The family comedy A Christmas Story Christmas returns with a Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) this is all adult and a father himself, both a daughter (Julianna Layne) and son (Drosche River). With a super supportive woman (Erinn Hayes) which pushes Ralphie to follow his dreams, even if they don’t always succeed, the family returns to Ralphie’s childhood home from the original 1983 holiday favorite A Christmas story to celebrate the holidays together and reminisce about old times with familiar faces.
During this one-on-one interview with GameSpot, Billingsley, who also serves as the film’s producer, explained why it took him nearly 40 years to return to this character, if there were any other sequel ideas since the inception of the movie. first film, what is his production partnership with Vince Vaughn has meant to him over the years, what made him decide to direct, what the original film and his directing experience mean to him, those imaginative pans, why it was important that the relationship between Ralphie and his wife was supportive , and if he’d ever want to go back to that character again.
GameSpot: It took you almost 40 years to return to this character for a sequel. So why now? Was it this specific script that prompted you to do this?
PETER BILLINGSLEY: Yes. It’s a good question. You’re right, it’s been almost 40 years. We were developing this film for almost four years. A few years ago, it seemed like a good time to start exploring this. A lot of things had to line up for everything to go well. We were able to partner with (screenwriter) Nick Schenk. I was able to write history with him. Nick has written many great movies. He wrote for Clint Eastwood. It was part of the fight against the tone. The original is irreverent. It was a little petty sometimes, but it’s real. So to do it right, Clay Kaytis, our director, was able to produce with my longtime producing partner, Vince Vaughn. We made a lot of movies together. Timing aligned, for a lot of good bits. And, more importantly, Ralphie, as a father, was a great way to explore this film. How would he be as a dad? How would his family be? Where is he in his life? And the passing of the old man is the passing of that torch now to Ralphie. This role in the family seemed like a great starting point. So I guess I must have been older. It was good to have done a bunch of movies now and to have tried to figure out how to make and do those movies well. Timing is everything, and we’ve also gotten the original cast back.
Have there ever been times over the years when you got an actual script from someone who wanted to do a sequel, and you just weren’t interested?
BILLINGSLEY: Yeah, sure. There were ideas for doing things, and I’d had conversations with people about it, but it never ultimately stuck and never necessarily felt right. For fans watching this, I think they’ll see, in many ways, that this is an origin story for A Christmas story and how the film ends. They go together. Having a purpose for wanting to make this movie was also something that was really needed. Otherwise, let’s do something else. We all do this for a living. We can find things to do. But if you are [going to] get into it, it had to be for the right reasons. The first one [movie] is very adult. He is a young boy with many experiences who becomes a young man in the end. This one talks about this transition to adulthood. are you where you [want to be]? Did your life turn out the way you wanted it to? There is this last call to adventure for Ralphie, the chance to have him maybe.
A lot of people probably don’t know how long you, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau have known and worked together. How does it feel to have the consistency of a dynamic like that? What does this mean for you, in a business that is truly anything but cohesive?
BILLINGSLEY: That’s really well said because that’s what it means to have friendships that last and endure in a tough business. Vince and I met when I was 18, so it’s a lifelong friendship, and it’s genuine. You are becoming like brothers, and there is a lot of love in your heart. I don’t have to worry about whether he’s trying to get me or not? Let’s go. It’s hard enough to make a movie and try to channel and find ways to say the things you want to say, so to be able to move forward with someone like that has been great. I’ve done five Christmas movies, and I’ve done three with Vince. We just did another one this year, called Christmas with the Campbells, which is a parody of Hallmark. It’s fun, and it’s a little more R-rated. It’ll be on AMC+ this Christmas. And Vince did Fred Clause and Four Christmasesso I think we continue to be drawn and drawn into Christmas movies together, which has been great.
Not all actors become directors. What made you decide this was something you wanted to do? Had you thought about doing it for a while before actually doing it?
