As 2014 comes to an end, we will be kicking off a new column on inspiring personalities who dare to break the mould and do something different with their lives. Be it chasing their dreams or breaking the status quo, these stories are designed to motivate, and to ignite that unkindled spark in you. In the spirit of the festive season, our first personality is fittingly Santa Claus a.k.a Mick Foley, a decided treat for our readers who might just be hardcore WWE fans. His new endeavour is less than conventional…
What does Santa smell like? Peppermint and Cinnamon apparently. Not onions, garlic, B.O. or beef and cheese.
This was what Mick Foley, or WWE’s Mankind as he is better known, learnt as he embarked on his cinematic journey to becoming a professional Santa. As star and producer of the documentary film, I Am Santa Claus, Foley did not go with the traditional route of attending a Santa school due to schedule constraints (A quick internet search reveals that the Santa curriculum includes voice pacing and projection techniques for that perfect ho-ho-ho).
Instead, he connected with a 15-year veteran based in Chicago, who lives and breathes the very embodiment of St. Nicholas, down to the real snowy white hair and beard. Through Chicago Santa, Foley picked up the most important lesson of all – “Good Santas don’t play Santa. They become Santa.”
I Am Santa Claus began as a kickstarter project helmed by director Tommy Avallone, which raised upwards of $50,000 after Foley came on board as producer. Released in the US just last month, the film’s premise – Whose lap is your child sitting on? – is thought-provoking to say the very least.
The film follows a motley crew of four professional Santas and a rookie (Foley) for an entire year across 19 different states, providing a glimpse into their real lives beyond the red suit. The four colourful characters include the divorced and down-on-his-luck Santa Russell, the singing Mall Santa Bob, the homosexual Santa Jim, and tattooed Santa Frank who had his legal name changed to Santa Claus.
Foley’s transformation into a full-fledged Santa was a somewhat natural transition for the Christmas-loving WWE star. Other than playing Santa for troops in Afghanistan and other appearances for benefits, Foley’s infectious enthusiasm for the Yuletide season is most evident in his year-round Christmas room at home, peppered with souvenirs picked up from his annual family pilgrimage to Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire.
Incidentally, his very first debut as a professional Santa was at the very same Santa’s Village in the film. Becoming Santa proved to be an uphill task, with Foley enduring a five-hour itching and biting ordeal of bleaching his facial hair.
He ultimately decided against taking the easy way out by wearing a wig and fake beard, because of a few wise words from Chicago Santa – “Kids get scared when they don’t see a mouth moving.” Indeed, we can imagine how terrifying a funny-looking, hairy old man in a red suit can be to a young kid, especially if they looked like these ones.
Foley himself described the experience best in a piece he wrote for Slate:
The physical transformation was almost shocking. But the change was more than just physical. From the instant I sat down in the chair, I felt somehow wiser, kinder, more Santa-like. Even my voice was different. Gone was the exaggerated Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle from Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. In its place was a gentler tone, as I intuitively sensed that a meeting with Santa Claus could be a traumatic event for a little one.
Every interaction had the potential for both success and failure that marked the best moments of my in-ring career, the times when I stopped playing a character and actually became that character. If a child was the slightest bit hesitant about taking a seat on my lap, I asked if they might like to stand next to Santa, or have mom or dad in the photo.
I shared secrets about my favorite type of cookies (gingerbread) and gave Chicago Santa’s answer to a request for a horse (if you can feed and clean a neighbor’s horse for a year, Santa will think about it next year). I watched the eyes of a hesitant youngster fill with wonder as I referred to his grandparents as “Memmy and Brumpy,” showing the importance of a doing one’s homework. I even had a beard puller, and responded in a way I’d read about in Santa Sal Lizard’s memoir Being Santa Claus: “Ho-ho-ho, that’s what helps Santa’s beard grow.”
While I Am Santa Claus has only been released in the US thus far, the team has plans to bring it to Asia. In the meantime, all is not lost. The film is already available on DVD and Blu-Ray on Amazon, just in time to spread some yuletide cheer this Christmas!