When “Elf” premiered in 2003, it became an instant hit and helped launch Will Ferrell as bonafide movie star. Now, 15 years later, the film has become a staple of the holiday season. But what became of the “Elf” cast? While you’re probably already familiar with Ferrell’s career in the ensuing years, you may not know quite as much about the rest of the movie’s stars.
Take a look back at the actors who played characters in the beloved Christmas flick, and learn what they’re up to now.
At the age of 36, Will Ferrell took on the now-iconic role of Buddy in “Elf.” But believe it or not, he wasn’t the first choice. Jim Carrey was initially attached to star in the project, but he decided to move on after years of delayed production. Ferrell, whose resume consisted of mostly supporting roles at the time, nabbed the part instead, and the rest is history.
Ferrell’s acclaimed performance helped launched his career as a movie star and established “Elf” as one of the best (and most widely quoted) Christmas classics of all time.
“Running around the streets of New York dressed as an elf, I thought, ‘This could be my last movie,'” Ferrell said of the role in 2015. “It went the other way, so I feel so fortunate. I feel so glad that that’s become part of the lexicon.”
Now 51, Ferrell has gone on to star in a slew of hits, including the “Anchorman” franchise, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Blades of Glory,” “Step Brothers” and many others. He also reportedly had a chance to star in a sequel to “Elf” but decided to turn it down.
“I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights,” he said of the idea, according to USA Today. “Buddy the middle-aged elf.”
Zooey Deschanel also wasn’t the first choice to play Buddy’s love interest, Jovie.
“I went in as a backup,” the actress told Variety of her audition. “The person they cast couldn’t do it. A lot of the parts I got early in my career, I was filling in for someone else who had dropped out last minute.”
Though she got the part, Deschanel reportedly wasn’t fond of her look in the movie.
“I had a meeting for ‘Elf’ while I was blonde, and I asked them if I could dye my hair back brown,” she said. “They said ‘No, we want you to look the way you did in your audition.’” Bleached hair aside, the actress and Ferrell displayed a sweet chemistry on screen — and it was one of the first times that the world heard Deschanel’s lovely singing voice.
In the years since the release of “Elf,” Deschanel has starred in several notable movies, including 2008’s “Yes Man,” 2009’s “(500) Days of Summer,” and 2011’s “Our Idiot Brother.” But her biggest role to date was actually on the small screen, as Jessica Day on Fox’s hit comedy “New Girl.” The show ran for seven seasons, from 2011 to 2018, and earned Deschanel an Emmy nomination and two Golden Globe nods.
Offscreen, Deschanel also makes up one-half of the musical duo She & Him, which has released six albums since 2008.
James Caan played Walter Hobbs, children’s book publisher and Buddy’s biological dad. He and Ferrell share plenty of memorable moments in the movie, including their hilarious, song-filled first meeting. Though Caan may be well-known as Buddy’s father to the younger generation, the actor had a notable carer long before that.
As a movie star in the ’70s, Caan came to prominence with roles in films such as 1971’s “Brian’s Song,” 1974’s “The Gambler” and 1977’s “A Bridge Too Far.” He also earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the temperamental Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather.”
After “Elf,” Caan dove straight into the world of TV. He starred as Montecito Resort and Casino president Ed Deline in NBC’s “Las Vegas” for four seasons. He’s also made appearances on CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O” and Starz’s “Magic City” before starring a short-lived ABC sitcom, “Back in the Game.”
On the big screen, Caan has also held a variety of supporting roles in movies such as 2008’s “Get Smart” and 2012’s “That’s My Boy,” and he lent his voice to the character of Tim Lockwood in the “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” franchise.
You may remember Mary Steenburgen as Walter’s wife and Buddy’s understanding stepmom, Emily Hobbs. The actress, who shared a couple of particularly funny scenes with Ferrell, says she had a hard time keeping a straight face on set.
“You went to work every day, and your biggest challenges was getting through a scene without breaking it,” Steenburgen told Variety. “It’s part of the beautiful, weird edge that you walk on when you work with Will that you can’t stop yourself from laughing at him.”
Steenburgen, who had a successful career before “Elf,” has stayed busy in the years since. She has appeared in dozens of movies, including 2008’s “Four Christmases,” 2011’s “The Help,” 2014’s “Song One” and, most recently, 2018’s “The Book Club.” She also crossed paths with Ferrell again in 2008’s “Step Brothers.” As for her TV work, she held recurring roles in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and Starz’s “Blunt Talk.”
