Home Alone has been a staple of Christmas for 30 years, meaning we have been watching Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister terrorising burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) for three decades now.
We first met the McCallisters in director Chris Columbus’ flick, and the family have featured in our December schedules ever since – maybe even earlier this year with everything else that has gone down in 2020.
So, to celebrate the 30-year anniversary, we decided to deep dive into the best festive film ever made, chatting to the cast and crew to pick their brains.
The movie was the creation of writer John Hughes, who thought the idea up when he was due to go on holiday, and was making a list of everything he didn’t want to forget. Thankfully, he didn’t leave his children behind, but it sparked a thought and, just like that, the McCallisters were born.
Casting director Janet Hirshenson told Metro.co.uk that the role was written specifically with Macaulay in mind.
Macaulay Culkin stole the show in Home Alone, released in 1990 (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
‘He was fabulous in Uncle Buck. I’d seen another movie he did called Rocket Gibraltar when he was five years old, and it was him and Burt Lancaster. Oh my God he was amazing,’ she revealed.
‘He’d done some Broadway so he was a well known New York kid. John Hughes used him in Uncle Buck and then wrote Home Alone for him.
‘I did a quick sweep of kids and there was nobody as fabulous as Macaulay.’
It has been widely reported that Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern and John Heard (aka Harry, Marv and Peter McCallister) weren’t that keen when they initially signed up.
‘They, because it was so over the top, probably didn’t know how it was gonna turn out, I suppose,’ she continued. ‘Sometimes people don’t know. I think he [Daniel] had passed first, and we had someone else. But then, I think originally it was such a low budget that I think he passed on the deal at first.
‘It was also such a crazy script so nobody really knew what it would become. So he was probably the last cast, I would imagine.’
Cinematographer Julio Macat also confessed that Catherine O’Hara – who played Kevin’s mum, Kate McCallister – wasn’t the first choice for the role.
His wife, Elizabeth Perkins, was in the frame but couldn’t make it work with her schedule.
‘You know the movie, Big? Elizabeth Perkins was the girlfriend, Susan,’ he said. ‘We hadn’t met yet, and she filmed that movie almost a year before Home Alone.
Catherine O’Hara wasn’t the first choice to play Kate McCallister (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
‘John Hughes asked her to be the Catherine O’Hara role, and she wasn’t able to do it, she was busy.’
And the rest was history.
Someone who did audition twice was Devin Ratray, who ended up playing Kevin’s mean older brother, Buzz.
Lifting the lid on his audition process, he explained: ‘I remember it was a hotel in midtown Manhattan, and it was a large casting call in terms of a lot of people. When I went into the large hotel suite, I read with Chris Columbus and the casting people.
‘Perhaps because I was relaxed and not so nervous, maybe Chris thought that he saw something in that and he looked at me and thought, “Wow, that kid is naturally an a*****e, he can be a really good jerk brother”.’
Despite the cast settling in, they all had another hurdle to overcome.
Warner Bros had taken the project on at first, but ended up dropping it over a $1million (£750k) difference in the budget.
At the time, executives didn’t see the point in putting big bucks into the movie when they weren’t too sure if it would be worth the money, and dumped it.
Thankfully, 20th Century Fox ended up picking it up very quickly after, and the flick became one of the highest grossing films of all time.
To truly make a Christmas movie, you need festive props and decorations – and there is no denying the Home Along gang has that by the stocking-full.
The McCallister house looks like Christmas threw up on a Chicago home, and that’s largely thanks to production designer John Muto – and set decorators Eve Cauley and Daniel Clancy.
‘Once John Muto decided that it was going to be the ultimate Christmas house, the wallpaper had to be a specific red and green, and have berries…,’ Daniel explained. ‘Once this colour scheme was set up, then we all just ran with it. We had the upholsterers do all the chairs in red and green. The carpeting, curtains, even the curtain rods are gold sometimes.
‘Once in a while, purple would get snuck in and we’re like, no, no. Even the Christmas ornaments had to be examined to make sure that everything was just right.
‘A lot was custom made, the upholstered furniture and everything. The wallpaper, it’s Schumacher wallpaper, once it got destroyed, we didn’t have enough. That got kind of scary. It was sourced but we couldn’t get enough in time. Sometimes we had to shoot around it until it came in, so that was a little tricky.
‘Even Buzz’s room, with all the stuff on the shelves that falls down, all his toys. It’s a crazy amount. The detailing with the director is very picky, and good. He wanted specific things, it was really cool.’
Despite having a stunning house chocked full of Christmas goodies, the most expensive prop on set was thrown around quite a bit while filming – the statue in front of the house.
