What The Cast Of Elf Is Doing Today

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear," Buddy says in "Elf." It's fitting because, for many people, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is watching "Elf" for the umpteenth time. The modern Christmas classic starred Will Ferrell in the titular role, a human who doesn't realize he's not an elf until he's sent to New York City to find his biological father. Buddy's instantly iconic green suit helped Ferrell get into character, he told BlackFilm. "The elf outfit immediately, I didn't have to try too hard once I got in the tights," he said. "It was kind of a perfect visual."

The film was released in 2003, meaning it celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023. The excitement around the film has yet to die down; there were tours of filming locations in New York City to mark two decades since its release, and the film even returned to some theaters to give fans a chance to experience the movie's Christmas magic all over again. If you need a break from duetting "Baby It's Cold Outside" along with the "Elf" soundtrack, check out what the cast of "Elf" is doing today.

Zooey Deschanel was only 21 when she was in Elf

Zooey Deschanel played the character of Jovie in "Elf," a seasonal department store employee who falls in love with Buddy. Deschanel was only 21 at the time, and she'd just left college to try her hand at acting. "I remember sitting at my parents' house like, reading that script ... and laughing out loud," she recalled on "The Kelly Clarkson Show." She added, "Since then, I've seen that that's a good sign." Clarkson complimented Deschanel's comedic timing in the film, to which Deschanel responded, "Will Ferrell is just so perfect in that movie." 

Surprisingly, while "Elf" is a perennial holiday favorite for many families, Deschanel herself has only seen it once. "I think it would be weird if I was just like, watching myself all the time," she joked on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

After "Elf," Deschanel went on to lead the cast of Fox's "New Girl," playing Jess Day for seven seasons. When the show ended, she told Deadline, "It's bittersweet because I miss all my friends, and I loved everybody that I worked with so much." Deschanel is currently in a relationship with Jonathan Scott, one of the Property Brothers of HGTV fame. They got engaged in August 2023, both sharing a photo on Instagram of Deschanel showing off an engagement ring. "Forever starts now," they wrote.

Will Ferrell doesn't want to make an Elf 2

Will Ferrell played the titular elf in "Elf," a human named Buddy who was raised at the North Pole. Though the film is now widely regarded as a holiday classic, Ferrell told James Corden on "The Late Late Show" that he initially wasn't sure the movie was going to work. The first scenes they shot were the ones where Buddy is running around New York City interacting with locals, and Ferrell said people recognized him from "Saturday Night Live." He recalled thinking, "This is either going to be a home run, or people are gonna go, 'Whatever happened to you? Why did you do that one about the elf?'" Thankfully, Ferrell noted, "The stars aligned."

While many stars would be eager to follow up a hit film with a sequel, Ferrell declined "Elf 2." He told The Hollywood Reporter that the script just wasn't good. "I would have had to promote the movie from an honest place," he said, imagining confessing to audiences that he just wanted the money.

In 2023, Ferrell starred as the CEO of Mattel in Greta Gerwig's "Barbie." Ferrell was proud of the film, telling The Wall Street Journal, "It is, in my humble opinion, the ultimate example of high art and low art." He added, "It's a loving homage to the brand and, at the same time, couldn't be more satirical." Audiences agreed; "Barbie" is, by a considerable margin, Ferrell's most successful film.

James Caan is no longer with us

Like his co-star Will Ferrell, "The Godfather" actor James Caan initially wasn't sold on the idea of being in "Elf." Appearing on "CBS Sunday Morning," Caan recalled Ferrell asking him directly if he wanted to play Walter Hobbs in the film. "I said, 'Can't do it,'" he recalled. "I'll do a picture called 'Elk,' but I won't do 'Elf.'" Thankfully, he changed his mind, and "Elf" became one of Caan's most celebrated roles.

The same year Caan starred in "Elf," he began leading the NBC show "Las Vegas," which would ultimately run for 88 episodes. The movie star found acting on television to be much more difficult than he expected it to be. "I tell you, there's nothing like the power of the boob tube," he said in an interview with The New York Times. "It's mind boggling. But sometimes it's 16 hours a day. I've never worked so hard."

Caan died in 2022, at the age of 82. His "Elf" co-stars mourned him publicly, including Ferrell, who released a statement about Caan's passing to The Hollywood Reporter. "I will always treasure my time spent on and off camera with James Caan," he said. "He always had great stories and advice." Zooey Deschanel also tweeted her tribute to her former castmate. "I was so honored to have worked with him," she wrote.

