Dan Aykroyd talks about being the bad guy in Christmas with the Kranks
Dan Aykroyd knows comedy. He’s been doing it for decades, from the original cast of Saturday Night Live to classic films like Ghostbusters and The Blues Brothers. So when he signed up for the holiday comedy Christmas with the Kranks, he knew it would be more than just a series of pratfalls.
Aykroyd plays Vic Frohmeyer, a suburban guy with a militaristic Christmas spirit. When neighbor Luther Krank (Tim Allen) decides to skip Christmas, he demands gestures like a Frosty Snowman on the roof. While their confrontation builds to a ridiculous climax, Aykroyd hopes the film’s message still resonates.
“I think people will get a sense that in the end, the material and the tangible displays of Christmas – who has the most lights, who gives the most presents – really pales and fades in the aspect of the true values of the season,” he said. “The true values are community and charity and love of one’s neighbor. I think that comes through in the end of the picture. But I know I can totally see why this guy would want to slag Christmas. I feel that way every year right up until that first snowflake comes down and the fire starts to crackle and my snowcats all warmed up outside. Then I put on my cardigan and Frank Sinatra music, and I get into the spirit like everybody else at the last minute.”
But the social parallels in Christmas with the Kranks go even deeper. “See my character, Vic, the Frosty fascist, represents Western society. He represents the constraints and strictures in Western society on the individual. Here the individual Krank wants to slag Christmas, get away from it, not recognize the tangible and the material, go for something else. But society, the Western world, the culture, the suburb, the city, won’t let him and his wife abandon this compulsion. I often feel like that when Christmas starts in September as you see in the advertising and the commercial aspect of it. Who of us doesn’t say, ‘Oh God, that stuff’s starting again?’”
Frohmeyer is not a total invention though, and Aykroyd knows many of the real Frohmeyers in the world. “That guy exists in every suburban environment. He does. He’s the guy who’s wired in, he’s connected. He’s not going to let sanitation or the police or the fire doing anything that will compromise you and your tax dollar. I met that guy many times.”
A musician as well as an actor, Aykroyd still performs as The Blues Brothers today. But in the film, his character plays an instrument that even Aykroyd has not mastered, the accordion. “I can’t play a note on the accordion. That is purely and sincerely a recognition of my love of John Candy, because he was the Schmenge Brother. I loved how he used the accordion for comedy. When I was doing the part, originally I was playing piano. I said it would be much more interesting to do the accordion because it’s kind of unwieldy. It’s a better kind of comic prop. What the accordion brought, as well as a visual benefit, it put a little Louisiana/Cajun spin on the music. In our sing-along, the accordion kind of brings that Louisiana / Zydeco flavor in there. One of my favorite forms of music so it was kind of neat to put that spin on it.”
Christmas with the Kranks gave Aykroyd the largest part he’s had in a comedy in several years. Now accustomed to playing more supporting roles than leads, Aykroyd is happy to contribute on this basis. “I think it’s just naturally the way my career’s evolved. People heat up, they cool down. And sometimes the era of carrying these big comedies, big shows, like I had a good run in the 80s and the early 90s, it’s just a natural evolution. Right now I’m enjoying it because it doesn’t require me to be on a set for four months. These jobs that I’ve been taking, I can come in and do my work in three weeks to a month and then go off to something else. I’ve always loved the character work and I really enjoyed working on this picture because I got to play that alpha male, testosterone laden, Illinois dominator again. That was kind of cool to do that. And of course I got to play the accordion, smoke a pipe, wear this arch costume. I’m of the Peter Sellers school of acting. I like to start with the exterior, with the wig, the glasses, the walk, the voice, and then find the interior on the inside after that point. I enjoy the character work and I hope I do more of that.”
But many would argue that Aykroyd has hardly cooled down. Just because he’s not headlining a film does not mean that he’s forgotten. Still, the comedian is modest. “I had a beautiful run. I had a beautiful, beautiful run in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You know, talents and demands and the marketability of talent definitely heats up and cools down. I had my time when I was originating, writing, and producing my vehicles, and writing myself acting jobs and getting my material made. Right now, that’s not what’s occurring in the business for me. I’m busy doing other things. It’s just a natural evolution of talent. The younger generation comes along, takes over, and walks with it. I had a spectacular run. I’ve been doing this work, if you consider my cable TV show when I was 17, I’ve been in the business over 30 years. So I think enough’s enough, from any perspective.”
Still, he has a positive outlook on the current state of comedy. “It’s in a pretty healthy place. When you see guys like Mike Myers and Sandler and Carrey thriving from the Saturday Night Live side, the show is doing better than ever. You have a brilliant monologist like Chris Rock being recognized for his talent in the Oscar gig. You know, the stand-up scene is big with festivals all over the place. The improv scene is very healthy with offshoots of Second City and The Committee, and Upright Citizens Brigade. Groups like that performing in different centers around the country. Comedy movies are very healthy. Meet the Fockers, Ben Stiller’s work, the Farrelly Bros. I think that comedy’s in a pretty healthy state. There will always be things that make people laugh. The scatological will always be important. The humor of identification, seeing types that you recognize. Like The Incredibles, Mr. Incredible, I can relate to him. So humor and comedy is very, very strong. America is a land of people who like to laugh so it’s always strong here.”
Christmas with the Kranks is now playing.
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