Zack Ward on Playing Iconic 'A Christmas Story' Bully Scut Farkus & Why the Film Still Resonates
When families gather for holiday festivities on or around December 25, chances are they flip through the channels on TV and find that perennial holiday classic, 1983's A Christmas Story (especially when TBS and TNT air it for 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve/Day, which the networks are doing again in 2018). It’s hard to believe that it's been 35 years since audiences first heard the immortal phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”
At the center of the classic story is young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), but every good protagonist needs opposition. And filling the role to perfection in the beloved yuletide comedy classic was bully Scut Farkus, played by Zack Ward. The actor has parlayed the success of the film into a lengthy career in Hollywood and business that continues today.
Ward has essentially grown up alongside what started as a sleeper movie and turned into an essential part of many people’s Christmas celebrations. The actor felt what an impact the project has had while attending a Toys for Tots charity event in Orange County.
“I walked outside the theater, and there was a line half a mile down the block,” Ward remembered, taking time out while directing a movie in production called Patsy Lee & The Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms.
“It was mindblowing to see that all these people had this connection to this thing that I’ve been a part of. It has been bananas.”
No matter how much time has passed, the plot and characters of A Christmas Story resonate today. This is why Ward believes so much in the film being shown unaltered.
“I believe the art form of cinema should stand for what it is and [you should] leave it alone just as you would any other art form,” Ward said.
“At the same time, I hope nobody that watches the film sees punching someone in the face as a solution to a problem. At the same point, do you back down from challenges your entire life because you’re afraid of confrontations?
"There is a way to handle things, and you have to choose who you want to be in that moment. In Homer’s Iliad, Homer goes on this journey to find all these MacGuffins and solve all these problems. But in reality, what he is doing is earning his father’s respect. He is becoming a man by facing these challenges.
“Same thing happened to Ralphie in A Christmas Story. You get the MacGuffin that it’s about this Red Ryder BB gun, but the BB gun is just a symbol. The BB gun is a symbol of him standing up and becoming a man as someone in his eyes who can protect his family. Becoming an adult.
"At the end of the film, his father gives [him the gun] and not his mom. He says he had one when he was his age. It’s a coming of age. For this, that was a coming-of-age moment. It was a perfect metaphor. It’s not about the thing itself, but the process it took to get there. I think mores and values have changed. This was 1983 when the movie came out and it's set in [the 1940s].
“I also ponder the intelligence and wisdom of revisionist history. At one charity fundraiser I did they actually took out the scene when the bully gets beat up. They took it out. Nobody asked for them to do that. What happens when you rewrite history to accommodate your modern feelings? You repeat it.”
Ward makes appearances in support of bully-prevention programs and organizations including for the Boys & Girls Clubs. Having had a single mother who worked two jobs, he is forever grateful to his local Boys & Girls Clubs for helping shape him. Charity fundraisers like that give him the opportunity to talk to people about the movie and how it affected their lives.
The far-reaching demographic and appeal of the story have led to other iterations like a theater production and A Christmas Story Live! that aired last year on Fox. Needless to say, Ward was not a fan of the latter.
“The one on television was disgusting. It was ridiculous,” he said. “You know when people try to pander to everyone and make a product that appeals to no one? That’s what happened with that horrible musical. I feel sorry for everybody involved.
"Look at the kid who played the bully Scut Farkus. He was ridiculous handsome. He looked like a model. That’s not what he is supposed to look like. Trust me. That’s not what I look like. It did not reflect real children.
“Do I think this movie will be remade? They’ve tried, and it never works. I don’t think you can. Look what they did with the musical, where they basically covered it with sugar to make it digestible for everybody.
"I think it’s great when they have different genders and ethnicities playing different roles. ... I think it was great with the musical that they brought in a more diverse cast, but when you have the bully look like he is on the cover of Abercrombie & Fitch at age 12, I think that is a problem.”
This leads to the question he admits never being asked before: With his experience in the industry and on the film, would he try his hand at doing A Christmas Story in today's time?
“I would, but that’s a huge responsibility,” he responds. “That’s something you’d want to develop over years. I would love to do something like that with [original director] Bob Clark’s blessing. Bob and I were good friends. We were very close, and I miss him dearly.
"It’s one of those things that [it would be challenging] to step into the shoes of what Bob Clark accomplished. I’m exponentially nothing compared to him as a director. I hope to fill his shoes one day or maybe his big toe. The writing and the world drawn upon by Jean Shepherd. He told such a story … The idea is daunting because you don’t want to mess with perfection.”
Outside his film, television and charity work, Ward serves as CEO of AllSportsMarket (ASM), an experimental exchange that operates similarly to a public stock market. Instead of companies, though, investors on the platform buy shares of teams in the NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA.
“It’s the first time in the history of mankind that sports and money have ever interacted without it being gambling,” Ward said. “Gambling, as we know, has a lot of problems. That’s why we have Gamblers Anonymous. This is the first time there has been an alternative. So, if you like sports and are a fan of your team, you can buy stocks."
Think of all the Red Ryder BB guns Ralphie could have bought if this had been around back then.
24 Hours of A Christmas Story, Monday, Dec. 24, beginning 8/7c on TBS & 9/8c on TNT