‘Elf’ celebrates 20th anniversary: Will Ferrell, Mary Steenburgen then and now

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Elf” is celebrating its 20th anniversary!

The movie premiered in November 2003 and immediately became a fan-favorite Christmas movie. The star-studded film follows Buddy the Elf, who after learning he is a human not an elf, leaves the North Pole for the first time to find his birth father in New York.

Buddy’s naive optimism and innocent view of the world bring a much-needed sense of holiday cheer to his father and his new family, and remind viewers what the holiday season is all about.

Here is what the cast has been up to since.


Will Ferrell

Ferrell was fresh off his seven-year stint on “Saturday Night Live” when he played Buddy the Elf. (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Will Ferrell was fresh off his seven-year tenure on “Saturday Night Live” when he landed the lead role of Buddy in “Elf” in 2003. While on the sketch show, he also starred in “A Night at the Roxbury,” “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “Zoolander.”

Just one year after “Elf” was released, Ferrell appeared as the lead character in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” He followed that with “Bewitched,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Blades of Glory.” He continued starring in films, including “Step Brothers,” “The Other Guys,” “Megamind” and its sequel, as well as “The Campaign.”

He had a guest role on “The Office” in its final season, later starring in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” “The Lego Movie,” “Get Hard,” “A Deadly Adoption,” “Daddy’s Home” and its sequel, “Zoolander 2,” and “Holmes and Watson.” Most recently, he starred in “Spirited,” “Barbie” and “Strays.” 

Ferrell, who is also a successful producer, married Viveca Paulin in 2000 after they met in an acting class in 1995 and started dating. They have three sons, Magnus, Mattias and Axel.

James Caan

James Caan then and now split

Caan was known for his roles in “The Godfather,” “The Gambler” and “Funny Lady.” (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

James Caan was already an Academy Award nominee and four time Golden Globe nominee, who was known for his roles in “The Godfather,” “The Gambler,” “Brian’s Song,” “Misery” and “Funny Lady,” when he took the role of Buddy’s dad Walter, in “Elf.” He would go on to star in the series “Las Vegas” for 88 episodes, from 2003 to 2007.

Later, Caan would star in “Get Smart,” “Middle Men,” “Mercy,” “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” and its sequel, “Henry’s Crime” and “Detachment.” Caan continued to act, starring in “Small Apartments,” “For the Love of Money,” “Blood Ties,” “The Outsider,” “Back In the Game” and “A Fighting Man.” 

Caan also starred in “The Throwaways,” “The Good Neighbor,” “The Red Maple Leaf,” “Holy Lands,” “Undercover Grandpa” and “Out of Blue.” Most recently, he starred in “Queen Bees” and “Fast Charlie.”


Caan was married to Dee Jay Mathis from 1961 to 1966, and they had one daughter, Tara. He then married Sheila Marie Ryan from 1976 to 1977, and they had a son, Scott. Caan was married to Ingrid Hajek from 1990 to 1994, and they had a son, Alexander. Later, he was married to Linda Stokes from 1995 to 2017, and they had two sons, James and Jacob. 

The actor passed away in June 2022 after suffering a heart attack, caused by coronary artery disease. He was 82.

Bob Newhart

Bob Newhart then and now split

Newhart was already a comedy legend when he signed on to play Papa Elf in “Elf.” (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Bob Newhart was already a respected comedian and screen actor, known for his comedy albums and his roles in “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Newhart” and “Bob,” by the time he starred as Papa Elf in “Elf.” Throughout his career, he received six Golden Globe nominations, nine Emmy nominations, with one win, and was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

The comedian also starred in “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde” and “Horrible Bosses,” before appearing as a guest on a number of popular TV shows, such as “Desperate Housewives,” “Hot In Cleveland,” “The Librarians,” “The Big Bang Theory,” which earned him his first and only Emmy win, and “Young Sheldon,” which is his last screen credit.

In addition to his acting wins and nominations, Newhart has also been nominated for five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums, winning in 1961 for best new artist, comedy album of the year and best comedy performance for his album, “The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!”

Newhart married Virginia Lillian “Ginnie” Quinn in 1963 and the two were married for 60 years before her death in April 2023. The two shared four children, Robert, Timothy, Jennifer and Courtney, and 10 grandchildren.

Ed Asner

Ed Asner then and now split

Asner was known for starring in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” before starring in “Elf.” (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Ed Asner was already an iconic actor – having starred in “El Dorado,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Born Yesterday,” “Roots,” “Lou Grant” and “Rich Man, Poor Man” – before starring as Santa Claus in “Elf.” Throughout his career, he received 17 Emmy nominations, with seven wins, and 11 Golden Globe nominations, with five wins.

After playing Santa Claus, Asner starred in “The Commission,” “Center of the Universe,” “The Heart Specialist,” “Channels,” “Up,” “Hopelessly In June” and “Absolute Killers.” The actor spent a few years making guest appearances on various TV shows, and starring in TV movies, before starring in “The Games Maker,” “Pacific Edge,” “Citizens United,” “Miracle in the Valley” and “Joe’s War.”

