It is the last few weeks before Christmas in the sleepy suburb of Winnetka, when children are on their best behavior and dreaming of a windfall of presents. Parents, meanwhile, are irritated from the stress of holiday shopping, and are frazzled and utterly exhausted. Jeff and Pam McKenzie (Rob Delaney and Ellie Kemper) have even more to worry about this year. Jeff has lost his job, and they are thinking of selling their home but are distraught at the thought of leaving the only home their family has ever known, and right before the holidays, no less.
When the McKenzies realize they own a priceless heirloom that could fetch a great deal of money, they believe their prayers have been answered. Unfortunately, the item disappears during an open house reception, and Jeff and Pam know exactly who to blame: an annoying 10-year-old boy, Max Mercer (Archie Yates), the offspring of an equally offensive mother, Carol Mercer (Aisling Bea).
The Mercers, having recently moved into a new home, are unfamiliar with the area and have yet to forge any friendships. The fact that she is British and her husband is American with a rather large family does not make things any easier. With an extended family monopolizing his X-Box and seriously cramping his style, Max stays behind when they leave to spend the holidays in Japan and has the house to himself. But the separation from his mother and the subsequent freedom and solitude is not all that he dreamed it would be.
Back at the McKenzie home, tracking down Max and the stolen treasure has become Pam and Jeff’s obsession, and because they lead a relatively quiet and uneventful life, the quest becomes an adventure of sorts…and a chance to break a few rules. They set their sights on the Mercer family’s home but soon discover that Max is both mischievous and resourceful and is ready to do whatever it takes to keep them out. Despite the hi-jinx of epic proportions that ensue, Max learns that, even in absolute chaos, there really is no place like home sweet home.
In celebration of Disney+’s Home Sweet Home Alone and Disney Plus Day, Disney held a press conference featuring cast members Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Archie Yates, Aisling Bea and Ally Maki to learn more about rebooting a classic, beloved pranks, how this movie separates itself from others in the franchise and more.
Rebooting Home Alone was not a simple undertaking, and it is one the filmmakers did not approach lightly. The thought of rebooting Home Alone was though about for years and instead of focusing on the family, they decided to flip the original premise on its head by focusing on the robbers story. This way they would be able to retain the hilariously anarchic essence of the original movie without being a simple remake. The idea was to have two really funny comedians playing characters who are desperate yet sympathetic, and go on the journey with them as they justify their way into breaking into this kid’s house. This way audiences could root for both the parents and the kid.
Casting the right actors was key to making Home Sweet Home Alone succeed, especially when it came to the central role of Max Mercer. The filmmakers were looking for a younger actor with the right persona who could shine on screen and hold his own against the adults surrounding him. The challenge from day one was finding somebody who could create their own identity and make the story feel fresh. Archie was completely charming, authentic and funny, plus he has his own energy, identity, and uniqueness.
When we’re first introduced to Max, he is terribly naughty, rude, and snide. As the film progresses, he turns a bit more kind, clever and funny, and a bit softer. For Archie, he took “a lot of inspiration from the original Home Alone movies. I religiously watched them every year at Christmas, So it was pretty easy for me to relate [to the character]. But then again, Max Mercer is supposed to be a completely different character from Kevin McAllister. So while I did want it to be the classic, ‘Ah,’ I also wanted it to be more original and a bit different because that’s what this film is all about. It’s the same universe, but it’s a completely different story.”
Pam and Jeff McKenzie, the two adults who embody, simultaneously, the heroes and the villains of the story, had to be able to stand up, hilariously and lovably, to a horribly bratty but still cute kid. Ellie has a relatable quality that is sometimes elusive in Hollywood film stars, and judging from previous roles she is incredibly natural, and embodies everyone’s the feeling of being mom but, at the same time, is brilliantly hilarious.
“I was so taken with how joyful, hilarious and charming the script was,” says Kemper.” I thought, ‘my gosh, I would be honored to be a part of this.’ I didn’t think twice about the fact we would be outside at night in Montreal in February falling into a pool, and did not put all the pieces together until we started filming. There is a lot of heart in this story.
“It’s about a husband and wife who love their children dearly and want to keep their home intact for their family. At the other end of it is a kid who is separated from his own mom and cannot wait to be reunited with her. There’s a running theme of togetherness, family and how important it is to have a home; how home and family are inseparable, and how your family is essentially where your home is. our mission was one inspired by, I think, goodness. I think wemwanted, our motives were good. We wanted to see more family.”
“My character is a 5th-grade teacher,” explains Kemper. “I don’t know there’s a ton of excitement in her life…she wants to get this doll so she can pay for her house, but she also kind of thinks she is in a spy movie and is a secret agent on a mission. That’s thrilling for her. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I hadn’t done anything like that before. It was challenging but also funny and athletic in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” Kemper finished.
Aisling Bea was cast as Max’s mother, Carol Spencer. “Carol is English, British from London,” explains Bea. “She’s upper class and quite highly strung, let’s just say, so that’s quite fun to play. She and Max are cut from the same cloth because he is a little bit snarky and clever, and she’s kind of snarky as well. Even traffic would drive her to the brink, so the fact that her son has been accidentally left at home while she’s in Japan really pushes her over the edge.
“There’s a bit of a change in the balance of evil versus good. So in Home Alone and Home Alone 2, you were very aware of who was bad and who was good. And now this time around, you can understand the burglars, where are they coming from emotionally in the movie. And I think there’s a lot more evil in young Max. It’s a different balance.”
