Every day is Christmas for this jolly guy. Well, at least when he's onstage playing Santa in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. But his favorite job at home in New York City is picking out the perfect presents for son Blake, 19, and daughter Kate, 12.
Q. It's your 25th year as Santa at Radio City. How many times have your kids seen you as St. Nick?
A. Between the two of them, probably more than 100. But they didn't always know I was Santa. They thought I just shared a dressing room with him and helped with his acting and singing. Kate used to call me backstage and say, "Oh, hi, Dad. Is Santa there?"
Q. How did you land the gig?
A. While auditioning for the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, I was asked to do a Santa impression. At the time, Santa only made a brief appearance in the show, but eventually he became the emcee—and Scrooge was phased out.
Q. You must do well under pressure! Had you ever played Santa before?
A. No, but I found inspiration in my late Uncle Walter. When I was a kid growing up in Kentucky, he would put on a beard and a Santa hat and tap at the window. By the time my brother and I ran to see him, he'd be gone. We could have sworn we heard reindeer bells and hooves on the roof!
Q. Is it sometimes easier being Santa than Dad?
A. Sometimes? Try all the time! He gives me access that most parents don't have. In fact, friends ask me to talk to their kids as Santa when they're misbehaving or doing poorly in school. Kids listen to Santa.
Q. How did Blake and Kate react when they found out Santa doesn't exist after all?
A. Kate took it especially hard. She believed in Santa until someone at school told her he wasn't real. She fought back, saying, "Santa does exist—my dad works for him!" So when I finally told her the truth, she was pretty mad. But once I explained to her that the magic and spirit of Santa live in all of us, she embraced Christmas again.
Q. What are your family's holiday traditions?
A. When the kids were younger, we got up really early on Christmas to open presents and eat breakfast because I always had a show in the afternoon. But now we spend Christmas Eve together eating, talking and opening gifts. Then they spend Christmas Day with their mom. They also see Radio City Christmas Spectacular several times during the holidays, watching from just about everywhere: the seats, backstage and my dressing room.
Q. What gifts are always on kids' wish lists?
A. Little boys still ask for superheroes and little girls still want dolls. But as they get older, the most asked-for gift for both genders is video games and cell phones. Adults want cars.
Q. What do you do in the offseason?
A. I'm the Artistic Director of the Twilight Theatre Company, a not-for-profit theatre in Kentucky. I direct plays, teach acting and perform in film, theater and television if time permits.
Q. Has a celebrity kid ever come to you? What did he ask for?
A. Macaulay Culkin used to hang out in the dressing room with Laura Bell Bundy when she was in the show. Celebrity kids are just like other kids. They don't ask for anything unusual except to jump up and down on my sofa in the dressing room.
Q. What do you say to kids who tell you that you aren't the real Santa?
A. That has only happened once. I said, "If you don't believe in Santa, then Santa will not believe in you—and there will be no Christmas or toys at Christmas." He quickly became a believer.
Q. What if a kid asks for an unrealistic gift?
A. I try to explain that it's not possible to own something like a person or reindeer or elf. How would she like it, for example, if someone wanted her as a gift? I remind them that they can't get something that is not available to be given.
Q. When the holiday season ends, are you eager to put Santa to rest till next year?
A. Santa is always with me. I've been working with this character for so long that he is as much a part of me as I am of him. He's integral to my kids' lives, too. Blake called me from the University of Syracuse last year and told me he missed being at the theater with me.
Q. Does being an actor make you a better dad?
A. I think it makes me more fun. But Kate might say it makes me more goofy! Just the other day we were walking around the city and I was singing out loud. Kate said, "Dad, it's your job to embarrass me, isn't it?" And I told her, "Yes, yes it is."