BILLINGSLEY: Yeah, I was always the kid on set who was very curious and had great mentors who I asked a lot of questions about cameras or lenses. I wanted to hang out on set sometimes and just observe or watch, and not always run to the trailer. You’re called back for school, but when it’s done, I want to come back and watch. Bob Clark, director of A Christmas story, has been really helpful and a great mentor to me, so it was a natural extension. Just when I met Vince, I had moved to Los Angeles to go behind the scenes and change careers and try to start pursuing that. It’s a perfect storm for me, who now returns as an actor, writer and producer on the film.
HAS A Christmas story had a different meaning for you over the years? When you realized it was something that would always follow you and be remembered, did your feelings or appreciation for it change, or did you always think of it fondly?
BILLINGSLEY: I certainly had a great experience doing it. I’m sure you’ve heard of horrible experiences at the movies. It happens. It wasn’t one of them. It was really positive. Maybe it was a blessing that it wasn’t a hit, instantly, because then it developed an appreciation, and maybe we all learned to appreciate the movie more. It has been a long time. For a while, I was able to disassociate myself and start seeing what others were seeing there. For a minute, I wasn’t sure why everyone liked him so much, just because I was so close to him. But then you get a little more separation, and you can see the shoot, you can see the choices, and you can see the decisions. It’s cool because you have a new discovery. The only other thing I ever did was the musical, so I studied it quite a bit when we did that, then studied a lot when we did that.
What was the weirdest or most surreal moment for you while making this movie, especially being around your former co-stars, who are also older now?
BILLINGSLEY: It was really an interesting meeting. We built all the structures for the Parker house and all these other houses. I don’t think anyone from the original cast had to be on this street the same day because everyone’s in different scenes, so I called them up and said, ‘Guys, get off here. You must see this. It’s here. He is back. We did it. These are all these houses.
They came and were blown away. We took some pictures in front, and it was great for them to see. Many of them said it was very emotional to be back on set. It’s interesting, you feel the pressure, in a good way. You want to do it right. You don’t want to hurt or compromise anything that’s in front of you, that’s great. Both Bob Clark, the director, and Jean Shepherd, who wrote the screenplay and source material for the original, have passed, and you want to honor them and what they did. All of these things are in your head, but then you have to let go and say to yourself, “Okay, I’m Ralphie. He’s there, and he’s full of ideas. It’s going to be released, and it has all these dreams. You channel that and get back into character.
The combinations of food in the pans that the neighbors bring are so gross. Would you have eaten it? Did any of them look appealing to you?
BILLINGSLEY: It was creative and inventive. Stews, especially back then, were like, “Well, what’s in the cupboard? What’s in the fridge?” If you look at me in this scene, I don’t want to bite. I have learned. In meal scenes, the actors don’t eat because you’re going to be shooting that scene all day, from multiple angles, especially if it’s not appetizing. But these were real. We put this stuff in them. There is the sweetness of the neighbors who support the family and the mom who loves it, but the reality is that no one wants to eat it.
I love the support of Ralphie’s wife. Even if things don’t go as he had hoped, she still encourages him and doesn’t want him to give up. Was it important for you to have a relationship between them that was like that?
BILLINGSLEY: Absolutely, yes. The conflict didn’t need to be there. There’s enough conflict out there. That’s part of what I love about the original. This movie ends with them having a glass of wine and watching the snow fall. She gently lays her hand on the old man’s back, and you know there’s such great love between them. So I wanted Ralph to have a partner, and Erinn Hayes is so great in the movie. She’s funny, in her own right. She took this year to support him, so he could pursue his dreams, and that’s nice. Even at the end, when she says, “A year isn’t that long,” a deal is a deal and he’s going to go ahead and honor it. She’s the one who really frees things up for him. It is she who, unwittingly, delivers this to the world.
Do you feel like it’s over for you and Ralphie now? Did you put the glasses away for the last time?
BILLINGSLEY: Oh my God! It’s a good question. Until maybe we feel inspired to tackle it again. Who knows? It’s true, I wouldn’t have told you 15 years ago: “I will definitely play this character again. It’s just when. It just worked and the timing worked. To have the great partners of Legendary and Warner Bros., we had the resources and the ability to do that.
A Christmas Story Christmas is available to stream on HBO Max.