The Cast of 'Elf,' Then and Now

7:30 AM 11/7/2018

by Omar Sanchez

The movie, which first hit theaters Nov. 7, 2003, stars Will Ferrell as a human elf who leaves the North Pole to find his real father.

It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone. These have all at one point or another been popped into the VHS/DVD players of our childhood next to a warm fireplace around holiday time. Elf, the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy celebrating its 15th anniversary in November, also has found its way on annual holiday-viewing lists.

Elf raked in $220 million worldwide on a reported $33 million budget. Ahead of the anniversary of the movie first hitting theaters Nov. 7, 2003, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at what the cast has been cooking up (preferably spaghetti with syrup) since Buddy first crawled into Santa’s sleigh.

  • Will Ferrell

    Before shouting his love for Santa as Buddy the elf, Ferrell was mostly known for his years on Saturday Night Live (from 1995-2002) as well as roles in films like Old School and Zoolander. In Elf, he played a wholesome human elf reconnecting with his grumpy biological father, Walter Hobbs. Ferrell then went on to star as Ron Burgandy in 2004’s Anchorman and Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Ferrell is also known for his buddy comedies, working alongside Jon Heder in 2007’s Blades of Glory, John C. Reilly in 2008’s Step Brothers and Mark Wahlberg in 2010’s The Other Guys. Next up, Ferrell will reunite with Reilly on the Sherlock Holmes mystery comedy Holmes and Watson, to premiere later this year.


  • Zooey Deschanel

    Jovie can sing; the second Buddy heard her rendition of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” he and everyone in the world knew it. Since that scene and the heartwarming love story between Buddy and Jovie that ensues, people haven’t gotten enough of Deschanel’s work. Before that breakout role, Deschanel nabbed small roles in films like 2000’s Almost Famous and was the leading love interest in 2003’s All the Real Girls. Her role in All the Real Girls won her a Independent Spirit Award for best actress the next year. Since Elf, Deschanel may be best known as Jess on the Fox sitcom New Girl, although she has been featured in popular movies throughout the years like 2007’s Surf’s Up and 2009s (500) Days of Summer. She also is half of the singing duo She & Him. alongside M. Ward.

  • Jon Favreau

    Yes, the Emmy-nominated Favreau did do most of his work on Elf behind the camera as director, but he also had a small role as the doctor Buddy sees once in New York. And if you listen closely, Favreau also snuck himself into the movie another three times, voicing Mr. Narwhal, Baby Whalrus and the Arctic Puffin. Favreau got his start out as an actor. One of his first TV appearances was a bit part as Eric the Clown on the hit show Seinfeld in 1994. Favreau, along with Vince Vaughn, broke out on the 1996 cult classic Swingers, which was written by Favreau himself. Since Elf, Favreau has gone on to helm the Iron Man Marvel films as well as reimagined Disney favorites like the Oscar-winning The Jungle Book two years ago and the upcoming The Lion King.

  • James Caan

    Millennials may see James Caan as the modern-day Scrooge for his performance as Buddy’s workaholic father Walter, but Caan actually had an extensive background in film before his 2003 role. His past includes the Oscar-nominated role of Michael Corleone’s older brother Sonny in 1972’s The Godfather. Caan became a film staple in the '70s, appearing in movies like 1971’s Brian’s Song and 1974’s The Gambler. For his work, Caan got a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1978. After Elf, Caan remained kept busy, appearing in films like 1992's Honeymoon in Vegas, 2008’s Get Smart and voicing Flint’s father in both Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel.

  • Mary Steenburgen

    In Elf, the Hollywood vet plays the compassionate counterpart to Walter as Buddy’s stepmom Emily. Steenburgen got her start in show business in New York, belonging to the Neighborhood Playhouse Theater in the '70s. As the story goes, Steenburgen was discovered while auditioning for 1978’s Goin' South by Jack Nicholson, who helped her get cast as the female lead.

    Almost immediately, Steenburgen made an impact in the industry. She won an Academy Award not too long after for her role in the 1980 dramedy Melvin and Howard. She’s also appeared in 1993’s Philadelphia and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 2001’s I Am Sam and many others. Since learning about the four key elf food groups (candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup), Steenburgen has gotten a chance to reunite with Ferrell in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers, returning in the role of lovable stepmom.  Steenburgen has also had recurring roles in TV, including spots on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Orange is the New Black and Last Man on Earth and recently returned to the big screen in Book Club.

  • Bob Newhart

    If there is one image seared into the minds of everyone who watches Elf, it may be of Bob Newhart, playing Papa Elf, squashed under the tree limb-like legs of Buddy during the intro montage as Buddy grows up. Before being a father figure to Buddy, Newhart worked in the world of comedy initially as a stand-up comic. During the '60s, Newhart turned his attention to acting and got his own show on CBS that ran throughout the '70s aptly titled The Bob Newhart Show. Later, due to its success, also got his own sitcom Newhart that ran until May 1990. In the 2000s, Newhart assumed various TV roles like in The Big Bang Theory as Professor Proton. 


  • Peter Dinklage

    While he wasn’t in the movie for long, Dinklage made an impact as Buddy unfortunately mistakes the children's book author for an “angry elf” in a boardroom scene. Dinklage appearance in Elf came off the heels of spot TV roles in shows like Entourage and Oz as well as his breakout role in the film The Station Agent. Dinklage, who recently appeared in Avengers: Infinity War, is now primarily known for his role as Tyrion in Game of Thrones. Dinklage is in the midst of producing and starring in two upcoming films: The Dwarf, directed by The Machinist’s Brad Anderson, and The Thicket, written by Hap and Leonard’s Joe R. Lansdale. 


  • Faizon Love

    Before accidentally hiring Buddy to stand next to a fake Santa, Faizon Love — who played Gimbel’s manager, Wanda — had been seen in movies like 1995’s Friday and 2001’s Made, the first collaboration between Love and director Jon Favreau. Love has made his rounds as comedic relief on film as well as TV with roles in shows like That’s So Raven, My Name Is Earl and most recently with the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Black-ish. Love made headlines in 2015 when he publicly defended Bill Cosby on Twitter after more than 30 women came forward saying they had been sexually assaulted by the comedian.



  • Amy Sedaris

    In one of the many star-studded supporting roles, Second City alum Amy Sedaris played Walter Hobbs' secretary at the children’s book publishing office. Sedaris’ early years included time on the Comedy Central show Strangers With Candy, alongside Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello. She also has had extensive voicework in movies and TV in Chicken Little, Shrek the Third (as Cinderella), BoJack Horseman (as Princess Carolyn) and others. A recurring theme for Elf alums, Sedaris got worked with Favreau again in the 2014 indie Chef. Sedaris how has her own show truTV, At Home With Amy Sedaris.

  • Andy Richter

    Late-night fans may see him on a daily basis beside Conan O’Brien on TBS’ late-night show Conan, but Richter has had his fair share of acting roles, including Walter’s business associate at Greenway Press as Morris. Richter got his big break when he got to not only write for but also co-host NBC’s Late Night With Conan O’Brien starting in 1993. Richter continues to act, working with Ferrell on films like 2006’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, 2007’s Blades of Glory and 2008’s Semi-Pro.