Daniel Tay made his acting debut at the age of 11 in “Elf.” As fans will remember, Tay played Michael Hobbs, Walter and Emily’s son, and Buddy’s younger half-brother. Though Michael is initially grossed out by Buddy’s syrup-soaked diet, the two eventually hit it off and end up teaching other a lesson or two about the spirit of Christmas. Plus, who could forget their epic snowball fight against some bullies?
Now 26, Tay has mostly laid low since his supporting role as Buddy’s younger half-brother. In 2003, the same year “Elf” hit theaters, Tay also played a young Harvey Pekar (the older version played by Paul Giamatti) in “American Splendor.” He did a few other acting gigs, in 2006’s “Artie Lange’s Beer League” and 2007’s “Brooklyn Rules.” He also lent his voice to a couple of video games, including 2006’s “Bully” and 2009’s “Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony.” Since then, though, it seems Tay has stayed mostly out of the industry.
Ed Asner may be most widely recognized for his role as Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” but to “Elf” fans, he’ll always be Santa Claus. Asner’s St. Nick is the one who finds Buddy in his sack of toys and gives him to Papa Elf to raise.
Funnily enough, that wasn’t Asner’s first time playing Santa. He also donned the big red suit for the 1996 TV movie “The Story of Santa Claus” and 1999’s “Olive, the Other Reindeer.” But Asner maintains “Elf” was his best Santa-playing experience.
“None of them were as much fun as this,” the actor told TV Guide at the time. “From the script to the director and the ensemble cast, this was a beautiful experience.”
Though Asner is now in his late 80s, it seems he hasn’t slowed down at all. In 2009, he voiced the role of Carl Fredricksen in Pixar’s “Up.” In early 2011, Asner returned to television in “Working Class,” the first original sitcom on cable channel CMT. He also appeared in the Canadian television series “Michael: Every Day” and guest starred on several episodes of A&E’s “The Glades” and CBS’s “The Good Wife.”
And Asner didn’t completely leave his “Elf” character behind. He reprised the role of Santa Claus in the 2014 animated NBC special, “Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas.”
Who could forget Papa Elf himself, Bob Newhart? The actor won hearts as the loving and caring elf who raised Buddy. But apparently, the scenes weren’t always easy to film. In order to make it seem as if Buddy truly towered over him, Newhart had to shoot all of his scenes standing a few feet behind Ferrell. The actor later told Variety that fans were often surprised by his actual height in the years following the release of the movie.
“When fans find out I’m taller than 3 feet and 2 inches, they feel cheated,” he said. “They don’t understand how I’m 5 foot 7. They’re going, ‘That’s not Papa Elf. He’s too tall to be Papa Elf.’”
Newhart has been on television (including in his own shows) since the 1960s, and after the release of “Elf,” Newhart has continued to focus his attention on the small screen. He appeared in TNT’s “The Librarian” franchise. He also notably had a recurring guest role on “The Big Bang Theory” as Professor Proton, a scientist whom Sheldon and Leonard watched on TV as children and continued to idolize as adults. Newhart won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor for his appearance on the sitcom.
Remember the grumpy Gimbel’s manager who was convinced someone was gunning for his job? Faizon Love portrayed the character delivering all-too-believable disbelief and irritation over Buddy’s handmade store decorations. His memorable code words: “Santa’s got a brand new bag.”
Faizon Love appeared in several movies, including “Just My Luck” and “Idlewild,” in the years following the release of “Elf.” He also had a main role in the ensemble movie “Couple’s Retreat.” More recently, Love co-starred in the YouTube Red series “Step Up: High Water,” which is based on the dance drama “Step Up” franchise.
Shortly after making his breakthrough in the critically acclaimed movie “The Station Agent,” Peter Dinklage went on to make audiences laugh in “Elf.” He played Miles Finch, a temperamental but brilliant children’s author who beats up Buddy after he (repeatedly) mistakes him for an elf. Though he’s only in the movie for a few minutes, his is definitely one of the most memorable scenes in the Christmas classic.
Peter Dinklage has appeared in dozens of movies since “Elf,” including 2007’s “Death at a Funeral,” 2008’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and 2017’s Oscar-nominated “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” But you probably know him best from a little show called “Game of Thrones.” The actor has played Tyrion Lannister on the HBO smash hit since its debut, a role that has won him three Primetime Emmys and made him one of the highest-paid actors on TV.
Amy Sedaris played Walter Hobbs’ secretary, Deb, in “Elf.” As Buddy tells her in the film, “You have such a pretty face, you should be on a Christmas card.” Sedaris recalls having a great time during the shooting of the film, telling People, “Ferrell was always keeping the ball up in the air, always laughing. We just sat around talking a lot. Everybody was always in a good mood; the energy was up. It was a nice and pleasant set to be on. My time on set was just a blast.”
