When it comes to Santa Claus movies, few are as memorable or as crass as the 2003 film, Bad Santa. Starring Billy Bob Thornton as an alcoholic department-store Saint Nick, Bad Santa was a hit when it first released, grossing over $76 million worldwide at the box -office. But, it turns out that the popular 2000s movie was originally set to feature a very different cast to the one we all saw on the big screen.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2016, Bad Santa writer John Requa and the Christmas movie’s leading man Thornton revealed that the main character of Bad Santa was originally made with another star in mind– none other than James Gandolfini.
The Coen brothers, who initially pitched the idea of an anti-Christmas movie, envisaged Gandolfini – best known for his work on the hit drama series The Sopranos – as the man in red, drinking beer and making terrible jokes as opposed to dishing out traditional holiday cheer.
“They asked us to write it for James Gandolfini. They had just worked with him on The Man Who Wasn’t There,” Requa explained. “We wrote the character in his rhythm, but Gandolfini didn’t work out.“
Regua went on to reveal how multiple actors were then approached after Gandolfini. “Bill Murray was attached, but he stopped returning calls like Bill does. They were also courting Jack Nicholson,” he said. The fact that multiple faces were ahead of him for the comedy movie was also acknowledged by the leading star Thornton, too.
“I heard Sean Penn was considered, and Nicolas Cage.” Thornton shared. “My manager called and said: ‘Wait until you read this script. I’ve never seen anything like this.’ I’d read maybe a third of it, and I called him and said, ‘We’ve gotta do this.’ It was kind of a no-brainer.”
While Thornton proved his acting chops in the role and was pretty much perfect, funnily enough, there are still signs of Gandolfini’s influence on the script. “Billy Bob came on, but we never changed the dialogue,” Requa said. “He’s got this Southern rhythm reading New York dialogue.”
It should also be noted that although Bad Santa didn’t work out, a year after its release in 2004, Gandolfini starred in another Christmas movie alongside Batman actor Ben Affleck – titled Surviving Christmas. So, at the end of the day, everyone got to shine in a festive project at some point.