Will Ferrell Finds His Inner "Elf"

Elf movie stars Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell stars as Buddy in New Line Cinema's holiday comedy, "Elf.". New Line Cinema
Will Ferrell stars as the most unlikeliest of Santa's helpers in New Line Cinema's holiday comedy, "Elf." Directed by Jon Favreau and starring Ferrell, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner, and Zooey Deschanel, "Elf" is lighthearted fun suitable for the whole family.

The story follows Buddy (Ferrell), an orphaned baby who crawls out of his crib and into Santa's bag of toys. Mistakenly taken to the North Pole, the elves raise him as one of their own.

After years of not fitting into beds, sitting in chairs 10 times to small, and kicking butt in basketball games, Buddy finally comes to terms with the fact he's a human and sets out to find his biological father (played by James Caan).

Ferrell makes great use of his physical comedy skills and delivers a solid enough performance to get even the Grinch into the holiday spirit. In this interview, Ferrell discusses working with Bob Newhart and James Caan, pratfalls, and making a family comedy.


It had to be exhausting being happy all the time.
Actually it wasn't. That was kind of the fun part of getting to play this character, because I don't know if I've played anything that was constantly eternally optimistic. So that actually was the fun part of doing the role.

How did wearing the elf suit change you?
It's always nice having something like that, especially in the wardrobe area, that immediately kind of helps you become the character.

The elf outfit immediately… I didn't have to try too hard once I got in the tights. It was kind of a perfect visual.

What about the script appealed to you?
I had it for a while. If we could find a way to handle it correctly, the appeal of it was to be able to shoot a film that would be funny, but also heartfelt.

[It would] be a different type of thing for me to do in terms of something that a family audience would see, as opposed to some of the other projects that I have gotten to work on, which have obviously been for a different audience. That was the appeal - to have the potential to be in something like this.

When you do a pratfall, do you try to take everything with you?
I guess. I don't know if I think about it so much. It's just the thought that, “I'm falling now. Hope I don't hurt myself.”

If comedy is all about reaction, do you practice your reaction shots in a mirror?
I don't. I actually don't work on anything. I'm very lazy. Someone mentioned to me that I didn't blink for the entire film, which I wasn't conscious of, but that's just something that manifests itself in whatever way it's going to once I'm in character.

Were you excited to work with Bob Newhart?
I really was. I didn't realize how much I would be, but it was kind of great to work with someone like that. When we were thinking about casting, it's rare that you get to actually cast the person that you are using as the type of actor you want for the role. So we talked about who could play Papa Elf, and we started saying someone like Bob Newhart would be perfect.

When you actually get that person, it's truly a special thing.

You and James Caan seemed to have a good rapport onscreen. Can you talk about working with him?
I was really lucky that my job in the film was to try to drive him crazy, and I would. I would try to offset anything he could throw at me. I knew it was driving him crazy on one level. It's great to see Jimmy in a way that we're not used to seeing him, and it adds to the effect. His specific casting in that role adds to why it works so well.

Were you intimidated when you first met him?
I wasn't only because I just figured I'm just going to… The first time I met him I just put him in a bear hug and yelled, "Dad." I thought that would break the ice. I think he got really uncomfortable because I wouldn't let go.

What was your favorite scene and why?
I don't really know if I have a favorite.

One that sticks out in my mind is one I have in the department store, Santaland, with Artie Lang who's playing the mall Santa Claus. That actually was kind of fun because we only had one take to do that because if we thrashed the Santaland, we knew it would take too long to build back up, and we were on such a tight schedule. That was really fun. We did that essentially on one take. It's always fun to have the adrenaline of, “We have to get it right.” That's a favorite for sure.

Your character eats a lot of strange things. How many cotton balls did you eat?
A few bushels. How would you measure cotton? A few hundred cotton balls.

You didn't spit it them between takes?
No. Actually, we fooled you. That was cotton candy that we made special things out of.

What about the sugar rushes?
Yeah, that was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will - if that's what the job calls for.

PAGE 2: The Appeal of "Elf," Life Post-"SNL," and Upcoming Projects

When you decided to leave "Saturday Night Live," did you worry about how much work you needed to do to succeed when there have been others who have left the show and failed?
Yes. I just felt I had been on the show for a nice amount of time. I definitely wanted to leave “Saturday Night Live” at a time when I still enjoyed doing the show. I didn't have a supreme confidence that I would be immediately successful after leaving the show, but I just knew it was the right time to test myself and get out there and try other things.

Speaking of trying other things, Zooey Deschanel said your next movie with her is not a comedy. Is that going be tough for people to accept?

[Long pause] I don't know. It will be a whole different thing in a way that hopefully you view a Bill Murray doing something like that. It will be interesting to see because it's a smaller film. It's more like an independent, Sundance-type of movie. I'm really looking forward to seeing if I'm going to be in over my head, or if it will be just another aspect of something I have within me that I'm able to do. We'll find out. I'm going to try my best.

Some actors/comedians use comedy to compensate for some tragedy in their life. Do you have something that inspires your comedy?
I've been asked that question before and it's true, a lot of people have gotten into comedy because of certain influences in their lives or events that were painful, and I really have wracked my brain to figure it out. I pretty much have had a normal childhood. Maybe it was too normal.

If "Elf" becomes hugely successful, would you be okay being a ‘family’ comedian for a while?
I don't know if I can necessarily look that far into the future.

I kind of feel I'm going to, hopefully, have the opportunity to just pick material that's just going to be interesting to me on a project-to-project basis, as opposed to trying to fulfill a certain category. The movie that's coming out that we shot this summer couldn't be more different from this. It would be fun to always just keep everyone guessing, if I can.

Do kids think you're genuinely funny?
I guess they do from stuff they've seen me in. But in person when they meet you, they're a little shell-shocked. It's not like I have this great knack for making kids laugh in person, but some kids tell me that they think I'm funny.

What was Christmas like for you as a kid?
It was always a special time for the most part. We had a little different dynamic in that my folks had split up at an early age, so we would go back and forth on Christmas Day to have one Christmas here, and the other Christmas there. But that just amounted to two Christmases. I made out like a bandit.

Did you feel the extra pressure of carrying this film, since you are the lead?
You know, I don't usually feel pressure so much. I probably should feel it more, but it's probably just ignorance on my part. I guess when I really stop to think about it, I feel it a little bit. During the course of filming you kind of realize I'm gonna be the main thing in this. As long as I'm having fun and enjoying it, I really don't try to worry about it.

If you had anything to say about "Elf" and how universal it is, what would it be?
Hopefully we have made a movie that people are going to find funny and something that can be a shared experience for the entire family in a way that's emotionally satisfying as a story, but also works as a comedy and captures the spirit of the holidays all kind of rolled into one.

Do you think it's important that children believe in Santa?
It's important for the economy.

Are you doing "Old School 2?"
You know what? There was talk of it. Then I haven't heard about it for the longest time, so I don't know if it kind of derailed or not.

Interviews with Director Jon Favreau, Bob Newhart, and Zooey Deschanel
"Elf" Photo Gallery
"Elf" Trailer, Credits and Websites