'Year Without a Santa Claus' Works Up a 'Real' Sweat
Yet that's exactly one of the biggest challenges John Goodman faced while starring in "The Year Without a Santa Claus," which premieres Monday, Dec. 11, on NBC.
A live-remake of a Rankin-Bass animated special that first aired in 1974, the NBC movie broadly follows the original story line, which finds Santa (Goodman) disgruntled and depressed over the crass commercialism that has tainted Christmas. When he decides to cancel his yuletide sleigh run, a concerned Mrs. Claus (Delta Burke) dispatches elves Jingle and Jangle (Ethan Suplee of "My Name Is Earl," and Eddie Griffin) to find a child who still believes in the real meaning of the holiday.
The action then shifts to Southtown, a small community in the Deep South where comic complications ensue. Those scenes were filmed last summer in Natchitoches, La., where Goodman and his co-stars had to endure sweltering heat during the exterior shots.
"The fact that it was being filmed in Louisiana was one of the selling points to me," says Goodman, who has lived in the state for the past several years, "although it was also because of the script and the people I was working with.
"At that time of year when we did the outside scenes, though, it was about 105 degrees, so I guess it turned out to be less of a selling point than I thought it was going to be. In that suit, I looked like a tomato with white hair."
His TV mate, Burke, recalls being very concerned about Goodman's well-being during the shoot.
"I just felt so sorry for him having to be out in that heat with that suit on. That suit was just a killer, just really, really intense," she says. "I was filming all my scenes in Shreveport. They had soundstages there, but even then it was still quite hot for John."
Ever the trouper, Goodman says he and his co-stars just coped with the heat as best they could.
"Everybody was pretty much in the same boat, although I definitely was in deeper water than they were," he says, laughing. "We just made the best of it. I went home feeling dizzy a couple of times, but it was a lot of fun anyway.
"We ran through the scenes several times in rehearsal without the suit on and then tried to make the most of the time we had with me in the costume. The people in the town there couldn't have been nicer, and they were really good about letting me come into their stores between takes to use the air conditioning to cool off."
In fact, he says, the townsfolk of Natchitoches made the cast and crew feel very welcome during their stay.
"Natchitoches is famous for a Christmas festival they have every year," Goodman says. "It's a beautiful little town, just perfect, and we got along so well with the locals. They were very much into the whole thing, and everyone understood the inconvenience when we had to block traffic and everything. I don't think there were every any complaints."
If anything, the oppressive heat may have added an extra edge to Goodman's delightfully cranky performance as Santa, who bears very little resemblance to the iconic "right jolly old elf" of folklore.
"I didn't want this Santa to seem too iconic, so I just made him like me, a crabby old guy who is going through a middle-age crisis," Goodman says. "He's just ticked off at everything. When you get to be my age you start feeling bored and tired, and you start going through some changes. I just wanted him to be a crabby old bastard like I am."
Like Goodman, Burke says she never had seen the old Rankin-Bass original, which gave a far more prominent role to Mrs. Claus, and she was somewhat disappointed that producers wouldn't let her use her natural Southern accent for the role.
"I thought she could be from the South Pole. I think that would have been a nice touch," Burke says. "I would have liked it better if she were a bit more spunky. She was a little spunky, but you know me, I like 'big spunky.' They always have to rein me in. But you could tell there was a lot of care and concern between her and Mr. Claus, yet still there was a playful quality. I liked that."
Nevertheless, trying to get into a Christmassy frame of mind in the middle of a hot and humid summer wasn't very easy, Burke admits.
"It did feel kind of weird," she says, "and also they have gambling there now. So we were staying at some casino place, and it was just sort of an unreal world, going from a casino to the North Pole. Very strange."