For Aisling it was important to incorporate on classic moment from the original film. “It was the emotional moment of seeing your son again and that moment at the door. And that’s, I think, because you get such a feeling from that moment and then also unemotionally, the brown coat, that the mother has a brown coat. Some actors worked differently. I worked from the coat out. Put on the coat and at one point, I learned my lines. I can carry off brown. It’s a color people associate with me. It’s brown, beige clothes.”
“It feels weird to say I got along really well with a 10-year-old because you think, ‘am I immature or a weirdo?’ but we really did get on well. He’s so kind and warm and quite like his character in how intelligent he is, but maybe his character is missing Archie’s natural kindness, which is why I love him,” Aisling finished.
Pam’s long-suffering, acerbic husband Jeff, played by Rob Delaney, is the comedic foil and straight man. In the movie, Rob connects well as a sympathetic dad. You can’t help but to root for him the whole time because he’s a lovable guy and feels like a real dad.
Delaney read the script and knew within the first few pages how good it was. “I don’t like to use my imagination when I’m reading a script,” Delaney says. “I want it to all be done for me, and that was done with this script. It was excellent, and I was excited to do it upon reading it.”
Kemper and Delaney are a unique pairing, almost an inversion of what one typically finds in a comedy film, which is the wife playing the straight person and the husband doing the big, broad comedy turns.They are both really funny in their own way; Rob is great because he has this stillness and gravitas, and Ellie has this crazy energy and manic disposition, and that goes well together and feels like a real marriage. As a family film, one that is centered on the theme of families and protecting and saving –while destroying –the family home, creating believable families was key to ensuring the film had heart. Because Max was cast as English, the filmmakers needed to make sure the person playing the parent was English as well.
“According to Rob, “there is a villain in the film and he’s played by Archie Yates and his character is named Max Mercer because we’re trying to get back our stuff that we need to save our family, so throughout filming, I didn’t think of myself as a method actor, but the whole time I was like, “Oh, Max is the enemy.” So when I watched the final film and you for felt sympathetic towards Max, I was like, “This must be a different film than the one I appeared in.” So certainly in watching it, I think there’s no antagonists but in filming it, I was like, “Max is my enemy and he must come to harm.”
For the movie filmmakers chose to use as few practical locations as possible, and soundstages to build portions of the houses and their interiors for stunts. Envisioning a fortress a kid could sequester himself in to protect, which led him to a style of architecture in Blainville (a neighborhood located one hour outside of Montreal) where the homes resemble castles. It also needed to work for a climbing sequence, a fall, and a water stunt where the absurdity of what happens to the McKenzie’s takes place.
Another big challenge the filmmakers faced was coming up with clever and funny traps set by Max to keep intruders from entering his family’s home. The booby traps, which lead to many broken funny bones, are key to the story, and as such, needed to be memorable. The screenwriters considered making them all about technology and drones, smart homes, and toys that feel very modern but agreed that would age the film quickly.
Wanting to channel the energy of big cartoon stunts with pretend bombs and huge explosions viewers grew up loving and still love.
“[The stunts] were comprehensive. I mean, we started stunt training well before we started shooting and we were really required to do most of the stunts in the film. Professional stunt people did them as well and if we did a bad job, they edited them in, but they really put us through the paces, which frankly, was shocking to me because I thought I would just have to dip in for a humorous rejoinder now and then. But they’re like, “No, we’re going to require you to be in the entire film and doing the stunts,” which was scary, educational, and really very fun,” said Rob.
“It turned out to be a lot of fun. I hadn’t done anything like that before. It was challenging but also funny and athletic in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” Ellie added.
For Ally performing stunts reminded her of watching the original movie that was “purely hijinx. I feel like we all grew up on this movie and just seeing the booby traps being set, I think we all wanted to have a booby trap house growing up. And growing up, I had one of the Talkgirl [devices], which is the pink version of that recording device. And I just thought I was so cool all day just talking and recording it back.”
“The stunts and the things that happen to our characters are truly horrible. Max, by definition, what he does to us is torture. What he does to us is prohibited under the Geneva Convention. So in terms of the film Home Alone, we really wanted to have that real danger be a part of what we were doing. And it was easy to do because you’ve got projectiles headed at your skull at hundreds of miles an hour falling from great heights, actual fire and ice. Just making sure that the real peril was a part of this story was important to us,” said Rob.
Rob wants the jokes to be at his expense. “If you leave the movie recounting several of the insane stunts that happened and you are really worried for our muscular and skeletal systems and are thinking, ‘how did they walk away from that?’ then I’ll be happy.”
The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone, and the cast behind Home Sweet Home Alone hopes the film will be a great way for the family to get together, laugh, and unwind.
“I hope this movie will be very special for people and bring them a lot of joy,” says Ellie Kemper. “It captures the importance of staying the course with the ones you love…that’s what makes it a perfectly written and filmed piece. I hope that it resonates with people, and, on a very pure level…people falling down is funny.
“It’s really about the love of family and connection. I’m hoping people will be able to reflect on how much others mean to them and, at the same time, have a really, really good laugh (at the expense of these poor people that are trying to break into this house).”
Home Sweet Home Alone releases on Disney+ November 12th. Check out the full interview below.