Writer-producer John Hughes may be best known as the creator of the definitive ’80s teen movie. In Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), and others, Hughes captured both the adolescent worldview and the box office. His recent movies — Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), Uncle Buck (1989) — have abandoned the teen perspective without losing their commercial appeal. On a break from directing his new film, Curly Sue, starring Jim Belushi, Kelly Lynch, and 9-year-old Alisan Porter, Hughes discussed movies about and for the young with Entertainment Weekly.
EW: Did you set out to write Home Alone as a movie that would appeal to kids in particular?
John Hughes: Yes. On Uncle Buck, where I’d dealt with an alternative arrangement to a family, I loved working with the little kids. I saw the audience reaction to them and thought, ‘This is kind of fun. I haven’t done it before.’ I had gotten very good at knowing how to make the teen films work. I knew what that age group was like and I had the music and the clothes and all that stuff right. Kids’ movies were a whole new area to go into. The question was, could I get a 9-year-old to carry a whole film?
What’s involved in handling an actor as young as Macaulay Culkin?
The key is to get the real kid and not the actor kid who has a dialogue coach and parents reading him lines. The first couple of takes they’re acting. The third take they’re kids. We really found that as a little kid, Mack’s terrific. When he’s jumping on the bed, he’s not Kevin, he’s Mack. He was having a great time in that scene. When we said, ‘Okay, you have to stop now.’ He said, ‘Why?’ Chris (director Columbus) worked with him so well. He’s sort of like a kid too.
Why are children’s movies suddenly so popular?
Because they’re familiar. I’ve seen Home Alone in urban areas, blue-collar areas, and rich suburbs — and when Mack is told to hang up the phone and he says ‘Make me,’ everybody goes (in a knowing drone) ‘Ohhhh….’ They all get it. People forget how smart kids really are. When I design these characters, I just try to make them as realistic as I can. When Catherine O’Hara sends Mack upstairs, that dialogue is word for word me and my kids, and me and my parents: ‘You always get mad at me, you never get mad at her.’ Those things are just standard.
What did your kids think of Home Alone?
I’ve finally made a movie that my 11-year-old son can tell his friends I did. There’s no kissing in it. Molly Ringwald movies are not the kind of things that boys go around saying ‘Yeah! My dad did that picture!’ This is a boy movie and he’s really happy about that.
You produce most of your movies here in Chicago. Why not Hollywood or New York?
I lived in California for four years and I just ran out of ideas. With Hollywood life, you get cut off from regular people. My pool man had movie ideas. I’d go to the grocery store and the guy stocking the meat section would say, ‘Loved your picture, but you know you had a mike in one of the shots. ’ You spend too much time with other people in the business and you trade ideas back and forth and it all sort of comes out looking the same. Here, everybody driving along the expressway is going to do something else. They’re not all working on their TV pilots, and they don’t really care who is. It’s easy to get your head really big: ‘I’m pretty cool.’ Well you’re not. I’m the same old jerk I always was, you know?