“A Christmas Story Christmas” is the follow-up to one of the most beloved and iconic Christmas family comedies of all time! Based on characters written by Jean Shepard, whose words inspired the original film, a legacy sequel to the 1983 film A Christmas Story, and serves as the eighth film installment overall in the Parker Family franchise. A Christmas Story has become an annual tradition for many families as they watch in excitement as Ralphie finally gets the coveted Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.
Peter Billingsley returns to play Ralphie Parker in “A Christmas Story Christmas”. The film is set thirty years after the events of A Christmas Story (placing the story in the mid-1970s), with Ralphie returning to his childhood home in Hohman, Indiana, with his wife and children and reunites with his old friends. His mother, now widowed after the death of the Old Man, convinces Ralphie to give his family the kind of magical Christmas the Old Man always did; Ralphie soon realizes that the task is much more difficult than it seemed when Ralphie was a child.
ThatsItLA had the opportunity to join their fellow journalists for a virtual roundtable interview with Billingsley who talked about why it took so long to make a sequel, what it meant to come back, and more.
5 – Having Julie Hagerty replace Melinda Dillon as Mrs. Parker, Ralphie’s mom.
Though Melinda Dillon made her last on-screen performance in 2007, her character, Mrs. Parker, lives on in the sequel. Unable to reprise her role, actress and comedian Julie Hagerty steps in to play as Ralphie’s mom, who asks her son to give his family the same kind of magical Christmases that his father gave him all those years ago. Needless to say, Hagerty had some huge shoes to fill.
“Julie’s fantastic. “I mean, you think back to ‘Airplane,’ one of the most iconic comedic roles, right? For, for someone in history, she’s so funny and so personable,” Billingsley said about Hagerty. According to the actor, she and the other cast fell right into the role, understanding how making a movie of this size is a commitment because they’re away from their own families for such a long time. “It was very easy to be able to act with her. We also had the luxury of being able to rehearse, which is not, which is, for some reason, been taken away from our business actors don’t get a lot of rehearsal time on movies anymore. It’s just budget cuts. It’s short, and you are supposed to jump in on day one. It’s like, that’s your mom, that’s your kid and action.”
Luckily, they “were able to use that time to really develop a bond with each other.” “she’s just a very calming energy, very comforting. Very confident. Very giving. So, she was really, really lovely to work with,” Billingsley added.”
4 – Getting the band back together again.
Of course, with a film as nostalgic as “A Christmas Story,” it wouldn’t seem right to recast some of the parts of the original actors who played them were still alive. So Billingsley agreed that getting the original cast back to play their respective roles was essential. “They said it was very emotional for them. Because there’s such a great history on this movie,” he said.
But Billingsley and the rest of the cast weren’t the only ones to come back for the sequel. Billingsley made sure they tried to recreate as much of the neighborhood as they could for the sequel. “I think walking through the sets designs, when we did the exterior where we built the house that Ralphie grew up in that whole street, we built all those structures,” he said. “We built 11 structures and the Bumpus house next door.”
Recreating those familiar homes from the original Christmas story was an emotional moment for the cast. Many felt pretty nostalgic when they saw their characters’ homes again for the first time in a very long time. “They weren’t scheduled on the same day, but I called, and they were all in their hotels, and I said, ‘you guys got to get down here like this is unbelievable,’” Billingsley recalled. “And they came down and walked around and it was complete deja vu. Like, they’re, you know, you’re right back on set, you’re right back there. And I think for them, it was more emotional than they expected. It’s fun. It’s great.”
“You’re there to work as long hours. But I think the emotion that was underneath it. I think our movies are comedic, but there’s some emotion that sneaks up on you in the third act of this one that, you know, kind of starts getting to you,” Billingsley added. “And I think that’s just the result of everyone together what movies take on a little bit of a life of their own sometimes and just sort of what the movie was.”
3 – Paying tribute to Darren McGavin
Since there are nearly forty years between “A Christmas Story” and “A Christmas Story Christmas,” there has to be more than just nostalgia and nods to the original. It has to have the right emotion to justify the sequel’s existence, which means paying tribute to some of the late actors who played characters like Darren McGavin’s The Old Man.
“This movie is very much, I think, genuinely, an homage to The Old Man character, and really kind of to him he was as knowledgeable as welcoming as gracious to me as you could ever ask for from any actor,” Billingsley said about McGavin’s on set generosity. Talking about how knowledgeable the actor was with every aspect of filmmaking, Billingsley talked about how McGavin would help with some of the lighting or rigging if there were any problems with it.
But most of all, Billingsley remembers how McGavin made it easy to work on set when he was a child actor. So he felt it was important to acknowledge that graciousness and what it meant to him and what The Old Man meant to Ralphie. “From any small thing to anything he was giving. He was gracious, he was loving, and fun to work with. And, like the energy that he brings on screen, and that original, you know, it was super contagious, and you can feel it,” he said. “So people like that are very easy to act with because they’re bringing so much to you. So I can’t say enough great things about him. And it was really a joy to not only kind of have this movie very much homage to him, but also Ralphie having those, you know, that sense of loss with him but also being able to reconcile that and kind of remember his dad forever in that light.”
2 – Striking the Right Tone.
Seeing how “A Christmas Story Christmas” follows long after “A Christmas Story,” Billingsley knew that it was essential to stick to the same narrative tones and structures from the first. “I think there’s an irreverent tone to it. So those elements you want to get right,” he said. “And we were able to adapt, and we were able to get access to a lot of the stories that Jean Shepard wrote. Jean Shepard wrote the original source material, a series of short stories based on Christmas Story. He wrote a lot of other books. So being able to get those books and write a lot of his words really put us back. If you listened to how that narration is written. It’s just such fascinating ways of putting things, or interesting examples looked at me like I lobsters crawling out of my ears, just the way he phrases things is so awesome. So to get access to that, I think, helped also supplant us all in there.”
1 – Why it took almost 40 years to make.
Of course, with a film as beloved as “A Christmas Story,” many wonder why it would have taken this long to make a sequel. I think a lot of bad ideas and people want to, you know, try to monetize off that. And so you can’t help it,” Billingsley said. “But this movie has gotten into more sacred, not even fandom, but kind of sacred territory. For me, and I know for the fan base, so to tackle it, you got to get it right.”
“You have to at least feel like you’re trying to get it right. And give 1,000% to get it right. And so, you know, a lot of pieces need to line up, I think, for that,” Billingsley added. “Sure, people had asked her pitched or suggested and it was like, ‘err, no, thanks.’ Nothing was inspiring for me.”
In fact, the only sort of follow-up Billingsley had ever done was the Broadway musical, which he thoroughly enjoyed. However, finding the right story was vital for the actor to agree to do a sequel. And Billingsley believes he found that story with an older Ralphie. “I think as a parent, you know, the ideas we’ve been talking about of the way in the passing of the parent, having your own children, that felt like, ‘alright, this is ripe enough to approach Ralphie.’ And that, you know, I think had we not felt good, we just wouldn’t have done it,” he said.
“A Christmas Story Christmas” debuts exclusively on HBOMax on November 17, 2022.