What The Cast Of Elf Looks Like Today

When it comes to Christmas movies, "Elf" is in a league of its own. The 2003 film centers on Buddy, a human raised by Christmas elves who leaves the North Pole to seek out his biological family in New York City. Like its protagonist, the movie's script went on a massive journey before becoming what it is today.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, "Elf" director Jon Favreau revealed that the original script was "a much darker version of the film." Thus, Favreau and his team rewrote it, and the resulting screenplay turned out to be sweeter than a heap of spaghetti noodles with maple syrup on top. In the new version, they gave the movie a cartoonish flare — and they also turned Buddy the Elf into a wholesome hero. "Buddy changing a lot of people in small ways and overall changing the personality of the city, that's something I think gives the movie heart," Favreau said.

Favreau's instincts served him well, because "Elf" became a box office smash and a timeless holiday classic. After two decades, the movie hasn't lost any of its splendor. But it's not just the writing that made "Elf" a success — it's also the incredible cast who carried the film with their humor and charm. The "Elf" cast spread untold amounts of Christmas cheer — and these days, many of them continue to grace our movie and television screens. Scroll on to see how the "Elf" actors have changed over the years.

Will Ferrell (Buddy the Elf)

Will Ferrell played Buddy the Elf, a man who was raised as a Christmas Elf but learns that he's actually a human. Hijinks ensue when Buddy arrives in New York City to search for his long-lost father. In the end, Buddy manages to bring his family closer, fall in love, and restore the Christmas spirit to the Big Apple. Initially, producers sought Jim Carrey to play the lovable, naive Buddy — but when that fell through, they set their sights on Will Ferrell, who had just finished a monumental run on "SNL." In an episode of Netflix's "Movies That Made Us," producer Todd Komarnicki recalled: "There was something that Will was always nailing on 'Saturday Night Live': a perpetual innocence." His instincts told him that Ferrell would be perfect for the role. 

Ferrell was all in for making the movie, but he had serious doubts that it would be successful. "I remember running around in New York in that outfit literally thinking ... 'this is the end of my career,'" he told "George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight." He added, "I knew it was either gonna really work or really fail." Fortunately, "Elf" did indeed really work — the film grossed more than $227 million worldwide and became a pop-cultural phenomenon.

Following "Elf," Ferrell went on to play more memorable characters. He starred in numerous films, including "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Blades of Glory," and the "Anchorman" series. He is also an Emmy-winning producer.

Zooey Deschanel (Jovie)

Zooey Deschanel portrayed Jovie, a disenchanted department store employee who falls in love with Buddy. Before being cast in the role, she was an up-and-coming performer who'd recently quit college to pursue acting. 

As Deschanel recalled on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," she immediately connected with the script of "Elf." "I feel like with comedies, if I laugh out loud while reading a script, that's a pretty darn good sign," the actor said. She added, "I was only 21 when I made that movie." At the time, Deschanel also had a completely different look. "What is funny is I had dyed my hair for a screen test for a movie that never happened," she told Variety. "I had a meeting for 'Elf' while I was blonde, and I asked them if I could dye my hair back to brown. They said 'No, we want you to look the way you did in your audition.'"

Deschanel's quirky persona and velvety singing voice were standouts in the film, and they helped launch the actor to "it" girl status. After "Elf," she went back to brown and sported her trademark curtain bangs. The Hollywood darling starred in several more blockbusters, including "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "500 Days of Summer." She also formed a popular indie band called She & Him with fellow musician M. Ward. In 2011, she snagged a lead role in the sitcom "New Girl," which ran for seven seasons.

Bob Newhart (Papa Elf)

One of Buddy's greatest supporters was his adoptive father, Papa Elf, played by Bob Newhart. Newhart shined in his role as Santa's kindly old helper — but he was already a Hollywood legend when he slipped into those yellow tights and curly-toed shoes. His showbusiness career began back in 1960 when he appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The same year, he released a comedy album that climbed to No. 1 on the Billboard charts and scored him a Grammy. The acclaimed funnyman also starred in several sitcoms, including "The Bob Newhart Show," "Newhart," and "George & Leo."

In 2003, Newhart charmed a new generation of audiences with his performance in "Elf." To this day, the actor still remembers Papa Elf as one of his favorite movie roles. "Oh, yeah. I did a couple of movies ... And then did a wonderfully realized movie called 'Elf,'" Newhart raved to PBS in 2005. He added, "And it was just a delightful experience. It was a wonderful story about Christmas and how people got on with the Christmas spirit." 

Nowadays, Newhart is in his 90s and has been on-screen as recently as 2020. He has surfaced in tons of popular films and television shows, including "ER," "Desperate Housewives," and "Horrible Bosses." Newhart also played the recurring role of Professor Proton in "Young Sheldon."

James Caan (Walter Hobbs)

James Caan played Walter Hobbs, the surly biological father of Buddy. Caan was already a massive movie star at the time, thanks to his leading role in the legendary 1972 film "The Godfather." He was also known for his performances in "Bottle Rocket" and the movie adaptation of Stephen King's "Misery." Thanks to his brilliant acting chops and comedic flare, Caan was a perfect choice for the role of Walter Hobbs.

