My Bizarre Life After Playing The Bully In A Christmas Story
You may not recognise the name Zack Ward, but approximately 100 percent of you know him as Scut Farkus, the bully from A Christmas Story.
He had yellow eyes.
He's since had a long, eclectic career that's included everything from a starring role on Titus to being the villain in the latest Tomb Raider game to playing Kirby, everyone's favorite character from the universally beloved Boogies Diner. We spoke to Zack about what it's like to forever be associated with one of pop culture's most timeless jackasses.
The Kid Actors Have Grown Up Alongside The Movie's Fame
Lots of people have done things at age 13 that wound up following them the rest of their lives, but it's rarely anything good (most likely an event that resulted in a crude genital or feces-based nickname). Well, Zack Ward made this little Christmas movie 33 years ago, and still gets stopped on the street. He probably always will.
No matter how much he screams "Uncle."
"It happens all the time, it's bizarre. I'm 47, I wear glasses, and still everywhere I go, two or three times a week. Johnny Depp came up to me once, Snoop Dogg came up to me and was like 'Hey, man, aren't you that guy I wanted to beat the shit out of when I was a kid?'"
Keep in mind, when A Christmas Story was released in 1983 it only made $19 million (for comparison, the long-forgotten helicopter action movie Blue Thunder, made 42 million that year). But now it's impossible to get through the holiday season without seeing at least a clip of it (TNT does a 24-hour marathon of just this movie on Christmas Eve every year). It took the cast a few years to realize they had something iconic on their hands.
Or tongues for some of them.
"People started commenting to me that I was that guy from that thing they watch every year. By the time it hit the 20th anniversary we were doing a charity fundraiser, and the Mayor decreed it to be Christmas Story Day. And we see like 2,000 people lined up to meet us. That's where you realize that this is something different. It's amazing to watch a 5-year-old kid sit down and watch this whole movie just rapt."
No one involved thought it was anything other than just another acting gig at the time (It was Zack's first film role), probably thinking it would be buried deep in the pages of Hollywood history below such icons as Porky's II: The Next Day.
Also directed by Bob Clark.
"I was doing a charity signing and this guy shows up, he's got to be like 75, and he's with his son, and his son has a kid, and the kid has a child who's like four. So we're talking four generations, and this 75-year-old man is like 'Where are the guys from A Christmas Story? It took place when I was a boy!' So here's this old man who related to the film as if it was his childhood, and he had watched it with his son, and then his son had taken his son to it, and then that guy had had a baby who knew who I was. That's pretty crazy."
Casting Roles Like This Involves A Giant Crowd Of Kids, And Lots Of Luck
Zack's mom was an actress, and after trying to discourage him from following in her footsteps, she started taking him to auditions for commercials. After ten months of rejections, he got his first commercial, then eventually tried out for a different role in A Christmas Story. Specifically, he was reading for Grover Dill who, if you don't happen to have the cast of A Christmas Story memorized, is Scut's scrawny little toady.
It's a sign of truly remarkable acting that they made adults want to slap the shit out of children.
"The casting process started off as a cattle call of about 300 kids. We went from 300 to 250 to 200 to 150 to 100 to 50 and then at that point they started recording us on VHS tapes, which was a new technology. And then we got down to 10, and out of the 10 I got the job. I think what ended up happening is that you've got the right look, you've got the right attitude, and then they put you on tape and the director compares you to the rest of his cast and sees if you fit in. And apparently I was the right guy."
Again -- the "right guy" to play the sidekick. Then he walked onto set and met the kid who was supposed to play Scut (Yano Anaya) and they decided to recast the roles on the spot. "He's about 12 inches shorter than me. And for the first time I meet the director Bob Clark, and he sees the size difference between myself and Anaya, and he says, 'Oh. Oooh. Okay, well, you get his lines, and he gets yours.' So originally I was supposed to be the sidekick, and then I became the bully."
We've spent several hundred dollars CGing this image to show you how the original casting would have looked.
So after all the work of being plucked out of a group of 300 aspiring actors, Zack was abruptly switched to a different, much more iconic part. That's life, kids.
It's Easy To Forget How Unusual This Movie Was
A Christmas Story is full of scenes that get lost amidst everyone in your extended family parroting "you'll shoot your eye out!" Most of them have to do with a family that is struggling to get by -- something that's weirdly rare in Christmas movies.
Today, a doll and a copy of Monopoly are the presents from grandma that kids throw out on their way to the video games.
"The dad is obviously broke enough that he can't afford a new heater, and he has to haggle over everything, and they're eating red cabbage repeatedly because it's cheap. And the presents they get are not extravagant. They're great for them, they're very happy, but it's nothing that makes the audience feel 'Oh, I could never get that.'"
This is what Christmas looks like in A Christmas Story:
Four people sitting around an average living room. Meanwhile, in Love Actually, Colin Firth's Christmas concludes with an entire packed restaurant standing and applauding his declaration of love.
It's right before the subplots with the Prime Minister and the rock star.
Four Christmases is about a rich couple who are forced to do the unspeakable -- spend time with their divorced parents, all of whom maintain gorgeous homes. Eventually they're inspired to start a family, right after they take an exorbitant vacation to Fiji to recover from suffering through all that family time.
But hey, at least they don't have to worry about possibly getting a pool put in slightly later in the year.