These days, Sedaris is busy starring in her own show, “At Home With Amy Sedaris.” The truTV series features the star playing various characters as she demonstrates her skills in entertaining, crafts and cooking. She also voices the character of Princess Carolyn on the animated Netflix show, “BoJack Horseman.”
You may remember Michael Lerner as Walter Hobbs’ grouchy boss, Mr. Greenway. He’s only in the movie briefly, but it’s long enough to make you glad that Walter eventually quits working for him. At the time, Lerner had already made a name for himself in movies such as 1988’s “Eight Men Out,” 1993’s “Amos & Andrew” and 1998’s “Godzilla.”
In recent years, Lerner has appeared in the movies “Mirror Mirror,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Ashby.” He’s also remained active on TV. He had a recurring role on “Glee” and has also made guest appearances on episodes of “Comedy Bang! Bang!,” “Maron” and “Entourage.”
Jon Favreau wore many hats on the set of “Elf.” Not only did he rewrite and direct the film, he also played the Hobbs family’s physician, Dr. Leonardo, and voiced the characters of Baby Walrus, the Arctic Puffin and Mr. Narhwal (yes, that’s him saying the oft-quoted line, “Bye Buddy, hope you find your dad”). “Elf” was only Favreau’s second directorial effort, and its success helped turn him into one of the most in-demand directors in Hollywood.
With a hit like “Elf” under his belt, it’s no surprise Favreau has gone on to have an incredible directorial career. He’s been at the helm of several more movies, including 2014’s “Chef,” 2016’s “The Jungle Book” and the soon-to-be-released “Lion King,” as well as several episodes of television shows. He was also the man behind the camera of the first two “Iron Man” movies, which launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we know today and facilitated the comeback of Robert Downey, Jr. as a mega movie star.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Favreau has also continued to remain active onscreen as well. In addition to supporting roles in movies like 2006’s “The Break-Up,” 2009’s “Couple’s Retreat” and 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” he also continues to play Tony Stark’s driver and friend, Harold “Happy” Hogan, in the Marvel universe.
Kyle Gass played Eugene, one of Walter Hobbs’ inept associates at the children’s book publishing company. Gass was and is still known as one half of Tenacious D, the comedy-rock duo also featuring his longtime friend, Jack Black. “Elf,” released in 2003, came only two years after Tenacious D released their debut album, featuring the cult-status single “Tribune.”
Gass continues to juggle his music career with acting even today. In addition to often holding small supporting roles in Black’s movies (like 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda” and 2009’s “Year One”), he also has appeared in episodes of “2 Broke Girls,” “Drunk History” and, most recently, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” In 2018, Tenacious D released its fourth album, “Post-Apocalypto,” and an animated series on YouTube titled “Tenacious D in Post-Apocalypto.”
Like Gass, Andy Richter also played one of Walter Hobbs’ colleagues at the publishing firm. At the time, Richter was best known for his role as the sidekick to Conan O’Brien on “Late Night.” The actor and comedian held his position as a writer and regular on the program for seven years before leaving in 2000 to pursue acting and other projects.
Richter has continued to stay busy in the years since “Elf.” In addition to appearing in movies like “Talladega Nights” and “Blades of Glory,” the actor also voices the character of Mort in the“Madagascar” franchise. He has also reunited with O’Brien, appearing as an announcer, writer and participant on TBS’s “Conan.”
Don’t recognize Artie Lange from the movie? Picture him in a red suit and white beard … that’s right, Lange played the imposter Santa at Gimbel’s, who “smells like beef and cheese” and, as Buddy puts it, sits on a “throne of lies.” Though Lange only played a bit (albeit hilarious) role in the movie, he had a flourishing comedic career offscreen as a regular on “The Howard Stern Show.”
In recent years, Lange made guest appearances on episodes of “The Jim Gaffigan Show” and also played himself on the HBO comedy, “Crashing.” In November 2018, the comedian, who has long struggled with addiction, revealed he was stepping away from the spotlight to complete an inpatient rehab program.
“I’m about to take a big step to help myself,” he wrote on Twitter.
Leon Redbone didn’t physically appear on-screen in “Elf,” but he did play a memorable character in the film. The jazz and blues singer lent his musical voice to the character of Leon the Snowman, who — just like the real Leon — dons a Panama hat, sunglasses and a black tie. He’s also the one to give Buddy this wise reminder: “Don’t eat the yellow snow.”
After 40 years of performing on the stage and screen, Redbone announced his retirement from the industry in 2015. The singer reportedly opted to step away from the public eye after battling some health issues.
“It has become too challenging for him to continue the full range of professional activities,” a rep for Redbone told Rolling Stone at the time.