From ‘Home Alone’ To NASA Boss, Daniel Stern Brings Big Dad Energy
— Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Apple TV+
If you grew up in the 1990s, then you know the face of Daniel Stern — he’s that guy from that thing, specifically, comedy classics like Home Alone and City Slickers. But, three decades after he partnered with Joe Pesci to destroy Macaulay Culkin’s Christmas, Daniel Stern is the kind of guy who simply can’t stop, and won’t stop, being awesome. He may appear glamorous, like our pal Pierce Brosnan, but Stern feels like that dad friend you remember causing trouble with back in the day, and now, is just a solid dude.
Recently, Stern has joined the cast of the critically acclaimed historical sci-fi drama, For All Mankind. In Season 4, Stern plays Eli Hobson, a former corporate businessman who becomes, somewhat unexpectedly, the administrator of NASA in an alternate version of 2003. Because For All Mankind tells a multigenerational story and is focused on the legacies of the various characters and families, Stern says he immediately got the vibe when he joined the cast. But, he also says his rep for Home Alone and other hits has turned him into an elder statesman among younger generations.
“It was disturbing how respected I am on the set,” Sterns tells Fatherly, laughing. “I’m the wise old actor who’s done it all. People tell me that they grew up on my movies, and now their kids are watching it. I’m the crusty old veteran now.”
Talking to Stern, it’s apparent that his view on life and work is a masterclass in both reaching for the stars, but also, being down to Earth as hell. Here’s what Daniel Stern — father of three adult children — told us about For All Mankind, his classic ‘90s movies, and his best advice for parents.
There’s so much history in For All Mankind. A lot of dads become big history buffs. The whole Roman Empire thing. Are you really into history?
No, no. I’m a dummy. I dropped out of high school. I’m an artist through and through. I do bronze sculptures, I write, and I direct anything creative, but I’m so intimidated by learning history and studying that. My son is a history major at Harvard, so I’m the dummy of the family. That said, I love the humanness of this show. That’s what really got me. I mean, I love the alternate history and hearing these names.
Did you ever imagine you’d be cast as the boss of NASA?
I got a big laugh when I told my wife that I was going to play the head of NASA. She was like you? But he’s like this businessman, who becomes the head of NASA. But I decided I could do it because the guy isn’t a scientist. He’s a corporate guy, but he’s also a political guy. He’s a media guy. I have experience in those realms and I’ve directed films and television. He’s a fish out of water too, so I brought that.
It’s sort of like a metaphor for being a parent right? Like he’s in charge of NASA, but all the younger people know more than him.
That’s totally it. One of the first scenes I did was with Coral Peña, and her character [Aleida Rosales] comes in and she’s telling me something and then she changes her mind — right in the middle of the conversation. When I read the script, it was like, oh, I’ve had this conversation with my daughter a lot. That confusion of being a dad was very much on my mind in those scenes. Being a leader is similar to being a parent. You’re trying to get people what they want and guide them towards their best self, and yet, they’re still human beings and they don’t do exactly what you say and it’s really annoying!
I can’t accept that you’re an “older” actor. Home Alone feels like yesterday to me. What does it feel like for you?
When I did City Slickers with Jack Palance, I was like, oh my God, he’s such an epic person. But, I realize that because I’ve been in show business since I was 17 or 18, and now, some of the actors I work with must look at me the way I looked at Jack Palance. I’m not putting myself in the same category as Jack! But, I’ve been doing this for 48 years! I can’t believe I just said that out loud. [Laughs].
How do you feel about the impact your ‘90s stuff had on…well, my generation?
Well, there were a lot of silly movies I did. I mean, Rookie of the Year. But, the thing I loved, even with The Wonder Years, is that my work was often about kids. It was about empowering young people, and that’s what really connected with young people at the time, whether it’s the Home Alone; a kid who can beat the crap out of these old guys. Or Rookie of the Year. It was about child empowerment. My wife and I started a Boys and Girls Club and embraced that aspect of my career. I think the messages of those movies connected with kids, as much as my silliness or my comedy or something. I think there was a good run with me and young people at that time.
You’re an artist as well as an actor. How can parents cultivate creativity?
Well, one of my kids is an artist, and the others didn’t go that way. But, I exposed them all to everything, especially music. I tried to show them creativity by example. Also, once my kids left, I realized I found more time for my art. Speaking of Jack Palance, he told me that you can be an artist all the time. You can always pick up your art, which is why I started sculpting again. I did it in high school and I picked it up again. And I think my kids understand that. I take my art really seriously and it’s my job.
But, I think there’s a parenting lesson in that for non-artists too. If your kids see you taking yourself seriously, and committing to what your passion is, that has a positive impact. My daughter is a doctor and she has to do surgeries, cut people open, and put them back together. It’s like, man, that’s her art form.
Could you do another season of For All Mankind? Could your character go into space?
If there’s more for me, I’d love to be a part of it. But, I’m also a lazy guy. [Laughs]. So, as an artist, I’ll always say yes. You can’t say no. It’s a wonderful part. But as an actor, I’m the paint, and it’s somebody else’s art. So I’ll be the paint for a while and try to give them as brilliant a color as I can give them.