Saved: An Interview with Macualay Culkin
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By Wilson Morales
Saved: An Interview with Macualay Culkin
For all the child stars out there who have had a troubled childhood, no one has been more misread than Macaulay Culkin. After "Home Alone" and its sequel made him the most successful and financial child in Hollywood, Macaulay just bowed out of the industry. Stories have been written as what happened in his life. Besides getting married and divorced at such a young age, Macaulay has lived a pleasant life without the pressures that most actors his age have faced. Currently in 20s and coming back to the big screen, Macaulay plays the wheelchair bound brother of Mandy Moore's character in "Saved". Recently in LA to promote the film, Macaulay spoke to blackfilm.com about his character being in a wheelchair, what life has been like so far, and what's in store for the future.
WHAT WAS THE WHEELCHAIR LIKE TO USE?
CULKIN:Yeah. I had them send me a wheelchair two or three months in advance before any of the stuff. I have this bachelor pad. I don't have any furniture or rugs or carpets or anything and so, it was really easy to wiz around on it.
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
CULKIN: I live in Manhattan. So, I can wiz around my apartment. I was getting good at it and you're using these muscles that you didn't know that you had and things like that. It's like your arms are your legs now. I tried to do different things like household things. You'd be surprised how hard opening a refrigerator door is. I mean, no, it's because you're on these wheels and you have no leverage and once it's open, how do you prop it open and things like that. It almost gives you an appreciation for the smaller things in life and how we take them for granted. Like something that takes ten seconds took me fifteen minutes the first time that I did it.
DID YOU TAKE IT ON THE STREET TOO?
CULKIN:A little bit, but it's just crazy. I live in a busy neighborhood and it was a bit crazy. I kind of just wanted to get a good feel for it. I mean, this is a person who we don't specify how long he's been in the chair, but I assumed that it was since he was seven or eight years old or something like that. So, he had to be really comfortable in it. I showed up in Vancouver and got right off the plane, we straight to a place and got a wheelchair fitted before I even dropped my bags off. I messed around in the hotel room for a while and then they hooked me up with someone at a rehab facility, a quadriplegic named Brad and he was really cool. I remember when I met him, I was waiting in the hallway. I was waiting in a wheelie and he came up and said, 'Hey, you're pretty good.' We were messing around a bit and he hooked me up with another kid who was twenty years old and I think that he'd only been in the chair for six months, and I was watching him take his lessons. He was learning how to do this and I watching him learn and he was showing me how to get out of bed into your chair, off the floor into your chair and things like that. I remember I asked him, 'Is there any one thing that you see people in wheelchairs in movies do wrong or not do,' or something like that. 'Is there anything that you want to make sure that I do,' and they said, 'You have to shift in your chair.' They couldn't emphasize that enough almost. I asked them why and they explained to me that essentially the muscles in their legs have atrophied because they're not using them anymore. So, it's basically bone and vein and skin. There's nothing in between. So, they'll be sitting there and their legs will fall asleep and they don't even realize it and they're cutting off the blood to their legs. So they have to shift every once in a while to keep that going and if you don't, you get the equivalent of bed sores and they have to put you in stasis for like six months to a year. They actually showed me someone in stasis who wasn't shifting in his chair. It was something that almost seemed absurd at the time. Like, 'Shifting in my chair is so important?' I realized that this is something that they have to do every ten minutes for the rest of their lives. It's almost as important as breathing and eating. It's just a part of who they are now. It's something that wasn't like that for that kid six months ago. He didn't have to remember to shift in his chair every ten minutes and now he's got to do it for the rest of his life and it's something that was so small they wanted to make sure that I got it. I tried to shift in appropriate moments. I'm not even sure how much of it made it into the movie. I'm sure that the director was just like, 'He looks uncomfortable,' but it just gives you an appreciation for the smaller things in life and just how difficult it can be to get out of bed in the morning or open a refrigerator door and things like that. I realized that the whole time I was there; I never got out of the chair. It would've been weird because when I met him I was already in it. After an hour or so, it would've been weird if I'd have gotten up like, 'Hey, I can walk.' So yeah, I was just trying to be one of them and tried to figure out how to represent them the right way.
WHAT'S INSIDE THE REFRIGERATOR, YOU KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT?
