Macaulay Culkin admits he is somewhat of a mystery.
From 1990 to 1994, he was one of Hollywood’s biggest properties, starring in movie after movie, including Home Alone, My Girl, and Richie Rich, where he played America’s wealthiest kid. The role was not much of a stretch for him — he was the highest-paid child actor ever, reportedly making $8 million per film at his peak. Then, at the age of 14, Culkin seemed to drop off the face of the earth.
Culkin says his desire to have a normal life led him to stop working as an actor. “[I was] starting off high school, so I decided to tell my mother, my representatives… ’I don’t wanna do this anymore, I wanna go to school, I wanna make friends… so don’t even bring up movies, don’t even bring up acting,” he says. “I told them to call it retirement… I never wanted to do it again.”
But now, at the age of 20, Culkin is doing it again, acting for the first time in six years. Madame Melville, which recently arrived in New York from London is earning Culkin glowing reviews. In it he plays a 15 year old who is taught about love and life from an older woman.
He tells 20/20’s Barbara Walters his return to public life and performing is something he now feels ready to do, and shrugs off the rumors that have swirled around for years that he spent the last six years battling drugs and alcohol. “I always kind of felt that [the substance abuse] was almost expected of me in a way, that’s kind of why I stayed away from it.”
All Work, No Play
Culkin is the third of seven children. And while in the Home Alone films he has a loving family —, albeit occasionally absent — in real life, he says his father, Kit Culkin, was a constant and controlling presence. His mother stayed home with his brothers and sisters, his father traveled with him from one movie set to the next. Culkin’s father managed his son’s career and is said to have alienated most of Hollywood with his rages and excessive demands.
Culkin says his father’s treatment of him and his family mirrored the way he dealt with people in Hollywood. “He was very hard on me, and he would deny me certain things in my life.”
He says his father would not let him have his own room, forcing him and his brother to sleep on the couch. “I think it was just a way of him wanting to break my spirit,” he says. “He wanted me to know and my brother to know that he was in charge and if he didn’t want us to sleep on a bed, we weren’t gonna sleep on a bed.”
Culkin asserts his father established the hectic filming schedule he kept from 1990 to 1994. “I’ve done 14 films and I’ve never read one of the scripts,” he says. During the movie shoots, Culkin says he and his father would stay up every night, studying the lines the young actor would have to say the next day. It was, he says, all work and no play — a situation that discouraged the young star.
Although the young actor says his father promised to give his son a break from production, Kit Culkin continued to cast him in movies that were bombing at the box office. The young star says he was relieved his films were not as successful, allowing him to “disappear off the face of the earth.”
All Grown Up