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Bad Santa Facts Only True Fans Know About The Cult Christmas Classic

The holiday season is meant to be a time for family and friends to come together and to cherish everything that matters in life. Well, 2003's "Bad Santa" flipped that concept on its head, as it introduced the anti-Christmas comedy film, where the lead protagonist Willie T. Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is so deplorable and near irredeemable that he's more Krampus than jolly ol' Santa Claus. Yet, the black comedy tickled the audience's funny bone, as no one could dispute the hilarity of the shenanigans on screen or how it dared to be different.

In a rare instance, both critics and fans were in agreement about "Bad Santa," as it received a 78% critical approval rating and 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also developed something of a cult status in the years following its release, as most fans agreed it became even funnier over time. However, there was also a lot of drama behind the making of this film. From the Coen brothers practically disowning the movie over disagreements to the director claiming the studio interfered in the movie, there are tons of stories behind "Bad Santa" that deserve to be told.

Billy Bob Thornton was really drunk during one scene

As an actor, Billy Bob Thornton is what any rational person would dub a powerhouse. Not only has he snagged an Oscar and a few nominations in his illustrious career, but he has also starred in blockbusters like "Armageddon" and "Primary Colors." In short, nothing should faze him as a performer, since he's seen it all. However, even he decided that he needed to go method for "Bad Santa" — and no, it doesn't mean he climbed down people's chimneys, drank their milk, ate their cookies, and shook their presents. Instead, he got into Willie T. Soke's mind by peering into the bottom of the bottle.

Discussing the film on Couch Surfing, Thornton admitted he got a little marinated before he stepped onto the set for the one scene where the children had to tell Willie what they wanted for Christmas. "I drank about three glasses of red wine for breakfast," he said. "That was just an appetizer. Then I switched over to vodka and cranberry juice and then I had a few Bud Lights. By the time I got to that scene there I barely knew I was in a movie." Fortunately, the scene called for inebriated behavior.

Universal Pictures was disgusted by the script

A film about a boozy Santa Claus impersonator may rub people up the wrong way — especially those who cherish Christmas and how it's supposed to symbolize a time for family and happiness. As it turns out, the "Bad Santa" script did the rounds in Hollywood, arriving on the desks of several studio executives who all passed on it since it felt like the antithesis of what the festive time of the year is supposed to be. For Miramax's Bob Weinstein, he couldn't understand why no one saw the bigger picture and see the uniqueness of the story on offer, as he explained to The New York Times.

"I asked a Universal executive, 'Why'd you guys pass on it?' And he said, 'It was the most foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, anti-children thing we could imagine,'" Weinstein said. "That's exactly why I bought it." It turned out to be a good piece of business for Miramax, as the film made over $76 million worldwide from a $23 million budget, as per Box Office Mojo. The sequel wasn't quite as successful, though, as it failed to recoup its $26 million budget and stumbled to $24.1 million, as per The Numbers.

There was one line that made the director say yes to the movie

Director Terry Zwigoff cut his teeth in the documentary side of the filmmaking business before directing his first feature film, "Ghost World," in 2001. Next up for him was "Bad Santa," a cuss-filled comedy that caught a lot of people by surprise by how hilarious and smart it turned out to be. Considering Zwigoff's past as a documentary maker and his tendency to choose interesting projects, there must have been something that piqued his curiosity about "Bad Santa" from the get-go when others passed on it.

Zwigoff told The A.V. Club that dialogue is what captures his attention when he's looking at scripts. In the case of "Bad Santa," there was a specific line that enticed the director to sign on the dotted line immediately. "There was one line in the script that was so good that I was desperately trying to get the job. It was something like, 'Sweet Jews for Jesus!'" Zwigoff said with a laugh. "One of the most inspired lines I'd ever read. Any regional dialect like that in a script really appeals to me, if it's done right."

Billy Bob Thornton believes Bad Santa created a movement

The world of entertainment is highly unpredictable; no one knows the impact of what a film released today will have on tomorrow. If they did, everyone would be launching their own shared universes and raking in the Benjamins at the box office. Similarly, nobody saw "Bad Santa" as anything more than a dark and vulgar Christmas comedy to appeal to lovers of lowbrow humor. Yet, years later, its influence can be felt in Hollywood, as more than a few comedies have applied the same formula in an attempt to achieve the same success.