Ed Asner inspired an iconic animated character

Any great Christmas movie needs a great Santa Clause, and in "Elf," the role of St. Nick was played by Ed Asner. He loved playing the jolly old character, and the role followed him for years. He told The Hollywood Reporter that the majority of the fan mail he receives is about "Elf," adding, "Will Ferrell is a genius and the funniest man I came across since Ted Knight."

In 2009, Asner voiced Carl, the main character in Pixar's "Up." He was proud of that film, too, explaining to CNN that the movie was far more adult than most people expected it to be. In particular, he called out the film's much-lauded prologue, which details Carl's romance with Ellie. "My God, that four-minute passage in there detailing their life together..." he reflected. "We all wish that our lives could be displayed as beautifully as that one is."

Unfortunately, Asner died in 2021 at the age of 91. Zooey Deschanel honored her former co-star on Instagram, sharing a photo of Asner in costume as Kris Kringle. "Rest In Peace my favorite Santa Claus," she wrote. "You will be so missed." 

Bob Newhart is fond of his Elf role

Sitcom icon Bob Newhart played "Papa Elf," head of the workshop at the North Pole and the closest thing Buddy had to a father figure. "Without question, the part of Papa Elf outranks, by far, any role I may have ever played," Newhart told CNN on the film's 20th anniversary. Comparing the film to "Miracle on 34th Street," Newhart said he fell in love with the script the very first time he read it. "People need that charming, wonderful thing about the Christmas spirit," he said.

In recent years, Newhart has appeared on both "The Big Bang Theory" and its spin-off "Young Sheldon," playing two different characters. The "Newhart" vet loved filming in front of a live studio audience again, and he was particularly relieved that the audience knew who he was as soon as he stepped out on stage. "It was like going back in time," he told The Hollywood Reporter. His "Big Bang Theory" role as Professor Proton was so well-received that it won him his first Emmy. Fittingly, Newhart got a standing ovation when his name was announced at the award ceremony. "I just love this," he said. "Thank you very much."

Mary Steenburgen is a musical genius now

Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen played Emily in "Elf," the wife of James Caan's character Walter Hobbs. She later re-teamed with Will Ferrell in "Step Brothers." On an episode of "Watch What Happens Live: The After Show" (via Yahoo!) in 2023, Steenburgen said that she'd love both stories to continue. "I would love each of those to have another movie, just because I love them both," she said.

Steenburgen's life and career took an interesting turn in 2009 after she had surgery on her arm. When she woke up from anesthesia, she realized something was different. "The best way I can describe it is that it just felt like my brain was only music, and that everything anybody said to me became musical. All of my thoughts became musical," she told Indiewire. It took months for her thoughts to quiet, but she found a second career as a songwriter as a way to deal with her new abilities. In 2019, she wrote "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)," the climactic song from the film "Wild Rose." She explained, "I didn't fall out of love with acting when this happened, and I still haven't. But there's so much more capability in our brains than we probably realize."

It's true; Steenburgen is still a prolific actor. In 2023, she starred in "Book Club: The Next Chapter," gushing over her co-star Jane Fonda to The Wrap. "I feel like I know her throughout time," she said.

Amy Sedaris loved filming Elf

"Strangers With Candy" star Amy Sedaris played Deb, Walter Hobbs' secretary in "Elf." The mood on set seems to have been as joyful as the film itself, according to Sedaris' interview with People. "We just sat around talking a lot. Everybody was always in a good mood; the energy was up," she recalled. "My time on set was just a blast."

Sedaris is quite a busy actor, appearing on various "Star Wars" shows like "The Book of Boba Fett" and "The Mandalorian." She told Empire Magazine (via CBR) that she doesn't really understand what's happening, but she enjoys the work anyway. "Memorizing the lines is the hard part for me because I don't understand what I'm saying," she confessed. She and co-star Pedro Pascal even bonded over the silly dialogue. "We would finally get through this monologue and then just crack up because we can't even believe that we had to say it," she said.

In 2023, she starred in "Theater Camp" despite never having attended one herself. "I didn't go to theater camp, but I did get into theater when I was young," she told AARP. "I remember the acting teacher saying that I was really good at making faces. That stuck with me because all my muscles are in my face. I'm a mugger!" In addition to mugging for the camera, Sedaris is also a frequent voice actor; she played Princess Carolyn in six seasons of Netflix hit "Bojack Horseman."

