Macaulay Culkin: ‘No, I was not pounding six grand of heroin a month’

Category: Beer Humor
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The Home Alone star talks about the drug rumours, dodging paparazzi and his cheese-flavoured Velvet Underground tribute act

Of all modern myths, it is the fall of the child star that most compels us. Whether theyre embarking on 55-hour marriages, throwing bongs out of windows or abandoning monkeys at customs, we cant seem to get enough. Theres something pathological in our need to tear down our icons of innocence, which might explain the overprotective nature of Macaulay Culkins US publicist, who wants to see all my questions upfront. I refuse. I thought we could just … have a chat? The interview, Culkins biggest in 10 years, is supposed to focus on his comeback. Im instructed to avoid anything negative. I ask if I can ask if he has any regrets. Regrets sounds too negative, is the response.

When we meet, in the lobby of a hotel in Spain, Im still trying to figure out what exactly this comeback consists of. Culkins filming an advert for Compare the Market, which is obviously not a passion project. It was fun, and we hammered that sucker out pretty quickly. The biggest scene was me sitting on a bench eating ice-cream.

Is he doing this to fund an exciting new venture? No, not necessarily. Hes dressed grungily, long hair man-bunned back, boots open-laced, blazer badge-studded. He doesnt project the focused careerism of most actors. People feel they have to be in perpetual motion, or drown. Ive never had a problem saying Ive got nothing lined up. Maybe Ill take the next year off. It sounds as if hes not particularly drawn to acting at all. Im not much active, he concedes. If I knew what I wanted to do, Id be writing it myself.

The trajectory of Culkins life feels like fallout from an atomic blast. By the age of 12, Uncle Buck, two Home Alone films, My Girl and (to a lesser extent) Richie Rich had made him the most successful child actor of all time. At 14, he became legally emancipated from his parents; both had been trying to gain control of his $17m fortune in their divorce. Culkin married at 17, and separated two years later. Sleepovers with Michael Jackson became public knowledge when he was called as a defence witness at the singers molestation trial. Im ghoulishly fascinated by this alien childhood. Id like to ask about Michael Jackson.

In Home Alone (1990). Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

I think its best you dont, interjects his manager. She is one of three people sitting with us. Its not that its a painful topic … begins Culkin. His manager insists we move on, the PR next to her agrees. Culkin clearly wants to say something, but six eyes are telling him not to.

I suspect were both wondering why were here; 35-year-old Culkin doesnt do this sort of thing any more, having turned his back on the spotlight. I dont just turn my back, I actively dont want it. The paps go after me because I dont whore myself out. He has spent a decade turning down interviews, and mostly lives in France, where the aloof Parisians leave him alone. (Its also where Kevin McCallisters family were headed when they left him Home Alone, but we cant talk about that.) I get the impression hes as eager to talk about a price comparison website as I am to ask about one. Instead, I ask why people are still fascinated by him.

I have no idea. I was thinking about this the other day Id crossed the wrong street, picked up a tail, suddenly theres a crush of 20 paparazzi. Then people with cameraphones get involved. I dont think Im worthy of that.

With Michael Jackson in 2001. Photograph: Kevin Kane/WireImage

Has it got better with time?

Its been like that my whole adult life. You take on a prey-like attitude, always scanning the horizon. Its strange on dates, as it looks like youre not paying attention. But Ive stopped trying to think of myself in the third person, because thats just gonna drive me nuts.

You had to think about yourself in the third person?

Exactly. Macaulay Culkin is out there, and Im Mac. You guys can play with the first one.

Hes not averse to a bit of playing himself, for Culkin is the celebritys meta-celebrity. You may remember the meme-meltdown a few years back when Ryan Gosling was pictured wearing a T-shirt of Kevin McCallister. Culkin responded by creating a T-shirt that pictured Gosling wearing the shirt, before Gosling responded in kind, being photographed wearing a T-shirt of Culkin wearing a T-shirt of Gosling wearing a T-shirt of Culkin. They may still be at it for all we know.

Culkins previous ads, for the likes of Orange (and, in a Partridge move, the rebranding of Norwich Union), trade in close-to-the-bone self-analysis. For Compare the Market, he plays a hitchhiker picked up by the lovable meerkats, who see him as a child, buying him ice-cream and making him ride merry-go-rounds hes too big for.

In 2006, Culkin wrote an experimental novel, Junior, from the perspective of a certifiable child star with father issues. In web comedy :DRYVRS, hes a blood-spattered sadist, unhinged by the childhood trauma of parental abandonment, and defending himself against home invaders. Is all this self-quoting what hes drawn to, or just what he gets offered? A bit of both. It suits my personality and sense of humour. But I would be game for something non-self-referential.