‘It was more because we only had one or two. That ended up being [really] expensive because we had to cast it, and mould it, because they broke one and they made it,’ Daniel let slip.
Even the colour scheme of the house was Christmas themed (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
That bronze statue caused a lot of problems for the cast as well as the crew (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
‘There wasn’t a lot of them so everyone had to be really careful around that, so they didn’t break it the second time. And the Christmas wreath on the front door, that had to be protected because there wasn’t a large amount of those and you didn’t want it breaking.’
Nestled in between the props were some Easter eggs that the cast and crew subtly incorporated on set – dropping the odd family picture here and there.
If that wasn’t enough, director Chris was also generous enough to let his family members make cameos.
‘All of us are guilty of putting pictures of our families on the sets. There’s pictures of my mum and dad in the movie,’ the decorator laughed.
‘The [prop team] definitely thought that was funny, the way they did that and snuck their own personal stuff in there. Whenever they did a super close tight up, the prop master did certain things that were personal and tricky.
‘All Chris’ family members are in the movie, his sister is in the movie, his sister-in-law’s in the movie, his father-in-law is in the movie, his father-in-law is a cop. It was a real family thing, it was really cute.’
But it wasn’t all fun, games and cute moments in Chicago, it ended up being really smelly on set – thanks to some rank mashed potato.
It’s not as glamorous as they make it look.
Daniel explained that they needed it to snow on set, just to add another layer to the festive feels – but had to look elsewhere when the weather didn’t play ball.
‘We were waiting for snow and snow didn’t come so we had to create snow,’ he revealed. ‘The first time they did it, they did this thing where it’s like potato flake snow, literally instant mashed potatoes.
‘It works great until it gets really wet, then two days later, if it gets a little warmer, it starts to smell really bad… So that was funny.’
Cinematographer Julio Macat didn’t think it was all that bad, insisting: ‘The potato flakes used were mixed with water for the periphery, not where people are stepping around. You can do foam, but if it’s windy you can’t do foam because the bubbles are blowing through the air. And of course Chicago is a very windy city, so potato flakes are the next best thing.
That is a lot of potato flakes… (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
‘For the periphery we did a lot of that. There were so many things to worry about that the smell of potato flakes was low on my list.
‘Even though it was cold, it wasn’t snowing, so creating snow is really magical, because the next thing you know, the blankets are out and the snow has been blown in. They take something like a tree chipper, and then put blocks of ice in it, and it spits out little shards of ice, which creates the effect of snow.
‘For all of the places where we needed to snow right around us, that’s how we made it.’
As well as making snow from potatoes and ice, Julio also had another task on his hands, when he created Angels With Filthy Souls, the creepy movie Kevin watches while chowing down on ice cream.
No, it wasn’t a film beforehand so don’t try searching it out on Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Showing his skills, the filmmaker loaded up black and white reels to shoot it like an old-fashioned noir, and managed to do it all in one day, branding the whole thing a ‘struggle’.
A piece of trivia that fans may not know is that, while the exterior shots were all filmed at a (now iconic) house in Chicago, the interior moments were all framed at a closed high school.
Not just any old school, but the same one The Breakfast Club was shot at – another piece of film history.
Giving us an insight into those days, Devin admitted it was chaos in the school halls with his young co-stars.
‘To get from one office to the other… I remember they gave us razor scooters, they gave us those to get around, to go down these long school hallways,’ he recalled. ‘And giving 12 kids 12 razors… they took those away pretty quick. We would just tear around the school in them.
‘I loved mine. I would take Macaulay’s razor, because they gave him the best one, and purposely try and get lost, just roaming around a closed down high school. Which is what kids fantasise about.’
Gerry Bamman – who played grouchy Uncle Frank – admitted he didn’t quite have the same memories of those times.
‘I thought Chris, from the beginning, was really skilful and totally charming,’ he told us. ‘And so that made it easy. You can imagine the chaotic energy on the set.
‘I forget how many kids, there were about 12 of them, between [the ages of] five and 14 or 15. It was just constant chaos that I think Chris managed very well, but you often just wanted to get away to a private room.’
Which is fair enough.
Macaulay was just 10 years old when he took on the role of Kevin McCallister, which went on to be his most well-known part.
Side note: Richie Rich was also a cinematic masterpiece.
Macaulay improvised the infamous face slap scene (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
But his age caused some issues on set, as he couldn’t work for very long hours – not ideal when you’re the main character in a film.
Executive producer Tarquin Gotch revealed that they had to come up with inventive ways to get around this when they needed.
