02/04/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
Angela Goethals's first film outing with Macaulay Culkin was not a carefree frolic. Goethals, then 9, and Culkin, 6, were playing Burt Lancaster's grandchildren in 1988's Rocket Gibraltar, and "in one scene we find Burt unconscious in the backyard," she remembers. "I have to give him mouth-to-mouth and revive him. It was terrifying."
Her next outing with Culkin—when she again played his big sister in the 1990 megahit Home Alone—made for happier memories. "He would do weird faces to the camera," she says. "One reminded me of a turtle—he would stretch out his mouth and clench his teeth."
But while Big Mac went on to short-lived superstardom, Goethals, now 24, returned to school, even turning down an offer to reprise her role in 1992's Home Alone 2. "I just saw acting as an afterschool activity," says Goethals, whose single mom, Rosalind, 43, a kindergarten teacher, raised her and sister Sara, now 23, in Manhattan. Apart from small theater, TV and film roles (she played an ice-skater in 1996's Jerry Maguire), Goethals's focus was getting an education. "She was a driven child," says Rosalind.
Now, with a 1999 bachelor's degree in French from Vassar, Goethals is trying to jump-start her career. She shares a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment with boyfriend and fellow actor Russell Soder, 27. "I tend to be a pack rat; he's a minimalist," she says. "We're trying to make compromises." One thing they agree on: It beats living home alone.