The Fake-ish Feud of the Former Child Actors

Macaulay Culkin and Devon Sawa on young stardom, Twitter rows, and what kind of cow they’d rather be.

Macaulay Culkin and Devon Sawa. Photo: Jeff Minton
Macaulay Culkin and Devon Sawa. Photo: Jeff Minton
Macaulay Culkin and Devon Sawa. Photo: Jeff Minton

Macaulay Culkin greets me at his front door in pink pajamas with bunnies on them. He offers me Veuve Clicquot served in a glass purloined from United Airlines. When Devon Sawa arrives, both of us are given rubber duckies we choose at random from a bag. Sawa’s is part duck, part Care Bear; mine is Minecraft-themed. This is the persona Mack (please, call him Mack) has created as the man behind Bunny Ears, a lifestyle website and podcast born out of the question “What if a degenerate were in charge of Goop?” Culkin provides the personality to front it. He’s a professional troll now, and Sawa, his semi-willing victim, is here to squash a beef they started on Twitter.

Culkin, 38, and Sawa, 40, have never been in the same room together, but they went through the crucibles of superstardom and teendom around the same time. Culkin starred in some of the biggest family movies of the late ’80s and early ’90s: Uncle Buck, My Girl, and the Home Alones. (He also, notably, appeared in the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” and was friends with the singer, but he doesn’t want to talk about Leaving Neverland, the upcoming HBO documentary on Jackson’s child-abuse allegations.) Just as Culkin was growing disillusioned with acting, onto the scene came Sawa, a Vancouver-born star who started in toy commercials and graduated to hunky love-interest roles in Little Giants, Now and Then, and Casper. Sawa’s early 2000s were marred by what he considered schlocky horror movies (not the more reputable Final Destination — the ones that came later) and hard partying.

Both left the spotlight to varying degrees and explored careers away from acting: Culkin tried ballet, writing, and a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band. Sawa briefly moved back to Canada and became a landlord. So when they returned to the public eye and started sniping at each other over Twitter last summer, a certain demo of millennial women lost their shit. It was as if our childhood were eating itself. It started when Sawa discovered Culkin was selling DEVON SAWA shirts on his website. Sawa considered getting lawyers involved. Then, he thought, it would be more fun to poke back, and the two began an online feud that neither party could be entirely sure was fake. Sawa said he was going to rob a bank dressed like Culkin. In turn, Culkin started a GoFundMe called “Devon Sawa Needs Our Help.” Sawa tweeted that he was going to make Culkin a Tinder profile; Culkin bought as a birthday gift for his girlfriend.

Now the boys are hashing it out in person and finding they have more in common than child stardom.

How did your “feud” start?
Devon Sawa:
I noticed T-shirts were being sold with my name on them. At first I went, What the fuck?! Then I had to really think. Macaulay Culkin — did I do something to him back in the day? Did I see him at a club?

Macaulay Culkin: For me, it came from [both of us being] blond, young, ’90s. On the podcast, I started introducing myself, “Hello, I’m Devon Sawa.”

DS: There was a Christmas video, wasn’t there? You were wearing a Christmas sweater by the fire, and you were like, “Hi — ”

MC: Oh yeah, that was our first video, and I said, “Hi, I’m TV’s Devon Sawa!”

DS: I’m not on TV!

MC: I’m a film actor!

Culkin in Home Alone (1990). Photo: Everett Collection

Weren’t you on Nikita at the time?
: Weren’t you on SeaQuest? [Laughter.]

This feud has had the vibe of a pro-wrestling plotline, like kayfabe — the fake story you pretend is real.
: A wrestling match was one of the early things we joked about.

MC: It just became a fun thing to keep doing. I figured he’d fall for my charm. It’s not shit-talking.

DS: It never felt like it. There are some pictures out there they could have posted of me —

MC: I did one of these [conversations] with Seth Green once, for Interview. We had to redo it. They didn’t like my questions.

DS: What kind of questions?

MC: Like, “Would you rather be a brown cow, a black-and-white cow, or not a cow?” And they said, “Go back and talk about the movie.”

Well, which would you rather be?
: Oh, black-and-white cow.

You’d rather be a black-and-white cow than not a cow at all?
: Yeah, because a lot of things fall into that category of “not a cow.”

DS: The alternative “being something worse than a cow” was your thinking?