With such an illustrious career, Caan might've felt a tinge of embarrassment about his role in the ultra-campy "Elf." But as director Jon Favreau noted in a 2020 interview, the actor was an incredibly good sport about it all. "The thing with Caan is, he's got a great sense of humor," Favreau dished to Rolling Stone. He added, "We kept him laughing, and he kept us laughing. It took him a while to get with the programming ... Eventually, something just clicked in Jimmy and he just went with it. He was a lot of fun." Overall, the actor brought enormous comedy and heart to the character of Walter Hobbs. 

Caan stayed busy post-"Elf." He starred in the shows "Las Vegas" and "Back in the Game" while appearing in numerous other film and television roles. Sadly, the legendary actor died in 2022, leaving behind a film legacy that spanned six decades. He was 82. Shortly before his death, Caan filmed another mob thriller, "Fast Charlie," which was released in October 2023. 

Mary Steenburgen (Emily Hobbs)

Mary Steenburgen played Buddy's kindhearted stepmother, Emily Hobbs. Like many of her co-stars, she was already a Hollywood ace by the time she joined the cast of "Elf." Steenburgen was discovered by Jack Nicholson in the late '70s and made her big screen debut in his 1978 film, "Goin' South." Her career quickly accelerated, and in 1981, she won an Oscar for her performance in the film "Melvin and Howard." She was also known for her performances in "Parenthood," and the television adaptation of "Back to the Future." Before becoming Emily Hobbs, Steenburgen already had one Christmas film under her belt: She starred in Disney's "One Magic Christmas" in 1985. 

After filming "Elf," Steenburgen established herself as a Christmas film star. Her yuletide resume includes titles like "Four Christmases" and "Happiest Season." "I do enjoy holiday films, but I didn't ever have plans about being in them, they just sort of came to me," she confessed to Entertainment Weekly. "It's really serendipitous. But I enjoy it because it's something that I feel like families can watch together." 

Steenburgen also graced the small screen with performances in "Justified," "The Last Man on Earth," "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist," and more. In 2008, Steenburgen reunited with Will Ferrell to co-star in another gut-busting comedy, "Step Brothers."

Peter Dinklage (Miles Finch)

Peter Dinklage played the role of Miles Finch, a hot-shot publishing executive who beats up Buddy after the elf unknowingly insults him. It's easily one of the most memorable moments in "Elf" — and according to director Jon Favreau, Dinklage and Ferrell played the scene perfectly. "We picked [Dinklage] because he's a great, great actor," Favreau told Rolling Stone. "He totally committed to the role, not playing the funny at all. That's the style of comedy that I like and that Will likes — letting the comedy come through the situation and the heavy commitment to the absurd, but never wink or smirk through it."

The scene-stealing actor went on to have a monumental career after "Elf." Most notably, he played the fierce and clever Tyrion Lannister in "Game of Thrones." With roles in "Nip/Tuck," "Death at a Funeral," and the "X-Men" franchise, he's been plenty busy in the last couple of decades.

Although his iconic "Elf" scene contains commentary about his size, Dinklage has tried his best to avoid roles that perpetuate stereotypes about dwarfism, which is the genetic condition that causes his short stature. "I think 'no' is a very powerful word in our business that is very hard to use early on in your career," Dinklage told NPR in 2012. "But I also think I was pretty arrogant when I was younger. ... I used that word maybe too much, but it did help me with finding roles that I did like."

Daniel Tay (Michael Hobbs)

Daniel Tay portrayed Michael Hobbs, Buddy's rascally half brother. Less than a year before "Elf," he'd landed his breakout role as a young version of Paul Giamatti's character in "American Splendor." By all accounts, the preteen was moving toward a tremendous acting career. 

However, he only appeared in a few more roles before ultimately leaving the business in 2009. As The Sun reported, Tay ditched his entertainment career to pursue a more academic path. He went on to earn an economics degree from Yale, where he also studied Mandarin Chinese. As of 2022, the former child actor was working as an SAT instructor.

These days, Tay seems to be crushing it in academia and is seemingly absent from social media. Based on his low-key lifestyle, he may be deliberately keeping his distance from all of the "Elf" fanfare. One of his most recent public appearances was in 2009 when he posed for photos at a charity event in New York City (above). It was a rare opportunity for fans to marvel at his transformation from a child star to a handsome young scholar.

Amy Sedaris (Deb)

Amy Sedaris played Deb, the dutiful assistant to Walter Hobbs. She was already a well-known face in comedy when she appeared in the film. After starting with the famous Second City improv group, Sedaris made her way to film and television with roles in "Strangers with Candy," "Sex and the City," and more. Her spot-on physical comedy made her a hilarious addition to the cast of "Elf." 

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Sedaris raved about how much she enjoys getting into character for comedy roles. "I like to pretend — that's what I've always liked doing," she said. "My first wig was in third grade. I have to physically feel different and look different, and I'll be like, Okay, I know that person and I can have fun with it. If it's just me, I don't know what to do with it. It's just boring."

