Tim Allen has returned to the North Pole to reprise his role as the Christmas icon in The Santa Clauses, a miniseries debuting Nov. 16 on Disney+. But before he even got close to a beard or fake belly, he had notes, specifically about the direction of the franchise after the most recent installment, 2006’s The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. Below, Allen opens up about why he feels they “overshot the runway” on that one, why he’s so proud of this series and what the future holds for his work in the sleigh.
What did it take for you to slip back into the Santa suit?
As I get older in my performance career, it’s all about words on paper. When streaming increased the demand for content, I knew it was coming, so I said, “Show me some words.” It took a long time to get to that communication. I thought we overshot the runway on number three, and I wanted to rein it in. [I said], “If you have another story, let’s get together with some writers,” and they ended up getting Jack Burditt, who penned Last Man Standing. I know his mind, and he’s one of the most voracious writers I’ve ever been around. You can say, “I don’t like any of this or this,” and the next day, it’s all different, and he goes that way.
He did the same thing on this and said, “What do you think of this?” And I would say, “I don’t like any of it,” and then it was gone or expanded, and I would come back and say, “This is amazing.” We were all able to answer the question of why Santa fell off the roof. It started there. Why was that the beginning of the movie? It allowed us to go back to the very beginning. What happened to that guy? It opened up a door that was wonderful, and it set the stage [for a series].
Let’s go back to overshooting the runway on Santa Clause 3. I rewatched the films in preparation for speaking with you and that one had a different tone than the other two …
What happened was that we became infected by our own success. [1994’s The Santa Clause] was huge, but we had about $11 for special effects. [2002’s The Santa Clause 2] was an extension of that but now we could put lights in the window because we had more production money. By number three, all we had was money. The story kind of just got bigger and bigger. And the fact that Marty Short and I never did a scene together that was funny, I’m still going huh. That’s the funniest human being I’ve ever been around, other than me, and we never got a shot to do a real big scene together.
I said, “Somehow we gotta explain that one away and bring it back down to magic. Let’s go back to the beginning,” and Jack and his team — brilliantly, to me — added a couple scenes that really push for you people to see what’s going on about Christmas. It’s a very simple, wonderful scene with all the other Santa Clauses.
The premise of the series also sets up this question about Santa’s retirement as you recruit others to take your place. I’m curious if you’ve thought about how long you want to stay in the sleigh, so to speak?
I think about it all the time. Just this week, I’m off the road from doing my concerts and some of the final edits on this are done. I’m in the middle of building two hot rods, which I love to do, and they’re stalled. I’ve had the last four weeks of not doing much, and I’m doing this a lot (scratches head). I love what I do. I don’t know what the word “retirement” would mean.
I look at it like Hector Elizondo, who is this wonderful friend of mine who played on Last Man Standing. I think he’s 300 years old and you know, there are still women who say, “God, look at the body on that guy, wow!” I mean, he’s structurally, mentally, physically where I want to be. I want to go out like that. He still loves working. He just acting for those of us in my circle. I love what I do. I love doing stand-up comedy. I love building hot rods. I love designing artwork. I love the creative stuff I do. I don’t know what I would do if I retired, like, go golfing every day? Everyone says, “You gotta go down to Mexico and go fishing.” Put a hook through the lip of an animal and drag it out into the water? Yeah, I don’t know about that. So, I think about [retirement] but then I wonder, do I want to go out like a lion?
You’ve been a successful partner to Disney for a long time. I was just thinking about you when I saw the news that Home Improvement is now back on Hulu. Everyone in Hollywood has been talking about contracts and how deals have changed in the streaming era. With the Hulu deal and a new streaming series for Disney+, how comfortable are you with your deal?
It’s a loaded question. If I weren’t happy with it, I wouldn’t do it. It’s not what motivates me. I’ve been blessed and also made some great deals early on so I’ve got my bills paid. I could build stupid cars in my shop and take care of all my charities and my family units. I’m a business person, but I’m not sure that I’m a real accounting type of guy. If there is any political party I affiliate with, I’m with the party that my grandmother called, “Who’s gonna pay for it?” That’s the party I’m in. How you gonna pay for it?
I don’t know how, they say “amortize.” With a movie, it was pretty simple, and with a television show, it was Nielsen. I don’t know about this streaming thing. I don’t know how they do it. It’s hard for the fiscal part of the creative side to say, “You can pay us more.” I don’t know if they can pay us more or not. I don’t know what you’re making. They hide it. It’s a new world.
I know there’s interest on [The Santa Clauses] because it’s good, and the reason it’s good is because we worked our ass off to make this funny and wonderful for the audience. That’s the only reason we did it. How they remunerate everybody is a financial game because I don’t know anything about the streaming thing other than the fact that creatively it’s literally a hybrid of doing a multicamera TV show and a movie. We used [multiple] cameras for certain shots. I’m a director, and I’m looking at what we’re shooting. Are we going to cut to those other shots so we don’t have to move the primary camera around? They still move the primary camera around. So, I know for a fact it isn’t costing them what a movie costs. Who knows what it makes on the other side of this stuff? That’s the business side of this, and it’s new territory.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.