When producer Arnon Milchan walked into Los Angeles’ Bel-Air Hotel for lunch recently, he didn’t expect the bill of fare to include an ovation — but that’s what he got. “There were two actors, a director, and an agent at this table,” says Milchan, owner of New Regency Pictures. “One of them recognized me, and they started applauding.”
Milchan had better get used to the cheers. After all, he’s doing something that many of his colleagues in Hollywood have been too afraid to do themselves: stand up to Kit Culkin, the notorious father-manager of Macaulay Culkin, 13. Braver yet, Milchan is going public with it, telling the media about his battles with Culkin Sr. over the upcoming Warner Bros. holiday ballet film, The Nutcracker, in which Macaulay plays the title role. According to Milchan, whose company coproduced the movie with Elektra Entertainment, the trouble crested a few weeks ago when Kit Culkin learned that narration by actor Kevin Kline had been added to the film and threatened that his son would do no publicity unless it was removed.
“I don’t think it was a problem with the narration,” says Milchan, who has produced JFK, Sommersby, and Under Siege. “He hated [the idea] before he saw it. We had to beg him to come and see the film. The problem with Kit is that he has a vision of what The Nutcracker is or should be. He should have financed his own version. Then he could do whatever he wanted.”
When they first heard of Culkin’s wrath, Elektra chairman Robert Krasnow, Milchan, and director Emile Ardolino (Sister Act) reluctantly agreed to eliminate Kline’s part, even though they felt the voice — over would have made the ballet more accessible to a wide audience. But when Kit came back several days later with more demands — including that they reedit at least one scene and change the score — Milchan decided he’d had enough and opted to leave in the narration. Culkin then withdrew his other requests but still demanded that the voice — over be removed. The filmmakers stood firm.
“Culkin tried to pull a power play,” says Krasnow. “He became outrageous in his demands and we had to shut him down.”
Since then, there has been no communication between the producers and Culkin. Milchan is now planning a Macaulay-less publicity campaign, though trailers, which were approved before the flap, do include shots of the actor. Says the still — perplexed producer: “Not even Oliver Stone would ask for as much control as Kit Culkin. Who is this man?”
That’s the question that has increasingly plagued studio chiefs and producers since the phenomenal success of 1990’s Home Alone made Macaulay Culkin Hollywood’s youngest A-list star. As his son’s career soared, Kit Culkin, 49, became one of the most powerful — and dreaded — negotiators in Hollywood, demanding approval of directors and, in one case, insisting that one of Macaulay’s siblings (there are six) be cast in The Good Son.