Growing up, every kid wanted to be Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister. Sure, his style was impeccable, but the admiration stemmed more from the fact that Kevin was the kind of kid who, when faced with a situation like his entire family forgetting to bring him to France with them, didn’t go into a catatonic state or call the cops; he figured life out on his own, and successfully defended his home from a pair of idiotic-yet-frightening burglars.
What’s funny though is that this entire chain of events was set off when Kevin flew into a fit of rage over not getting a slice of cheese pizza. Who tipped him off to that? It was none other than Buzz, his jerk of an older brother, who said he’d have no problem “barfing up” the cheese pizza that was gone.
When it comes to a great Christmas story, especially for kids, you need some kind of obstacle to overcome—Ralphie had Scut Farkus, the town of Whoville had The Grinch, etc.—and Buzz was the kind of brother that had no problem putting his sibling in his place, seemingly for the LOLs. While Macaulay Culkin shined in those two Home Alone films, it was the ensemble cast (which also featured Joe Pesci, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Stern, John Candy, and more) that helped the film shine, which includes Devin Ratray, the guy who played Buzz. Your friends might mostly remember little Kevin cracking on Buzz’s girlfriend (“woof!”), but he also had key moments in both films where he made life hard for Kevin.
After Home Alone, many actors might have been satisfied to create an iconic character with the role of Buzz and call it a wrap for acting (and with it being the highest-grossing live-action film in the U.S., we wouldn’t blame them), but Ratray wasn’t complacent. He was acting before this role burned his face into the minds of fans the world over, and afterwards continued to snag roles in films (including the critically-acclaimed Nebraska, Dennis the Menace, and Blue Ruin) and TV (Agent Carter, Supernatural, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), making his career much deeper than Home Alone.
With the film celebrating its 25th anniversary this month (which includes a special, limited theater run), we caught up with Devin to talk about his memories working on the Home Alone series, that time he met Michael Jackson on the set of Home Alone 2, and how often people recognize him on the street—and he even manages to give us some information on Steven Soderbergh’s ultra-secretive HBO project Mosaic that he’s a part of.
So could you take us to the beginning of the process of you getting the role as Buzz in Home Alone?
I had done films since I was six and I just auditioned for Home Alone just like any other. I knew that it was a John Hughes film and I was fan of his, but I had no idea that it would be different from any other movie audition I had been going on.
Do you know if he'd seen you in anything before?
No I don't think so. They didn't know I was.
One of the most memorable things about your role in the movie is the fact that you are the mean older brother, and in Little Monsters you played a bully character as well. Where did all these meaner emotions come from?
I actually didn't have have any bullying experiences with my older brother growing up. We had a very good relationship. It was just acting.
Were there any instances where you guys went off script during the making of the movie?
We were pretty close to the script. We tried to try to stay close to John Hughes words. What he thought up was good enough.
Do you remember anything special from working with the likes of Joe Pesci or Catherine O'Hara or Daniel Stern? What was it like working with actors of that caliber when you were a teen?
Joe Pesci wasn't too pleased he had to shave his head for the second one. He was hoping they would keep his hair. I had grown out my hair out by the second one—I had very, very long hair—but he got his head shaved. He wasn't too pleased, and one day he saw me going to the trailer with this long, ‘90s grunge haircut and then come out with a clean buzz cut. He had a good laugh at that, saying, “‘Join the club buddy, I know how it feels.”
How often do you get stopped on the street by people who recognize you from the film?
It happens a surprising amount of times. There are requests in the mail to sign pictures once or twice a month. People stop me on the street often, not necessarily for Home Alone, but other projects too like Blue Ruin, Nebraska or Lily. Things like that keep happening, even for Supernatural. Just [recently] at a Halloween party, even in costume, somebody I've never met before said “Aren’t you from that episode of Supernatural?”
You've have had a very wide-ranging career in terms your roles. Do you think that your longevity as an actor has been built partially because people remember you from Home Alone?
Well, being in Home Alone always helps. It certainly does, you know, [because] people can instantly [have] name recognition and face recognition, and they recognize the movie and now instantly remember my part, which at least gives validity to future projects or auditions I go for. Of course, you know, it was a quarter of a century ago, so I’m a totally different person.
So it probably helped during my younger years in the business. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that people still know a film I did twenty-five years later.
Seeing as you grew up in New York, and the second Home Alone film took place mostly in New York, one has to wonder: do you have any affinity to the second film more because it took place in your hometown?
