Watch: Home Sweet Home Alone director Dan Mazer on his fear of messing it up
Home Sweet Home Alone director Dan Mazer says it was "absolutely petrifying" to reboot such a beloved franchise with his new movie.
The British filmmaker has worked extensively with Sacha Baron Cohen on his risky undercover comedies — including last year's occasionally terrifying Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — but said taking on a perennial Christmas classic was just as scary.
"It's absolutely petrifying and some would say idiotic," Mazer told Yahoo Entertainment UK.
He added: "My career mantra in a weird way, for better or worse, is that if something seems risky and stupid and potentially career-ending I've always been tempted to take that on.
"Whether that has been risking my life with Sacha shooting Borat and Ali G or the new iteration of Home Alone or making De Niro do things he had never done before in Dirty Grandpa, I am drawn to the risk and the danger of stuff."
Mazer said the Home Alone script, penned by Saturday Night Live scribes Streeter Seidell and Mikey Day, was a "really fresh, fun new take" on the concept.
"[It's] different enough that it should live on its own terms and be great in its own right," he said.
"Of course the legacy of the original looms large, but nobody is asking anyone to destroy the original film and burn every VHS of it that exists.
"Hopefully this can live alongside and become as beloved and as much of a Christmas fixture as that one did because I think it's different enough."
Mazer had already begun production on Home Sweet Home Alone at the beginning of 2020, but an enforced shutdown due to COVID-19 opened the door for him to return to the world of Borat.
The director has worked with Cohen for more than 20 years, writing and directing projects involving several of the star's characters.
He said: "Sacha, who won't be stopped by anything let alone a global pandemic, just said 'oh okay, you've got six months, do you want to come and write and produce a Borat movie?'.
"So I went off and did that while our cast lay in abeyance and we hoped and prayed Archie didn't grow too much or hit puberty in the intervening six months."
Read our full interview with Dan Mazer, in which he discusses the movie's nods to the original Home Alone and his approach to directing violent slapstick...
Yahoo Movies UK; I was just chatting to Archie and Aisling, and it's so nice to have the British and Irish folk taking over this American film.
Dan Mazer: It's so funny. As we were spending two weeks in quarantine in Montreal when we had to go back after COVID, where we couldn't see a single person and had to stay in our apartments, all I could think was that we have essentially a British cast, why couldn't we just do this in England? It was lovely to have them all around. I know some people have gone 'why have they done a British remake of Home Alone?'
The genesis of it was that I fell in love with Archie when I saw him in Jojo Rabbit and thought he had to be our kid lead. You sort of have to work backwards from there because, if your kid is British, then his mother or father has to be British. I love Aisling and I thought maybe we could persuade her to do it. She said yes. Actually, one of the studio's first suggestions for Jeff was Rob Delaney who they loved and had worked with in Deadpool 2. They wanted to find something bigger for him. Rob and Aisling live two miles from my house in London and I had to drag them over to Montreal to make this movie, which seemed perverse.
And once you decided to take it on, was there fear of taking Home Alone and messing it up?
It's absolutely petrifying and some would say idiotic. My career mantra in a weird way, for better or worse, is that if something seems risky and stupid and potentially career-ending I've always been tempted to take that on. Whether that has been risking my life with Sacha [Baron Cohen] shooting Borat and Ali G or the new iteration of Home Alone or making De Niro do things he had never done before in Dirty Grandpa. I am drawn to the risk and the danger of stuff.
But the truth was that as soon as I read the script from Streeter Seidell and Mikey Day, who are two of the head writers on Saturday Night Live, this felt like a really fresh, fun, new take on a classic. [It's] different enough that it should live on its own terms and be great in its own right. Of course the legacy of the original looms large, but nobody is asking anyone to destroy the original film and burn every VHS of it that exists. Hopefully this can live alongside and become as beloved and as much of a Christmas fixture as that one did because I think it's different enough.
It must have been a strange process for you because you started making this, then COVID hit, then you went and made a Borat film and then you came back to this. That's pretty crazy.
It was a pretty crazy few months, I have to say. We started at the beginning of 2020, then apparently a pandemic hit. Sacha, who won't be stopped by anything let alone a global pandemic, just said 'oh okay, you've got six months, do you want to come and write and produce a Borat movie?'.
So I went off and did that while our cast lay in abeyance and we hoped and prayed Archie didn't grow too much or hit puberty in the intervening six months. That was basically the biggest risk to the entire film: Archie's growth spurt. So I just kept on checking in with his mum: 'Has he grown? Has his voice dropped? What's going on?' But none of those things happened and we came back at the end of 2020, when the film was supposed to be released, and just had a very surreal moment where we walked back into exactly the same sets and wearing exactly the same clothes as we had been doing seven months earlier, oblivious seemingly to the incredibly tumultuous world events that had happened in between.
You have Devin from the original cast show up in your film. Was there a time when there were other original characters coming back, or did you want to consciously keep it separate?
I sort of did want to keep it separate. As we all know, the balance was paying homage to the original and affectionately acknowledging it without too slavishly taking too much from it. And also, I didn't want it to seem gimmicky as like 'when's the next cameo or call-back coming in?'. I wanted it to feel like a movie that can live on its own merits and in its own ecosystem.
In the script, Streeter and Mikey had written what happened to Buzz in the intervening 30 years. To me, that seemed very clever, very satisfying and didn't jolt you out of the narrative we were trying to tell with this version of the movie. To me that feels like just enough of a flavour and just enough of a sense of the first movie without being too over-bearing.
There's an article that comes out pretty much every Christmas, which is 'at what point in Home Alone would those characters have died if they'd taken that level of slapstick in real life'. With that in mind, how did you go about judging your level of slapstick and how much Rob and Ellie were going to take?
It's so funny because, when you read the script, you kind of forget that there are real people who are going to be involved in this and you're going to have to put two actors who you end up really loving and bonding with through all sorts of unspeakable misery. I was very keen to make sure that it wasn't a CGI fest and as much of it was done practically as possible, which I'm not sure I told the actors in the process of drawing them into the movie.
A large percentage of the movie and an even larger percentage of the shooting was taken up with that sequence. So ultimately we were probably shooting that sequence for seven or eight weeks. Every day, you'd see the poor actors emerge with various different bruises and harnesses, looking genuinely brow-beaten and world weary. We broke because of COVID. They were three weeks into it when COVID hit, it came as a blessed relief. But then we came back seven months later and they had to go straight into being thrown down a set of stairs and thrust off a banister. I put them straight back in the lion's den.
That obviously is a crucial part of the movie and I found myself, in terms of the development of that, just walking around everywhere I went and every time somebody handed me a glass or a bottle or a plate just thinking 'how could I use this to potentially maim or injure someone?' I was looking at every part of my house and home as a potential weapon, which was an unhealthy and unsavoury way for my mind to work.
I thought you were going to say you were being careful because you feared reprisals from your cast?
Well, that may come. I think that's probably going to happen now they don't need me any more and the movie is in the can. I need to be careful on this junket, definitely.
If this does well and people love it, would you come back and do another Home Alone movie?
It was a blast. I loved it. It was unlike anything I had ever done before. The cast were fantastic and it was great to challenge my comedic instincts by not being allowed to just revert to the usual, R-rated filth I have become accustomed to. I'd love to [do a sequel], I think it would be fantastic. It's such a timeless and simple idea that I think there's almost countless versions of how it can work. Please God, it should happen.
Home Sweet Home Alone is available via Disney+ now after premiering as part of the celebrations for Disney+ Day on 12 November.
Watch: Trailer for Home Sweet Home Alone