Given this dilemma constantly returning to a past he wants distance from where does his sense of self come from? From me. I try to figure out what makes me happy and not in a superficial way. I keep my soul fit. Is he spiritual? I know enough to know I dont know. I was raised Catholic, so theres a lot of guilt. Were born with original sin. He veers off into a joke. Since I was told that, Ive been trying to come up with even more original sins, thatll really blow my priest away at confession. Like, heres one you havent heard it involves a pitching wedge, a donkey and a bucket of ice. And two meerkats? Yeah! You might wanna record this one!

With his brother, Kieran Culkin, c 1990. Photograph: Dave Benett/Getty Images

He reflects. Actually, Im very much at peace lately. I can debate with people, and my heart rate never changes. And Culkin is witty and affable. Funny, but distant. He offers confrontational figures of speech amiably. If you want to get into an argument with an artist, ask them what art is, he says. If you want to make an actor feel uncomfortable, ask them what theyre doing next. (I hastily scribble out one of the few questions Ive written down.)

Are his debates political? I have leanings, but Im the definition of a disenfranchised voter I think the system is ugly. This whole Trump thing is amazing. (Trump cameos in Home Alone 2, showing our hero the way to the Plaza Hotel lobby, although we cant talk about it.) Culkin doesnt want to be drawn further. Discussing politics is the quickest way to alienate people, so I dont wanna go into it. And Trump has enough column inches? Exactly! Hes like the Candyman, we have to stop saying his name.

Culkin was acting at four, an age at which no one knows what they want beyond watching cartoons and eating oversugared cereal. Having described himself as effectively retired, he works occasionally (voices for Seth Greens Robot Chicken, cameoing as himself in Zoolander 2), but: Im much more proactive with visual arts and writing, my notebook and little projects. Of the projects that reach the public, most could charitably be classed as divisive. There are paintings: one of the cast of Seinfeld on the set of Wheel of Fortune, being painted, nude, by He-Man. Theres The Wrong Ferrari, a Dadaist knockabout written on ketamine with Adam Green of the Moldy Peaches, shot entirely on iPhones. Most notorious is the Pizza Underground, his Velvet Underground tribute act that replaces the original lyrics with pizza puns (Im Waiting for Delivery Man, Take a Bite of the Wild Slice). At Nottingham Rock City, the band were pelted with beer and booed off stage as he played a kazoo solo. They cancelled their European dates, citing a cheesemergency. My question about all this is: what the hell?

Its one of those good ideas you have when youre drunk, and you wake up and forget about it. But were taking it to the end of the joke. We have an album coming out, a vinyl pressing with a childrens choir, a symphony orchestra. Were giving it away, our gift to the world. Does he still find it funny? Of course I find it funny! We rhyme mushrooms with mushrooms, come on. Its the same joke, relentlessly. Like, theyre really doing this?

Culkin enjoys the absurdity his fame bestows. But scrutiny has its downside. In New York, he takes walks at 4am to avoid harassment. On YouTube, one can find clips of him being harassed by wannabe-paps with smartphones. In 2012, photographs of him looking gaunt, almost transparent, set tabloids aflame with stories he was addicted to heroin and oxycodone, following the breakdown of his relationship with Mila Kunis. Given his friendship with Adam Green and Pete Doherty as well as a previous arrest for possession of marijuana, Xanax and clonazepam it seemed plausible.

Performing as Pizza Underground with Deenah Vollmer. Photograph: Sam Santos/WireImage

Were people right to be worried? Not necessarily. Of course, when silly stuff is going on but no, I was not pounding six grand of heroin every month or whatever. The thing that bugged me was tabloids wrapping it all in this weird guise of concern. No, youre trying to shift papers. Is there a story there he might want to tell one day, on his own terms? Perhaps.

Whatever his recreational habits, Im surprised by how unscrewed-up Macaulay Culkin is. Plans for the summer mainly involve roadying for Har Mar Superstar and Green (with whom he has another lo-fi film out, Aladdin). Home is where my boots are. Im a big fan of jumping on peoples tourbuses, making myself useful, doing load-ins and outs. I do everything except the merch table. I tried that, but … we didnt sell anything.

He has directionless days. He sleeps in, stays up late, indulges immature humour, bounces around with bad-influence friends. In short, hes enjoying the adolescence that celebrity stole from him. Ironically, his personal problems and turbulent relationship with the media have also given him a pretty grown-up perspective. Not a bad epilogue for a child star.

Its allowed me to become the person I am, and I like me, so I wouldnt change a thing. Not having to do anything for my dinner, financially, lets me treat every gig like its the last. He laughs, and this time addresses himself in the second person. If it is, Id think: Culkin, you had a good run.

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