The latest entry into the beloved “Home Alone” franchise hails from a stacked roster of comedy veterans.
“Borat” and “Bridget Jones’ Baby” co-writer Dan Mazer directs the film from a screenplay by Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell of “Saturday Night Live” (and of Variety’s list of 10 Screenwriters to Watch in 2021). The cast includes Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney and Kenan Thompson. But in “Home Sweet Home Alone,” those comedians and their decades of experience stand in service of something greater.
That is, of course, the budding stardom of Archie Yates, the 12-year-old from Kent, England who made his film debut in 2019 via Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit.” He stole the screen as Jojo’s [Roman Griffin Davis] goofy and blunt best friend Yorki, then did it again during the film’s awards campaign, winning hearts and going viral online for his red carpet appearances.
In “Home Sweet Home Alone,” he plays Max Mercer, a child left behind in true Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) fashion as his bustling extended family makes their way to Tokyo for Christmas. But unlike Kevin and the protagonists of other “Home Alone” films, the bad guys Max must fend off during his solo holiday are actually good people. Pam (Kemper) and Jeff McKenzie (Delaney) are a married couple selling their family home to make ends meet after Jeff loses his job as a data migration manager. (Cue: a string of jokes about “the cloud” and how new-age technology will ruin us all.)
When Max and his mother Carol (Aisling Bea) stop in during the McKenzies’ open house so Max can use the bathroom, wires get crossed after a peculiar conversation about a freaky-looking doll that belonged to Jeff’s mother. Jeff realizes the doll is worth $200,000, but it goes missing. The McKenzies think Max stole it and try to sneak into his house to get it back; lonely Max thinks he’s the “ugly little boy” they want to capture and sell; classic “Home Alone” hijinks and booby traps ensue, but this time, there’s a new tenderness borne of the warring sides’ shared holiday adversity.
“It’s a breath of fresh air. This is the same concept, yet it’s a completely different story. Working on this film has been an honor. Just an honor,” Yates says.
With “Home Sweet Home Alone” now streaming on Disney Plus, Yates told Variety about internet fame, his favorite stunts and his future career as a writer-director.
You had a lot of fans after “Jojo Rabbit.” When you were making the movie, did you expect to get so much love?
No! I thought that I would just be, like, a little side character! I’m actually really surprised that so many people love me compared to Roman.
What was that like? What was the best part of getting famous?
Probably just having everyone thinking you’re cool? Maybe just a little too much! But when it’s just the perfect amount of, “Oh, that’s a really cool actor guy,” yeah, that’s pretty cool.
I have an Instagram account, and at the end of every month, we check the follower count that we’ve been gaining. [We’ve watched] it go from, like, 25 people to full on — what are we at now, Mum? 7,000? [Yates’ mother responds off-screen.] Seven and a half thousand.
What made you want to do “Home Sweet Home Alone”? Did you grow up watching the original movie?
I religiously watch this film every year at Christmas. So being part of a reimagining of this incredible film is a lifelong dream. I got sent the script, and I was like, “No, no, no, that can’t be right… ‘Home Sweet Home Alone,’ another ‘Home Alone’ film?” And then the realization sets in: “Mum, I could be in the next ‘Home Alone’ film! We’ve gotta work our butts off to get this role! Come on, we’re doing this, we’re doing this!” I worked so hard to win the audition. And I was so happy when I did.
One of my favorite parts of the movie is the montage after you realize you’re home alone, where you’re eating candy and trying on your mom’s clothes and getting into other shenanigans. What was the best part of shooting that?
The best bit probably had to be when I’m riding down the stairs on that ironing board. That was so fun to film. I knew it was completely safe, because they had tried and tested it many times before. I was just living the dream doing that.
The safety team were, like, on it. They did so well. And the stunt team was incredible. The funniest stunt was probably the trampoline-into-tree part. I mean, that was funny. Watching Rob Delaney’s stunt double getting launched into a tree felt so painful, and yet so hilarious.
Speaking of Rob Delaney, there are a lot of experienced comedians in this movie. Him, Kenan Thompson, Ellie Kemper — who was your favorite to work with?
Aisling. Aisling was the one that I just had so much fun working with, because we naturally bond so well together. When we were doing our bickering scene in the McKenzie house, my mum said that we naturally bicker like we’re an old married couple. Which I love.
We work really well together, so I’m hoping that maybe we can work together again in the future. Like, I’m a mature 12-year-old, and Aisling [who is 37] is a very immature adult. So we both meet at the same age mindset of around 17. We are very similar.
Were you familiar with many of these actors before you got to work with them? Had you seen any of their work?
Yes! I’m pretty sure Ellie Kemper was the girl in “The Secret Life of Pets,” wasn’t she? I think she was. And I know Rob Delaney somehow, I’m not sure where. And I haven’t known Aisling before, but I do now, and she’s incredible.
With so many comedians on set, I bet you did some improvising.
Yes! That’s why Mum said we bicker like an old married couple, because we improvised all of our arguing. I think it was really good that I got to practice doing improv. This was my first proper taste of it, and now I have a feel of what I need to do. And I’m really excited to utilize that in my next thing, whenever that’s going to happen.
How much do you relate to your character Max?
In relation to Max, I do actually find him to be quite wise, like myself. But in terms of how bratty and annoying he is, no, not really. Might wanna leave that to my teenage years.
What did you learn from this movie that you’ll bring into the rest of your acting career?
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that it’s important to have friends in the business. I do intend to be a director one day. So if I want a certain someone for a script, I can ask, “Hey, do you want to be part of this new film, blah blah?” “Yeah, yeah, sure, yeah, yeah.” You know?
How exciting that you want to direct! What are your other goals? What kinds of projects are you interested in?
So, I’ve done two comedy films now. And as much as I do love comedy, I do want to opt out for some different genres. I’d love to be part of an action film, so that I can get some experience on what it should include. So I can use it for my own script, which I’m currently writing.
Tell me more.
Well, it is a superhero script. I don’t want to reveal too much. I do intend it to be a [TV] series. It’s gonna be very comedic, and a wee bit gory. And it’s all about vengeance, you know? The main character has gone through a lot of losses due to a really big event that’s happened. And now that she has her powers, she is going to wreak havoc with the help of some other people.
I’ve only just started writing it. But I do have a good idea of what I want in my head. So I just gotta get it out onto some paper and send it off to some people. I do have some ideas of who I’d like to help me develop it into a proper script, because obviously, I’m a child. I don’t know anything about directing. So I’m going to need some help on it, and I do have some candidates who I am hoping will take up the offer. Because I’m very passionate about this, and I really hope that it comes to life! Which it probably will! I’m very confident that people will like it.
Would you tell me who those candidates are?
Okay, yeah, sure! I haven’t revealed this to anyone just yet. But once I get the story finished, I am going to ask Taika Waititi to help me translate it into a script.
I think that’s a good idea.
Yeah, that is a really good idea, in my opinion. And I’m very excited for that, because obviously, we’re all really good friends from “Jojo Rabbit.” So working with each other is going to be really fun. And I really hope he helps me a lot with it. [But] just let everyone know that I am writing a script, and it will probably be out by the time I turn 18.
I will. But back to the holidays, what are you most looking forward to this Christmas?
My favorite part about this Christmas is going to be having my entire family over and watching the film. And being applauded for it. I’m very excited about that. Especially reuniting with my family after two years of terror.