CULKIN:Man, I got nothing. I got like soda and maybe water if you're lucky, if you brought it yourself. In Manhattan, you get everything delivered to your door. So, any time I'm hungry or I need something, I just call the galley and it'll be there in five minutes. So I don't really need a well stocked kitchen.
WHAT'S THE BACHELOR PAD LIKE?
CULKIN:I don't know. It's my house. It's just the way it is. I finally got a bed. Before this, I had a wheelchair, a bean bag before I had a girlfriend, I had a wheelchair, a bean bag and a TV on the floor and a gigantic medieval table and that was it.
YOUR GIRLFRIEND MADE YOU GET A BED?
CULKIN:She made me get a bed. I got some couches and what else did I get?
SHE PICKED IT ALL OUT?
CULKIN: Oh yeah. I hate that stuff. We painted a little bit because it was just this big, white room.
I THOUGHT THAT SHE WAS YOUR FIANCÉE?
CULKIN:No. That's rumor number infinite.
YOU'RE NOT ENGAGED?
CULKIN:No. Believe me, this is the third time we've been engaged, and she broke up with me and started dating best friend and this is why I don't normally talk about it. It just becomes fodder for tabloids and things like that. So that's the thing, once you start giving people things, they're going to start expecting them. So I really try to not talk about as much as possible.
IT'S BETTER THAN HAVING BAD INFORMATION OUT THERE?
CULKIN: I guess so. But you know what, I almost prefer having bad information out there and have us sit back and laugh at it because we know that it's not real. It's not like, 'Hey, wait; you're not dating my friend. Let's go fix that. Let's go talk to that person at that newspaper and fix it.' It's just like, 'That's hilarious.'
ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE TIME AFTER HAVING BEEN MARRIED ONCE TO DO IT AGAIN?
CULKIN:Yeah. It's not even that. It's not because I was married before. It's just kind of like I want to make sure that I do it right. The fact that I've done it before gives me a better appreciation for how it can be right and how it can be wrong almost.
IS ANY OF THIS ENDING UP IN YOUR BOOK?
CULKIN:My book? Oh my god.
IS THAT NOT REAL?
CULKIN:It's kind of real. That's one of those things where I've been writing this thing for, I don't know, three or four years now. When I was in London, I started compiling all of these kinds of stuff. I've kind gotten to a point where I'm starting to shop it around a bit and I showed it to a couple of places and I got an offer on it and it was really kind of cool. It was like semi-validating. So I brought it back and didn't feel that it was ready, but I was just trying to get a pulse and a temperature and then the next thing that you know it's in the newspaper. It's kind of messed up. First of all, I don't have an official contract with anyone. So I don't know why I'm in a catalogue of theirs when I haven't signed a contract with them. It's just one of these things where in this business there's that concept of one hands feeds the other. Like, look at Jennifer Lopez. She got her film career which feeds her music career which feeds her perfume line, and everything is kind of feeding into each other. They're all cogs in the machine. That's just kind of the way it is in this business. I really don't want what I write to be one of those things. I don't want it to be; I'll do some theater and I'll do some TV and I'll do some movies, but I don't want what I write to be a part of that because it's almost more sacred than that. It's something that's more personal. I try to almost avoid all of that stuff. I had one meeting with these people and was specifically saying, 'I don't want this stuff out there,' and that's the reason why I didn't sign a contract with them so that they wouldn't do something like this, so I wouldn't have to explain myself about this stuff.
WHY HAVEN'T WE SEEN YOU FOR SO LONG?
CULKIN:Everything was really crazy. I remember when I was eleven and twelve and I was saying to people, 'I kind of want to take a break. I want to school. I want to be relatively normal,' even though I knew that it could never really be normal. No one was listening, just, no one. I finally got to a point where my father was gone and I knew I could say, 'I don't want to do this anymore. I'm done,' and have people listen. So I did. I said, 'I quit. You can call it retirement. You can call it a break. You can call it whatever you want, but I'm never doing it again. I hope you all made your money because there's no more coming from me. It's over. I'm going to go to school and then I'll figure it out from there.' That's kind of what I was doing. I just wanted to go to high school. I fell in love. I did all of that stuff that a normal human being would do which is kind of crazy to some people, the fact that whatever.
WHY COME BACK?
