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.
WILL FERRELL ('Buddy'):
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.