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Jon Favreau Spreads Christmas Cheer With "Elf"

Interview with Actor/Director Jon Favreau


Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau on the Elf Movie Set

Will Ferrell and Director Jon Favreau on the set of "Elf."

New Line Cinema
Director Jon Favreau set out to create a contemporary must-see holiday movie with the family comedy, “Elf.” “Elf” follows the misadventures of Buddy, an orphan raised by elves who sets out from the North Pole for New York City in search of his real father.

Though not known for making kid-friendly movies, Jon Favreau’s enthusiasm for the project sold producer Jon Berg on the director immediately. “Jon came to it with an immediate connection to the story -- to the sweetness and heart -- that was incredibly sincere,” says Berg.


Is this your first movie your kids can see?
It is because it's the first movie I made since I've had kids. But it's the first one, certainly, that's appropriate. Even “Daredevil,” which sort of skewed young, is still incredibly violent. “Rudy” is appropriate for maybe older kids, but this is probably the first one that they'll ever see that I'm involved with, as they grow up.

Does Will Ferrell do anything you ask him to? Will will usually do more. I never really asked Will to do anything specifically. He would always come up with a really exciting choice. He has very good instincts, especially with physical comedy. My only job when we're doing the broad stuff was to either build him sets that he could play off of, put him in a costume that he could really work, or suggest things that might inspire him to try something different and go further than he had. But he's a performer and so if that camera was rolling, he would use that as an opportunity to go for it.

Did you ask Will to improvise?
We come from a similar background. Will studied at the Groundlings. I studied at Second City. He came through “Saturday Night Live” and certainly I was influenced a great deal by the people who were on that show. A lot of people I worked with have worked on that show. We both have very similar sensibilities and a similar way of working, coming from an improv background. Although he didn't improvise dialogue that much, I was not afraid to put him in situations that were unplanned. And as a matter of fact, the last day of shooting in New York, we just took cameras. We didn't even have the director of photography. We just took a camera man and a film loader and some PA's and went around the city in a van, jumped out and threw people some money and got to use all different locations, like him getting his shoe shined or him crossing the street, with all real people around him. I put him in those situations and he had to improvise and stay in character while dealing with people who, for the most part, didn't even know they were in a movie.

Did the suit make the mood more comfortable?
A great costume, I think, is always a great tool for an actor. It's almost like working with a mask. The costume gave him a certain posture and a certain way of moving. It brought out the character, which is a very unselfconscious character, a guy who thinks he's an elf coming from the North Pole.

Are you trying to make people tear up?
I tear up, but I don't know if I'm just so happy I've finished the movie. I get excited being in an audience. I'll know I did my job on this movie if it pops up on TV every year. That'll be the real test of time.

Do you see it going that direction?
I hope. I got spoiled because “Rudy” did. That pops up every year around Thanksgiving, and “Swingers” is on cable all the time now. Those are two movies that didn't make the most [money] of any movies I've ever made, and [weren't] necessarily the best reviewed. But they were the ones that made a ripple in our culture and have stood the test of time.

In making “Elf,” on the one hand, you could make a movie about Christmas that's just utter crap and parents will take the kids to go see it and there's a very low bar. But the upside is if you make something that really has emotional resonance and that you put a lot of care into, it could become part of our culture for years to come, and be played like no other movie is ever played. “It's a Wonderful Life” was really a nothing movie when it came out, but it has emerged as something that's very important to our society and our culture. And still, if I turn it on and there's 10 minutes left in it, I'll keep it on, and sit down and watch it. I'll be in tears. It's embarrassing. You're getting ready to go out, putting your tie on, your wife finds you sitting at the foot of the bed watching the TV and you're all teared up. That's something that's like the brass ring for a Christmas movie. We always set out to make something that we knew, if we did our job right, that this could turn into something that people would see year after year.

PAGE 2: Setting "Elf" in New York, Working with Bob Newhart, and Set Decorations

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