MC: Exactly.

DS: I would roll the dice and go for something better. I’d go with “not a cow.”

MC: Would you want to be a tree?

DS: Trees live for a long time, man.

MC: That’s what I’m saying! You’d be sitting there for a couple hundred years, stationary, nothing but your thoughts.

DS: Have you read The Giving Tree?

MC: Yeah.

DS: What an awful book.

Speaking of Seth Green, you both co-starred with him in movies I think are criminally underrated. But which movie is more underrated: Party Monster or Idle Hands?
: Well, Party Monster’s not underrated. It stinks.

MC: Honestly, I’ve never seen Idle Hands, so I’ll pick it.

DS: I will say, no bullshit, that Seth Green is top-two people I’ve ever worked with.

MC: He is great.

DS: You don’t stop smiling the entire time you’re on set. Witty jokes he’s got a lot of. Him and Jason Schwartzman.

I’ll never forget your episode of Cribs with Schwartzman, when you had the main house and he lived in a tent in your garage.
: That was all Jason. I didn’t know what he was doing. I thought I was going to go into the comedy world, and then I did Slackers and realized it wasn’t my thing.

MC: Because you’re not funny.

DS: Because I’m not funny. [Mack cackles.] I’m very scripted. Everything I say has to be on the page. But Jason Schwartzman would bring his own bag of stuff he would pull out. We would be talking in the middle of a scene, and he’d yell, “My dick is hard!” That’s not on the page. I couldn’t keep up with that.

Sawa in Little Giants (1994).

Have you done a comedy where you just had to let it fly, like Superbad, where everyone starts going in different directions?
MC: That’s actually one of my stronger suits now. I’ve gotten a certain amount of comfortable in my own skin. It was actually Seth who said, “You’re a funny guy. You should do comedy.” And my entire foundation was built on comedy. I just started being relaxed.

Was that difficult?
MC: Even with ballet, it was very 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. They tell you what to do, and you mimic. The same thing with scripts. It’s all on the page. That’s where I came from. All of a sudden when it pinged in me, Oh I can do things that aren’t on the page!, I started thriving in that aspect. I trust myself to be sharp and smart, funny and weird. I trust in myself not to embarrass myself.

DS: That’s the way Idle Hands worked. I was the straight guy.

MC: Straight man is a great place to be.

DC: I had Seth Green to eat burritos funny and all that shit, and all I had to do was believe the situation.

MC: I call that the Stripper Pole: Everyone dances around you, and you’re the stripper pole. I love being the straight man. Matthew Broderick is one of the best straight men there is.

DS: And it’s still comedy. [In Idle Hands], I was going to cut my fucking hand off with a bagel cutter, and the way this is going to be funny is if I really believe I’m going to cut my fucking hand off with a bagel cutter.

MC: That’s the thing with comedy in general. You have to go for it, you have to believe it.

DS: I approached Idle Hands like I was in a Scorsese film. Seth will tell you, we had a tough time on that set. Seth had to step between me and the director a couple times.

DS: Because it was the height of the teen horror films—

MC: Oh yeah, the late ‘90s, are you kidding me? All the Screams and I Know What You Did.

DS: This director, Rodman Flender, he came from Party of Five. He directed nothing but Party of Five episodes. And he was a big horror fan. He wanted it to be very, very serious. And I wanted to make Evil Dead 2. I asked, “Can I do some business with dishes? It’s a throwback to Evil Dead 2, let me smash dishes!” This movie has to be me as Elmer Fudd, and this hand as Bugs Bunny. That’s our movie.

MC: That makes sense.

DS: I wanted to go a little further. Not over the top, but the hand should have never creeped around — it should have been [mimes the frenetic running of Thing in The Addams Family]. A little more slapstick.

MC: I just texted Seth. Told him you say “Hi,” even though you didn’t.

How did each of you get into acting?
: I got into it partially because I was a problematic child. I wanted to be the center of attention all the time.

MC: I love the conciseness of that answer. Like, it’s just so short and concise. I was an energetic kid. I had way too much energy, I was always putting on shows for the family and things like that. My father, he really wanted my older brother and sister to go into acting and so forth. So he would go and get some headshots with them and then my mother, because I was the youngest out of all of them, was like, “Hey, listen, I want the afternoon off. Just take Mack with you, too.” I showed up and I made a jackass of myself during the first audition. Ended up sitting on the table, marching around like a jerk. And next thing you know, I get hired for that.

