Director Jon Favreau Said This Star in ‘Elf’ Was Embarrassed of the Film’s Title

Marvel Cinematic Universe director Jon Favreau has several credits to his name behind the camera prior to his debut in the superhero franchise. At the helm of the heartwarming 2003 Christmas classic Elf, Favreau created a holiday story that remains a beloved favorite.

The film starred Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell, Mary Steenburgen, Ed Asner, and The Godfather’s James Caan. Favreau previously revealed that the legendary cast had one member who was a bit put off by the movie’s title.

“Elf’s” Will Ferrell, James Caan, and Jon Favreau | James Devaney/WireImage

A favorite of Ferrell

The film’s premise centers around Buddy, played by Ferrell, one of Santa’s elves from the North Pole, who travels to New York City in search of his real father (Caan) after he learns he was adopted.

Ferrell admitted that there was one scene in the film that got him a bit misty-eyed. “I knew it was working at that moment where Buddy is in the back of the sleigh and everyone’s singing in Central Park and there’s enough Christmas spirit to get it lifted off, and he’s waving goodbye,” he told People in 2018. “I’m like, Oh I can’t let everyone see me cry here at my own movie.”

The actor has great affection for the story, where he appreciates the tremendous reception it still gets from fans. “It was a really challenging time and it was nice to bring a nice breath of innocence to the world and especially to the city at that time,” he told People, referring to Elf’s release a few years after 9/11. “I’m really proud of it … If it’s ever in a theater or playing on television, I love to check in on it. And I can tell through social media that it’s something that people have made a tradition of … and that really makes me happy and it’s the best part of the job.”

‘Why is it called ‘Elf’?’

Favreau was able to cast some iconic actors for the film, including James Caan who is still renowned for his role as Sonny in the legendary film The Godfather. Since Caan carried a lot of clout, acting in an off-beat comedy about an elf seemed a bit disconcerting to him. Favreau revealed that Caan wasn’t thrilled with the title of the movie.

“He would always give me a hard time about it being called Elf. ‘Why is it called Elf?'” Favreau said Caan would ask, according to Rolling Stone. “I think he was embarrassed about the title.”

Despite not being a fan of the movie’s moniker, Caan enjoyed working with the cast and was sometimes subjected to some ribbing by his co-star. “Caan always felt like he was being treated right on the set. Will and I were kind of starstruck by him,” Favreau admitted. “But Will would bust his balls a lot, which was fun, too. Will gave him, as a wrap gift – he wrote a note that said, ‘Great working with you. The first one is a little bit slow, but the second two are really good.’ And it was The Godfather trilogy.”

Can’t shake ‘The Godfather’

Laughter truly is the best medicine, and a solution to many issues. Favreau shared that the key to Caan was humor. “The thing with Caan is, he’s got a great sense of humor. So if you could make him laugh, all the tension disappears,” Favreau said. “We kept him laughing, and he kept us laughing.”

The director enveloped Caan with comedic talent to help him connect with the film’s tone. “It took him a while to get with the programming. I surrounded him with a lot of improvisers, like Andy Richter and Kyle Gass and Amy Sedaris,” Favreau explained. “When I’m working with improv people, I give them the green light to just bring it and try things. So every take was different. Eventually, something just clicked in Jimmy and he just went with it. He was a lot of fun.”

“The Godfather’s” James Caan, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, John Cazale | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Caan, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 1972 for his legendary portrayal of Sonny Corleone, is still heralded for the iconic role. “We ended up hanging out a lot off-set. Whenever we’d go into an Italian restaurant, they’d put on The Godfather soundtrack,” Favreau said. “Everywhere he goes, The Godfather theme.”