Not long ago, Macaulay Culkin did something strange. Accompanied by his mother, Patricia Brentrup, and his entertainment lawyer, Kenneth Weinrib, the now 14-year-old Home Alone star traveled to the L.A. offices of Atlas Entertainment to see former Columbia Pictures chief Dawn Steel. Culkin's people ''called and said he was doing some meet-greets and would we be interested in talking?'' recalls Atlas VP of production Doug Segal, who attended the hour-long summit. ''We said, 'Sure.'''
Less than two years ago Culkin commanded $8 million a picture. But after the box office disappointments of his recent films The Nutcracker ($2 million), Getting Even With Dad ($18 million), and Richie Rich ($38 million) the newly adolescent star is experiencing an awkward phase: unemployment.
''He's going through the same metamorphosis as other child actors he's growing up,'' says David T. Friendly, producer of Culkin's 1991 hit My Girl. ''He can no longer play the incredibly cute and mischievous smiling child.''
''He has no asking price right now,'' adds one studio exec. ''It's a sign that his box office impact has subsided.'' Meanwhile, projects once in development with Culkin in mind have gone by the wayside. John Hughes' updating of Huck Finn's story and Sandollar Productions' The Prince and the Pauper are both inactive, according to sources at the production houses.
''It's over for [Macaulay],'' adds a studio publicity exec. ''The only hope that family has is his brother Kieran.''
Indeed, members of the Culkin clan are currently in Red Lodge, Mont., where Kieran, 12, is starring in Amanda the film that spurred a custody dispute between Brentrup and Culkin's demanding father, Kit. Claiming that Kit had tried to sabotage Kieran's career by vacilating on whether to let the boy appear in Amanda a first starring role Brentrup initiated proceedings that on June 21 awarded her sole custody of their six children. Kit, through his attorney, has denied any sabotage. And days later, a New York State judge reversed the ruling; the common-law couple, who separated last March (while in Montana, the parents are staying in separate homes; the children reside with Brentrup), are slated to appear in court on Sept. 14. to determine custody. ''We'll suggest [the parents] alternate projects,'' says Brentrup's attorney.
The ever bigger Mac may be down, but those who know him well aren't counting him out. ''I've always said Mac will have a career like Jodie Foster's if he wants it,'' says casting agent-turned-director Billy Hopkins. ''I imagine he's gotten bored with the constant Home Alone roles he's offered. With the exception of 1993's thriller The Good Son, they've all been rehashes of the same character. He'll have to do some transitional roles, like [Witness'] Lukas Haas did in 1991's Rambling Rose.'' Hopkins recently considered casting Mac as the romantic interest opposite Claire Danes in his upcoming Holocaust drama I Love You, I Love You Not, but abandoned the idea when he learned that Culkin was inches shorter than the 16-year-old Danes. Segal adds that Atlas would be willing to ''sit down and talk seriously with the actor if they found the right project.''
Home Alone director Chris Columbus (Nine Months) sees a future for Mac behind the camera. "I always thought, 'This is the guy who will be the next Ronnie Howard.' He was always interested in how I set up the shots, looking at the storyboards."
Culkin's William Morris agents wouldn't comment on his future plans. His teen angst, though, is in evidence: This summer he attended New York's Central Park premiere of Pocahontas, where, according to a source, he "seemed disenfranchised. He spent most of his time talking to concessionaires." Another sign: Nine days later, Mac's blond locks were dyed a garish red.
Additional reporting by Pat H. Broeske