Faizon Love would be happy to star in Elf 2

When Buddy makes it to New York City, he finds the holiday wonderland he's looking for at Gimbel's, a department store. Comedian Faizon Love played the store manager. In 2021, when Will Farrell gave an interview about not wanting to make a sequel, Love sent in a video to TMZ and said he would be more than happy to take over as the lead in a second "Elf" film. "What's wrong with a Black elf?" Love joked, cracking himself up. "I think America's ready for a Black elf. We had a Black president, we had an orange president ... now it's time for a Black elf."

In the years since "Elf," Love has appeared in projects like "Torque," "Couples Retreat," and 30 episodes of "Step Up: High Water." In 2023, Love starred in "Back on the Strip," a comedy about a group of male strippers in Vegas. He told Taji Mag that the cast — which included Tiffany Haddish and Wesley Snipes — got along great on set. "All we did was laugh," he recalled. "Really, bond even more. Like, we know each other, but it was really like camp."

Peter Dinklage, from Elf to The Hunger Games prequel

Buddy's father Walter Hobbs is a book publishing executive, and part of the plot of "Elf" revolves around him trying to find a bestseller to publish by Christmas Eve. They enlist the help of Miles Finch, a children's book author. Finch was played by Peter Dinklage, an actor with achondroplasia. In a scene that perhaps hasn't aged as well as the rest of the film, Buddy mistakes him for an elf. Dinklage told Entertainment Weekly that he especially enjoyed working with "The Godfather" star James Caan. "Anybody who was in 'The Godfather' is a tough guy," he said. "He loves telling stories from the good ol' days. I eat that stuff up."

In 2011, Dinklage started playing Tyrion Lannister on "Game of Thrones," becoming one of the show's biggest breakout stars. The HBO hit ran until 2019, and Dinklage told The New York Times that he was looking forward to seeing what came next. "You feel this void, but then you also go, 'Oh, wow. I don't have to do that, so what am I going to do next?'" he reflected. "That's the exciting thing."

One thing that came next: More fantasy. In 2023, Dinklage starred in "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes," a prequel to the hit YA dystopian franchise. At the film's premiere, he told MovieRoar, "They've always had such a strong list of great actors involved in these movies ... It's an honor."

Andy Richter had a cameo in Elf

Comedian Andy Richter appears in a few scenes in "Elf," playing the assistant to one of the book publishing executives who works at Walter Hobbs' company. Like most of the cast, Richter particularly loved working with co-star James Caan, which he discussed after Caan's death in 2022. "I've met lots and lots of people that I really admire, and it's been a bit of a letdown," he reflected during an appearance on Three Questions. "Whereas James Caan was just everything you'd want a James Caan to be." 

In addition to being a regular voice actor on shows like "American Dad" and "Bob's Burgers," Richter is perhaps still best known as Conan O'Brien's sidekick across various talk shows. "Conan" went off the air in 2021, but they still are a team. O'Brien even officiated Richter's 2023 wedding, according to Page Six. The wedding was a moderate affair, "like a low-key house party, it was a nice party," Richter told the newspaper. "I knew he had done it [before] because he married our wardrobe designer on our show. So I asked him to do it and he did it!"

Jon Favreau is a Star Wars head honcho

Jon Favreau directed "Elf," but he also appeared in the film. Moreover, Favreau shows up not once but twice! He's the doctor who confirms that Buddy is Walter Hobbs's son, and he also voices the stop-motion narwhal at the beginning of the film. Favreau had directed films like "Swingers" before, but when "Elf" became a huge hit, it launched his directing career to new heights. "The movie did well, and now everybody thinks I'm a director," Favreau joked on "The Howard Stern Show" in 2004.

Favreau reportedly butted heads with "Elf" star Will Ferrell, according to James Caan. The actor called in to 92.3 The Fan back in 2020 and revealed, "The director and Will [Ferrell] didn't get along very well." Caan said that Ferrell was interested in a sequel, but he wanted to replace Favreau as director; Favreau's contract, on the other hand, said he would helm any sequel to the original film. Accordingly, no "Elf" follow-up ever materialized. 

These days, Favreau is behind several "Star Wars" shows for Disney+, providing creative input and directorial services on shows like "The Mandalorian." He told IGN that he appreciates how his role lets him bring on a number of filmmakers to help shape stories. He explained, "With TV, you get to collaborate, you could take chances on different tones, you could take different chances on people who might be less experienced, but could also bring a lot to it."