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Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 16:37 GMT
Culkin happy away from home
One-time child star Macaulay Culkin returns to acting after six years' absence - but this time he says he is doing things his way.
Celebrity career comebacks are often high-profile, well-choreographed affairs.
But former child star Macaulay Culkin has opted for a purposefully low-key return - on the West End stage.
Culkin, 20, was once the internationally famous juvenile star of 15 movies such as Home Alone and My Girl.
He stepped off the acting treadmill six years ago following an acrimonious rupture from his controlling father-manager Kit.
In the interim, he has been to college, dropped out, married and separated.
Now, the still boyish actor is rebuilding his professional life by appearing in Madame Melville at London's Vaudeville Theatre.
The play is untried and has a small cast of relative unknowns which, says Culkin, is perfectly in keeping with his determination to take his comeback nice and slow.
"As a senior in high school you figure out what you want to do with your life. I asked myself if I wanted to get back into acting and thought: 'Yes but under my own terms and nothing like it was before'," he explains.
In Madame Melville, Culkin plays the 15-year-old American schoolboy Carl in Paris in 1966. He is seduced by his 30-year-old French literature teacher Claudie Melville, played by Irene Jacob.
The two have sex but Madame Melville teaches Carl that the physical side of love is only given value through passion and emotional bonding.
In its theme of sexual enlightenment, the play bears similarities to that other current West End production, The Graduate.
However, Culkin is quick to dispel any notion that, like that show, the actors appear naked on stage.
"It's not overtly sexual. So people could be disappointed if they think it is about that," he says with a shy smirk.
"I don't go to shows and plays for that reason so I hope people are coming to be entertained and see a wonderful piece of art."
Given Culkin's own precocious introduction to the machinations of the adult world, the play's director Richard Nelson thinks he is perfect for the role.
"A lot of young actors may be able to get away with playing a 15-year-old but can't bring the wealth of experience that Macaulay has had in his own life and this reflects in his person and his ability," he says.
Culkin began acting at the age of six. By nine he was making Home Alone and My Girl.
But the greater Culkin's success, the more pushy manager Kit Culkin became, signing his child up for one film after another - without ever letting him see a script.
Culkin recently said he lost all conception of what it was like to be "normal". But stranger things were come when his parents split up.
They fought a costly custody battle over Culkin and his brothers and sisters.
To save his own money, placed in a closed account, Culkin had to "divorce" himself from his parents. He bailed them out, after which he discovered they had never been married.
Kit left four years ago but Culkin has remained close to his mother. The actor speaks candidly and philosophically about his tumultuous family life.
"I haven't seen my father in a while but that's just the way it is," he says. "But my mother and my family, I love to death, and I see them all the time - it is a wonderful thing."
But, he adds, he is careful not to involve his family in anything to do with his career anymore.
"I would much rather have that relationship maintained with my mother and my family rather than have to bring in the politics of acting into it. I felt it was a smarter decision to keep them separate," says Culkin.
The turmoil bore fruit in one respect in that it granted Culkin independence and at the age of 14 he effectively "retired".
"I just got to a point when I didn't want to do it anymore so when I finally had the freedom to say 'no' I made a conscious decision and just stopped," he explains.
Despite having crammed in so much living, Culkin says his role in Madame Melville makes him feel like a beginner again.
"I am learning as I go. How to do a play and rehearse every day. I am with a lot of good people so it helps," he says.
But the difference this time is that Culkin is able to savour the challenge.
"I am not revving to do a big Hollywood comeback," he states. "All I want is to do good things with good people. It doesn't matter if it is a play or film. I just want to do my own thing," he concludes.
Madame Melville is at London's Vaudeville Theatre until 6 March.
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