Fans of “A Christmas Story” never gave up hope that a sequel to the iconic holiday film would materialize one day, and it’s finally here, after nearly four decades.
Thirty nine years have passed since the film was first released, but Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie Parker in the holiday hit, says he’s always kept a piece of the character close to his heart.
“I guess in many ways, Ralphie has never left me. He’s always been in there in some way,” the actor tells TODAY.com.
The 51-year-old reprises his role as Ralphie in HBO Max’s “A Christmas Story Christmas,” which premiered on the streaming service on Nov. 17, and is set a few decades after the original.
“A Christmas Story Christmas” finds Ralphie back in his childhood house after his dad, aka “The Old Man,” dies shortly before the holidays. Now a father himself, Ralphie attempts to make this Christmas magical for everyone, especially his children and his mom (Julie Hagerty).
While he’s in town, Ralphie reunites with several of his old buddies, including Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R.D. Robb), and an old nemesis, Scut Farkus (Zach Ward). His brother Randy (Ian Petrella) also makes an appearance. As it turns out, getting everyone to sign up for the sequel didn’t take a lot of convincing.
“I think they were all nervous to open the script because, you know, you hope it’s good. And then when they read it, everybody said, ‘Oh, man I’m totally in,'” Billingsley says.
From there, everyone excitedly prepared for filming, rehearsing on Zoom and planning how to make their characters look like they were living in the ‘70s.
“They started growing out their sideburns. There was a lot of fun in being able to create the look, the costumes, where they are, who they are, how they speak now etc.,” Billingsley explained. “It was a very nice thing to really be able to build their characters from the ground up.”
As for the timing of the film’s release, Billingsley says “the stars aligned in a good way” for the project, but it was hardly the first time the actor and his co-stars had ever talked about reprising their roles.
“There have been different ideas but it kind of just never felt right,” he said. “But I think (since it’s been) 39 years, we’re probably getting (to the point where it’s) now or never.”
Christmas movies are a dime a dozen, but the ones that have true staying power usually do a stellar job of balancing fantasy with reality, and that’s something “A Christmas Story” totally nailed. And it’s this raw look at family life that Billingsley thinks lends the film its timeless appeal.
“It was just a family that actually felt like a real family. It wasn’t presented as this sort of fake, idyllic family, but it wasn’t super dark either,” the actor explains. “There’s stress in the house, but you also never doubt the love exists there, so I think it feels very relatable.”
The holidays certainly bring out the best and the worst in us, and seeing a relatable family confronting all the joys and struggles of the holiday season certainly appealed to viewers, both past and present.
“It’s sort of refreshing to go, ‘Oh, good. I’m glad I’m not the only one. Look at these people,’” he says.
When he talks with fans, Billingsley often hears that they see their own families represented in these characters.
“They really feel like it’s their family. And they all have a tradition around it, how they watch it together, or they wait to watch it with their parents,” the actor says.
While planning out the film, Billingsley and his team made sure to make plenty of references to the original, but they were also intentional about making it a standalone film.
“With Ralph going home, you step through the past and are reminded of a lot of those things. So for us, that was a good way to say, ‘OK, well, these references are not just gags that we’re throwing out,'” he says.
Billingsley has always felt a special connection with his character and he tapped into a few of Ralphie’s most admirable qualities — like his dreamer tendencies — while developing the sequel over the last four years.
“Ralph as an adult has his own hopes, dreams and wishes of where his life is and still lives in his head a bit. He also has a pretty powerful imagination and has these nightmare visions of things that could go horribly wrong,” the actor explains.
Of course, much of the original film’s plot was centered on Ralphie’s quest to get a Red Ryder BB gun, and that tenacity is still present in the sequel.
“He’s a pretty relentless guy, and I think that quality held over to adult Ralphie,” Billingsley says of his character, who has a hard time building a writing career in the film.
Billingsley said the sequel was designed “as a puzzle piece” to fit right next to the original film and he’s thrilled that fans are responding so positively to it so far.
“It feels like it’s hitting the right chord of comedy and emotion for them,” he says. “I think they’re just excited to revisit these characters, see where they are and spend some more time with them.”
Now that the sequel is out, fans are naturally wondering if there will ever be a third installment, and Billingsley was happy to shed some light on that burning question.
“I guess after this one, I would say anything’s possible. I think we’d wait a while. We can’t wait too long. I don’t think anyone wants to see Ralphie on a walker,” he said and laughed. “But maybe Ralphie’s a grandfather one day. That’s potentially a final chapter. I think after this one, it’s safe to say anything can happen.”
This content was originally published here.