Home Alone was the first script Daniel Stern ever read that made him laugh out loud; he had to put it down and process all the craziness. His love for the project was instantaneous.
Playing Wet Bandits burglar Marv Merchants alongside Joe Pesci’s Harry Lime, Stern poured his heart into the role because the film felt different, unique.
Now, exactly 25 years after its release, Stern reminisces with The Hollywood Reporter about the mischievous child left home alone at Christmas with only his wits and household booby traps to ward off two bad guys, a story that would go on to become one of the highest-grossing comedies of all time and as synonymous with the holiday season as candy canes.
“I can take a hit,” Stern says laughing. Although he suffered no lasting injuries while making the film starring Macaulay Culkin, he and Pesci still took something of a beating through all the physical comedy required. But no matter, Stern tells THR, the bumps and bruises he got filming were a badge of honor.
“It’s like playing sports; it’s good soreness because you had fun doing it, as opposed to real injuries,” he says.
In one of the most popular scenes, Stern says he hurt himself so bad, he bled.
“I got a bloody nose when I had to stick my head through the doggie door,” he says with a chuckle. “I had to pull my head out quickly, and I clipped my big-ass nose on the door thing.”
His favorite booby trap was the set of ornaments put out near the window Marv enters during the final break-in, he says.
“Stepping on the glass bulbs on the floor looked so real to me,” he says. “Those craftsmen made those bulbs look so real it was fun for me to do that.”
Though not as risky a stunt as his many falls, Stern clearly remembers the day he got to the set and was told a large tarantula was going to be placed on his face.
“They said ‘Well, we have a rubber one, but we’ve got the real one, too.'” he says. “They told me [the tarantula] was real nice and showed it walking across the trainer’s arm.”
Still not 100 percent on board for the stunt, Stern asked if the crew could remove the spider’s “stinger,” to which he was told no, it would die. “And I said yeah, but if you don’t take it out, I’ll die’. But everyone seemed cool with it, so I just had them put the friggin‘ tarantula on my face,” Stern says laughing.
He found out what he was made of that day, he says, still chuckling.
As for the iconic bloodcurdling scream Marv lets out, it was real, not dubbed in later as many fans believe. And Stern did it take after take, he says.
“I asked if that would spook the spider, but I guess tarantulas can’t hear,” Stern says. “Again, I was committed fully to that movie … I wanted to hit a home run in every scene.”
He did. And fans have been letting him know it almost every day for the past quarter-century.
“What a way for me to go through my life when people lose themselves to me in that way,” he says, awestruck. “It changed my life; it opened doors for people connecting with me, wanting to tell me about the experience they had in their childhood and passing it on to their children, how they celebrate Christmas, how it made them laugh.”
Stern has great respect and admiration for the once pint-sized, now 35-year-old Culkin, but says the two have not spoken in years.
“I hope he comes back [to Hollywood]. He is a really good actor,” Stern says. “But I don’t blame him if he stays away.”
Stern witnessed firsthand the tsunami of stardom a 10-year-old Culkin was swept up in when Home Alone became a blockbuster.
“It’s tough being in the center of the storm as a kid actor,” Stern says. “It’s a dangerous, dangerous world for children.”
Stern, who — fun fact! — was the narrator on The Wonder Years (and also directed more than 10 episodes) said he witnessed very different situations surrounding Fred Savage and Culkin.
“Fred didn’t go through the publicity grinder that Mac went through. Somehow Fred’s career felt more protected. Fred as a child felt more protected than that,” Stern says. “That’s the danger of children in show business. If they’re successful, it can go crazy like that, and if they’re not successful, it can really hurt their small egos.”
Although not in touch with Culkin, Stern has remained close with partner in crime Pesci.
“He’s a genius and a great actor,” Stern says of his friend. “My wife and I started a Boys and Girls Club [in Malibu] years ago and Joe did some golf tournaments to raise money,” Stern says.
On Pesci’s performance in Home Alone, Stern says he was most impressed and entertained when his sidekick would go off on mumbling rants when in pain, a trick Pesci and director Chris Columbus came up with so the otherwise tough guy actor wouldn’t accidentally cuss.
“I thought that was brilliant on his part,” Stern says laughing before mimicking one of Harry’s tirades.
Pesci won the Oscar for best supporting actor in the other film he starred in that year, Goodfellas, in which he played Tommy DeVito, an ultra-violent, foulmouthed gangster with a hair-trigger temper.
Pesci’s 1990 résumé alone is the best example of his range, talent and why he is among the very best in the business, Stern says.
Seeing other actors play the characters he, Pesci and Culkin made famous in a reboot would probably not go over well, however, Stern contends.
“I can see when people talk to me how closely they hold [the film], so it might be a little dangerous to try and mess with it,” Stern warns. “But if they want to try it, I’m available to play Marv’s grandfather,” he says laughing.
These days, Stern is busy acting — appearing as a regular in the WGN America series Manhattan, among other shows — and also sculpting, a passion that began in his youth and has since reblossomed, he says.
He and wife, Laure, have three children: Henry, 33, currently seeking a California State Senate seat in the 27th district; Sophie, 29, a musician who has written works for Britney Spears and Kesha and has her own band (Sophie and The Bom Boms); and Ella, 26, a paramedic who recently began medical school for emergency medicine, Stern says.
“I’m so proud of each one of them pursuing something beautiful and helpful,” he adds.
In closing, Stern says Home Alone changed his life and he owes it a great debt of gratitude, but he has not watched the film in years and has no intention of seeing it anytime soon. Stern compares the situation to his current art outlet: “When I’m sculpting, there is nothing more important. [I] only talk about it, only think about it. I’ll think about it all day and be obsessed by it. Once I finish it, it’s kind of over for me. It’s just standing there. It’s done. I can’t do anything else to it. Now I need to, in my own mind, move on to the next thing I’m creating.”