He later starred in “The Parting Glass,” “Honor Amongst Men,” “Dead to Me,” “Tiger Within,” “Cobra Kai” and “Deadly Draw.”


Asner was married to Nancy Lou Sykes from 1959 to 1988, and they had three children, Matthew, Liza and Kate. He has a son, Charles, with Carol Jean Vogelman, born in 1987. He then married Cindy Gilmore from 1998 to 2015. Asner died of natural causes in August 2021, at the age of 91. 

Mary Steenburgen

Mary Steenburgen then and now split

Steenburgen went on to star in “Step Brothers” and “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Prior to starring as Emily in “Elf,” Mary Steenburgen was an Academy Award-winning actress for her role in “Melvin and Howard.” She was also known for her starring roles in “Ragtime,” “Parenthood,” “Back to the Future Part III,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Philadelphia” and “I Am Sam.”

Following her role as Buddy’s stepmother, Steenburgen starred in the short-lived series “Joan of Arcadia,” as well as “Elvis and Anabelle,” “Numb,” “Step Brothers,” “Four Christmases,” “The Proposal” and “Did You Hear About the Morgans.” She later appeared in “The Help,” and episodes of “Bored to Death,” “30 Rock,” “Wilfred” and “Togetherness.”

Steenburgen then starred in “A Walk in the Woods,” “Justified,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Last Man on Earth,” “Book Club,” “Grace and Frankie” and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.” Most recently, she starred in “Nightmare Alley” and “Book Club: The Next Chapter.”

Steenburgen was married to Malcolm McDowell from 1980 to 1990, and they have two children, Charlie and Lily. She went on to marry Ted Danson in 1995.

Zooey Deschanel

Zooey Deschanel then and now split

Deschanel went on to star in Fox’s “New Girl” for seven seasons. (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Following a brief appearance in “Almost Famous,” Zooey Deschanel starred as Jovie in “Elf.” She continued to act steadily after “Elf,” starring in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Failure to Launch,” “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Surf’s Up.”

The actress later starred in “The Happening,” “Gigantic,” “Yes Man,” “500 Days of Summer,” “Our Idiot Brother” and “Your Highness.” From 2011 to 2018, Deschanel had a starring role on “New Girl,” playing Jessica Day for 146 episodes. She also starred in “Trolls” and its sequels, most recently starring in “Trolls Band Together.”

In addition to being an actress, Deschanel is also a singer, composing one half of the musical duo She & Him, alongside musician M. Ward. They formed in 2006 and have released seven albums.


Deschanel was married to Ben Gibbard from 2009 to 2012. She was then married to Jacob Pechenik from 2015 to 2020. They have two children together, Elsie and Charlie. In August 2023, she announced her engagement to Jonathan Scott.

Daniel Tay

Daniel Tay then and now split

Tay stopped acting shortly after starring in “Elf.” (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Daniel Tay only had one credit to his name prior to taking the role of Michael in “Elf.” 

He went on to appear in “Doogal,” “Beer League” and “Brooklyn Rules,” which was his final role, according to IMDb. 

The now 31-year-old left acting behind him, choosing instead to study economics at Yale. 

Faizon Love

Faizon Love then and now split

Love was previously known for his role in “Friday.” (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)


Faizon Love had been acting since the late 1990s before starring as the manager of Gimbels in “Elf.” He was known for his roles in “Friday,” “The Replacements” and “The Parent ‘Hood.” Later, Love starred in “Torque,” “The Big House,” “Just My Luck,” “Idlewild,” “The Perfect Holiday” and “A Day in the Life.”

He went on to star in “Couple’s Retreat,” “Life As We Know It,” “King of the Underground,” “Zookeeper,” “The Paperboy,” “Tell,” “November Rule,” “Brotherly Love” and “She’s Got a Plan.” 

Most recently, he starred in “Step Up: High Water,” “Prince of Detroit,” “Back on the Strip” and “The Last Stop In Yuma County.”


Peter Dinklage

Peter Dinklage then and now split

Dinklage went on to win four Emmys for his role in “Game of Thrones.” (Getty Images)

Peter Dinklage began acting in 1991, with roles in both TV and movies, including playing Miles Finch in “Elf.” He would go on to star in “The Station Agent,” “Surviving Eden,” “Threshold,” “Little Fugitive” and “Penelope.” 

He appeared in seven episodes of the acclaimed show “Nip/Tuck,” as well as in “Underdog,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” “Death at a Funeral,” “A Little Bit of Heaven” and “A Case of You.” Later, he starred in “The Angriest Man in Brooklyn,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “The Boss,” “The Angry Birds Movie,” “Rememory” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” 

From 2011 to 2019, Dinklage portrayed Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” a role which earned him 13 SAG Award nominations and eight Emmy nominations, with four wins. He also appeared in “Avengers: Infinity War,” “I Care a Lot,” “Cyrano” and “She Came to Me.” Most recently, he starred in “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts” and “The Toxic Avenger.”


Dinklage married Erica Schmidt in 2005, and they have a son and a daughter.

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