Will Ferrell’s performance in Elf as Buddy, a man who grows up thinking he’s one of Santa’s elves, is beloved. It’s now a seasonal favorite that airs multiple times every December. More than 15 years later fans still can’t stop quoting the maple syrup-loving elf. There are plenty of memorable moments in the film, many of which were unscripted, including Buddy’s song about singing.
Jon Favreau changed the script to highlight Buddy’s innocence
Initially signing on to do rewrites, Jon Favreau became the director of Elf after pitching a different idea for the film.
“My pitch when I was hired to write was to make it feel like Buddy was a human that grew up in a ’60s Christmas special,” he told Rotten Tomatoes in 2018.
The director spent a year rewriting the script, taking it from a PG-13 rating to PG. Not only that but he wanted to embrace Buddy’s innocence.
“The innocence was something that I really wanted to lean into as I worked on it,” Favreau said. “He was always an innocent character, but he was a bit more of a foil to the action and to the comedy.
“I tried to strike a balance that was a bit sweeter,” he added.
Will Ferrell improvised the lyrics to Buddy’s song
One of Buddy’s particularly hilarious (and innocent) moments happened in a scene with Zooey Deschanel’s character, Jovie. Buddy’s love interest and co-worker at Gimbels, he told Jovie she should sing Christmas carols, to which she said she didn’t sing in public.
Buddy then proceeded to show her just how easy it could be. He sang a song about singing, belting out, “I’m in a store and I’m singing” to shoppers until the store’s manager told him to stop. What some Elf fans may not realize is that the words were all made up by Ferrell.
“Singing in the Santaland, where I’m demonstrating how easy it is to sing … the lyrics were improvised, definitely. I just threw Buddy’s mind of what a song would be like, a stream of consciousness singing,” he said, according to MTV News.
Buddy later overheard Jovie singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the store’s employee locker room shower. Staying true to his character, he joined in on the song which left Jovie surprised and a little weirded out.
By the end of the movie, they’d gone on a magical date doing all sorts of Buddy-approved things around the city. And in the final scene of Elf Jovie overcame her stage fright and sang to a crowd of people to get their Christmas spirit up.
The actor improvised many lines and scenes in ‘Elf’
Buddy’s singing isn’t the only thing Ferrell came up with on his own. The actor improvised a lot of what’s in the movie.
“Will just did lots of different choices for lots of different moments,” Favreau said.
Ferrell improvised Buddy’s reaction to Santa coming to Gimbels when he shouts, “Santa, here? I know him!” as well as his character exploring New York City for the first time. The former Saturday Night Live cast member interacted with real people on the streets of Manhattan as Buddy with Favreau and a camera in tow.
“Will has really good comedic concentration so he was able to stay in character the whole time, and we used what worked,” the director said.
When it came time to edit the movie Favreau’s job had to “string all of the great different performances or improvisations together into a cohesive performance that served the story, while still taking full advantage of all the laughs that he [Ferrell] was able to find.”
Now Elf fans have another reason to love the holiday movie. They can laugh with Buddy and appreciate the level of Ferrell’s improv skills.
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