'Home Alone' at 30: Chris Columbus talks Macaulay Culkin's appeal, Chris Farley's drunk audition and more

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·3 min read

Chris Columbus thought he had blown his chance to work with John Hughes. Columbus, the Gremlins and Goonies writer-turned-Adventures in Babysitting director was coming off a major box-office failure, 1988’s teens-kidnap-Elvis comedy Heartbreak Hotel, when he was enlisted by Hughes to direct National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

“Then I met Chevy Chase, and the long and short of it was we did not hit it off, he didn’t treat me very well,” Columbus tells us via video chat (watch above). “I need that movie but I had to call John and say I can’t work with that guy. John understood [but] I thought, ‘Oh, that’s the kiss of death, John’s never gonna want to work with me again. … And two weeks later he sends me the script for Home Alone.”

Christmas Vacation (1989) went on to become a modest box-office hit and a second-tier holiday favorite.

Home Alone went on to become the third highest-grossing movie of 1990 and a certifiable pop-culture phenomenon and contemporary Christmas classic.

“Even back then I knew this was a very special movie,” Columbus says of the family comedy, which turned 30 this week.

Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone" (20th Century Fox)
Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

Much of the movie’s success had to do with the filmmakers striking gold with their young lead, Macaulay Culkin, who starred as Kevin McAllister, the 8-year-old left to fend off pesky robbers (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) in his affluent suburban Chicago home afteer his family forgets him en route to Paris.

“He was such a unique kid,” says Columbus of Culkin, who Hughes had pegged for the lead after his scene-stealing work a year earlier in the John Candy comedy Uncle Buck. “Incredibly charismatic, he didn’t look like he came out of the Hollywood cookie-cutter world of fame. He didn’t look like some kid you see on a TV show. This was a real kid. … And he was funny and charming.

“I thought, ‘This kid is a movie star. He’s a real movie star.’”

The film also starred Catherine O’Hara and John Heard as Kevin’s parents, with a memorable cameo by John Candy as gregarious Polka king Gus Polinski. According to Columbus, the film almost featured a bit part from another future comedy star: Chris Farley, who auditioned to play the cranky Santa Claus Kevin encounters during one adventure leaving the house.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Cast Press Conference -- Pictured: Chris Farley on September 18, 1990 -- Photo by: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank
Chris Farley pictured on September 18, 1990. (Photo: Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

“It was 7:30 on a Saturday morning,” Columbus remembers. “Chris, who I knew from New York and always thought was a hilarious guy and a real sweetheart of a guy, came in and decided he was just going to hang out in Chicago and hit every bar in Chicago before he came to the audition. So poor Chris was not particularly prepared for that audition. But he would’ve been great in the role.”

Farley joined Saturday Night Live the same year Home Alone opened, and soon thereafter became a movie star with roles in Tommy Boy (1995), Billy Madison (1995) and Black Sheep (1996). The notoriously hard-partying comedic actor died of a drug overdose in 1997.

“He didn’t blow the audition,” clarifies Columbus, who has since gone on to direct Home Alone 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, a pair of Harry Potter movies and the upcoming Christmas Chronicles 2 (premiering Nov. 25 on Netflix). “Let’s just say he had a few drinks.”

Home Alone is currently streaming on Disney+.

Watch the Christmas Chronicles 2 trailer:

-Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee

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