It's been 10 years since Macaulay Culkin walked away from Hollywood despite being the highest-paid child star in history (at his peak, he reportedly was making $8 million a picture). Almost as famous for his father Kit's tyrannical, stage-dad reputation and his parents' bitter two-year custody battle as he was for his ''Home Alone'' scream, it's not surprising that Culkin suffered burnout by age 14.
But now Mac, 23, is continuing a comeback by playing Mandy Moore's paraplegic brother in ''Saved!'' (opening Friday), an indie satire set in a Christian high school. Having finally come to terms with his tumultuous childhood, Culkin says he's trying to build a calmer, happier life that even includes a few acting gigs. Here are the five ways the once problem-plagued star has found peace.
1. HE WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL For Culkin, one of the first steps toward feeling like a real kid instead of a money-making machine was attending a private high school in Manhattan, the Professional Children's School of New York. ''I remember when I was 11 or 12 saying to people I wanted to take a break and go to school,'' he says. ''But no one was listening.'' Although he dropped out his senior year, he fondly recalls his school days as a welcome return to reality. ''When I quit acting [after the 1994 disappointment 'Richie Rich'], I said, I'm gonna go to school and then figure it out from there. And that's what I did. Finally I did all the stuff a normal human being would do.''
2. HE EMBRACED HIS INNER CHILD STAR While Culkin says he initially hoped he would regain his anonymity after quitting acting, he acknowledges that he'll always be recognized as the ''Home Alone'' kid. ''Either you fight it or you accept it and try to live your life as a good person,'' he shrugs. He also accepts that his estranged father's reported ruthlessness in negotiating Mac's past contracts will continue to haunt him in Hollywood. ''There are people who won't sit down in the same room with me because of the way my father treated them,'' he says. ''But it wasn't like I was a 9-year-old saying 'Dad, make sure you get extra money for me to buy that Suburban.' On the other side of that, there are some really cool, open-minded people out there, and I'm just honored that they want me.'' (Kit Culkin, who has in the past refused to answer questions regarding Macaulay, could not be reached for comment.)