female groupies -- forget it. Unlike most malstars who use their star-power cachet to play the field, Macaulay is a one-woman man.

"I already have a girlfriend, you see," he says, smiling coyly. "And she's a younger woman. She's going to be 11 in December."

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