Macaulay Culkin found fame as one of the most successful child actors of all time. He was the third of seven children born to Christopher Culkin and Patricia Brentup (his parents never married). Show business was in Macaulay’s blood right from the start, since his father, Christopher Culkin, was a former child actor himself. Christopher Culkin subsequently became Macaulay’s manager for a time.
Macaulay’s first stage training was at ballet school in New York, where he attended the George Balanchine School of American Ballet. He entered show business at the tender age of four, when he appeared in a show called Bach Babies at the New York Philharmonic. He also appeared in the New York Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.
He went on to play small cameo parts in films such as Rocket Gibraltar (1988) and Uncle Buck (1989). In 1990, he appeared in a film called Jacob’s Ladder, where he played the not-so-angelic son of Tim Robbins. Uncle Buck director John Hughes then wrote the script for Home Alone apparently with Macaulay in mind, since he’d been so impressed by his earlier performances in the movies they’d worked on together. Macaulay - or “Mack” as he’s known to family and close friends - became a superstar overnight thanks to his lead role in the hit comedy. Bigger offers from Hollywood followed.
Macaulay was the very first child to audition for the role. Director Chris Columbus was initially unsure whether he was quite right for the role, but after auditioning two hundred other young hopefuls he eventually conceded that no one could read for the part quite as well as young Culkin. By the time Macaulay was called back for the second audition, he’d already memorised two entire scenes from the script, and Chris Columbus was now totally sure that Macaulay was the perfect actor to play Kevin McCallister.
The box office earnings of Home Alone were phenomenal: in the USA alone, it grossed over $285 million, which made it one of the highest-earning movies of all time. Home Alone also made Macaulay Culkin, at the tender age of ten, one of the top movie stars of his day. His cute trademark look - hands slapped around his face, mouth open wide in shock - became a classic image overnight. Home Alone also brought the opportunity to become a movie actor to Macaulay’s younger brother, Kieran, who played the part of Macaulay’s screen brother in both Home Alone and the sequel.
While the sequel to Home Alone was in production, Macaulay acted in two more films. First came My Girl (1991), which was not as popular as it might have been, since the character that Culkin played died prematurely from a bee sting. Next came a cameo role in another John Hughes film, Only The Lonely, which was also released in 1991. Then came Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, which was every bit as successful as Home Alone itself. Macaulay reportedly received a fee of $5 million for reprising the role of Kevin.
Perhaps on the advice of his father (who by this time was acting as Macaulay’s manager), Mack chose a total change of pace for his next leading role. Any suggestions that he might be becoming typecast were soundly dismissed by his next movie, The Good Son, where he played a demonic child who hides his psychotic nature behind an angelic blond façade. Macaulay’s fee for this movie had reportedly risen to a staggering $8 million - amazing earnings for a boy actor who had only just turned 12!
Two comedy movies came next. First there was Getting Even With Dad, in which Macaulay co-starred with Ted Danson. This was followed by Richie Rich, where Macaulay played a character inspired by a strip cartoon comic book. While Richie Rich was mostly well received, Getting Even With Dad was not quite so popular. However, Macaulay was now the highest-paid child movie star ever.
In 1991, Macaulay also found time to act in the controversial Michael Jackson video, Black or White, directed by John Landis. In November that same year, he was invited to be a guest host on Saturday Night Live - one of the ultimate accolades of Hollywood stardom.
But behind the scenes in the Culkin household, trouble was brewing. Just as Macaulay hit adolescence, he became involved in a full-blown legal dispute with his manager father over control of his $30 million fortune. By 1995, Culkin’s parents had separated, and the initial quarrel over financial control of Macaulay’s earnings had escalated into a full-blown battle for custody of the Culkin children too.
The legal battle became so all-consuming that Macaulay had decided that he would take a career break, and would not accept any more film roles until the legal dispute had been settled. Macaulay’s father lost control of his son’s career in 1995, and also lost custody of his children that same year. He dropped his custody suit in 1997, and Macaulay’s mother Patricia became his manager instead.
In 1998, 18-year-old Macaulay married actress Rachel Miner who was also 18, but the marriage was short-lived. By 2000 the couple had split up, and Macaulay announced that he wanted to get back into acting. He made his comeback by appearing in a West End production of Madame Melville in London, which received rave reviews from the critics. In the play, Macaulay plays the role of a 15-year-old boy who is seduced by his French teacher. He reprised the part on the Broadway stage the following year, with Joely Richardson in the female leading role.
The young multi-millionaire actor did not appear in a feature film again until 2003, when he took the lead role of Michael Alig in a film called Party Monster. Based on a true story and set in the 1980s, the film portrayed a fashionably extravagant young party organiser who’s accused of murder. Macaulay's fey, camp performance was very well received after his long absence from the big screen.
Also in 2003, Macaulay enjoyed playing the role of an innocent-looking attorney handling Karen Walker’s divorce on the popular TV series “Will and Grace”. Next came a film called Saved!, a spoof movie describing the goings-on in the religious high schools of America. Here Macaulay turned his hand to comedy again, albeit of a very dark and dry nature, playing the wheelchair-bound brother of a Jesus-obsessed Mandy Moore. He followed this with a role in the dark comedy Sex and Breakfast (2007), and some voiceover work for Seth Green's TV comedy Robot Chicken. He also published a semi-autobiographical novel called Junior.
Although Macaulay’s acting star was once more in the ascendant by 2003, his private life continued to be the focus of a great deal of media attention. He was arrested for possessing marijuana in Oklahoma in 2004. When he appeared in court the following year he also pleaded guilty to charges of possessing medication without a prescription, as well as possessing marijuana. He was given a deferred sentence, and fined $540.
During the same period, he was also called upon to testify for the defence in the child abuse trial of the rock star Michael Jackson. Jackson had taken a friendly interest in Macaulay’s career in the 1990s, and the two performers had become friends. Other witnesses for the prosecution had testified that they’d seen signs of improper behaviour on the rock star’s part, but Macaulay told the jury that he had never been sexually molested by Michael Jackson. Macaulay is also godfather to Michael Jackson’s first child, Prince Michael Jackson, as well as Jackson’s daughter Paris.
As far as romance was concerned, Macaulay began dating Mila Kunis, star of That 70s Show, in May 2002. The couple broke up amicably in 2010.
The transition from famous child actor to successful adult actor is a notoriously difficult one, and few performers have ever managed to achieve it. While Macaulay Culkin has yet to recapture the same level of stardom that he enjoyed during the early 1990s, his success on both large and small screen since the turn of the millennium shows that his acting career is far from over.