It's considered a Christmas classic by most now, but Will Ferrell once thought starring in Elf might end his movie career before it really started. While just about every holiday has received an indelible movie or two that serves to capture its spirit, it's safe to say that no holiday has had more movies set on or around it than Christmas. This makes sense, as Christmas is in the eyes of a many the most important celebration of the year, whether they celebrate it for religious reasons or not.
There are many classic Christmas movies, ranging from the old standbys like It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street to more modern hits like Home Alone and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. For those not looking for holiday cheer, there are also alternative Christmas favorites like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. One of the most beloved Christmas movies in recent memory is no doubt 2003's Elf, directed by future Iron Man helmer Jon Favreau, and starring Ferrell in one of his first major film roles.
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When Elf hit theaters, most still knew Ferrell for his work as a cast member on Saturday Night Live, and the now A-list comedic actor had yet to play signature characters like Anchorman's Ron Burgundy or Talladega Nights' Ricky Bobby. Considering how bizarre Elf's premise of a human child being raised by elves is on the surface, it's not hard to imagine the film turning out poorly, and it turns out Ferrell himself had concerns. During a recent appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Ferrell revealed that during Elf's production, he was worried the film's failure might end his fledgling big screen career.
Corden: "Is this true? When you were shooting Elf, you were worried that it was going to end your movie career?"Ferrell: "Yeah there were moments. The first two weeks of shooting were kind of all the exteriors in New York and so, you know, still kind of discovering what this movie’s going to be and running around New York City in yellow tights. People recognizing me from Saturday Night Live going, ‘Are you okay? What’s going on?’ and thinking to myself this is either going to be a home run or people are going to go, ‘Whatever happened to you? Why did you do that one about the elf?’”
Considering just how widely celebrated a film Elf now is, it's a bit laughable to imagine Ferrell questioning his decision to star in it during production 15 years ago. Yet, history is full of iconic classics that those involved didn't see coming, as it's not always easy to predict what will hit with the masses and what will miss. Conversely, history is also littered with "sure thing" films that everyone involved thought would be a smash, only to watch them earn a resounding meh from audiences. Hollywood can be a cruel mistress.
Later in Ferrell's interview with Corden, the Holmes & Watson star also makes mention of an amusing anecdote involving Elf co-star James Caan. Best known as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, Caan is primarily seen as a dramatic actor, but gave a hilarious straight man performance in Elf opposite Ferrell's gleeful craziness. According to Ferrell, Caan came up to him at the premiere and revealed that he had his own worries during filming, and it wasn't until he saw the finished product that he got what Ferrell was going for. Thankfully, one could never tell from either man's performance that they were nervous about the project.