Well, the second one was more fun to shoot because we had a much bigger budget. We knew we had a hit on our hands. I don't know if it's my favorite—I don't know if it's better than the original. But I did enjoy shooting in New York for the few days I was there. It was nice to be able to go to the Plaza Hotel. My dad would take me there [when I was younger]. You know, they offered me a room to stay overnight for free, but my parents wouldn’t let me stay there. They thought I would be tempted to get into trouble.
Yeah, it would turn into a whole different situation.
Right, I was fifteen.
What's your favorite story from the Home Alone era?
Michael Jackson came to visit the set of Home Alone 2. That was a pretty memorable day.
Please go on.
It was a Saturday rehearsal, we were just rehearsing a small scene. It was us running out of the house getting into our vans. When I got out of the transport van, Macaulay came up to me and said, “Come here, I want you to meet somebody.” He wouldn't tell me who, but he was very excited. I followed him into the back of one of the prop airport vans that was there, and in the backseat of the van was Michael Jackson—long gray overcoat and gray fedora and sunglasses. This is seven o'clock in the morning on a Saturday, in February, in the middle of Illinois. I didn’t know what to do or say. But suddenly I'm shaking Michael Jackson’s hand without the glove on. What do I say? I said “Hi, I’m Devin and I play Buzz.” He said, “I know, it’s a real pleasure to meet you!” And I just stood there and I said “Yes, Michael Jackson, it is a real pleasure to meet me.” That kind of made him smile. I was able to make him laugh and that brought his guard down a little.
The only thing I thought to say, I had brought my video camera with me—I was making my own sort of documentary behind the scenes and had this big VHS 1992 video camera and I just said out loud, “Hey, do you think I could interview you later on camera?” He said as long as Macaulay was there. So later, while we were waiting to do another rehearsal running out of the house, Michael comes into the house to use the bathroom. Macaulay said it would be a good time to ask him some questions, so I asked him some questions on camera. I’ve had that tape for like twenty years.
“suddenly I'm shaking Michael Jackson’s hand without the glove on. What do I say? ‘Hi, I’m Devin and I play Buzz.’”
Yeah I never showed it to anybody.
I was going to say, have there been plans to try and turn that into something for the public or are you just trying to keep it for yourself?
I was keeping it mostly for myself. It wasn't until Michael passed away that Entertainment Tonight contacted me. They'd heard rumors of me having this tape. I thought now would be a good time to pay tribute to the man. I didn't want to profit from it, you know? I didn’t accept money or anything. I just thought it would be a good time for a tribute because nobody had ever seen it before—it was just sort of my little piece of history and my connection with Michael.
What projects are you working on now?
The project I’m working on now is the most secretive project I have ever been a part of. We have non-disclosure agreements. I can tell you what has already been released, but forgive me if it's sporadic information. It is a project for HBO called Mosaic and it's directed by Steven Soderbergh. It's not a movie, and it's not a TV series. It is several different parts of this murder mystery that's being filmed in a way that's never been done before. It’s going to be released on HBO NOW, first in several increments. Later on, after it's all been released, there will be a film version of it to be shown on HBO.
It's a huge project with roughly a 500-page script. It’s impressive and none of the actors in the film know anything more than their own parts in the movie and how they relate to other people. So sometimes you hear the make-up people talking about the scene that you have absolutely no idea what they're referring to but they're talking about the characters in the scene, they're talking about your character. It’s the deepest form of method film-making I have experienced. Usually, I like to saturate myself with the script and read every aspect of it several times. and really, you know, examine it, dig into it. And this time there's just so much happening that I can’t even know about until I see the finished project.
I’m intrigued already.
Oh, it's going to be a very, very interesting project. I’m the lead detective trying to solve a murder mystery, and you can follow me or you can follow other people and see if I actually find who I am looking for. It could be multiple endings, I’m not even sure.
Now I remember reading that you were in a band and you are a singer. Are you still making music on your own?
I am actually. The partner who I started the band with, Jim Twerell, we have made music together for ten years or so. We just started working together [again], and Steven Soderbergh is actually very interested in making a music video for one of the songs I wrote called “Uber,” about the car service.
Would you be putting this out with a record label or is this another thing you’ll put out on your own?
I didn’t even know people still sign with record labels. Steven is an independent, successful filmmaker, so he can easily produce and put something together outside of studios, but of course I'm not going to speak for him. He just heard the song and said, “I would love to direct this video,” and that's all the encouragement I needed.
Now with the big 25th anniversary of Home Alone coming up on November 16, I’m wondering: how often do you revisit the film?
I don’t. If I go over to my parents during the holidays then chances are my mother will be watching. That's of course, her prerogative and that’s understandable. But I've seen the movie enough.