Such was the perspective of the former child star, who at the time was releasing a novel, Junior (about...wait for it...a child star, coping with fame and a difficult father). He was busily exploring various artistic avenues in addition to acting, which he kinda gave up in the mid-'90s and returned to with a wink-wink approach, taking roles as far removed as possible from the impish little-kid characters he once paid his family's bills with.
"I was tired of it, to be honest," he told Ellen DeGeneres in 2018. "I did like 14 movies in six years or something like that...I was away from home a lot. I was away from school. I needed something else."
But thanks to some serious hustle over a 10-year period that started when he was barely 5 years old, he at least had the freedom to not have to bank on his child stardom—and yet, he knows by now that his still-chugging, oft-experimental acting career may always provoke some version of "Hey, it's the kid from Home Alone!"
He was simply fated to be in one of those movies that still resonates with the kids (and their parents) who packed into theaters to see it 30 years ago, prompting a symbiosis between fan and star that has resulted in a life-long interest in how Culkin is doing.
And Culkin's been the first to admit that he wasn't always doing great, that being super famous and having a lot of money by the time he was 12 proved damaging at times. But he did get busy finding himself, ultimately settling on the fact that all he could do was do his own thing and hope for the best.
"I really disassociated myself from 'Macaulay Culkin' mentally," he told New York. "Like, if someone actually calls out that name on the street, I don't turn my head. Literally. When I was 14 and I quit, I said I'm never doing that again—say whatever you want about me. That I'm crazy, that I'm an alcoholic. Call me a drug addict. I don't give a s--t anymore. That's not me anymore. That's for you. It's yours. Go ahead, have fun."
At the same time, he told ABC News, "I am a very happy person. I think I have a very good simple life, and I wouldn't change anything."
As it turned out, he does really like acting—on his own terms, in projects that speak to him, for whatever reason—and it's made for a fascinating career that, as Culkin turns 41, has included a little bit of everything. Next up for Culkin—he welcomed son Dakota with Brenda Song in April—is season 10 of American Horror Story, which premiered August 25.
Now, here's a look at his onscreen trajectory, starting from the very beginning:
In 2018, he had been living primarily in Paris for several years, "walking around with a baguette under my arm, living the romantic life," while still holding onto his longtime home in New York. "I bought in the '90s," he quipped. And why did he move to Paris? Because he liked it, and because he could.
AHS ultimately lured him back to the States, though. As series creator Ryan Murphy explained to E! News, "it came about just because it's how I always do things, where I have always loved Macaulay Culkin's work. I loved everything that he's done, I love the stuff he did in Home Alone, I also loved the sort of the older, more recent stuff that he did. And he hasn't worked in a while."
Murphy continued, "I'm excited for him to be in my world because I think...I'm gonna want to do a lot of things with him if he wants to work, because I think he's fascinating and interesting, and I think he has a soul. There's both a lightness and a darkness with Macaulay Culkin that I'm attracted to."
Or maybe Culkin's tendency to leave 'em wanting more worked like a charm.
This story was originally published on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 at 12 a.m. PT.