I think Ed Asner to play Santa Claus and Bob Newhart to play Papa Elf were literally the first people we ever talked about, says Will Ferrell. Theyre great comedic legends and were everything we hoped for -- being able to mention their names to other people and see their eyes light up.
BOB NEWHART INTERVIEW:
Do you see Elf becoming a Christmas classic that will be played year after year?
Yes. I had the feeling when I read the script that it was going to be a perennial. I think with the DVD, its going to be out of sight. I know how my grandchildren just play the same ones over and over again. They know the words. They can say the words along with them. If you ask them what they want to see, its Lilo & Stitch or whatever. This had that feeling from the beginning. It was different and good. I thought the writing was wonderful.
Whats your favorite Christmas movie?
I got to see a lot of them because of my kids. I got to see a lot of the animated [movies such as] Charlie Brown's Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. I cant remember the last live-action, non-animated Christmas movie. This may be the first one since 34th Street.
Were the special effects CGI?
As far as I know, there were no special effects. I know [Jon Favreau] wouldnt do the elves digitally. He wouldnt computer generate a picture of us and then shrink it. He used forced perspective as they did in Darby OGill and the Little People, which made for an interesting day because if I was here, then Will [Ferrell] would be nine feet away from me. When I was talking to Will, I was actually talking to an X on the wall and he was talking to an X on the wall to make it look like we were talking to each other. That took some getting used to because, as an actor, you generally want to see the other actors face. Sometimes it feeds something, you get something and it feeds something at you and you say, Can we try that again because Id like to try this? That took some getting used to. Once we saw it in the dailies, then we knew what Jon was striving to do.
Does it make you adjust your comedic timing?
Yes, at first, but then it became easier as each day went along. They had to have the boards on the floor aligned in such a way that it looked like I was standing right next to him, when I was standing actually 10 away. It was very clever and it was very technical. I think Jons a purist and thats the way he wanted to do it.
You get to wear an elf costume in this movie. What does that do to you as an actor?
Ive been a very lucky actor because generally I just internalize what I feel and somehow it shows up facially or in my mannerisms. I didnt need the elf outfit to play an elf; I could just play an elf. Papa Elf to me was a father and he has some trepidation that his son is going off on this potentially dangerous trip to Manhattan. He has the line, I will always be there for you. Thats the line I would tell my kids, too.
What makes Elf so appealing?
I think its a feel-good movie. I think it says something. I think it says you should have a value system and stick with your value system. You can win if you stick with your value system. Theres a lot of cynicism - the point about the Christmas spirit and the fact I had to build a jet engine to assist with the sleigh because there was less and less Christmas spirit. Prior to that, there was enough Christmas spirit to keep the sleigh going. So I think thats a statement, also. Lets really enjoy Christmas. [Elfs] coming out at the right time, with all thats going on in the world.
Why do you think its important that children believe in Santa?
Because I think you should be a child for as long as you can. I have been successful for 74 years being able to do that. Dont rush into adulthood, it isnt all that much fun. Keep believing in all those things, they are good things to believe in. There is a Naughty and there is a Nice list.
Were you familiar with Jon Favreaus work in "Swingers" and "Made?"
Thats interesting. My son Tim, he married a doctor and Jon Favreaus wife is a doctor, and they both were in residency together. They knew each other before I ever did the film. Since then, weve all gotten to know each other.
What did you think of Favreaus type of comedy, such as Swingers?
My son came up to me and he said, Dad, that was my life. I went, Please no, youre kidding.