The Holiday is about two women who swap homes during the holidays -- one woman gets to live in a multi-million dollar LA mansion, while the other has to "settle" for flying to England to live in a picturesque cottage. Spoiler alert: They both find true love.
Even though Cameron Diaz got stuck in this unlivable hellhole.
Even Home Alone is a portrait of extravagance. Remember, Kevin was forgotten in the confusion of a massive extended family all leaving for a vacation in Paris. The home he's defending is a fucking palace.
It would be a very different movie if he had to defend his single mom's run-down one-room apartment from people looking for drug money.
Most Christmas movies are about people who never have to worry about money briefly experiencing personal problems before holiday magic gives them a perfect life forever while bystanders applaud them and their newfound gorgeous sexual partner. A Christmas Story is about a family putting aside their bickering and financial woes long enough to spend a couple peaceful hours together with a few modest gifts. It's the difference between lifestyle porn and what many people, including a young Zack, actually experience.
"I don't know what your childhood Christmases were like, but mine sucked. I grew up poor as shit, one year we had to have a boarder in the house that we were renting. And for Christmas, one of my presents was a sweater that I had loaned my mom money to buy me. And the other one was a tulip bulb from our boarder. I'm like 14. What the hell am I going to do with a tulip bulb? 'Merry Christmas!' No. I'm good, let's move on with our lives, I don't want to talk about Christmas anymore. That's reality for a lot of people."
It's Weird For A Kid To Play A Christmas Villain
Zack's childhood actually served as great research for the role of schoolyard bully. Only, you know, from the other side.
"I went to eight different schools before junior high. So I was a new kid with a single mom, red hair, and a miniature poodle dog named Tinkerbell, there were a lot of targets on my back. So I got beat up a lot, I got picked on a lot."
So getting to play a bully who's revealed to be a total dweeb was cathartic, the equivalent of doing a mocking imitation of someone ... only if somehow generations of people all around the globe wound up seeing it.
Most importantly, this part.
"Playing the role of Scut was revenge on the jackholes who were my bullies. I got to imitate them, and in that imitation really belittle them. Because if you look at Scut, there's really no moment where he looks cool. He's just a big douchenozzle. And then you see him at the end where his hat's knocked off, he's bleeding, he's just a stupid kid."
The only downside was that Zack was 13, an age where looking goofy is a crisis on par with watching your house burn down.
"Bob Clark invited myself and my mother in to see the scene where I get beat up, and Bob's like 'Oh, that's fantastic!' And he gets up and leaves, and my mom was like 'Oh, Zackarias, that was wonderful' and I have tears in my eyes and she asks what's wrong and I go 'Mom, I look so ugly!' And she says 'Honey, it's not you, you're playing a character.' But let's be honest, I was 13, I was a goober looking kid. My nose grew faster than the rest of my face, I had braces. So I felt bad about myself."
And, if you're not sold on that, there was a more practical downside to the gig.
"The scene where Ralphie beats me up, he actually never hits me, but because he's wearing idiot strings that hold his mittens, and his mittens had frozen solid, every time he was pretend punching me his mitts were slapping the crap out of me. So when you see my face is bright red it's because I had been pimp slapped for like 20 minutes."
The Reward For Playing An Iconic Character Is Dozens Of Less Memorable Roles
Zack has had many, many roles, and he's proud of all of them, but let's face it: Scut Farkus is going to follow him to the grave.
Zack noted that his IMDB rating spikes around the holidays because people get curious about what he's been up to, so here's a sampling. Here's Zack in Resident Evil: Apocalypse before he gets killed:
And here's the erotic fanfiction people have written about his minor character.
Here's Zack in Transformers before he gets killed:
He saw the draft of Transformers 2, so it was a blessing.
And here's Zack in Almost Famous before he gets killed:
He was playing a roadie in the 1970s. Don't try to tell us his character would be alive today.
Zack's voice recently appeared in Izzie's Way Home, a zero-budget Finding Dory knockoff that he had already forgotten about.
"I heard it's fucking horrible. But that's one of those things where you're like 'Hey, thanks for the job! My mortgage likes money!' And you do the best you can, and you don't watch it."
You have to take any role you can because, as Zack put it, "No one ever writes 'The lead guy walks in. He's got red hair and slanty eyes.' Nobody is going to buy a 10 million dollar movie starring Zack Ward. I have to be honest with myself about who I am and what I can accomplish."
But there was one exception: Zack starred in Uwe Boll's Postal, a 15-million-dollar movie that also features Verne Troyer as himself getting raped by a thousand monkeys.
And that's not the weirdest part of the movie.
Making that was a ... unique experience.
"Great movies are inspirational, bad movies are motivational. And Uwe Boll is very motivational. He was so, so lazy. Literally, the version of Postal that was released was the first cut. I spent all my Christmas in an editing bay writing pages of notes, because Uwe had said 'Yeah, I absolutely want to hear ' No one gave a crap, not a single change was made. Uwe just does not care."
Here's Zack on the set of Postal, which certainly looks hellish.
So one of the kids from A Christmas Story grew up to spend a Christmas working his ass off on something he got no credit for, even while knowing it would never be as great as what he did as a kid, and all because he still saw something valuable in the process itself. Which, if you think about it for a while, pretty much sums up what Christmas is for adults.
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Things I Learned As A Child Star Of The Worst Movie Ever and 7 Reasons Child Stars Go Crazy (An Insider's Perspective).
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