We visited the set of Disney+ film Noelle starring Anna Kendrick, which premieres today on the streaming service
Anna Kendrick stars as the daughter of Santa Claus in The Walt Disney Studios‘ live-action female Santa Claus movie Noelle. The film also stars Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live, Trainwreck), Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street, Difficult People) and Academy Award-winner Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, The Apartment). Right before Christmas 2017, before it was announced that the film would debut on the Disney+ streaming service today, we got a chance to visit the set in Vancouver. While there, we got a chance to chat with Kendrick, Hader, Eicher, MacLaine and more about what we were going to see. We also got to check out a number of incredibly built sets, including the hall where the trial to find out who is declared the next Santa is held.
Kendrick told us about who Noelle is when the film begins. “Noelle is a kind of spoiled very bored young lady, she gets waited on hand and foot even though she insists she can do everything by herself by Shirley MacLaine who is like two hundred and fifty years old, this amazing sort of magical elf creature. And she just kind of flits around and does whatever she wants and she’s kind of loving it, I’ll be honest, she’s loving life. And her brother [Hader] is in training to be Santa Claus and he’s very reluctant. But Noelle thinks that she can just like whip him into shape in time. And then he disappears and things happen.”
Since the film is called Noelle and we know that there is Santa Claus training here, you can expect a discussion about a female Santa Claus. So we asked Kendrick if this is a feminist film. She said, “Yeah I mean I think it’s a kind of- like the scene we’re doing right now, it’s obviously a kind of fantasy film. And it’s a heightened version of systems that are in place. You know, there’s this line that’s thrown away about like well it’s just this thing we’ve been doing for a thousand years, I don’t know, these things happen. We all just assumed women couldn’t. So I do think that there is some kind of big heightened metaphors about feminism. But at the same time I think there are elements of Santa Claus that for children in the audience will just be about Santa Claus. And there are other elements that are about the kind of spirit of charity that happen at Christmas. And something like A Christmas Carol is a total classic but I watched the Muppets Christmas Carol recently because I watch it every year. And it really gets me very time, the idea of holding Christmas in your heart year around because there is something nice that happens at Christmas where you feel more connected to people that you don’t know. And people do a lot of charitable giving at Christmas. And in some ways I think there is elements of metaphor about that spirit in Noelle, in what Santa represents in the movie.”
She spoke about the scene she was currently shooting, which we were able to watch. It’s close to the end and we don’t want to give away any spoilers, but a large portion of the cast is gathered in a courtroom. Not just any courtroom, of course, but exactly what you’d expect to see at the North Pole at Santa’s Workshop. It sparkled and glimmered and was covered in Christmas decorations. We also got to see the hall of Santa Clauses past. In the film’s mythology, Santa is a role and the person playing the role, with all the accompanying magic has changed over the years. There were portraits of all the Santas from the past, including a very groovy hippy Santa from the 1960s. Back to the courtroom. The trial is to determine who will be the next Santa Claus. As Kendrick said, her brother is reluctantly training to be Santa and is having a hard time. Noelle gives him some advice, telling him that he should go spend some time in warm weather. He ends up as a yoga instructor, but is convinced to come back. In addition, their cousin (Eichner) is attempting to take the role and has taken over the North Pole, trying to streamline it with technology, making a mess of things. Noelle, in the meantime, has been turning from a slightly spoiled girl into a compassionate woman who might just be the best candidate. The scene shows the trial over who should be Santa when Noelle returns in a hospital gown (spoilers if we try to explain). There is a choir singing carols once the decision is made, changing the lyrics to reflect the person who got the job.
In addition, we were taken to the costume and props departments where we saw some pretty spectacular gowns and elf costumes. (In Noelle, elves come in all shapes and sizes.) We also got to see the insane level of detail in the props, right down to the Christmas-themed cookies. We were told that, even if audiences never noticed, it was important that it was all correct. For those of you who are Disney buffs, there are hidden Mickeys aplenty. For those of you who aren’t familiar with hidden Mickeys, there are hidden mouse ears from Mickey Mouse all over the place in most Disney films. We got to see a few in the courtroom and even in the Hall of Santas. (We’re not revealing them since you might want to hunt for them yourselves.)
We also learned that, while they film was shooting in Vancouver for the interior scenes, the cast was heading up to Whistler for the outdoor scenes after Christmas. We heard that the crew had quite a few issues with the insane amount of snow that kept falling on the Santa’s Village set.