CULKIN:That's the thing, you become a senior in high school and you want to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. I thought about coming back to it and I kind of had this fear that I almost didn't know any better. That the only reason that I'd get back into it is because I didn't know any better and I'd just be doing what I know. That was almost scary to me. I just wanted to do it again. It's one of these things that I had to think about. I've been doing it since I was four years old. It wasn't anything that I actively pursued. It's almost like it found me and I didn't find it. It's like your calling. Why do you write? It's something that you did and came naturally and felt good and felt right. It's the same thing with that. It felt right. It just kind of became toxic. It became not mine. It was everyone else's. Everyone's livelihood was on the line and not in that 'Rah, rah' team spirit way, but in that, 'Fail and I'll hurt you way,' that reduces you and work down to nothing.
WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT BECOMING 'DICKIE ROBERTS: FORMER CHILD STAR?'
CULKIN: Not really. I mean, I understand that I'm a part of some weird fraternity where it's a convention of clichés basically.
YOU'RE THE PRESIDENT OF THE FRAT, AREN'T YOU?
CULKIN:[Laughs] That's the thing. At the same time, I really tried not to go down any of those roads. Contrary to popular belief, I've never to jail or rehab. I'm not a homosexual, not that there's anything wrong with that. So overall, besides the fact that I got married young, I've actually stayed away from most of those clichés and I think that actually getting married young might've been my cliché.
DO YOU HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR ABOUT IT?
CULKIN:Yeah, that's kind of the way it is. It's either you fight it or you accept it for what it is. I mean, my entire life, essentially my entire life, I don't understand it. I just accept it for what it is and try to move on and try to live my life and try to be a good person and try to be good to the people around me and that's it.
WHAT ABOUT GROWING INTO AN ADULT IDENTITY?
CULKIN:That's the whole thing. I don't view myself as that person. It's kind of weird. It's funny, in this business, man; there are some people who won't sit down in the same room with me because of the way that my father treated them. That was ten or fifteen years ago. It's the sins of the father being passed onto to the son. It's like because he'd be yelling on my behalf. It wasn't like I was the nine year old, 'Hey, dad, make sure that you get that extra money for me so that I can buy my suburban,' or whatever. He was doing it for me. So it got put on my shoulders. On the flipside of that, there are some really cool, open minded people. There are people like Sandy [Stern] and Michael [Stipe] and Brian [Dannelly] and all of these people who wanted me to be a part of their project and I was just honored that they wanted me to be there.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE ROLE?
CULKIN:It's just a smart movie and it's just so funny and charming. It's one of these things where I love how they started as all these stereotypes. They're the stereotypes that you have in teen movies and Christianity. You have the popular girl. You have the un-popular girl. You have the quiet cripple. You have the cool kids. You have all of those elements put into place. It's the same thing with the Christianity and the zealots and things like that, all of these stereotypes were put into place right off the bat and I love how that's all torn down over the course of the film and everyone is kind of exposed for who they are for the good or for the bad. I thought that it was so smart and so well put together and really touched on these sensitive issues in such a light kind of way. I just loved the story and I love the characters.
IS THIS YOUR TASK NOW, DO YOU WANT TO STAY AWAY FROM MAINSTREAM FILMS?
CULKIN:I almost don't want to put myself in a box like that. I mean, it's like, I read a script and aside from the fact that I ask, 'Do they have a budget,' the budget isn't important. It's just a fact if it's real, can it get made. Beyond that, I almost don't even care. As long as it's a good script and good people, man, I've been very lucky with 'Party Monster' and this. I'm very pleased with how they all turned out.
YOU'VE GOT YOUR MONEY AND YOU'RE WILLING TO WORK FOR THE LOVE OF THE CRAFT?
CULKIN:Yeah. I have all the fun by the time that I was ten years old. I'm not working from paycheck to paycheck. I can do things. I'm doing things that I want to do that are solely for my benefit, that satisfy me creatively. I'm very, very lucky for that and I tell myself that all of the time.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT'S HAPPENING TO YOUR FRIEND MICHAEL JACKSON?
CULKIN: It's an unfortunate situation. I'll give you the standard line. It's an unfortunate situation for everyone involved. I haven't really talked to him in a while, and not for any particular reason. It's just like it's all kind of crazy and a bit of a circus. It's been like six or eight months or something like that. I'm supportive from afar. Like I said, it's a circus and I try to keep my distance from it a bit. It's a circus and I'm just trying to do my thing.