‘Macaulay Culkin was paid a not astronomical [fee] because this was his breakout film,’ he spilled. ‘He was getting a good fee but, of course, that went to the parents.
‘Macaulay was walking around with frankly not that much money in his pocket. So if we got to the end of the day and we were very short of time, it was not unknown for him to be bribed with money frankly, to try and get a scene as quickly as possible.’
The six-week shoot saw him tackle a range of wild stunts – which stepped up several gears in the New York sequel.
When he was on set, casting director Janet let slip that the youngster actually improvised one of the most iconic moments of the entire film.
‘I love when he’s in the mirror and getting ready for his day, doing his hair and then the famous face slap,’ she raved.
‘They did that scene differently, where he puts his hands to his face. I think he may have done that on his own.
‘I love that scene, where he’s trying to be an adult.’
Tarquin also explained that Macaulay wasn’t the only person on set who put their own spin on the material, stating that John Candy was given ‘cart blanche’ to do whatever he wanted throughout the 24-hours he was on set.
John Candy was on set for 24 hours, and was iconic in every single scene (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
They filmed all his scenes, from the airport to the Budget truck, in one single day – and he didn’t take a penny for his work, instead doing it as a favour for pal John Hughes.
A total legend.
The late star wasn’t the only screen icon on set, with Joe Pesci switching up his gangster persona for something a little different.
Julio recalled the actor – who had previously starred in Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Once Upon A Time In America – struggled to tap into the comedic nature of the script, and the lack of swearing.
‘Joe Pesci was so used to doing drama, that for him to do a comedy was a stretch,’ he continued. ‘He is a Scorsese guy. He was very uptight. He, at times, thought that the dialogue was weaker. He obviously couldn’t swear so the hardest thing, and the most surreal thing, was for him to come up with some language where he could swear without swearing.
‘He really wanted to say this, “this f**king thing, this f**king thing…” He would say it here and there when the kids weren’t around. He would cuss the script, like: “How the f**k am I supposed to say these words?”. So that was surreal that he was struggling with how to not be Joe Pesci, as Joe Pesci. It was a constant struggle.
‘But he never refused to do anything, which can happen with actors. He was always very eager to do it, a real professional. As soon as you respect people like that on a set, and they know that you respect them, then it’s easy sailing.’
Gerry also praised his co-star, recalling an ‘unanticipated moment’ they shared together behind the camera.
‘It’s not so surreal except it was totally unexpected…,’ he said. ‘I was off the set, waiting to shoot, and Joe Pesci and I were in a room together. And Joe just had me laughing hard enough to cry with a 30 minute monologue about a previous experience he had in the film.
Joe Pesci was incredible as burglar Harry (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
‘I just couldn’t believe that an actor whose persona is so nonverbal in film was so articulate and funny, it was just revelatory.’
Home Alone is basically an hour-and-40 minutes chocked full of action scenes, Christmas decorations and an absolutely banging soundtrack.
But, opening up about the shoot, Gerry explained there was one moment that didn’t make it into the final cut that he’s gutted about.
‘One of my favourite things that didn’t get in the film, which was when the camera is following the family through the O’Hare Airport in Chicago,’ he continued. ‘I’m dressed in my golf clothes already, before we even got on the plane. I really wanted to wear golf cleats, and Chris was just worried that I would slip on the tile and hurt myself.
‘He said, please for the master shot just wear tennis shoes so you’ll be safe. But then the master shot caught my feet, so that meant that all other shots I had to have tennis shoes and not golf cleats.
‘I was very sorry that didn’t get in, I thought that would have been very funny.’
A true Uncle Frank move.
Julio stated there was also meant to be a dream sequence with the terrifying furnace – that would have racked up a bill of more than $1million.
Spilling the beans on what would have gone down, he described a scene where Kevin saw the furnace in the basement in a dream, before it came to life and chased him around.
After some further conversations – and more filming – they decided that the entire thing was unnecessary, saving quite a lot of money in the long run.
One particular scene that left question marks in viewers’ minds was the moment Kevin went to the supermarket, and was confronted by a very, very, nosy shop assistant.
There have been intense discussions about the truth behind the footage, with one wild theory suggesting she was somehow secretly working with Marv and Harry, in an attempt to get into the McCallister household – aka the Silver Tuna.
Pouring the coldest of water over that theory, Julio was adamant this wasn’t the case – but we did miss out on another moment.
‘She was just really nosy,’ he stated. ‘I think Chris Columbus wanted to show that Macaulay Culkin could be a smart aleck and answer back to a nosy person. They did a lot of ping pong and back and forth of dialogue. He wanted to create this fear that kids should not be alone.