The cast spent a lot of time telling us about working with Shirley MacLaine, who plays Elf Polly, who is sort of a caretaker and mentor to Noelle. We heard that the cast got a lot of old Hollywood stories from her, but they said really couldn’t tell them to us. MacLaine came out to speak to us and ended up staying quite a long time. She was dressed to the elven nines in turquoise when she told us about her character. “She’s a very no-nonsense nanny. Never been out of the North Pole. Does everything for Anna. I like to say that everything Anna is, is because of Polly. I think she’s really nice, really sensitive and also adventurous, funny and it’s like that not in every scene.”
We were on the set right at the beginning of the #MeToo movement, and MacLaine told us her thoughts about the timely nature of the film. “You know, it’s coming at exactly the right time with all of the pink attitudes and what’s happening with women raising their voices about equality in every way. So…but it won’t be out until 2019,” she said to group laughter. “We’ll probably have a…I don’t know – some wonderful transgender president or something, you know, that just you say okay, stop fighting. Who knows? I mean ‘cause that’s how long it takes with all these special effects and…but I love making it now. And being…being on a sleigh since last October I’m not too much in the Christmas spirit,” she laughed. “Just slide down a hill. But I love the idea, of course, of a female Santa Claus.”
MacLaine also joked about working with director Marc Lawrence. When asked how it was working with him, she laughed, “Slow! But he’s brilliant, you know. He’s a writer and he thinks like a writer, too. And he’s very- he’s a real scientist of comedy and he understands what will work and won’t. We’ll see if he’s right. The idea of his, you know, his dry comedy is very sophisticated. So let’s see how that works. I’ve always admired him. Talked with Sandy about it, Sandy Bullock. She worked with him several times. She’s the only one that has anything good to say about him so that’s why… [LAUGHTER]. I enjoy working with him ‘cause I like lookin’ at that mind, and if you really have… You see, he thinks hologramically. He will be saying one thing from that side of his brain when he really means this side of his brain. And then he’ll go up and down and around. And that’s very interesting to me. Instead of being so linear. But that’s what his comedy is based on, too, is all the different attitudes that you might have and what makes you laugh.”
MacLaine told us about the younger actors and the stories she told them. “They wanna know, too, what was it like. What was it like in those days? I mean I don’t think a lot of ‘em knew that I started when I was nineteen. You know, they didn’t- they- half of them couldn’t remember half the movies I- neither could I,” she laughed. “You know, but they were fascinated with the magic of it all because there’s nothing like it in the world about anything like Hollywood. Or let’s say like show business, frankly. But they’ve been wonderful in… I leave my trailer open, I leave the door open. Anybody wants to come in and ask me questions. In many ways I wish there was more. You know, they’re a little bit trepidacious. They don’t wanna take up my time, well, come on. I don’t wanna forget it either. Those were the days. And I think about it quite often when someone asks me a really direct question about who…Like tonight. Billy was asking me who is the slowest director you ever worked with, and I said this one,” she joked. “Because I can’t remember the timing. What you remember is the talent. What you remember is the focus and the sense of dedication, even though it seems insane. It’s an insane business.”
Speaking of showbiz legends, we also got a chance to speak to Julie Hagerty (Airplane) who plays Mrs. Claus. She, without a doubt, gets the most spectacular costumes in the film. Hagerty gushed about the costume department. “They’re all so gorgeous,” she said of the costumes. “Yeah put one on and I think that’s my favorite and then I go– then I put on the other one I go, EWWW, you know it’s extraordinary how– and you’ve seen all the elves– I mean it really is sort of like a you know the North Pole and you think they’re people stitching these costumes and making ‘em. And even every elf if you look at the detail, is so thought out you know. It’s extraordinary.” She assured us that, though her husband Santa Claus is no longer with us, we aren’t going to see a grieving widow in the film.
Hagerty also told us the Mrs. Claus doesn’t really have an aspirations to be Santa, something that’s always been done by men. “None whatsoever, none whatsoever. You know she’s done you know thousands of years just– you know I mean she did you know manage the work shop, went to work with Santa every day, she was very a much a part of it. You know it never felt like she was just home baking cookies. You know she really knew how to run things, but at that time there’s still the– you know the tradition of the you know this– the first son takes over.”
Bill Hader plays Noelle’s brother and the heir apparent to take over the role of Santa Claus. When he takes Noelle’s advice and heads to Arizona, he ends up teaching yoga. He explained, “Nick, you know, is supposed to be Santa Claus, and he grew up in the North Pole. So, he’s kinda freaked out about the idea of, of having to do it, and he’s, it’s real, you know, put upon, and everything, and he’s very stressed out. So, Marc Lawrence wrote it that he flees to Phoenix, Arizona, and becomes a yoga instructor. So, yeah, he, he does Christmas yoga, so it’s all like Christmas tree pose, you know, reindeer pose, stuff like that.”
