From director Dan Mazer (Dirty Grandpa), the Disney+ original film Home Sweet Home Alone continues the beloved film franchise by following Max Mercer (Archie Yates), a young boy who has been left home alone when his family leaves for the holidays in Japan. At the same time, parents Jeff (Rob Delaney) and Pam McKenzie (Ellie Kemper) believe that Max has a priceless but unusual family heirloom of theirs and that they must do whatever it takes to get it back from the Mercer home, if only they can survive everything that Max puts them through to keep them out.
At the virtual junket for the film, Collider got to chat with Ally Maki (who plays Jeff’s sister-in-law Mei) for this interview, which you can both watch and read, about growing up on the Home Alone movies, being given license to develop a backstory for her character, why the experience of making the movie felt a bit like live theater, the legacy of John Hughes and his movies, doing a voice for Marvel’s Hit Monkey, and why she’s grateful to be a part of the Disney family.
Collider: When the opportunity to be a part of the next installment in the Home Alone franchise came your way, what was your reaction? Had you seen the original film? Were you curious about what this could be?
ALLY MAKI: I am definitely one of those people that grew up on these movies. I’ve probably seen both of them movies over 50 times, to be honest. I’m a real big Home Alone 2 fan. When they go to New York, it’s just so much fun. So, certainly, when I got the audition, I was very curious as to what they were gonna do because I’m one of those original fans as well. And five pages in, I was sold. I was instantly like, “Okay, I get what they’re doing. This is such a fun and hilarious reimagining.” It’s not what anyone would think, which is super fun, having those Easter eggs, and then having a lot of new stuff too, that’s coming in. I just think the writers, Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell, just really nailed it in tone and in creating a new story that’s gonna be fun for everybody.
You do get really invested in this family and this kid, separate from the original films.
MAKI: [That’s] a good sign. And how charming is Archie [Yates]? I’d be on set and in between takes, and he’d be like, “How do you feel about this, Ally?” It’s just like talking to a little grownup. And then, they’d be like, “Action!,” and he’d do something that was just so tender and would make cry. I was just like, “This kid is amazing!”
The character you play is someone who’s on the outer circle of everything that’s going on in this family. She’s not a relative, she’s not a villain, she’s not trying to break into this house, and because of that, it seems like you could have a lot of freedom with a role like this. Was that the case? Was this a character that you felt you could develop a bit and add more than just what was on the page?
MAKI: Absolutely, and from day one. Dan Mazer is such an awesome director. Doing all of the Borat and Da Ali G stuff, he’s so incredible about giving us that license to come up with a backstory and to come up with takes that we wanted to do. Sometimes he would let Tim [Simons] and I go on for just minutes and minutes and do whatever we wanted to do. There was some stuff where I feel like we could have our own extended cut of the antics that Tim and I would do on the side, and that was just so much fun. I learned so much on that set. Also, just being surrounded by such comedic people, we had such a great time.
She also seems like the kind of character that could easily fade into the background, if she doesn’t make her mark on what’s going on. Is a character like this more challenging than people expect because you do still want to put your mark on her and have her be a part of the story?
MAKI: I think I was just so excited to be a part of it. Dan was just so amazing about saying that he wanted every character to live and breathe as their own thing. We talked a lot about backstory. Tim, Dan and I all came up with this thing where, back in L.A., she was a failed singer and that’s how this song came about. That was all not originally part of the movie. He was just so great about being like, “Well, what do you guys wanna bring to it?” From day one, he always said, “I want you guys to be able, even if you’re in a scene and you’re just there, bring whatever Mei would bring to that scene. That was a lot of the fun. Sometimes it felt like live theater, as opposed to doing your traditional movie takes, which was so fun.
Did you also get to have a say in her look, her appearance and her wardrobe? Did you help figure out what her style would be?
MAKI: Our amazing costume designer had such a vision. At that first fitting, Mei could have gone any number of ways, but that first day, we had so much fun. We were like, “Maybe we do this and this. Maybe we go super crazy.” We landed with the chic black elements with some sort of crazy outerwear piece. That was always her thing. So, it was a bit of a collaboration, but she definitely brought all of the crazy pieces, which was so much fun.
How do you think Mei feels about being a part of this family? When she sees the relationship that Jeff and Pam have, how do you think she feels about this family that she’s found herself in?
MAKI: I think she’s obsessed with all of them. I think she’s low key obsessed with Pam. She’s obsessed with Rob’s character. I think she’s a great aunt. She’s a little bit out of touch because she’s from L.A. and she’s coming in with all of her frills, but at the end of the day, she’s such a loving aunt. That’s also what we wanted to show. Even if she is a little bit out there, she still has a great heart and she’s a great aunt. I’m an aunt in real life too, so I had so much fun bringing that vibe to the role.
The writer of the original characters, John Hughes, was responsible for the Home Alone franchise. As an actor, what does the legacy of John Hughes and his movies mean to you? Do you have a favorite John Hughes movie?
MAKI: Oh, my gosh. What he created is just iconic and it’s awesome to see how much he shaped all of our childhoods and continues to shape. It’s cool. Everyone I talk to is like, “These movies shaped our childhood.” I think kids today are still watching the classics, and hopefully they’ll watch this one too. It’ll be just a great new addition to the series. But I would say that Home Alone has gotta be my favorite movie of his, hands down.
Do you know what’s next for you? Are you currently working on something now, or are you trying to figure out what you’re doing next?
MAKI: A little bit of everything. I actually have an animated series [that came] out on the 17th, Marvel’s Hit Monkey, which I’m also so excited about. We recorded some of that during the pandemic and now it’s coming out. It’s about a monkey hitman named Hit Monkey, and he makes his way through Tokyo. I get to play Detective Haruka in that. She’s a bad-ass woman on the force. I had so much fun with that too. I’m really looking forward to this coming out and Marvel’s Hit Monkey.
What does it mean to you to get to be a part of the whole Disney and Marvel family?
MAKI: I just feel very lucky because my earliest memories are of me dressing up as Jasmine (from Aladdin) and singing Disney songs all day. I just feel like I’m just that same girl that’s in my living room, singing Disney songs. What an honor it is to be able to do this for a living and to bring these stories to life, in whatever way I can. It’s truly a dream. I’m just always like, “What world am I living in, where I get to be part of not one cool Disney universe, but a couple of them?” That’s just something I’ll always be grateful for.
I love Mei. I would totally love to see her have her own Disney+ show that has something to do with fashion.
MAKI: Or as a mother. I want more of that. What is that world?
Home Sweet Home Alone is available to stream at Disney+.
Yates also talks about how he has grown as an actor since his debut in 'Jojo Rabbit.'
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