‘Elf’ Star Will Ferrell Secretly Filmed These Classic Scenes with Real New Yorkers

Elf became a Christmas classic. Every year, you can expect to see Will Ferrell in his Buddy the Elf costume on TV somewhere. Even director Jon Favreau, who went on to create The Mandalorian and do the first two Iron Man movies, The Jungle Book and The Lion King, probably hasn’t had another movie play as frequently as Elf. And some of those classic scenes involved real New Yorkers who were not acting at all. 

Christmas classic Elf
Will Ferrell | Moviestore/Shutterstock

Ferrell and Favreau gave roundtable interviews with reporters at the Elf press junket in 2003. During those interviews, they revealed some of the scenes they captured with unexpecting New Yorkers on the street. 

Jon Favreau said Will Ferrell went above and beyond for ‘Elf’

Just wearing that elf costume for the entire movie already made Ferrell fearless. Favreau said Ferrell usually exceeded his expectations for improv scenes. 

Elf director Jon Favreau
Jon Favreau | Kevork Djansezian/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

“Will will usually do more,” Favreau said. “I never really asked Will to do anything specifically. He would always come up with a really exciting choice. He has very good instincts especially with physical comedy. My only job when we’re doing the broad stuff was to either build him sets that he could play off of or put him in a costume that he could really work, or suggest things that might inspire him to try something different and go further than he had.”

Jon Favreau sent Will Ferrell out on the streets of New York 

Buddy the elf (Ferrell) comes from the North Pole to find his human father in New York. Much of the comedy comes from the innocent Buddy reacting to situations on the streets of New York. Favreau said many of those scenes were unscripted.

I was not afraid to put him in situations that were unplanned. As a matter of fact, the last day of shooting in New York, we just took cameras. We didn’t even have the director of photography. We just took a camera man and a film loader and some PA’s and went around the city in a van, jumped out and threw people some money and got to use all different locations like him getting his shoe shined or him crossing the street with all real people around him. So I put him in those situations and he had to improvise and stay in character while dealing with people who for the most part didn’t even know they were in a movie.

Jon Favreau, Elf press junket, 2003

Favreau added that he was pleased to capture a real New York Christmas in Elf.

“New York is the most magical place that I’ve ever been around Christmas time,” Favreau said. “It was really nice to be able to shoot here and capture that and incorporate the people in the city and give it a real genuine texture.”

Will Ferrell says he really ate sidewalk gum

One of the funniest and grossest scenes in Elf has Buddy pick gum off the street and chew it. Ferrell claims those were not prepared, Hollywood style wads of gum, although he’s so deadpan it’s hard to be sure he wasn’t joking. 

Will Ferrell and Ed Asner
L-R: Edward Asner and Will Ferrell | L. Cohen/WireImage for New Line Cinema

‘Elf’ Star Will Ferrell Improvised 1 of Buddy’s Most Memorable Lines

“We didn’t have a big enough budget, so I actually had to eat old New York City gum,” Ferrell said. “But it wasn’t as bad as you would think, still relatively flavorable. Good to know if you ever have to eat any gum off the streets.”