After finishing "Elf," this Hollywood hotshot didn't slow down a bit. Sedaris continued making comedy magic with roles in "BoJack Horseman," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," and more. She also created and starred in the Emmy-nominated comedy series, "At Home with Amy Sedaris," from 2017 to 2020. In addition to her acting career, she's also an author and playwright.

Edward Asner (Santa)

"Elf" fans will remember Edward Asner as Buddy's idol, Santa Claus. With his cheerful energy and cascading white beard, Asner was the spitting image of Kriss Kringle. But aside from his portrayal of the jolly icon, Asner was already a Hollywood heavyweight before stepping onto the set of "Elf." Asner earned his first acting credit in 1957. From then, he swiftly rose to prominence with roles in numerous movies and television shows, including "Gunsmoke" and "El Dorado." Asner's breakout moment came in 1970 when he landed the role of Lou Grant on the beloved sitcom, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Later, the actor starred in his own spinoff of the series called "Lou Grant."

After finishing "Elf," Asner went on to become the star of several films — including the Oscar-winning animated movie "Up." Even with his colossal acting resume — which spans six decades and hundreds of credits — Asner remembered "Elf" as a highlight in his career. "My primary source of mail deals with one-syllable titles: 'Up' and 'Elf,'" Asner told The Hollywood Reporter in 2021. "I love them both. Will Ferrell is a genius and the funniest man I came across since Ted Knight."

Sadly, the beloved Santa doppelgänger died in 2021 at the age of 91. Asner left behind a monumental legacy that included seven Emmy wins.

Andy Richter (Morris)

Andy Richter is another major comedy star who played a minor role in "Elf." The actor portrayed Morris, a business associate of Walter Hobbs, who delivers some great lines and hilarious facial expressions throughout the film. Like many of his co-stars, Richter was a long-reigning comedy king when he appeared in "Elf." 

He's best known for his work with legendary late-night host Conan O'Brien. Richter worked with O'Brien from 1993-2021, serving as a writer, announcer, and all-around right-hand man to the pompadour-sporting TV personality. "When I found Andy Richter, he was one of the funniest people that I ever met," O'Brien said on his show in 2021 (via the Los Angeles Times). He added, "He's a brilliant man, and I love him forever."

Richter has enjoyed an enormous television and voice acting career since his "Elf" appearance. Through the years, he's shown up in "Arrested Development," "American Dad," the "Madagascar" franchise, and more. In 2003, the actor opened up to The Believer about his career goals. "I just want to do good work, and I feel like, well, I plan to be alive for another 40 years or so," he told the publication. "So I feel like I've got time to figure out what my big raison d'être is. But for now, I'd just like to keep working in things that don't embarrass me." These days, Richter's comedy chops and infectious grin are still as brilliant as ever.

Kyle Gass (Eugene)

At this point, you've probably caught on that "Elf" is packed with little appearances from big stars. The next celebrity in our lineup is Kyle Gass, who played Walter Hobbs' colleague, Eugene. Before his "Elf" appearance, Gass had minor roles in "Bio-Dome," "The Cable Guy," and "Seinfeld." 

His career exploded when his band, Tenacious D, started gaining mainstream attention for their catchy tunes and hilarious lyrics. Along with his bandmate, Jack Black, Gass released a short television series and several popular music videos under the Tenacious D brand. 

After "Elf," Gass continued acting. He's appeared in numerous comedies, including "2 Broke Girls," "Speechless," and "Hacks." He also carried on the Tenacious D Legacy in "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny." These days, Gass is still chugging along and releasing new music as part of Tenacious D — but could the musical comedy duo have something else up their sleeves? In an interview for SiriusXM, the pair confirmed that new installments of "School of Rock" and "The Pick of Destiny" could soon be in the works. "Yup. Both of them. Breaking news. We're thinking about doing both of those," Black revealed.

Faizon Love (Gimbel's Manager)

Another "Elf" scene-stealer was Faizon Love, who portrayed the brash, no-nonsense Gimbel's manager. "Elf" superfans may have noticed an intriguing detail about Love's character: He wore a name tag emblazoned with the name Wanda. In the Netflix special "Movies That Made Us," producer Todd Komarnicki shared the story behind the curious moniker. "We really wanted Wanda Sykes, but she dropped out at the last minute," Komarnicki explained. "And [Jon] Favreau knew Faizon Love and called him up, and he came in and did us a solid." Love nailed the hilarious scene and became one of the most memorable characters in the movie.

Like his "Elf" character, Love doesn't seem shy about speaking his mind — even when it comes to dishing about a supposed feud between Will Ferrell and director Favreau. "Will didn't trust Jon's judgment from day one," Love said during an appearance on VladTV. He claimed that the two men clashed over creative differences and that Ferrell had unsuccessfully tried to stage a walkout against Favreau.

These days, Love remains close friends with Favreau — and his acting resume is thoroughly stacked. Throughout the years, the actor has appeared in numerous films and television shows, including "The Big House," "Step Up: High Water," and "The Last Stop in Yuma County."