‘At one point maybe the scene was a little longer, where she calls her manager, and they questioned him some more. But the whole point of that was that Macaulay had to say, “I’m seven-years-old, do you think that I’d be out alone? I don’t think so.”
‘I think that it was just a choice of that dialogue, and having someone who was snippy at him.’
Another scene that has been shrouded in speculation is when we’re first introduced to John Candy’s character, Gus in the airport, when Kate is having a meltdown as she’s rushing to get home.
Some viewers are convinced that Elvis was secretly in the background of that frame, queueing up at the counter – despite the fact that he died more than a decade before the movie was shot.
Chatting about the theory, the crew were divided over whether it was true.
Exec producer Tarquin was left baffled by the whole thing, telling us: ‘I have no idea what motivated that, he doesn’t look anything like Elvis!
‘It’s an absolutely no! If it is Elvis, it looks like Elvis who has been on heroin for a few years.’
Daniel was also in agreement, but Julio stated that there is a possibility that the late singer’s presence was caught on camera.
Addressing the theories, he confessed it wasn’t the first time something similar has been captured on one of his cameras.
‘Well if he was, it was not planned,’ he joked. ‘As far as that, I would not discard the Elvis theory. I have to tell you, I’m a cinematographer, and I’ve shot a lot of stuff. I once shot some infrared film for a movie called Blind Dating, with Chris Pine.
Elvis, is that you, hun? (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
The singer died years before the film was ever even shot (Picture: Getty)
‘So I was filming infrared film in this park, and this figure of a boy that was dressed in 1800s clothing photographed in the shot. And I can assure you with 100% accuracy that there was nobody there, because when I did the shot, I wanted the serenity of nothing in the shot, I just wanted it to be a plain thing, nobody was there.
‘I shoot it with infrared film, and there’s a kid running across, dressed in this Victorian clothing running across the park. And to this day I can’t tell you…
‘If Elvis was in that shot in the background, I would not discard it, I would not discard that possibility. If I shot that shot with infrared film, he is probably there.’
We’ll be keeping a closer eye on Julio’s films in future.
One character that almost didn’t make the final cut is the legend that is Old Man Marley, aka South Bend Shovel Slayer, Kevin’s misjudged neighbour.
An arc in Home Alone is that Kevin overcomes his judgement of his ‘scary’ neighbour – played by Roberts Scott Blossom – realising that he’s not out to get him, and they have a poignant heart-to-heart in a church.
This very nearly didn’t happen, as Tarquin dropped a bombshell, stating: ‘The neighbour, Marley, was a very late addition that came from Chris Columbus, who felt that the film needed a little more Christmas heart.
‘I was on the fence about that. I was of the camp that if John wrote it, it’s perfect, don’t change a word.
‘Perhaps Chris was right because the movie plays every Christmas, which is exactly what John designed it for.’
Could you imagine Home Alone without Old Man Marley?! (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
One thing that did make it into the final cut that fans may not have noticed is the stunt men – unsurprisingly, Macaulay, Joe and Daniel didn’t do their own action scenes during the flick.
Could you imagine setting actual Joe Pesci on fire?
There were some times Kevin’s stunt double, Larry Nicholas, made it into the frame – most notably when the character climbed up onto Buzz’s shelves, and when he zip-wired into the treehouse.
How did the cinematographer feel about that?
‘I cringe every time that I watch,’ he replied.
One stunt he felt a little better about was the tarantula that crawled across Daniel’s face.
‘The funnest stunt we did was the tarantula on Daniel Stern’s face,’ he remembered. ‘We went through this whole thing of getting a professional trainer to supposedly train the tarantula, but you can’t train a tarantula.
‘Right before we’re about to film, Daniel Stern says to the trainer, “So you did work with the tarantula, right? It doesn’t have any venom in it, right?”
‘[They said] “Well, we’re not sure whether or not it has venom is, there’s really no way to know…”’
Daniel Stern was a total pro with this terrifying stunt (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
Daniel replied: ‘“But it’s not going to sting me, right?”, [the trainer said]: “Well we’re not sure it’s not gonna sting, sometimes it gets spooked”. He got really frustrated and said, “Let’s just do this, let’s just do this”.
‘He did that not knowing if he was gonna get stung in the face by a tarantula, or whatever they do with their things.
‘So there was a lot of real fear involved there, because there was no guarantee that it wasn’t going to really get him, in spite of getting the specialist guy and supposedly training the tarantula.’
There’s no denying Home Alone has it all – Christmas joy, bad guys, stunts and a possibly venomous tarantula.
It’s not just us who are obsessed, as it grossed $476million (£358m) at the box office around the world – not too shabby for a budget of $18million (£13m).