Speaking to GQ, Billy Bob Thornton explained how "Bad Santa" demolished all expectations and kickstarted a new sub-genre of comedy. "I mean, now they have f***ing 'Bad Grandma' and 'Bad Teacher' and 'Bad Aunt and Uncle' and everybody," he said. It's a keen and accurate observation from Thornton, as other filmmakers noticed the shock factor of "Bad Santa" and tried to replicate it with their respective films. Remarkably, it's rare to hear anyone mention the 2003 film as a trailblazer for the genre, even if it is within its own niche.

Billy Bob Thornton experienced some strange reactions from viewers

Being a celebrity is more than dealing with fans who want autographs when they're in the restroom or dining out with their family. In some cases, stars have to deal with fans who believe they are the characters they portray on screen. While it might be a more pleasant exchange if they play a hero in a film, it gets dicey when their characters are morally ambiguous such as Willie T. Soke from "Bad Santa."

Chatting with Fandango, Billy Bob Thornton explained that he receives his fair share of regular reactions, such as parents pointing him out as Bad Santa to their kids. However, one of his weirder incidents occurred with a journalist. "One woman said, 'How do you feel about destroying the good name of Jesus and Santa Claus and the Bible?'" Thornton revealed. "I said, 'Well, ma'am, first of all, I've read the Bible, and Santa is not in it. Second of all, we didn't do anything about Jesus, so we're clear there. And the third thing is, I didn't play Santa Claus. I played a [guy] who dresses up like Santa Claus.'" The actor added that he can't believe there was such an uproar about his character when there are people on the Internet who say far worse things. Fair point!

The director had a major disagreement with the Coen brothers

Even though Joel and Ethan Coen didn't write or direct "Bad Santa," they are credited as executive producers because they created the concept and brought it to writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Naturally, as producers, they had input in several decisions the film took. Director Terry Zwigoff explained to IndieWire how he and the Coens agreed to trim back some of the dialogue that he felt wasn't working in some scenes. However, there was a huge disagreement over one of Zwigoff's casting choices.

"We had a very strong disagreement about casting Tony Cox as the black elf," Zwigoff said. "They said that they couldn't see the guy being black. I said I don't see the guy being black, I think the fact of him being three-foot-six is the overriding characteristic of the guy. I don't think it matters. I just think this guy is really funny in the part." The director added that the Coens eventually backed down and told him it was his movie to direct, so it was his call to make. Zwigoff also explained how the Coens weren't happy about the Weinsteins being involved in the final edit of the film and how it turned out in the end. It was an act that pushed the filmmakers to distance themselves and to practically disown "Bad Santa."

Bernie Mac said he used his brother to influence his performance

The late Bernie Mac delighted fans with his comedic approach to characters in various films and television shows. In "Bad Santa," he portrayed the hilarious Gin Slagel, who snoops around and suspects Marcus and Willie T. Soke are up to no good. His interactions with Willie and Marcus crack up the audience, as Gin does his best to steal the show in whichever scene he is in.

Speaking to Blackfilm.com, Mac went into detail about his character, unpacking what made Gin tick as a three-dimensional person and not simply comic relief. "Gin is someone who wants control," he said. "He's a bully in his own little world. He's a lot of people who have that kind of thought. I took a lot of my brother's character and I mixed it with Gin." Mac went on to praise his co-stars, such as John Ritter and Billy Bob Thornton, and lauded the film for being downright hilarious.

Bad Santa was written for James Gandolfini

Think of "Bad Santa," and the first image that comes to mind is Billy Bob Thornton as Willie T. Soke. He has become so intertwined with the character as Hugh Jackman has with Wolverine and Mark Hamill with Luke Skywalker. However, the part of Soke wasn't written for Thornton, who wasn't the first, second, or even third choice for the role, as revealed by the film's co-writer John Requa to The New York Times.

"[The Coens] asked us to write it for James Gandolfini," he said. "They had just worked with him on 'The Man Who Wasn't There.' We wrote the character in his rhythm, but Gandolfini didn't work out." Requa added that Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson were eyed as potentials afterwards, but neither actor worked out.

