Kurt Russell explains his take on playing Santa Claus in ‘The Christmas Chronicles’
The Christmas Chronicles, a holiday adventure from producer Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) and director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds Movie), tells the story of sister and brother, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy Pierce (Judah Lewis), whose Christmas Eve plan to catch Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) on camera turns into an unexpected journey that most kids could only dream about.
After staking out Santa’s arrival, they sneak into his sleigh, cause it to crash and nearly derail Christmas. As their wild night unfolds, Kate and Teddy work together with Santa — as you’ve never seen him before — and his loyal Elves to save Christmas before it’s too late.
“No one is better suited than Kurt Russell to bring our version of a rugged, charismatic, and hilarious Santa Claus to life,” Kayis said. “From our first meeting, he completely threw himself into this iconic role — and grew an impressive beard in the process. It has been a dream come true to work with Kurt in creating what I believe will be the new definition of Santa Claus for generations to come.”
Columbus said Russell is“the definitive Santa Claus.”
He continued:” Charismatic, tough when needed with a wicked sense of humour. We’re really excited for audiences to see his performance onscreen and hope The Christmas Chronicles becomes a timeless classic.”
Global News spoke to Russell about his take on Santa Claus, if that’s his real beard, if he feels any pressure playing the iconic Christmas character and much more.
Global News: Can you tell me a bit about The Christmas Chronicles?
Kurt Russell: When I opened the script and saw what the story was and then who the character was that they wanted me to play, I had no inkling. I began to call back on the wonderful generations of the legend of Santa Claus and my own family, from my grandparents to my parents, to me, to my children with our family with Goldie [Hawn] and I share. I loved the opportunity as an actor to find out about Santa Claus. And I immediately said to myself, ‘I want to do the real guy.’ And that was what Chris Columbus’ take was, that this is a real person. I had a ball looking at old illustrations and pictures that created a sense of authenticity to the real person. I began to find out more about Santa in terms of being born, then he became a bishop and he began to give presents away for very specific reasons and the legend grew and then it grew out into the largeness of his myth. He is one of the few characters whose existence has maintained its life and then grown in its level of of importance to the world over 1,700 years. Santa Claus is not a comic book character and I was just excited about playing a guy who wasn’t just a jolly old myth or just an illusion or just magic or just a Hollywood creation of like fun movies and things that I’ve enjoyed watching.
This was the real guy that I got to play. And so he’s dealing with, in his own way, because he’s 1,700 years old and the magic of that he’s dealing with what they’ve done with him, what they’ve done with his legend, and how they’ve commercialized him. He doesn’t mind it, there’s just certain aspects of it that he thinks, ‘Man, why did they do that?’
It’s an iconic character. It’s like playing Elvis [Presley] or in the hockey world it’s like playing Herb Brooks. I’ve had the opportunity as an actor to create roles that became memorable and in some cases iconic and in another themselves. I’ve always relished that and I’ve always felt very fortunate to have those opportunities come my way. And when they do, I like to make the most of it because I think it’s a wonderful opportunity. I loved working with Chris Columbus. I love the Home Alone, sort of Harry Potter aspect. The tone of it was great. The kids were great. He did a really good job. It’s his first non-animated film as a director. We had a great time working together, working in Toronto was a blast.
And when I found out they were going after Oliver [Hudson] to play the father in the film, I thought, ‘God, that’s a great choice.’ He’s a very creative, inventive actor, which we needed in that role because he’s got to be memorable. You get to see him for a short period of time and it matters, for the emotional aspect of the movie comes at the end. Being able to experience that, it brought a lot of things full circle.
(L-R) Producer Chris Columbus, Oliver Hudson, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Darby Camp, Judah Lewis, and Kurt Russell attend ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ Premiere on Nov. 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)
A lot of people online right now are saying that you are the best thing to happen to Santa since Tim Allen scared him off the roof in the Santa Claus movies. Does that make you feel any pressure at all?
Not really pressure, but I felt like it’s an opportunity. And I wanted to take that opportunity and make the best of it. And I think that the one thing I haven’t seen in Santa Claus movies is, honestly, a real one. He’s not surprised by being Santa Claus or he doesn’t discover that he’s Santa Claus or he’s not a mall Santa or pretending to be a Santa Claus or he’s not a guy who’s a bad Santa. It’s not Miracle on 34th Street. It’s not the jolly old kind of presentation of a character or that it may be just an illusion. This was a real person. And just because parents may be involved in Christmas in a Santa way doesn’t mean that Santa Claus does not exist.
And for these two children in the movie — which is their story that 10-year-old who very much believes and a 15-year-old who no longer does — to be confronted with the real person standing in front of you, I thought, was fabulous and I wanted to be that real person. I was very concerned what I wanted — the hair, the wardrobe, the makeup, the beard. I wanted all of that to be authentic. And when you see him, you feel like, ‘That looks like the real guy, not what we’ve seen pictures of in Coca-Cola ads.’
My Santa looks kind of lumberjack-like or has a Captain Morgan aspect to him. He’s a little intimidating and he’s not afraid to sling coal.
Is that your real beard in the movie?
It’s mostly mine and we did some enhancements to it. It would have been very difficult to do with a fake beard and I didn’t want that. I spent a lot of time with my makeup man and I said, ‘I know exactly what I want to look like.’ My Santa has a Scandinavian feel to it, but he’s not from there. He’s from another place. He’s more connected to the history of the Greek Orthodox church, back in the days when he was a bishop in Turkey. And he’s now very modern and he’s living in a modern time, but he only comes out from where he lives, which is, obviously, a drastic place. If you really lived in the North Pole, that’d be a tough life (laughs).
Where is the reality and where has the line been drawn where people write about him and in ways that perhaps weren’t real. And I love that we get into that right off the bat. He’s up to date. He’s like, ‘no, I don’t do Ho ho ho. Fake news.’
It’s also an opportunity for me to do a picture that my whole family can see. All the grandkids can go to the theatre, all the kids can see it, all their friends. I don’t very often find myself in those movies.
How does this experience compare to your time filming The Christmas Coal Mine Miracle (1977)?
(Laughing) I think it was originally called The Christmas Coal Mine Disaster, which I always thought was one of the great titles. (Laughing) I think it’s the only time I was involved with a movie that was based around Christmas time that I can remember. I’m sure there were others that Christmas was in. It’s funny, (laughs). I don’t know how you discovered that one but that was a long time ago.
Do you have any favorite family memories growing up that include Santa Claus?
This movie for me is like a love letter to my dad. He was our Santa Claus. We never knew if he was Santa Claus or if he was just really close to Santa Claus. We didn’t know if he was just our dad being Santa Claus because secretly it was always shrouded in mystery. Wonderful, wonderful mystery. He was just fantastic. But he did have his intimidation factor. It was like you need to be asleep when Santa Claus comes around. It created a wonderful sense and I suppose more than anything that is what I loved about doing this movie. It’s a connection for me to my father.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
The Christmas Chronicles will launch globally on Netflix on Nov. 22.
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