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Peter Billingsley Talks About "A Christmas Story," "Zathura," and Producing

Billingsley on the Continuing Popularity of "A Christmas Story"

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I’m one of those people who will watch “A Christmas Story” over and over again until someone yanks the remote control away and turns off the TV. Networks count on there being a lot of people who react the same way I do to the 1983 Christmas comedy. In fact, marathon screenings of “A Christmas Story” have become commonplace during the holiday season.

So when December 1st rolls around and I’m finally allowed to mention the year-end holidays, one of the first things I do is scan the program guide for any signs of “A Christmas Story.” Watching it on DVD is okay, but you really have to catch a screening on primetime TV to get the desired effect.

Being such a big fan of the family-friendly film, when I caught up with Peter Billingsley at the premiere of “Zathura” (a film he co-produced), it took a huge amount of self-control to be able to talk about “Zathura” before gradually turning the conversation to “A Christmas Story.” Billingsley has been active in the entertainment industry for more than 25 years, yet he’ll forever be remembered as ‘Ralphie,’ the kid who wishes for a Red Ryder BB gun in the classic holiday movie.

Billingsley doesn’t just tolerate questions about “A Christmas Story,” he seems to genuinely light up when the movie is mentioned. I did manage to refrain from saying, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” however Billingsley says he’s used to people tossing quotes from the film at him, even now 20 years after the movie was released. Billingsley said, “They quote lines. They say, ‘Remember when you did this?’ They all still love it.”

Billingsley told me he continues to be surprised by how many people have “A Christmas Story” on their must-see holiday movie lists. “It’s amazing. I mean, with the volume of movies that are made consistently, it’s just a miracle that this movie is loved and watched as much as it is. People ask me all the time, ‘Are you tired of talking about it?’ I’m really, really proud to be a part of it. You’re really lucky… I mean, you do this stuff and you hope it turns out well and to get that lucky to be a part of a movie that just seems to endure the test of time… They show marathons and they make action figures of it now, from a little dialogue Christmas movie! It’s just remarkable. So it’s really fun,” offered Billingsley.

Acting since he was just a youngster, Billingsley said he continues to challenge himself by taking on new jobs in the entertainment industry. Asked how he became a producer, Billingsley explained, “I had sort of taken a journey through a lot of different facets. I was in post production for a while and wrote and directed for TV and did other stuff. I just eventually wanted to move into other things. Acting was great but I’d been doing it since 2 ½, you know you crave other challenges and you want to break into new stuff.”

Billingsley said being a producer is more than just having more control and being allowed more input into a film. “You’re with it from Day One to the end, whereas acting you come for a segment and you leave. It’s really fun to be a part of a process like [‘Zathura’], where we had a good script. I worked on it through rewriting and through the post process and through all the effects, even through the marketing. It really gives you a chance to get your hands into it through the entire journey.”

He still returns to acting occasionally and will next be seen in "The Break-Up,” a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn which Billingsley also executive produced. “I did do a little part. Every now and then I come back and do a little bit of acting. I love it. I did a little cameo in ‘Elf,’ which I didn’t take credit for, where I was one of the elves in Santa’s shop. It’s fun to do it that way. I acted for a long time and it’s fun to come back. And if I’m doing stuff with friends, I got to play a friend of Vince’s in the movie and do a couple of scenes with him, so it was actually really fun," said Billingsley.

As to why he became involved in “Zathura” - another family-friendly comedy from “Elf” director Jon Favreau - Billingsley explained, “Jon’s been getting into these. He’s got a couple of kids himself now. So starting with ‘Elf,’ I think it started to open his eyes to it. With this one, Jon sent me the script and said it was something he wanted to do next. I think what was appealing about it was that yeah, it was full of action, but there was a value system at its core. It’s not that the whole world was at stake or in jeopardy, it was just this little family and a single dad and a couple of kids and they were just trying to find their way. I think there was something appealing about that to me.”

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