The May issue of Dazed & Confused featured this interview with the youngest Culkin brother who's coming of age in Wes Craven’s iconic slasher reboot
Rory is the littlest of the Culkin clan, and he’s got a face you just want to stare at: beautiful and spaced-out with heavy set eyes that make him look as though he’s just been punched. A little bit wrong, yes, but still totally hot. Like his older brothers Macaulay and Kieran, Rory started acting as a child. This month, he’ll star in the fourth instalment of Wes Craven’s epic Scream series – his first big-budget film since playing Mel Gibson’s asthmatic son in Signs nearly ten years ago. But for someone born into an infamous Hollywood family, Rory’s path to movie stardom has been surprisingly righteous. He’s weirdly normal and seemingly naïve to his own potential brilliance. It’s like he could easily be your best friend’s little brother – that kid always hanging around on the couch, playing video games, exhaling clouds of smoke.
It’s Wednesday afternoon at Amsterdam Billiards, a dimly lit pool hall in Manhattan’s Union Square. Rory appears wearing a faded Tom Petty t-shirt, jeans and black basketball shoes. He’s 21-years-old but looks younger. In fact, he could probably pass for 16. He shuffles across the room and crashes down into the chair opposite. “Yeah, so... I don’t really do all that much,” he’s saying, staring into his lap. “I only work once or twice a year for about a month, so I have a lot of free time. But I’m good at being alone, which helps. Oh, and I recently started boxing.” He sucks at his lips, thinking. “I mean, I don’t want to get buff or anything.
It’s just something to do while I’m doing nothing.”
Rory began his career in film acting alongside his older brothers, often playing younger versions of their characters. By the age of five he had appeared on screen twice as a young Macaulay, in The Good Son and Richie Rich, and later played a kid Kieran in the cult film Igby Goes Down. “When I was little, acting opportunities were always proposed to me as ‘a favour’,” he laughs. “I remember my dad saying, ‘Why don’t you do your brother a favour and spend a couple days being a younger version of him.” And of course I always said yes. I just think it’s funny to call it a favour when you’re six – as if I had something more important to do.”
The youngest of seven children, Rory was born and raised in New York City. His father, Kit Culkin, is notorious for being one of Hollywood’s most overbearing stage fathers, acting as a pushy and controlling manager to his child star sons. However, in 1995 Rory’s parents split, after which Kit fought for custody of the children and Macaulay’s millions, but eventually lost. Shortly afterwards, a 16-year-old Macaulay took his parents to court and fought to gain control of his fortune, estimated at $17 million. Macaulay has since spoken publicly about it, stating that between his father, the movies and the media he had “lost all conception of what it was like to be normal”. Rory, though, seems to have been afforded a more conventional childhood. He was only six when his parents parted ways, and has had little contact with his dad since. When asked about him, he has little to offer. “Yeah, I’ve got no clue where that guy is,” he says with an absent-minded shrug of the shoulders. “We’re not exactly what you’d call close.”
Rory has maintained a very strong relationship with his mum and the rest of his immediate family. He currently lives in the same downtown New York apartment building as Kieran, and just a five-minute walk from Macaulay. “There’s no competition between us at all,” he says. “People are always asking about that. But we hardly ever talk about work. We’ll give each other recommendations, like, if one of them reads a good part for a teenager they’ll pass it on to me, but that’s it. Kieran and I have even auditioned for the same parts before, but it was no big deal.” When Rory talks about his mum, his normally sleepy blue eyes go all wide and lovey-dovey. “Yeah, my mum just moved out of New York this week,” he frowns, unable to mask his disappointment. “She’s engaged to a dude who lives in Montana, so she moved there to be with him. She’s happy, though, so that’s cool. But like, it’s just been a pretty shitty past few days: my mom left, my grandmother died, and I broke up with my ‘sort-of’ girlfriend. Suddenly, all the women in my life are just gone.” He scrunches his nose and then suddenly goes all squirmy and shy. For a second, I consider whether he might kiss me. He doesn’t. “Well, I, actually…” he stutters, face flushed, “I don’t know if I could call her a girlfriend. We were, whatever… ‘chilling’. It’s just weird because these three things happened all at once, so it’s hard to tell what I’m actually
Rory tends to play more reserved, slightly awkward characters. He’s the sort of actor who says a lot without needing to say much at all, able to embody the spirit of disenfranchised youth with a single stare. His first substantial film role came when he was 11 in You Can Count On Me, for which he won a Young Artist Award, followed shortly after by M Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi hit Signs, opposite Joaquin Phoenix. As a teenager he migrated toward indie films, with supporting roles in The Chumscrubber and Lymelife, in which he co-starred with Alec Baldwin. Lymelife was Rory’s first opportunity to show that he could be funny as well as just sensitive and geeky. The film also featured Rory’s only sex scene to date – a clumsy, virginity-losing scene with Emma Roberts.