It’s interesting that both of you were funneled into acting because you couldn’t sit still in class.
: Still can’t sit still. But in a funny way, I just kept on doing things.
And you kind of trip and fall into success, I guess. Sometimes people like it, sometimes they don’t.

How did you navigate having on-set tutors?
: I absolutely hated it. I loved doing movies in the summer. I didn’t like doing movies during school. There was nothing worse than when you’d be having fun on set and then all of a sudden the director would yell, “Cut, print.” I would have a conversation with the director about a scene that didn’t really need to happen, but I would make it happen just so I could stall as long as I possibly could. I remember that clearly.

MC: See, when it came to me, it was one of those things where I both loved and hated shooting things in the summer. I loved it for all the same reasons Devon likes it, but at the same time I hated it because I didn’t get a summer vacation. I had to spend summer vacation working. And I would have much rather been a latchkey kid, running around the neighborhood being a jerk.

DS: There’s a lot of things I regret not doing. Like, I never went to prom.

MC: Summer camp.

I gotta say, prom was terrible.
: Yeah, it’s highly underwhelming, I agree. I’ve been to, like, three proms, and I’ll tell you, you didn’t miss much. I will say that every other child actor I know, they’ve all said the same thing about proms — that they never went. And I’m telling you, they’re not that great. They’re not teen movies, where it’s like —

DS: It’s all “lose your virginity” and “let’s do stupid things; this is gonna be the most epic night ever.” At the same time, I feel like I got to see a lot of things other kids definitely didn’t get to see. Like I spent summers in Savannah, Georgia, and worked in Calgary and Toronto and California.

You mentioned you don’t know what your experience was like because you don’t know what not having your experience is like. You have no comparison.
: I know what my experience was like, but yes, I don’t know. That goes with anybody. What could I have been if blankety-blank happened or didn’t happen? I can’t speak for that. It wasn’t like I was sitting around, going, “I really want to be a paleontologist,” or something. I just kind of did things, and I did things and people liked it. So I kind of kept on doing them for a while, and then I stopped and then I started doing other things. If anything, I’m incredibly blessed to be this blasé about it.

The only way I can think to phrase this is odd, but what’s it like to be the symptom of someone else’s nostalgia? Your identities are frozen in amber for so many people.
: Wow, I’ve never been called a symptom before. Actually, my girlfriend calls me that all the time. It sounds like a great wrestler name: I’m the Symptom.

DS: It is a good name.

MC: Listen, what’s it like to breathe in and out? No, for real, what’s it like to eat, drink, shit? It’s not like I have a choice. That’s day-to-day life. People view me a certain way, and I can’t help that. I’m never going to explain myself in that kind of way. It’s just the way it is.

DS: There are some celebrities that won’t embrace it. If they’re promoting a movie and someone brings up the past, they’re like, “Don’t bring that up! I don’t want to talk about it!” I had to make peace with it very early. I get “Can I keep you?” — which is a line from Casper — at least three times a week, as if no one’s tweeted it before.

MC: For years and years and years, I’ll get two or three calls a year from friends, usually female, crying because they’ve just watched My Girl. “I know you’re okay — I just wanted to make sure you were okay, though!” I’m alive, I’m alive.

What’s the weirdest rumor you’ve heard about yourself?
: I die all the time. That’s fun. That’s always great. The worst part is when I have to reassure people. My mom calls me and I say, “No, I’m alive.” My friend Regina cries, and that sucks. Otherwise, it’s fucking hilarious.

DS: I get the same thing, except they think I’m Brad Renfro. They tell me his life story and I go, “No, that’s Brad Renfro,” and they’re like, “Oh, good! You’re still alive!” Yeah, thanks.

MC: If you died tomorrow, how would you feel if they didn’t put you in the Oscars’ “In Memoriam”?

DS: I don’t think they would. I’ve already dealt with that in my life. That’s my tombstone: NOT AT THE OSCARS.

MC: They leave me off every year, and it’s really fucking embarrassing.

Both of you were incredibly famous before you got to fully form your identities. Now everybody has the opportunity to blow up their own spot in their teens and overshare. How do you negotiate that as adults — sharing online and being a person?
: I hire people.

