Daniel Stern's known for playing Marv in the Home Alone, a movie that catapulted him to fame 25 years ago. Find out what it's like to work with Joe Pesci, what he's currently working on, and what the future holds.
Hollywood offered the millennial generation a plethora of childhood Christmas films. There’s Bruce Willis pushing Alan Rickman off the Nakatomi Tower in a satisfying death for a financially unscrupulous villain. Or a little Mogwai’s transformation to cuddly creature to Gremlin Hunter…minus the somewhat unsettling Ewok features found in George Lucas’s oddly appropriate holiday standard Star Wars.
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But no Christmas is complete without watching Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) outwit two inept thieves (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern) in Home Alone. And if you’re lucky, you may even find a big screen presentation this year. After all, it’s been 25 years and everyone knows the “Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh” visual. Heck, kids have reenacting the scene for as long, often to parents’ amusement until the tree suddenly topples.
When Kevin’s left home alone, forgotten by a large and conflict-ridden family, it’s up to the eight-year-old to save Christmas, his home and himself. Stern’s bumbling Marv plays against Pesci’s more menacing Harry perfectly in a tag team resembling comedian legends Laurel and Hardy. And for the 25th anniversary, Stern showed up on Reddit for an Ask Me Anything.
On December 24, of course.
Anyone who remembers the tarantula scene will shudder along with the actor as he recalls that his scream “came from a place in my soul that I've never before touched and never hope to again!” Well, who would want an arachnid that close to your mouth?
Then again, writer John Hughes probably focused on the fatalistic gags with intent. After all, the same man made a Ferrari die by cliff. But Stern’s also very focused on making sure children understand the reality and the fiction of the film. In fact, Stern developed and taught a course on Media Literacy because “kids have to become critical thinkers and explaining how media is made is important for critical thinking.”
A pretty important distinction for the happy, quirky holiday fare of gags and possible concussions. Screen Junkies even listed all the major injuries and possible death endings.
When a poster asked if he’d run into Caulkin recently, the answer wasn’t surprising but did show a little humor from a set long since dismantled. “In terms of seeing Macaulay again, I haven't seen him face-to-face in years, but I did catch his new video, which was outrageously funny, also somewhat threatening, and therefore I felt the need to respond.”
He even provides a link to his Facebook or to check out the video directly on YouTube. In an ever-changing industry, there’s something very endearing in seeing a man enjoy a career without all the hoopla and media overexposure. Instead of playing the Hollywood game, his success propels him to do things like founding The Boys and Girls Club of Malibu, which even reclusive Pesci supports through his friendship with Daniel.
Home Alone didn’t just change his life on a professional level, but also on a private one. There, he’s learning to accept the compliments. Appreciating the acknowledgments, using social media like Facebook to promote thanks, is “quite an incredible way to walk through life.”
Running the gamut…
Stern’s been in everything from the comedies Bushwacked (1995) and City Slickers (1992) to smaller, dark indie films like Viva Las Nowhere (2001). And as the narrator of Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years (1988-1993), a show that many now-adults sat around and watched with the family. Another Kevin looking to make his way in the world.
Millennials and late Gen Xers have pretty much been defined by one or another of the roles he’s played at some point.
And who can turn away any tidbits about the 1980s preeminent coming-of-age director John Hughes, a reclusive man who touched an entire decade. Hughes wrote both Home Alone and Home Alone 2, which felt a little more like Ferris Bueller and a little less like St. Elmo’s Fire.
“John had written me such funny stuff to do and this time he came out of his writing cave to see it for himself. John and I became great friends and loved to make each other laugh.” And sometimes personal friendships can turn transform into unexpected stories, too.
“About halfway through the filming John gave me a script he wanted me to direct called "The Bee". It was a hysterical comedy about a man trapped in his house with a bee. John and I worked on the script over the course of the rest of the movie.
“After Home Alone 2 wrapped John invited me up to his farm. I brought my daughter Sophie and we hung out at his place for a couple of days working on the script and getting to know each other's families.”
Like many in the industry, Stern’s “still saddened by the loss of John.” In fact, “I was recently in touch with his son, James, who is also a writer. I'm hoping one day to get my hands on some of those gems that I know John left in his secret library of scripts.” Let’s hope so. The industry’s a little less sparkly without the next Ferris or Kevin to kick start a marathon with.
Sometimes a star doesn't need to be seen to shine. As the voice of Dilbert in the short-lived cartoon series of the same name as well as the narrator in The Wonder Years, he found “the beauty of voice acting is that you can do it in your pajamas.” All joking aside, “it takes a particular acting style to focus your character just in your voice.” Considering how many voice actors may play multiple roles on a series, it’s pretty on point.
And currently he can be seen directing and acting in WGN America’s critically acclaimed Manhattan series, centering on “the building of the nuclear bomb” in New Mexico. Stating the Emmy-winning drama is "an incredible show, a great part and a blast to be behind the camera again.” Independent studios and productions by smaller networks are the rise against the Big Three and premium cable. No news on a third season, but the Emmy nod and ongoing success should lead to yes.
WGN also produces the campy Salem, a show that asks: What if the Salem witch trials were real…along with the witchcraft. And in March, Underground premieres featuring Aldis Hodges (Leverage) and a cast of black actors as slaves on the Underground Railroad run. An adventure laying the foundation of social change still in progress 150 years later. Less explosions and green screen and more real action.
More than meets the eye
It’s not just about art on screen, though. Turns out that Stern’s a sculptor, too. “I've been doing monumental pieces for various public art projects in California, including Temple City, Coronado, and a new one from Monrovia,” clarified the Whip It star. “I also do private commissions and galleries and it all keeps me really busy in between the showbiz stuff.”
Who knew? When people think of Daniel Stern, pratfall comedy’s probably the first thing on the list. But that’s not all he focuses on in the world of art. When asked about his favorite restaurant, the answer was simple. “I can honestly say the finest restaurant I've ever been in is my own kitchen.” With a partner who’s a professional chef, he feels like “the luckiest man in the world” since “night after night I am treated to one surprise after the other.”
After 35 years together, the love is deeply ingrained and comes across, even in the written medium.
But it’s not just the two of them and the appreciation of an amazing partner that makes their family complete. Proudly announcing his daughter Sophie’s songwriting work for Britney Spears, Dr. Luke, and other pop stars and their other daughter’s recent transition into grad school, he shows himself as a proud father in whatever his kids’ choose to succeed in.
Not mention son-in-law David Greenbaum just won three Grammys for Beck’s Morning Phase earlier this year. Artistry’s in more than just the visual arts for the Stern clan.
Daniel Stern is a quiet man who loves his family, wants to do things in the world, and sees artistry through more than just a single lens. Working with greats like John Hughes, Billy Crystal, and John Candy opened up doors for personal accomplishments and set new industry standards in how to be aware of the worth of life’s gifts.
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Catch many more of his answers at Reddit. Find out all about City Slickers, Crystal's animal adoptions, and the beginnings of a long career. Oh, and a few props from Home Alone.