At this time of year, it's typical to see people in Santa suits, but Jenny McCarthy usually isn't one of them.
The comedic actress and author dons the red-and-white outfit to play Father Christmas' daughter in "Santa Baby," a whimsical ABC Family movie debuting Sunday, Dec. 10. McCarthy stars as Mary, a businesswoman who fled the North Pole after her ideas for updating the yuletide were dismissed. She returns home upon learning her normally jolly father (George Wendt, "Cheers") is too ill to complete Christmas preparations.
While seizing the chance to modernize her dad's methods at last, Mary gets many lessons in the reliability of the tried and true, including a key relationship she left behind. Ex-boyfriend Luke (Ivan Sergei, "Jack & Jill") has remained loyal to the Claus family, but Mary's new beau (Tobias Mehler) follows her from New York, intending to turn her natal home into a holiday-themed mall.
Complete with "elves" in the cast, the film also features Kandyse McClure ("Battlestar Galactica") as Mary's assistant and Michael Moriarty ("Law & Order") as a no-nonsense tycoon. The picture was directed by Ron Underwood ("City Slickers"), who then went on to make another new Christmas movie: NBC's "The Year Without a Santa Claus," which airs the following night.
"Santa Baby" strikes a balance between tradition and satire that suits the often-zany McCarthy fine.
"When they first asked me to do it," she recalls, "I thought, 'Finally! Something my son (who is 4) can watch with me!' I knew this was something ABC Family probably would play over and over until he's 19. Hopefully, he'll enjoy it all those years, too."
The prospect of being a female Santa struck McCarthy as "awesome. I couldn't wait to get into that costume. I kind of wanted it to be trendy looking, fitted with a capri kind of pants and knee-high boots. They had a sketch of what they thought it should look like, and I looked at it and thought it was great. It was empowering that a girl can maybe fill Santa's shoes."
In its own way, "Santa Baby" addresses complaints about the commercialization of Christmas that have dogged the holiday for years. "I do like that she tries to bring corporate technology to the North Pole," McCarthy says, "and it's clever how they make that not work. I just thought, 'What a perfect idea to bring the notion of email to Santa and have it be too high-tech.' I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.
"I remember reading this and going, 'I hope they're not expecting me to yuk it up. I'm going to play this as a real high-powered businesswoman.' Maybe there are a couple of moments [of overt comedy], but for the most part, I just told the story. Just being on the Santa's workshop set with my son when it was snowing in Canada really put me in a good, magical place. They spent more than $1.20 on this."
McCarthy also revels in the attention she's received as the best-selling author of "Belly Laughs," "Baby Laughs" and "Life Laughs." She deems the feedback "the most gratifying thing. I've found a new passion, which isn't to take anything away from acting. I just expect to be writing my own work sooner than later. I'm working on another book that will be coming out next October, and I'm also writing a television series for HBO.
"In my 12 years in this business, I kept thinking, 'Why can't people get my voice?' Well, it's because I have to give myself my own voice. I realize I'm the one who's going to have to do it, because no one else can read my mind. The books have helped that transition. I wrote 'Dirty Love,' which went to Sundance, so I'm slowly learning. It's like baby steps, but hopefully, it will get me to my ultimate goal."
Also seen recently on NBC's "My Name Is Earl" and in the feature film "John Tucker Must Die," McCarthy appreciates the overall variety she's had this year.
"I've been really lucky in dabbling in each area," she says. "My agent always laughs at me and says, 'Jenny, I don't know what to make of you. You can jump on the boys' side and give them what they want, the sex appeal, but you have more girl fans sometimes with your books on motherhood.' I think I just decided this year that if you want something, you have to make it happen for yourself."
McCarthy now has an additional identity, as the girlfriend of another famous practitioner of wackiness: Jim Carrey. "I feel we're left alone enough to be at a comfort level with it," she says of her relationship with Carrey, whom she recently accompanied to the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes wedding in Italy. "I've always been a good girl, pretty much. I'm kind of kooky in my work sometimes, but I like to stay home and watch television, and I think the press kind of respects that.
"There are dumb stories here and there about us getting married, but for the most part, I don't pay attention to it, nor does it really bother me. I'm grateful that we stay a little bit under the radar."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times