We asked Hader about his own kids and their feelings about him doing this film. “I’m gonna tell them what happens, ‘cause like, it’s not real. No, but that was very sweet. One of my daughters was like,’“So, you’re going to Santa Claus’s house?’ And I go, ‘Well, they built Santa Claus’ house.’ And she went, ‘So, they had to go to his house and measure it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, they went to his house and measured it, and we’re gonna-.’ And she went, ‘Wow. That’s so cool.’ You know, and, and they’re excited.”
There is a scene where Hader’s Nick is on the sleigh when it flips out. He told us about it, saying, “Well, I, I got to be in the sleigh where the sleigh goes crazy. I don’t know if you guys saw that, but I was on this jibbed thing where I’m on a sleigh, I’m, and, and, and the, the sleigh crashes. And, I’m seeing the shot, and it’s very far away, and I’m wearing, you know, I have a beard on and everything. I go, ‘Oh, cool, a stuntman can do this.’ And Marc went, ‘No, no, no, no. You’re, you’re going in there, ‘cause I need you to do your lines.’ I had some lines, I went, ‘Oh. Oh, okay,'” he laughed.
Eichner plays cousin Gabe, a tech wiz with a man bun. We asked him about it. “I think its fun. I mean, I wouldn’t have one in my normal existence. But I think it was, I think it’s funny that well at one point in the movie, I become Santa Claus and but I’m trying to make Santa Claus relevant so but in a desperate kind of silly stupid way. So part of that is that I sort of fashion his wig into a man bun, which if nothing else, we’ve never seen it before so there’s that.” He also spoke about his character. “I play Gabe Kringle and he’s the first, well did we ever first Cousin to Noel and Nick and then Bill Hader and I guess I’m First Cousin because Mrs. Claus, I’m her Nephew. And so, at some point, I without giving too much away, I become next in line to be Santa Claus but, and I’m kind of shy tech obsessed geek guy when it starts but then I kind of have this, I go on this power trip of sorts when I become Santa. And this is part of that. So he’s trying to be cool but in all the wrong ways basically.”
Stand-up comedian Ron Funches (Powerless) plays one of Santa’s helpers and told us about being an elf. “I was getting ready to go do some shows. And my manager was like, ‘They’re doing this movie and they need an elf, and I think they had someone else in mind and they dropped out and they don’t know you and so they don’t really want to see you.’ But, she was like, ‘But you are an elf. So you should go.’ And so then I went and then I just talked to ’em, I didn’t even, I kind of just winged it and then they were like, ‘Yeah, you’re an elf.’ And now I’m here. And I didn’t know there was singing and I don’t sing.”
Funches, who was wearing his elf ears when we spoke to him, said that they did have a wonderful vocal coach on set. We also asked about how much improv there was on set. “I’m gonna improv quite a bit. I didn’t think I would be because, you know, the part as written is pretty much there to support a lot of the lead characters. But Marc’s been so nice and I think they kind of, once they were aware of who I was and started looking up my comedy and stuff and they’re like, ‘Oh, maybe we can use him a little bit more.’ So now they’ve been like, a lot of times at the end of scenes they’ll just be like, ‘Just throw something in. Whatever you wanna add.’ Or he’s really good at improvising things and we’ll work together and just come up with something together. It’s been great.”
We also got a chance to speak to Michael Gross (Family Ties) who plays one of the elders in the elf community. He spoke about his character and how he got involved in the project. “I’m a rather tall elf, all 6 foot 3 of me. I am one of the elder elves, so I guess you call the Henry Kissinger of the elves. I’m, you know, the elder statesman. There’s a council of elves in this piece, and so I guess I’m second only to Santa in the pecking order here, and try to bring some, you know, there’s some upheavals at the North Pole and of course this piece. And so I’m trying to sort of keep things together and provide a little bit if guidance in the, as you know, from the story of the absence of Santa and the search for a new Santa. So this really been all just, I’ll go ahead and talk a little bit, this has really been a pleasure because director Mark Lawrence and I go back a lot of years. We met on the set of Family Ties in approximately 1985. So, that makes both of us quite elderly. Mark was one of the writers hired on Family Ties, became a writer-producer, and it’s just fun all these years, not to have made another enemy in the business and still to enjoy working with us, each other after all these years. So when he called, I just, you know, I just thought oh, well, this will be fun, just because I knew Mark was a friend. He was good writer, and it would be fun. And who doesn’t like a Christmas movie.”
Noelle will hit Disney’s streaming service today. Are you guys excited for the film? Let us know in the comments below!