Home Sweet Home Alone is the best kind of surprise: a franchise reboot that’s actually really good. Trailers for the Disney+ comedy sneakily made it look like a beat-for-beat rehash of the John Hughes original, but these edits hid the movie’s crucial turn of making the home invaders the (very, very comically flawed) protagonists. Rob Delaney stars as Jeff, a desperate guy who, long story short, has to get his hands on an antique German doll to save his family. He’s aided and abetted by his wife, Pam, played by Ellie Kemper, and the two of them share scenes with a revolving door of A-List comedy talent, including Kenan Thompson, Jim Rash, Catherine Cohen, Pete Holmes, Andy Daly, and Tim Simons. All the while, Delaney and Kemper get battered and bruised in increasingly cartoonish ways, demonstrating action-star levels of endurance. We spoke to Delaney about starring in what might be the year’s funniest Christmas movie.
So what was it like sharing so many scenes with a little British boy who’s beating the shit out of you?
My acting M.O. was to treat him like the beachhead that needed to be conquered or the enemy who needed to be vanquished. On a professional basis, Archie Yates was tremendous to work with. He’s a wonderful kid with wonderful parents who were there with him on set. But then, when they said “action,” he was a challenge that needed to be eliminated.
Unlike with the Wet Bandits in the other Home Alone movies, the audience is positioned to sympathize with your and Ellie Kemper’s characters, who are up against this repulsively wealthy antagonist. And so while watching this goofy holiday slapstick comedy — in part because, in real life, you use your celebrity platform for political organizing and speaking in accessible terms about things like the DSA — I actually saw you as the star of a harrowing film about the disappearing middle class. Do you see Home Sweet Home Alone as being about class warfare?
Sure, yes. It would slot comfortably into that. Even in the times of serfdom, you could be afraid that if you weren’t paying proper fealty — or, literally, if it didn’t rain well enough that year — would you be allowed to stay in your home? I think the best Christmas films often have financial insecurity as a big part of it, and it’s something that everybody can relate to. Ideally, nobody would be housing insecure, but right now, with income inequality the way that it is, yes, that is an element of the film, certainly. Even though it’s funny and has a lot of slapstick stuff in it, the engine for Pam and Jeff is a fear that most people can really understand.
Have your kids seen the movie yet?
They have not seen it yet. I have three kids, and I won’t out any of them, but I think two of them do not want to see daddy get hurt. And one of them cannot wait. So I’ve got two who are going to be coming up with excuses as to why they don’t want to watch it, which will allow them to sound tough. And then one of them probably somehow already got a hold of a screener that even I didn’t have, and probably already memorized it and is gonna enact some of the traps on me when I get home.
What do you think your Twitter persona’s large adult sons would think of this movie?
I think that they would use it to plan forms of elder abuse. I don’t think I’m quite old enough to be in the demographic as an elder that’s getting abused, but my kids are adults — not my real kids, but my fictional kids that live inside the proto-Metaverse — and would use it to torture me, and they would try to one up the actual stunts in the film and see what would happen if they shot a bowling ball at my head, for example.
Are you worried that possessively nostalgic nerds are going to be annoying about what is ultimately a really fun, funny family movie?
I’m not, because when I heard they were going to make a new Home Alone film, I thought, Well, that’s not necessary. But then I read the script, and all those fears were put to rest. So no, I’m not concerned about people who lose sleep over the fact that a movie came out that they won’t be forced to watch, as far as I know. Disney is doing a pretty big marketing campaign, but to my knowledge, it doesn’t involve forcing people to watch it.
This movie is not afraid to get into Looney Tunes–level violence. Your performance starts in a grounded place and gets bigger and bigger as it goes on. How do you calibrate a comedy performance with a family/kid audience in mind? Do you approach it differently than you would for adults?
I personally really don’t. Because kids can smell bullshit incredibly well. It’s got to be really genuine. None of the crazy noises or crazy faces that Jeff or Pam make in the film are exaggerated. You really do try to imbue it with as much truth as you can, and ask yourself, What would I do in that situation? Yes, you’re aware that it’s going to be marketed toward kids, and hopefully kids are going to see it in addition to adults, but kids are so sensitive in such a way that you can’t get anything past them. It’s a bit like stand-up, where either people are going to laugh or they’re not. Kids don’t want to be kowtowed to or patronized.
Tell me about your stunt double. Did you bond with him? Did he look like you?
My stunt double was a wonderful guy named Ryan, and he was with me all the time. He was the same size as me. His muscles were distributed differently about his body. I never saw him naked. I thought about it a lot, and I’m sure he looked better than me naked, if muscles are your thing, not fur and white flesh. He would be there whenever I did a stunt, and he would also do it. They really tried to have us be on film doing as much as we could. If there was something that we did and it just looked bad or inelegant, then I’m sure that they would cut in stunt people and show their versions of it. Amazingly, I can’t even tell when it’s not me, because he did such a good job. And Ellie’s stunt double, Atlin, was brilliant. It’s funny, I would do a lot of stuff with Atlin, and Ellie also did a lot of stunts with Ryan. But I was shocked at the amount that they required us to personally do. I was happy to do it and felt like a kid in a candy store. Except the candy was kettlebells and bags of flour being sent at my body at hundreds of miles an hour.
Was there one stunt in particular that you were terrified or psyched for?
There’s one, and they even put it in the trailer, where my character jumps onto a trampoline and then the leg is pulled out, and he helicopters into a tree. Even on the page, that looked just disgusting. And in fact it was! That was one stunt they wouldn’t let me near. I don’t even know when they filmed it because I wasn’t allowed to be in the same Zip Code, it was so dangerous.
There is a creepy German doll that’s kind of a centerpiece of the movie. Tell me about filming with the doll.
Good for Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell, who wrote it, for hinging so much on that weird little doll. Because it is funny and creepy and has some nice moments toward the end. I just treated that doll like any other character, which is to say when they yelled “cut,” I would run into my trailer and hide from it.
It’s like Adam Driver working opposite that scary puppet in Annette. This is your Annette moment, your art-house doll.
I wonder what my version of his centaur cologne ad will be. I look forward to it.
Any favorite scenes or gags that didn’t make it into the movie?
Tim Simons and I prepared a meal together and I was devastated when that didn’t make it to the final cut. He’s so funny, and I so enjoyed playing brothers with him. We’re both very tall. We’re both from New England. We both have a lot of the same cultural touchstones. And I really like him a lot. So I could have handled more me and Tim in the movie. Maybe that could be a spinoff.
Tim Simons’s character calls Ellie Kemper’s character “Pama-lama-ding-dong.” That nickname is maybe not exclusively but is famously an Office-ism. And Tim’s character is the sort of annoying guy who would quote The Office in that way. But Ellie Kemper is in The Office. So does The Office exist in this world? Is Ellie’s character just a woman who looks strikingly similar to an Office character, or was Ellie Kemper’s character never on The Office in this reality?
I believe Ellie would permit me to speak for her and say that I think that they’re in two separate worlds. The same solar system, but decidedly different worlds.