‘A Christmas Story’ star Zack Ward says film's lesson is 'you have to take your life head on'
Actor Zack Ward, who played Farkus in the classic film 'A Christmas Story,' spoke with Fox News about his memories filming the beloved holiday movie.
EXCLUSIVE: For Zack Ward, this Christmas is about more than family.
The "A Christmas Story" star, who famously played the role of neighborhood bully Scut Farkus in the iconic holiday flick, has a heavy heart this season as his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in July and "very quickly declined." Ward said he and his siblings elected to admit their father to a fully assisted living environment where he could receive better care than they themselves could provide.
"In the process of going through that, you learn a lot about what Alzheimer's does to people and how little research has been done to help these people out," Ward, 50, told Fox News while discussing the parallels he’s recognized by handling the debilitating disease and the concepts of family and facing one’s fears as seen in "A Christmas Story."
"There are not only the people who are suffering from Alzheimer's but the families that it affects," Ward continued. "There are around five million Americans living with Alzheimer's, but it affects another 16 million family members and friends who are trying to take care of that individual. And I can't agree that it's something that we should just throw our hands up at and just go, 'well, that's the way life goes.’ I think that's ridiculous."
The Alzheimer’s advocate said research should be treated "as an investment for your children’s futures" as they may one day find themselves living with the degenerative condition and may also require caregiving attention from others.
"If this was happening to people who are 40 years and under, the research would be through the roof," said Ward. "But there seems to be an attitude toward people 65 and older that we just kind of forget about them and we put them in a corner and wait for them to die. That seems really myopic and shortsighted."
Ward said he tackled facing his fears of caring for his own father before admitting him for better care and believes his character in the "cherished family heirloom" that is "A Christmas Story," is a representation of overcoming those fears.
"I think one of the greatest moments for Scut Farkus is when he does get defeated and then his hat falls off and he's got the bloody nose and he's just a little boy who's sniffling," Ward explained.
kZac Ward said Elon Musk should donate $50 million to Alzheimer’s research. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
"That I think, teaches kids that bullies are people, too. And the fact is, once you face your fears, you can overcome that 'bully' who is intimidating you," he continued. "And I don't think that it has to do just with getting into a fistfight, but I think it's a metaphor for life. If you are scared of something, face it. If you are intimidated by something, address it. If you want to overcome the hurdles in life, you can't do it by going down the side street to trying to avoid the confrontation. You have to take your life head on."
For the Parker family in "A Christmas Story," much of their existence centered on facing their challenges as a family and Ward believes other families see themselves in a similar position as the Parkers, especially given the grave uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
"If you look at the film, it kind of takes place in an ambiguous year, roughly between 1939 and 1941, because that's when 'Little Orphan Annie' was on the radio. So those are kind of time-date stamp markers that are in the movie," said Ward.
"And if you're looking at that, you understand that the country was going through a depression. You see that they're always eating red cabbage and complaining about it. They're always eating meatloaf, which is how you get cheap meat to stretch farther. They can't afford to replace the heater of the house, which is very funny – but then you also remember, 'Oh, that's why people freeze to death.' They can't afford new tires on the car. They need to haggle for a Christmas tree. Their only form of entertainment is filling out crossword puzzles – nothing against them – but obviously, this is a family that is eking out an existence. This is a family that is trying to survive a rough time and do the best they can."
Ward said in helping his father through his diagnosis, he was taken aback at how much his father had declined considering he had worked as a general contractor and had helped Ward remodel his home. So when Ward’s father suddenly got lost on the way to his home one day – Ward knew something was amiss.
"It was late June, early July, and my father was on the way to my house here in Los Angeles and he got lost. He got off at the wrong off-ramp and then he called me and said he was lost – and he's been to my house a couple of hundred frickin’ times. So getting lost was very surprising," Ward explained.
Ward added that realizing his father couldn’t position himself directionally "broke my heart because my dad was a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout with the order of the arrow," he said. "I mean, this dude used to go up into the mountains, with a fishing tackle, a bedroll and a hunting knife and spend three weeks up there being the bionic Boy Scout. And now I had to drive over and find him and bring him back to my house. And that was the moment where I finally sat down with him and asked how often he gets lost."
The actor described the sight of watching his father wither in front of him as "the grossest, most heartbreaking experience."
"The most tragically terrifying thing I've ever watched is my dad standing in the middle of a room, locked and staring at a wall and just staying there for three or four minutes at a time, staring at a wall. And I can't tell you the horror that brings to me."
Ward said seeing his childhood hero become a shell of himself is what motivates him to want to bring awareness to the effects Alzheimer’s unleashes on those who suffer from it and their families.
"You’re talking about watching someone you love fade away in front of your eyes, right in front of your eyes. And it's – and what's very interesting about the Alzheimer's Association is that you're talking to people who have gone through this," he added.
Because of the stout familial component associated with "A Christmas Story" and Alzheimer’s respectively, Ward said the fact that with Alzheimer’s nothing "goes according to plan," many others can relate to the idea regardless of whether a loved one experiences the disease.
"This is lower-middle-class, barely middle-class family and they're struggling to keep a level of sanity," he said. "And even at the end where what was going to be the epitome of their dreams was this big turkey dinner – they had to save up for it and they don't even get that. And then they end up being in a Chinese restaurant, which would be the only thing that was open back then over the holidays – and they're together."
Ward continued: "I think that's why the movie translates cultures and translates generations is because it's always about the family coming together and earning one another's respect in the eyes of the patriarch or the matriarch of the family – somebody that you care for, that you're really trying to become someone that they respect and that brings you together. So I think that's the whole process. The thing about 'A Christmas Story' and why people love it is they see their own lives in the movie. The fact that nothing ever lives up to your expectations."
Ward said families around the world should cherish the moments they’re able to spend with their loved ones and should use the holiday season, especially this year, as a reminder that our time is precious.
"It just reminds us, things never work out the way you want them to but when you're together, that's OK," he said. "So I think that's the same thing with Alzheimer's is that it's not going to work out the way you want it to. There is no remission, but if you can sing together and at least share a smile then you will have those moments. And that's where the beauty of life actually lives."