Did you know Mickey Rooney auditioned for Bad Santa? Here’s what happened

When most people think Mickey Rooney and classic Christmas movies, the first things that probably spring to mind are his iconic portrayals of jolly old St. Nick. Starting with the legendary Rankin/Bass stop motion gem Santa Claus is coming to town in 1969 and will run until 2008 A Christmas of the miser brothers, he has been the voice of Santa Claus for many over the years. According to authors Glen Ficara And John RequaHowever, Rooney was being considered for a much raunchier holiday-themed role — than Billy Bob Thornton‘s elf assistant Marcus in the black comedy Bad Santa. During an interview with Collider’s own Stefan WeintrauB for rabbit holeFicara and Requa shared the story of Rooney’s audition and their inspiration behind Marcus.


executive produced by Ethan and Joel Coen with Terry Zwigoff director, Bad Santa follows Willie T. Stokes (Thornton), a grumpy, alcoholic, sex-addicted con man who poses as Santa Claus in local shops to get them with his rad little helper Marcus (Tony Cox). However, Willie is terrible with children, and one Christmas his behavior finally catches the eye of a security guard at a mall (Bernie Mac). He can only find a possible way out with the help of a troubled child (Brett Kelly). The Christmas caper set a record back then for how much profanity was used, but it wasn’t for nothing as it’s now considered one of the best R-rated holiday movies. However, it was an awkward fit for Rooney and his old Hollywood background, especially considering his healthier Christmas filmography.

When the audition was brought up, Ficarra mentioned that Rooney was supposed to play Marcus and that the audition still existed on a tape with Zwigoff. Requa elaborated, noting how Rooney’s old Hollywood tendencies shone through at his audition. He explained:

“We’re doing another project, we’re going to town with Terry. We’re going to do another project with Terry, this amazing series he wrote about record collecting and about shellac records and it’s amazing. We’re gonna go to town with that now. We want to talk about this because we want Terry to rummage through his closet because there’s a VHS of Mickey Rooney auditioning as Marcus. Because the whole thing is Mickey Rooney would do the scenes and you know the profanity at the time was the most f-words in any movie and Mickey Rooney would do the scene and the time would come when he would say “shit”. He just walked away and paused and then he walked on and then another, like a ‘shit’, he paused and kept going. And then Terry said to him, he said, ‘Mickey, why don’t you say that? ” the dialogue?’ He says, ‘There is a lady present.’”

A man dressed as Santa Claus drinks and smokes in Bad Santa.
Image via Miramax Films

Rooney’s old-school gentlemanly nature was endearing and hilarious for both Requa and Ficarra, with the former emphasizing how relentlessly the actor upheld his beliefs. “I’m going to do it that day, but not right now because there’s a lady present,” Requa recalled to Rooney. Ficarra added: “Because there won’t be any ladies on set I guess. Because he’s Old Hollywood.”

Marcus was inspired by the Coen brothers’ Ed Gale stories

In the end, Rooney was never considered a serious candidate for the role of Marcus. They instead found their man in Cox, who made the character a holiday classic with his hilariously vicious back-and-forth with the not-so-cheerful Thornton, and Mac in particular. However, one small detail that makes Marcus particularly hilarious is his elf ears, which clearly don’t match his skin color. Explaining how that one aspect came about, Ficarra added, “And our favorite thing to do was show up on one of the days of filming Evil Santa Claus and We saw Marcus, Tony Cox, and he’s African American and he had the little white Caucasian elf tips and we said, ‘Oh we’re in good hands, this is a brilliant moment.’

By remembering stories about Marcus, Requa also remembered how Bad Santa first came together with the Coen Brothers. your stories about Ed Galewho played the little man in their 2000 classic Oh brother where are you? and has appeared in a number of acclaimed comedies, including space balls And Bill and Ted’s mock trip, Marcus inspired fiery comebacks with lines that reference his size. Alongside Marcus, Requa also noted that they ultimately conflated the Coen brothers’ original pitch with something related to the criminal antics of Donald Westlake. He explained:

“As Joel and Ethan [Coen] when we came up with the idea, we were at dinner with Joel and Ethan, and they said, ‘We have this idea for a film called it Bad Santa. He drinks beer and stuff.” [Laughs] That was the pitch. And then we were like, ‘Okay, well, we’ve got this Donald Westlake shit that we’re obsessed with, so we think we could turn around Bad Santa like in a Donald Westlake movie.” Then we drank wine and enjoyed ourselves over dinner and they started telling stories about the little person that was there Oh brother where are you? and he was like a complete dick. He spoke to the producer and he was like, ‘Why are you taking me to the 25th floor? I can’t reach the 25th button in this elevator.’ You know, he was like a total idiot. And we’re like, ‘Well, that’s going to be in the movie.’”

Bad Santa can currently be streamed via Fubo or Showtime as part of a bundle with other streaming platforms. Stay tuned here at Collider for our full interview with Ficara and Requa. You can watch part of the interview in the player above and check it out Bad Santa Trailers below:

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