Bob Weinstein confirmed to the Times that Robert De Niro was another consideration and came very close to doing the film. Speaking about what he had heard through the grapevine, Thornton mentioned how Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage were approached as well. Ultimately, Thornton credited his manager for showing him the script and selling it to him as a unique and interesting project to pursue.

The director was offered another project around the same time

According to Movie Insider, there were two big Christmas comedies released in November 2003: "Bad Santa" and "Elf." While they were both centered around the festive season and the spirit of Christmas, they were wildly different projects and couldn't be more polar opposites if they tried. "Bad Santa" was much darker and geared towards adults, while "Elf" was a more traditional comedy aimed at the masses. Yet, there was a strange and surprising link between the films that most fans only found out about later on.

In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, "Bad Santa" director Terry Zwigoff explained how he could have helmed "Elf," which was eventually directed by Jon Favreau. Zwigoff revealed he received the script for "Elf" and was asked to direct it, but he only read a part of it before dismissing it as horrendous and bemoaned how most films were made to appeal strictly to children. "It's not based on any truth," he said about "Elf." "God, people are going [to see it] like crazy!"

Considering how both films were released at the same time, it's highly likely that Zwigoff would have had to pass on "Bad Santa" if he had taken "Elf." Fortunately, everything worked for all the parties in the end, as both films were really successful.

One critic made crazy demands over Bad Santa

In the early 2000s, Miramax was still under the Disney umbrella as a subsidiary. While most believe Disney didn't have an influence over what Miramax could release, that's actually incorrect as Disney had a direct say and influence in whatever Miramax did. In fact, Disney wouldn't allow the subsidiary to release films such as "Kids" and "Dogma," while it still reported to its big brother, according to Variety. Surprisingly, Disney allowed Miramax to release "Bad Santa," even though it publicly expressed its unhappiness at the project.

One critic from The Washington Times was unimpressed by how Disney showed its indignation despite it doing nothing to stop the movie from being released. The writer lashed out at "Bad Santa," saying: "Miramax has sold Santa down a moral sewer for some cheap laughs and a few bucks. We hope Disney will reassess its relationship with Miramax — in the spirit of Walt Disney." Disney would eventually sell Miramax to Filmyard Holdings in December 2010, per Deadline.

Lauren Graham's strange audition for Bad Santa

By 2003, Lauren Graham was a familiar face to audiences, having played the fan-favorite Lorelai Gilmore on "Gilmore Girls" for a few years at that point. Her role as Sue in "Bad Santa" was definitely something that fans hadn't seen from the actor before, as the character seemed obsessed with Christmas to the point that she wanted to get intimate with Willie T. Soke simply because he's dressed as Santa.

Speaking to Uncut, Graham revealed her audition process for "Bad Santa" was equally as bizarre as some of Sue's behaviorsin the movie. "It was all very strange," she said. "I had to audition doing the scene where I first straddle Santa. So I'm basically in front of a room full of executives humping a chair. I really did love Billy Bob though, even more than the chair." Graham added that she isn't much like Sue in real life, as she likes Christmas, but also understands some of the film's cynicism about it.

The director claims the studio messed with Bad Santa

"Bad Santa" has achieved cult status among its fan base, who believe it hits all the right notes of what a comedy film should be. While director Terry Zwigoff declared the original script as dark and funny, he bemoaned the interference of Miramax Films in the final cut, specifically the Weinsteins, who brought out their notepads and scissors. In an interview with IndieWire, Zwigoff confirmed there were additional scenes the studio wanted shot that he refused to do, so they got someone else to do them. According to The New York Times, it was Todd Phillips ("The Hangover" trilogy, "Joker") who helmed the reshoots.

Zwigoff revealed that he went to arbitration about it, since he had a final cut option in his contract. "Under the terms of that arbitration I can't tell you any more than what I've told you," he said. "A lot of what they shot they tested and it didn't work so they got rid of it anyway. Then I got to work to push it closer to my original version. It was damage control at that point." Nonetheless, Zwigoff wasn't left too happy about the experience and how it panned out in the end.