“I wanted to do a take where I couldn’t get it up,” he says candidly. “I thought that would have been money, but we didn’t do it in the end. The thing is that the scene wasn’t meant to be ‘hot’. It was meant to be awkward, which made it fun. Acting in a hot sex scene would be strange. I’d just be concerned that I wasn’t matching up to, you know... well, whatever.”
Scream 4 comes out this month. The ensemble cast includes Scream veterans Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, alongside some new blood. Obviously Scream is a mega-global brand, and a definite departure from Rory’s indie roots. Still, it will no doubt reach his established fanbase as a guilty pleasure. I mean, come on, it’s the 90s slasher definitive – you know you love it. “I’m a little freaked out,” admits the actor. “There’s just a certain amount of pressure when you know there are going to be a lot of eyes on you. But I don’t know... I’m always freaked out, always nervous. I’m just trying not to think about it.” He goes on to mention that for the first time since he was 14, he’s been asked to go on talk shows for press. “I just assumed they’d get the actually famous people to do all the TV stuff,” he says, eyebrows raised. “You know, Neve or Courtney. But I mean, I’m into it. It shows growth, I suppose.”
Although he’s had quite a few sizable roles, Rory’s yet to play the lead. When asked about it, he mumbles that he doesn’t know if he is “ya know, leading man material, or whatever”. It seems he might be feeling some pressure from the powers that be to fit a certain mould. “People who work with me think I should cut my hair,” he volunteers. “They say casting directors are less likely to hire me with long hair – that they don’t have imaginations and can’t picture me looking normal. People literally have conference calls about my head when I’m not around.” He blinks, bemused. “I mean obviously I would cut my hair for an amazing part. But their argument is that I won’t get the amazing part until I cut it. They always say, ‘Name a leading role with long hair,’ and I just tell them that maybe I’m not necessarily looking for a leading role. Maybe I just… you know…” He trails off.
Rory goes on to talk about unsuccessfully auditioning for True Grit and The Social Network and it’s unguarded moments like these that make him seem grounded, sane, and charmingly imperfect. “Hearing a movie you auditioned for is nominated for an Oscar is the equivalent to hearing that your ex-girlfriend is fucking the coolest dude on earth,” he says through twisted mouth. “Like, for real, kill me now.”
But while he’s faced rejection, there’s some good stuff on the horizon. Last year, Rory was hand-picked by Larry Clark to play a role in his upcoming film – a fact that’s most likely left many other 20-something actors seething with jealousy. Tentatively titled Savage Innocent, the film will be Clark’s first in over five years, and tells the story of a dysfunctional suburban family whose world is radically altered when a mute boy suddenly appears on their doorstep. “That guy rules,” he beams, perking up at the thought of the Kids director. “He just doesn’t give a shit, ya know? He does what he wants but sometimes that makes it hard to get financing. I really want that to go ahead. It’s just such an amazing story.” When asked if he’s going to be involved in any Clarkian auto-asphyxiated masturbation, he shakes his head. “Nope, no jerking off on camera,” he grins.
Rory clearly cares about what he does, but will happily admit his flaws, and has never rinsed his family name in a desperate attempt to become famous. He’s got more integrity than that. And in classic Culkin fashion, he’s been able to achieve global notoriety while still remaining a cult kid – authentic, irreverent, sexy, relatable, and a little bit rough around the edges.
Photography by Hedi Slimane