Will Ferrell Got Emotional at the ‘Elf’ Premiere for the Sweetest Reason: ‘I Can’t Let Everyone See Me Cry Here at My Own Movie’

Elf brought Will Ferrell to tears. The actor played the lead in the 2003 holiday movie portraying Buddy, a man who grew up at the North Pole. Dressed in his elf uniform, Buddy went to New York City, New York, in search of his biological father. Filled with hilarious moments and quotable lines Ferrell found himself tearing up at the premiere of Elf

Will Ferrell didn’t have much going on after ‘Saturday Night Live’

Will Ferrell at the premiere of 'Downhill'
Will Ferrell at the premiere of Downhill | Dominik Bindl/WireImage

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When the script for Elf reached Ferrell, he didn’t have as many projects to pick from as one might think. The comedian and actor didn’t really have anything in the works coming off of a successful stint on Saturday Night Live

“I think there’s always this impression where, when you leave a show like that, you just have all these things lined up – and I really didn’t,” Ferrell told Rotten Tomatoes in 2018. “I had Old School, that was finished, but they were holding onto it. They weren’t releasing it quite yet, which is usually not a good sign.” 

The only thing that could lead to a job was Elf. Ferrell read the script and felt drawn to the story that, to him, felt like a new take on a classic story. 

“Then I had this script about a guy playing an elf … a human being raised by elves. And that was really all that was percolating,” he said. “[But] this idea that a human is raised by elves at the North Pole, it just felt like something you’d never seen before. A classic fish-out-of-water story.”

Ferrell signed on to play Buddy but wasn’t sure if the movie would get a positive response from audiences. 

Crying at the end of ‘Elf’ the actor knew the movie would work

Ferrell knows the exact moment he knew Elf would resonate with moviegoers. Watching Elf at the film’s premiere in Los Angeles, California, he was overcome with emotion. During the movie’s big scene when there’s finally enough Christmas spirit to power Santa’s sleigh Ferrell had to fight back tears.

“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,” Ferrell said.

“I’m like, Oh, I can’t let everyone see me cry here at my own movie. I was like, Oh gosh, this is working on a level that I didn’t anticipate, and that was pretty cool,” he explained.

Nora Ephron told Will Ferrell to enjoy the success of ‘Elf’

When Elf hit theaters Ferrell got a call from Nora Ephron. At the time, Ephron, a director known for her romantic comedies such as Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, was just about to start working with Ferrell and Nicole Kidman on Bewitched

“During that opening weekend, she was like, ‘You really should enjoy this because this doesn’t happen a lot, where you have a movie that everyone is talking about,’” the actor recalled.

Will Ferrell at the New York City premiere of 'Elf'
Will Ferrell at the New York City premiere of Elf | James Devaney/WireImage

“And she’s like, ‘I hope you enjoy it. Just really.’ So I remember her words, I was like, ‘OK, yeah. You’re right. This is crazy,’” he added.

Elf had a strong opening weekend, earning upwards of $32 million in the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo. It went on to make $220 million worldwide. Today, Elf is not just one of Ferrell’s most popular movies but a seasonal favorite too.