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The cast of Elf: Where are they now?

There’s room for everyone on the Nice List and these actors are still on it!

It's been 20 years since Elf was released, with the Christmas comedy becoming an instant festive success, grossing $220m worldwide.

While most of the movie's stars have gone on to have stellar film careers, one turned their back on Hollywood for a more caring vocation.

Will Ferrell in the school room with fellow children elves in the festive film Elf
Elf was an instant festive hit when it came out 20 years ago. Photo: Warner Brothers

Read on to find out what the main cast is up to now.

Will Ferrell as Buddy

Comedian Will Ferrell was best known for his part in the sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live, and while he had some small roles in his comedy friends' films, Christmas movie Elf was his big break as a lead character.

But he did worry that the festive film would tank his career.

Will Ferrell in Elf and at the European premiere of Barbie in London in July 2023.
Will Ferrell had his big movie break as the star of the 2003 film Elf. Photo: Warner Brothers

"I remember running around New York in that outfit literally thinking, 'This is the end, this is the end of my career'," Will told Canadian TV presenter George Stroumboulopoulos in an interview.

"I knew it was either gonna really work or really fail," he added.

Lucky for him, it was a huge success, and Will went on to star in other hit comedies such as Anchorman, Blades of Glory, Step Brothers and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

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He also starred in last year's Christmas cracker Spirited with Ryan Reynolds and this year's box-office hit Barbie.

Next up, he'll be starring and producing the wedding comedy You're Cordially Invited.

Zooey Deschanel as Jovie

Actress and musician Zooey Deschanel has made a name for herself playing quirky characters such as Buddy's love interest in Elf, but she was just starting out when she got the role in the classic Christmas movie at 21.

Since then, she is probably best known for playing the lead character Jess in the TV series New Girl, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award and three Golden Globes.

Zooey Deschanel as Jovie in Elf and in 2023
Zooey Deschanel was just 21 when she got the role of Jovie. Photo: Warner Brothers

Her favourite part of filming Elf was the scenes in the department store.

"It was fun when we were in the department store because there were all these weird toys everywhere – little kid guitars, little stuffed animals, and just weird stuff. We had fun there," she revealed to LiveAbout.com.

This year, Zooey was the voice of Bridget in Trolls Band Together and will star in Harold and the Purple Crayon, out next year.

James Caan as Walter Hobbs

James Caan was a hugely successful Hollywood actor before playing Buddy's biological father, Walter, in Elf.

He had already earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor in The Godfather before turning his hand to comedy.

Actor James Caan, in Elf and at the 50th anniversary of The Godfather in February 2022.
Actor James Caan, who sadly passed away last year, played Buddy's biological father and celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Godfather in February last year. Photo: Warner Brothers

Although he passed away last year, he acted right up until the end, with his final film, Fast Charlie, premiering this year.

Before he died, James Caan revealed that there was never a follow-up to the successful Christmas hit as main star Will and director Jon Favreau didn't get along.

"We were gonna do [a sequel] and I thought, 'Oh my God, I finally got a franchise movie, I could make some money, let my kids do what the hell they want to do,'" James revealed in 2020.

"The director and Will didn't get along very well... So, Will wanted to do it, he didn't want the director, and he had it in his contract, it was one of those things."

Mary Steenburgen as Emily Hobbs

Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen played Walter Hobbs' wife Emily in the 2003 hit film, and she is now a veteran of the festive flick, having starred in One Magic Christmas, Elf, Step Brothers, Four Christmases and Happiest Season.

Mary Steenburgen in Elf and in 2023 on the red carpet.
Mary Steenburgen, who is married to fellow actor Ted Danson, continues to be prolific on screen today. Photo: Warner Brothers

A prolific actor, her latest movie, Book Club: The Next Chapter, was out earlier this year.

Daniel Tay as Michael Hobbs

Child star Daniel Tay was just 11 years old when he played Buddy's half-brother Michael in what was only his second acting role. He also had a small part in the comedy-drama American Splendour in the same year.

Daniel only had a few more roles before leaving Hollywood to go to university. He attended Yale from 2010 to 2014, graduating with a BA in Economics, and was awarded the Richard U. Light Fellowship for his studies in Mandarin Chinese.

Child actor Daniel Tay  in Elf and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
Child actor Daniel Tay is pursuing medicine instead of acting now. Photo: Warner Brothers

Daniel didn't give up performing altogether, though. Along with some voice acting roles for Rockstar Games, he was also part of a stand-up comedy group.

In 2020, he took a job as a research fellow at Columbia University Irving Medical Center while doing pre-med. Now, at 31, he is studying medicine at Cornell University. It looks like we'll soon be calling Buddy's young friend Dr Daniel Tay.

Bob Newhart as Papa Elf

Actor Bob Newhart, 94, was wonderful as Buddy's pint-sized papa in the movie, and it is a role he cherishes to this day.

'Without question, the part of Papa Elf outranks, by far, any role I may have ever played,' he declared in a recent email interview with CNN.

Bob Newhart in Elf and on the red carpet in 2019
Bob Newhart, now 94, was endearing as Papa Elf. Photo: Warner Brothers

"In my opinion, there has not been anything like it in the interim," Bob added before explaining some of the film's charm.

"People wanted to believe in it… People need that charming, wonderful thing about the Christmas spirit and its way of powering the sleigh," he said.

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