‘A Christmas Story’ star Peter Billingsley reveals why he’s finally reprising Ralphie and all the bad sequel ideas he’s heard over the years

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Peter Billingsley (Getty Images)

Of all the “Where are they now?” stories about former child stars, Peter Billingsley has one of the most fascinating.

The man as famous as Ralphie Parker, the air rifle-seeking Hammond, Ind. A Christmas story, did not disappear into anonymity at all. He mostly moved behind the camera as a producer and director. The now 51-year-old Billingsley often worked with close friends Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn and was a producer of Created (2001), The break up (2005), Iron Man (2008) and Celebrate Christmas (2008), and directed the 2009 ensemble comedy Couples retreat.

Billingsley never stopped acting either, in bits and pieces: He blew up the collective mind of the internet with an uncredited performance in the Favreau-helmed Elevenand resumed his Iron Man role of Stark Industries scientist William Ginter Riva in 2019 Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Returning to Ralphie, however, is something Billingsley has been pondering for a long time since wrapping up the 1983 classic, and he finally took a chance with HBO Max’s new sequel four decades later, A Christmas Story Christmas.

“It’s been officially about four years in the making,” Billingsley explains. “But over the years it would get into my head, and then nothing necessarily stuck. I don’t know if the timing was right or the starting point was right. There are some bad ideas I pitched. Or people who want to make money with it. Every time something is successful, you know Hollywood: ‘Do it again, do it again, do it again.’

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“But to me, just knowing the history of the original is almost sacred now, that movie, at this point. So you really want to have the confidence at the start to get it right. And so it took us a while to build the story around the elements we needed.”

Peter Billingsley in 'A Christmas Story Christmas' (Warner Bros/HBO Max)

Peter Billingsley in ‘A Christmas Story Christmas’ (Warner Bros/HBO Max)

Billingsley co-wrote and co-produced the story for the sequel with Vaughn (it is directed by Clay Katis from a script by Kaytis and Nick Schenk). In 1973, Ralphie is now a struggling science fiction author from Chicago, married with two children. something his father excelled at, on his shoulders.

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As for those bad ideas Billingsley pitched? “The low-hanging fruit [was always], ‘Ralphie wants something new. What object do adults want? And he will go crazy trying to get hold of it.’ [There’s] there was just no thinking about what that trip was.

“So the starting point [in A Christmas Story Christmas] is, what is Ralphie like as a father? How is his family? The statement we open the film with is that as a child you want the perfect gift, but as a parent you want Christmas to be perfect for your children. And he’s kind of in that shift where he’s in that place right now and that’s what he wants to do. And his battle is the passing of The Old Man recently so he can’t rely on anyone and go home [when] his life is not where he wants to be.” He has a great family. He’s in the big city. But with his career he is not quite up to the mark.”

A CHRISTMAS STORY, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Darrin McGavin, Melinda Dillon, 1983, (c) MGM/co

Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Darrin McGavin and Melinda Dillon in 1983’s ‘A Christmas Story’ (Photo: MGM/courtesy Everett Collection)

In a life imitating art, Billingsley admits he felt the pressure to revive an asset so cherished A Christmas story.

“One hundred percent,” he says. “We often described it as a real combination of offense and defense, which you generally don’t do in a movie, you just want to be offensive and go and score and win and make something great. But you have to be smart and protective about it. You must be disciplined. Eat your Easter eggs, but don’t dive in too long [when it comes to] your callback requests. Have the nostalgia but don’t overdo it. Create something new.”

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Billingsley credits Vaughn, Kaytis, Schenk and his cast (incl Aeroplane! veterinarian Julie Hagerty, who steps into the role of Mrs. Parker) by helping him dutifully return to the Christmas story universe.

“It took a while to get it right,” he says. “We had to have the pieces in place, and the resources. Otherwise it would have been doing something else. This was not the one that needed to be addressed.”

A Christmas Story Christmas now streaming on HBO Max. Billingsley will also be featured soon Christmas with the Campbellsin theaters and streaming on AMC+ on December 2.