Sorry to whoever at Warner Bros dropped it over that measly $1million…
This is also news to those on set, who had no clue that the film would become a moment in history.
Tarquin admitted: ‘You thought you were making a medium budget movie, you just wanted to be okay. You wanted to get to finish on time, on budget.
‘You thought there were good moments. But one had no premonition that this was going to be the most successful live action comedy of all time, until Hangover Two.’
Those who starred in the flick were catapulted to a new level of fame. Even those who had the smallest of parts were noticed in public, while some of the biggest names had people quoting their lines back to them.
‘Look what you did, you little jerk!’ (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
Gerry revealed that this still happens to him today, 30 years since he first uttered his iconic ‘little jerk’ barb.
‘I have never before experienced such public visibility,’ he said. ‘That line, “Look what you did, you little jerk”, is absolutely iconic.
‘My roles in many films have been… I don’t get to play heroes, I don’t get to play villains but my character is the fly in the heroes face. So that was that role was very suitable for me.
‘Because so many people love the film, that [the recognition] still happens to this day.
‘No longer are they teenagers and young people, I’m liable to go into my doctor’s office and they’ll say, “Oh my god, you’re in Home Alone!”’
Devin had a slightly different reaction from some people, who confronted him with their hatred in public.
‘People say, “I hated you, I really hated you.”,’ he continued. ‘[I say], ”Thank you, thank you. That means I did a good job.” But they keep on, ”No, seriously. You were a jerk”. There’s a separation between film and reality.
‘It’s a very powerful memory when they grow up, and they’re now older, they immediately jerk back into that visceral reaction that they had as a child, and they say, “I hated you.” I understand it and I don’t get offended, obviously.
‘It’s a testimony to the power of that movie and how truly people had emotional reactions to it, that not many other films had.’
Devin hasn’t only had trolls, he has also had people go so far as to print t-shirts with the quote: ‘My friend slept with Buzz from Home Alone’.
‘Every single time I ever post anything on Instagram or anything on anywhere, I constantly and forever get quotes,’ he explained. ‘Social media has shown me the worldwide universal appeal of Home Alone in every country, and that everybody in the world in every country thinks that they’re original, saying the same three quotes to me over and over again.
Merry Christmas, you filthy animal (Picture: 20th Century Fox)
‘They still believe I have never had anyone say, “Buzz, your girlfriend. Woof.”
‘”I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass,” is a [favourite] of mine but that’s a little too long for people. They do quote often, “A, two, D.”’
Home Alone is a main player in Christmas schedule, with the first and second film playing out at least once during the festive time.
Except not in Devin’s household, which is a little awkward.
‘I never deliberately watch it,’ he insisted. ‘It’s on cable all the time. Flipping through channels, I’ll see it and smile, I’ll watch a scene – particularly if it’s my scene – but no, I don’t watch it.
‘I don’t think I was particularly good in it. I don’t think it was my best work, which is a good thing. I can recognise that I’ve grown as an actor from a 13-year-old boy.
‘It’s heavy on my ego that that’s the part I was known for 30 years later. I don’t think I’m very good in it.’
Well others disagree – to the point that some dedicated fans turned the Home Alone house into a major tourist attraction in Chicago, and police officers had to be on hand to move them along.
Thankfully the neighbours embraced this, and have put up a bunch more Christmas decorations to get into the spirit of things – with people still making a detour there to this day.
Some have been known to get engaged in front of it, which is a major mood.
With everyone celebrating the 30-year anniversary, thoughts inevitably turn to Disney’s reboot of the franchise – with director Chris slamming the thought of it.
He isn’t the only one who isn’t keen, with Tarquin adamant that it’s ‘not a good idea’.
‘We managed to capture lightning in the bottle with Macaulay Culkin in that role,’ he said. ‘I think the pressure it would put another child actor under would be unfair.
‘It’s better to write new stories and cast somebody new. It’s really just selling tickets on the name Home Alone. I understand why it happens, but I certainly would really ask people to not go down that road.’
Devin was a little more open to the prospect of Kevin and co returning to the big screen, teasing that he could be making a comeback himself.
‘I do officially think that it would be a very good idea, a lovely idea for a reboot,’ he added. ‘Of all the films that haven’t yet been rebooted, I do think that this has a built in audience that people would be very eager to see.
‘After the first half of this year, if we have to spend more time indoors, it would be a welcome gift to see a reinvention of the story. That’s all I can officially say.’
While we might be waiting a while for that, we can enjoy yet another rewatch or two…
But for now, please let us be the first to say, Merry Christmas, you filthy animal. And a happy New Year.