WHAT KIND OF ADVICE DO YOU GIVE YOUR BROTHER WHO'S ALSO AN ACTOR?
CULKIN:I don't give him advice. This is the fifteenth most important thing in our lives, what we do for a living. I mean, imagine that you're computer programmer and so is your brother and you spend all day programming computers and you come home and you think that you're going to talk about that? No. You're going to talk about anything else besides that. It's just kind of a part of what we do. They don't need advice. They were there the whole the time. They got to see firsthand how crazy, the good and the bad that come along with that. They don't need me. They're smart.
YOU ALL LIVED IN THE SAME BEDROOM GROWING UP?
CULKIN:I'm third of seven and we all grew up, like total rags to riches. It was like a one bedroom tenement apartment for nine people. We didn't always have hot water. We didn't always have electricity. We didn't always have things like that. That's the way we lived. It's just the way it was. It wasn't like, 'Woe is us.' It's just that that was life.
DOES THAT MAKE YOU A PENNY PINCHER NOW?
CULKIN:No. But at the same time, I lead a relatively modest life. I actually spend below my means overall. I enjoy time with my girlfriend and my dog, but that's about it. It's not like I'm jet setting around the world in my private jet or this and that. Like I said, I just lead a simple life.
WERE YOU AN UNHAPPY KID GROWING UP?
CULKIN:I don't think that I was an unhappy kid. I just felt like I was being bogged down. It was one of these things where people's livelihoods were on the line, as I said. It's a lot of pressure for a nine or ten year old. They're putting the movie on your shoulders to sell it and it's not like I'm sitting there thinking that, but at the same time it's pressure. I was overall pretty happy besides the craziness that was going on and my father just being who he was and things like that. I think that I got happier after I got away from it and found the joy in myself and found the joy in the work and things like that.
IS THERE A PILOTTHAT YOU DID THAT MIGHT BE PICKED UP?
CULKIN: Yeah, kind of. It's weird because it's out of my hands. You do something like that and then you let the decision makers make the decisions. Basically, you do it and wash your hands of it a bit and then if it goes it goes. If it doesn't, it doesn't.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GOING INTO TV?
CULKIN:I wouldn't mind it. I mean, I wouldn't have done it. I did a guess spot on 'Will and Grace.' After that, I signed a holding deal which means that you meet with every writer.
CULKIN:NBC and through Conan O'Brian's production company. So I met with every staff writer in Hollywood and just listened to all the bad ideas that everyone had. The contract was two weeks from being over. I was like, 'I'm going to take my money and run.' I went through the motions, but there was nothing there for me. I was ready to move on and then they sent me this really awesome script and the contract was up basically and they sent me this really great script that was really cool and Conan was producing it. I really liked it. It was actually written by an actor. It wasn't written by a staff writer. I loved their take on everything. What I said when I was getting into it was that I'd much rather, even before I signed the holding deal or anything like that, I said, 'I'd much rather do a pilot that didn't get picked up that I was really, really proud of than just slapping my name on something and putting it out there.' That would be a nightmare. I did it. If it doesn't get picked up, I'm happy because I'll be proud of what I did. I did exactly what I set out to do. It's one of these things that's a one in seven shot for something like that. It's worse than rolling the dice because they've got two slots for fourteen shows. It's out of my hands.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?
CULKIN:I did that thing. I'm looking at some things, but it's hard in this industry where you meet with these independent directors and these independent films, but it's not anything real enough that I can talk to you about. Like, 'Party Monster' was one of those things where for four years; I was sitting on that thing while they're trying to find a budget and things like that. I'm looking at some things, but I can't really talk about them right now, and plus, I'm not one of those people who needs the validation of doing ten projects a year to make myself feel better about being a creative person. I can sit back and wait and work six weeks a year and feel confident that I'm doing the right thing as opposed to just doing ten things.
WHAT'S BEEN THE WEIRDEST ENCOUNTER YOU'VE HAD WITH A FAN?
CULKIN:Gosh. I got recognized in a ski mask once. That was funny. It was in my neighborhood. I couldn't believe it.
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