Growing up in Chicago where his Christmases were always very merry, Vince Vaughn had absolutely no issues about believing that every year a jolly old man from the North Pole would come barreling down the chimney with oodles of toys.
Ho, ho, ho.
That reality, however, usually dissipates once a child comes of age and can no longer look forward to receiving trains, planes and G.I. Joe from Santa. In their place are nicely wrapped soft packages that someone else has left under the tree.
“You can feel the package and you know it was going to be socks,” Vaughn said with a straight face during a recent interview in a sound stage on the Warner Bros. lot. “That’s not fun.”
Christmas, however, has become fun again for Vaughn. Not only does he get a kick out of watching his nephew and nieces tear through their precious booty on Christmas morning, but he also had a good time playing the disgruntled brother to Santa in “Fred Claus,” a family-friendly film that hits theaters on Friday.
Vaughn plays Fred, a repo man who’s been holding a grudge against his younger brother Nicholas (Paul Giamatti) since they were kids. The two reconnect as adults when Fred visits his brother at the North Pole, seeking funds to invest in a business venture back in Chicago. Nicholas agrees to help Fred out, but only if he earns the money by working in Santa’s workshop. Since Fred isn’t exactly the kind of guy you want deciding who is naughty and nice, his unwillingness to categorize children could ruin Christmas for everyone.
While it might seem a little unusual to see Vaughn, 37, playing the lead role in a heartwarming Christmas movie, his costars Kevin Spacey and Giamatti think the role suits him. Spacey was impressed by Vaughn’s “process. He always knows where he’s going with his characters even when it’s not on the page,” Spacey said.
Giamatti was amazed by Vaughn’s “confidence and conviction. It’s truly impressive to watch and so much fun to work with.”
Toning down his act for the kidsVaughn, however, did have to tone it down a bit. The roguish dude we’ve come to know and love in films such as “Wedding Crashers,” “The Break-Up” and “Swingers” comes fully equipped with a PG double-entendre buffer for “Claus.”
“This is a genre that’s been done so many times — this naughty or nice — that (writers Jessie Nelson and Dan Fogelman were) able to stumble upon a different way of looking at the Christmas holiday movie,” said Vaughn, dressed conservatively in a gray suit and black shirt. “The movie never has to be risqué or shocking or gratuitous in order to accomplish that. So, the adults are really following it on one level and the kids are connecting to it on another level.”
Unfortunately, Vaughn’s four-year-old nephew suffered a major disconnect after seeing his Uncle Vince pictured with Santa on a billboard in an L.A. mall. Thinking that his Vaughn and Santa were best buds, the lad demanded to know why Uncle Vince hadn’t introduced them yet. “That kind of freaked my sister out,” Vaughn said. “She didn’t want that to ruin the whole Santa Claus thing for him.”
Vaughn is just hoping that his nephew doesn’t find out too soon that it’s not Santa eating all those cookies folks leave for him on Christmas Eve. Vaughn’s own beliefs were shattered by his next-door neighbors when he was just a couple of years older than his nephew.
“I remember the day,” Vaughn said. “I six years old when my neighbors let me know there was not a Santa Claus. Of course, covering in front of them, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course there’s not a Santa Claus guy.’ Then I went to my sisters and they said, ‘Now you know the painful truth. There’s no Santa Claus.’”
But even though he knew better, Vaughn, ever the thespian, continued to play the role of the naïve little boy on the advice of his sisters. They told him that if their parents found out that he knew the truth he could kiss his presents goodbye — even the dreaded socks.
“So I was like 16 saying, ‘Dad, when’s Santa Claus coming down the chimney,” Vaughn said. “Finally my dad was like look, you’re getting older…”
Now that he is much older and wiser, Vaughn still isn’t into unwrapping a pair of socks on Christmas morn, but the holiday has taken on a deeper and less materialistic meaning for him. For example, like all nice boys he’s down for peace on Earth.
But Vaughn has a little bit of the naughty boy in him, too.
“I think peace on Earth is good to say, too,” Vaughn said. “But here’s where I would go: Hot tub, a couple of girls from Brazil and a ‘do not disturb’ sign. And, peace on Earth, good will toward men.”