When the Birmingham-reared comedy legend who agrees to talk about the new rendition of his holiday movie classic suddenly begins trending on Twitter the night before, it’s almost impossible not to fear the worst these days. After all, we’re not getting any younger.
Worry not. Tim Allen, we’re pleased to report, is alive, well, enthused to discuss his six-part spinoff The Santa Clauses streaming on Disney+ beginning Nov. 16…and a bit bewildered.
“What did I do now?” he asks by phone from Los Angeles, genuinely unaware. “No, I didn’t know I blew up Twitter. What did I do?”
What he did was to ask a seemingly innocent (and hopefully humorous) question about the “woke” generation that prides itself on being actively aware of important societal issues, especially those regarding race and social justice. Allen wrote on Oct. 18:
“Who is the face of woke. Do wokees have a club house in someone’s backyard or maybe a cute yet safe playpen somewhere?’’
That seemingly lighthearted inquiry generated nearly 60,000 likes and 21,000 replies. Most of them quite unpleasant.
“It was a philosophical inquiry,” he maintains. “And then I did a comedy bit. I was listening to (former President) Barack Obama the other day use the word ‘buzzkills’ about his own party (on the “Pod Saves America” podcast) and say we’re getting tired of walking on eggshells. So when he said that I went, ‘Oh! So maybe we can turn this light around. What is ‘woke?’”
A disturbing number of Twitter respondents quickly found access to and attached Allen’s mugshot from his 1978 arrest for drug trafficking cocaine, leading to his spending two years and four months in a federal prison, with their replies. “Can’t really say who is the face of woke,” one wrote, “but we know the face of coke.”
Sadly, the disparaging remarks don’t surprise him. “Immediately people go back to that prison sentence I got involved in back when I was like 26,” says Allen, 69. “I don’t ever respond to anybody, but I always wonder.”
“As far as I understand it, the way it works in this country is you do your time, and then you’re done. You don’t keep being punished for the crime you already committed. I’ve been sober, without drugs or alcohol in my system, for almost 25 years, I’ve gone and raised a family and I’m past all that. But they keep reminding me of that prison picture.”
So much so that Allen, owner of two of the most successful sitcoms in modern TV history with Home Improvement and Last Man Standing, has begun using the mugshot to promote his ongoing standup comedy tour. “So we’re all aware of that,” he cracks.
For the moment, he’d prefer everyone be aware of The Santa Clauses, which plays out in six chapters (he doesn’t like the word “episodes”) beginning in November. What could possibly convince him to put on the character of jolly ol’ Scott Calvin, the toy salesman who reluctantly assumes the role of Santa after the Big Guy falls off his roof, 16 years after the release of the last big-screen sequel, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause?
The script, he says.
And while he’s hesitant to admit it, Allen suspects the Disney+ edition may be at least the equal of any of its widescreen predecessors.
“Number three was arguably overproduced, in my opinion,” he reflects. “Two (the sequel released in 2002) was the frickin’ best, because we had more money, more time, and it was really well-scripted. Three just had too many loose ends. So, when Dana Walden (chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content) got ahold of me and asked, ‘Would you be interested in rebooting Santa Clause?’ it came out of the blue. But I said I was interested because she was the supporter of Last Man Standing who got it moved from ABC to FOX, just a terrific boss.”
But ho-ho-hold on, not so fast. “I told her, ‘First you’ve got to find a script,’” Allen remembers. “She goes, ‘How about more of a streaming situation?’ I went, ‘Oh, boy. The joke was, it’s a movie to get me interested, it’s a TV show to get me paid.”
Allen asked to see the first, third and last scripts before he would commit. “Chapter One took a while to get right and kept changing, because I’m literally the only one left who knew about Santa’s history and I’ve always had some questions.”
“Why didn’t the elves seem bothered by some guy who shows up at the North Pole? What happened to the guy who slipped off the roof? And why didn’t Mrs. Claus notice? Well, they answered all those questions, and they did it in a very clever way. And I kept telling the writers, ‘It is a ‘Christ-mass’ movie, His birthday, so you’re going to have to mention Jesus at some point.’ They stretched themselves and came out with a wonderful thing.”
The basic premise is that Calvin, at 65, realizes he can’t be Santa forever and begins auditioning replacements for his job. (You may already have seen Payton Manning in the promo clips.) Stagecraft and technological advancements since Santa Clause 3 cut Allen’s time in the makeup chair in half, from four to two hours daily.
“I love lighting, sound, and staging,” he says. “Everything about them is our gift to the audience. That’s all we do this for. It isn’t for us. And we got a great group that pushed the envelope. The colors, the backgrounds, the costumes, they’re brilliant.”
To top it all, The Santa Clauses gave Allen a surprise gift he never saw coming: the chance to perform opposite his youngest daughter, 12-year-old Elizabeth Allen-Dick, in her acting debut.
“My plan was to surprise her with an offer to be an elf in the background,” says Allen, who also serves as an executive producer of the miniseries. “I’m not a nepotistic type of person, people earn their positions, but I just asked if she could run past and wave at me. They said yes, but she should read for the part. I didn’t plan for her to say anything, but they explained even if she just says, ‘Hi, Santa,’ she would have to read for SAG (the Screen Actors Guild).”
Genetics took over. The more she read, the more impressed casting directors, producers, and Disney executives became. Against Allen’s better judgment, Elizabeth ultimately won the role of Scott Calvin’s youngest daughter, Sandra Claus.
“She’s in school, I didn’t think she had time for this,” says Allen, “and part of me doesn’t want her in show business. But when I heard her, I went, ‘Damn!’ It came out of nowhere, and she got all the gags. The other part is, it’s a magic moment to play a scene with your kid.
“I can’t describe the emotions,” he reflects. “There’s one scene, outdoors at the North Pole, that chokes me up. She says, ‘I’m scared.’ I hug her and say, ‘I’m scared, too. But I will be much happier if I could be scared with you.’ It’s a life-changing event. It’s already happened, but I still think about it every day.”