Part of “Old Info And News”
It was a little hard to keep Tim Allen and Michael Lembeck on track during the roundtable. They walked in, sat down, and started in on their own routine. After 5 minutes or so of banter (hilarious, yes – but impossible to transcribe), they got down to business (sort of) and answered our questions. After round 1, we met with Elizabeth Mitchell, who was like the calm after the storm. She’s delightful and easy to talk to. It’s been eight years since the original Santa Claus movie was made and these people all talk about the sequel like a labor of love.
So what was it like being on the set with Tim every day?
We’re both really lucky because I’ve been such a chameleon my whole life, so I tend to hang back and kind of watch people whereas he’s just woooh. But I don’t need to stand on the tables, so it’s okay. Mainly our relationship is this [Tim talking, me giggling]. Every once in awhile he’ll throw in whatever it is that makes you feel great, then you giggle in high octaves. I have never laughed so much in my life. He’s wonderful. He’s a good man, too. It was a joy to be with him – I can’t say enough.
On a movie like this, there’s probably a lot of improvisation?
Oh yeah. You know what I equated it to. Have you ever played tennis with a great tennis player and they hit it right to you? Let’s say a great tennis player who loves you or who likes you and wants you to do well. That’s it – I held my racquet. I held it and he hit them right to me and they bounced off and normally got over the net again and that was it. Plenty of improv, but definitely instigated by him. He’d say something and I’d answer back – a lot of it really sweet and a lot of it made it [into the movie]. Every reaction in there that in any way touched me is something that actually happened that I didn’t even know that happened because Tim made it happen. He made me laugh and he made me cry – he can do that; he can change on a dime. I know you see the laugh part, but there’s something really genuine in him that comes out when he’s there. I was absolutely touched by him in so many ways. But he’s also really funny, unbearably funny at times. He made the set really loose.
You’d never really done much comedy before, right?
On stage, I’ve done a lot. But it’s very different; on stage, it’s the give and take. Michael made it the same for me here; we always did our scenes from beginning to end. Anything we came up with in the scenes, we did in the close-ups, and Tim always did other things on the other side of my close-ups – I never knew what he was going to do. I’d go from being this stern person to laughing all the time, but he did that. So I had to think that’s real – someone comes into your life like that and they’re all of sudden full of magic and laughter and joy and they’re funny – it must just turn you upside down. So that helped.
Which principal did you model your principal after?
Ah, yes, my opportunity. It was a combination of 5 different teachers I had, but now that I look back on it, there was nothing mean about them per se, they were just so disappointed when I didn’t live up to their expectations. But every school that I graduated from, I’d get a hug from that same person. I always felt that they believed in me, I just never wanted to get on their bad side. Can you think about being in this principal’s office? You’d be destroyed – she’s scary, but that’s what you want. You don’t want to have a principal who’s trying to be all the kids’ best friend. So that’s how I did, but she was there on paper. That’s who she was.
What was your favorite day on the set?
You know that day that he tells me that he’s the real Santa, we had so much fun that day before he told me he was the real Santa. We giggled so much, Tim went around picking up things that were in my apartment and talking about why people put these things in their house, and for some reason he was absolutely so incredibly funny that day and we all were just so happy. We were all together in this one house and it was cold outside, it was actually snowing. It was warm inside and we all had cocoa and it was just one of those warm wonderful happy days, until it got sad. Then it was even sadder than ever, when I figured that he had to be completely mad – which I believe I would think. If the man I was seeing told me he was Santa Claus – I’d burst into tears. I’d be like, “Of course. You’re so nice, you listen, and you rub my feet, so of course, you’re Santa Claus.” That was the sad part, but that was the most fun. The most fun to watch was all the stuff in the toy factory. All the stuff with the tin soldiers; being around those kids. That was so much fun. I’d sit in my little chair and I’d look up and there’s wonderland everywhere, but it had nothing to do with me, it was just the world they were creating. Michael never lost his temper, he never raised his voice, he never had ego. He was the most amazing director. That’s why I’m here, doing 5 cities in 5 days, which sounded really silly to me. And I believe in it.
Last night when we were leaving the theatre, there was a group of 12 kids singing.
I was there.
Did you hear them singing?
Yeah. I had such a good time. It’s not the final cut. There’s a scene where I actually turn into Mrs. Claus at the very end, as soon as it goes to black I come back up actually as Mrs. Claus. It comes up at the end as sort of a thank you for sticking with us. I said to Disney, “Look. You got Santa – he looks great. Then you’ve got this scrawny little kid next to him, so we really have to do something about this.” So that was the joy of it – they did do something and I think she’s adorable.
Was that the first time you’d seen it with an audience?
Yeah, it was neat. I enjoy the Toy Santa stuff – that always makes me happy.
They clapped at the end.
That was really sweet.
You did ‘Frequency’ – that was another feel-good movie.
Those are really fun. I’ve never chosen anything because I thought it would do well, I choose everything because I think it might make me happy to do it – I’m very selfish in the things I choose. I have to be there. I have to do it every day.
What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?
It was a snow-cone maker. I was 4, believe it or not, we finally figured out the timeline with my parents last night, and it was either in a snowman or a penguin. And it was in the belly, you hit the thing and it came out. I remember because I got it and tears, happy, the whole thing. I remember so well – so that’s what it was. Make-And-Bake Oven – did not get. Got it two years ago, because they were sick of hearing me talk about it.
What’s next for you?
I have to find something. Everyone thought I was being too picky, so I let Tim and Michael read my scripts on the airplane and they agree completely with me. I got a stack of them and they’re like, “Oh, no.” I read aloud from one and everyone on the plane was like, “Oh my gosh – no.” There’s some really bad stuff. I’m not horrible – I just can’t, why get up in the morning and do it, I could be home eating waffles. I think if you have a love for this business, you can’t ever do anything you feel is not fun or not good or not something that means something to you. Otherwise you turn into something that you’re not. I think that’s why a lot of people lose their joy and they become unbearable because I don’t think actors in general are unbearable, I think they childlike and quite fun. At least I hope they are.
At least Elizabeth, Tim, and Michael have all remained childlike and quite fun.