DS: I should hire people.

MC: It’s a brave new world out there. I can’t tell you how many actor-y friends tell me, “Oh, it’s between me and this person. And all other things being equal, they’re going to pick this person because they have more Twitter followers.” I started Twitter in 2008, didn’t ever think it was going to be what it is now. I’m scared to go back and look at my 2008 Twitter. It’s a bunch of dudes that were just talking about the UFC. It was MSN Messenger. “Hey, are you on here?” “Yeah, I’m on here.” There were hardly any people. And now I probably use it more than I should. How often do you tweet?

DS: Five or six times a day.

MC: Wow. There you go.

You talk about your kids a lot on Twitter, Devon. Is that a conscious move? Because daddies are having a moment in pop culture, do you try to be vocal about being a father?
: I should start a magazine called Vocal Father.

DS: It’s something I thought would never happen. It’s so much fun. I love letting people on Twitter know that not only am I a father but I’m a real father. More times than not, my kid is swinging from the chandelier. I love the responses I get from that.

MC: When will you give your kid a phone?

DS: Not yet. Hopefully not for as long as possible. They have these phones now for kids that can only call five different numbers and go to only a couple different websites. So it feels like a phone, and you can kind of go, “Here’s your phone.”

MC: Has your oldest asked for a phone yet?

DS: No, and he shows no interest in them. We go insane, but we are not the parents who give their phone to the kids at the table to keep them quiet.

MC: That drives me crazy. I’m not a parent, but I don’t want to raise my kid that way. I’ve seen those YouTube videos where they hand a kid a book and he starts trying to scroll it. That’s their instinct.

DS: Or those teens that they give a tape player and a tape: “Here, figure this out.”

MC: Give them a Super Mario Bros. and see how hard it is to hook up.

DS: They wouldn’t know to blow on it!

MC: Oh, that’s actually a great thing. Cartridges — everyone blew on them, right? That’s how you got them to work.

DS: Right.

MC: How’d you learn that? Everybody did this independently of each other. Everybody in the world did this. Did it disseminate from one person? There’s something really interesting about that. How did we spread this?

DS: I think it evolved from the VHS and Beta. Because you would blow into the VHS or Beta and blow the head off.

People wonder the same thing about the Richard Gere gerbil story. How did such a specific rumor about a specific actor having that extremely specific fetish spread across the globe?
: Yes, it’s similar. But also … it sounds real. It’s stupid enough to sound real.

DS: Everyone knew that rumor!

I was a child in Indiana. How did I know?
: Somebody made up a story and, literally, there is a patient zero. And then it went all around the world. There’s something really funny about that.

DS: But it was probably like telephone. It started with something like “Richard Gere gave a gerbil a kiss.” And by the time it got out, he was prepping with Vaseline.

Would you have used Twitter if it had existed when you were younger?
: If things were different, then they’d be different. So I don’t know.

DS: Exactly. I am glad there weren’t camera phones.

MC: As soon as they put cameras on phones, I thought, It’s a fucking disaster. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

DS: When I was in the clubs with my generation — *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, all them — if there were camera phones in those clubs, with all the shit that was going down —

MC: They were really pixelated, though, so it would have been okay.

Aside from each other, who are your favorite hate-follows?
: What do you mean by that?

Is there anyone you disagree with but you follow just so you can go, “Aw, fuck this guy.”
: No, I don’t need that in my life.

DS: I mean, other than Trump. I don’t agree with Trump.

MC: Do you follow him?

DS: Yeah, I still follow him. It’s like a train crash. I want to be the first one to read his spelling mistakes. Other than that, if someone is driving me insane, I don’t have time for that. I hope no one hate-follows me.

MC: We should tweet that out: “How many of you guys are hate-followers?” Do you put pictures of your kids on your Instagram?

DS: I do. But I’m very selective with what I put out.

MC: And your wifey is also on the socials?

DS: I try not to put her on as much. I don’t know why. I’m just afraid people will say mean things? I don’t know. Out of every 1,000 people, there’s one turkey who just wants to have a go at you.

MC: Put up their own, that sort of thing.

DS: Yeah. There’s always one guy printing shirts with my name.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

*A version of this article appears in the February 18, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

The Fake-ish Feud of Macaulay Culkin and Devon Sawa