- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

Attending a Christian rock concert proved an eye-opener for the stars of the new Christian school satire, “Saved!”

Stars Jena Malone and Macaulay Culkin, yes that Macaulay Culkin, dropped in on a Christian rock act to research their roles in a comedy that’s already drawing heat in some conservative circles for poking too much fun at religious schools.

“There’s so much passion coming from them. That was surprising for me,” says Mr. Culkin, who plays Miss Malone’s paraplegic brother in the film. “I didn’t realize this world truly existed… These 14-, 15- and 16-year olds were more passionate about [their faith] than about ‘Friends.’”

The concert also gave the duo a foretaste of the dialogue which will surely follow the release of “Saved!” The film takes aim at Christianity’s less forgiving rules, particularly toward homosexuals.

“At one of the Christian concerts we went to, there were Christians picketing other Christians, the new wavers versus the old fundamentalists,” Mr. Culkin says. “They didn’t like the fact that there was Christian rock music.”

“They picket each other,” says the actor, now a lean young man with inquisitive eyes. “What makes you think they’re not gonna picket our movie?”

Both Mr. Culkin and Miss Malone visited the District recently to help promote “Saved!” discuss the debate the film is likely to provoke and explore their own child-actor roots.

The film’s production notes generously share that the shoot lost several locations due to its touchy subject matter. Cast and crew realized from day one the film could be a lightning rod in the ongoing culture wars.

That didn’t dissuade Miss Malone, who recently starred in “The United States of Leland.”

“There was so much humor in it, but there was a lot of beauty and truth at the same time,” says the actress, who in person is the kind of teenager who would easily blend into a crowd.

Mr. Culkin anticipates plenty of supercharged rhetoric on both sides of the ideological line.

“People misinterpret movies all the time,” he says.

His defense of the film, he adds, hearkens back to his own quasi-religious upbringing. He went to Catholic school for the first five years of his school life before his movie schedule intervened.

“We tried to be as respectful as we could,” he promises. “It could have been very campy. That was one of the things I was worried about.”

The young actor, who at 23 appears at peace with his curious life path, thinks the film can strike up genuine discussion, rather than overheated rhetoric.

“I hope people walk away reevaluating their faith, [so they can] break it down and build it up again,” he says.

Miss Malone and Mr. Culkin followed widely different career paths as young adults. Miss Malone first found work in 1996’s “Bastard Out of Carolina,” while Mr. Culkin shot to immense fame in the “Home Alone” films.

For Miss Malone, learning her craft came, in part, by observing.

“I never learned anything from people who tried to teach me something,” she says. “The best learning experience I ever had was watching people on the set … what they did between takes, what they ate, how they managed their energy, what their process was.”

She cites Susan Sarandon, with whom she worked on the 1998 weeper “Stepmom,” as a shining example.

Mr. Culkin’s transition to the adult acting world proved far more tumultuous. After he was catapulted to child star fame by the first two “Home Alone” movies and 1991’s “My Girl,” interest waned in his cute-kid persona. He took several years off before returning to the screen with last year’s independent feature “Party Monster.”

He had the added burden of being tied to his father, Christopher “Kit” Culkin, whose aggressive handling of his son’s career bruised more than a few egos.

“Some people, because of the things my father did, won’t sit down in the same room with me,” Mr. Culkin says of his adult career status, which he otherwise paints as uncompromised by his former fame. “I understand. I haven’t talked to him, either.”

In 1997, Macaulay Culkin’s mother won custody of her son and three of his siblings.

Mr. Culkin struck it rich early and got married at an equally immature age. He took time out of his acting sabbatical in 1998 to marry actress Rachel Miner, a fellow classmate at Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School. He would later drop out during his senior year.

The union didn’t last long.

The actor’s new film marks the second of his film comeback, and he’s currently working on both a new television sitcom and an autobiography.

Miss Malone didn’t ride a career roller coaster as Mr. Culkin did, but she dismisses those who pity the “plight” of the child actor.

“Everyone is exposed to crazy things when they’re young,” she says. “My opinion is, the younger you’re exposed to it, the better off you are.”

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