His eyes, he swears, were not yellow. The braces were his own. And he was not a merciless bully ultimately felled by his intended victim’s explosive rage.
He was a 13-year-old making his first feature film. It co-starred a recent Oscar nominee in Melinda Dillon, a veteran character actor in Darren McGavin, a bunch of kids and the ugliest lamp known to humanity.
But it forever sealed actor Zack Ward’s fame as Scut Farkus, the villain of the beloved holiday classic “A Christmas Story.”
“I feel very blessed to have had that opportunity,” Ward said in a recent telephone interview. “ ‘A Christmas Story’ was not a giant feature film that had billions of dollars in advertising and dominated the marketplace. That didn’t happen. It was a little movie. It did not do well in theaters.
“It garnered a cult-like audience that spread itself across the country and hit its tipping point and really was chosen by the audience, not by the studio. I’ve been acting for 40 years, and you take it seriously, that type of situation is lightning in a bottle. If you had $100 million, you could not guarantee that level of impact again.
“Let’s be honest. I was a 13-year-old kid. It was my first feature film. I didn’t write it. I didn’t direct it. I didn’t edit it. I just showed up and was a jackass, and I had a face that people wanted to punch. OK. That’s fine. So I can’t take a lot of responsibility for it. I’m just honored to have been a part of the process, and I appreciate how rare that is.”
Ward will meet fans and swap a few stories on Saturday at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds in Coeur d’Alene, where he will be a special guest at Lake City Comicon along with actress Carla Perez (Rita Repulsa of “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” fame), pro wrestler Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and Seattle-based comic artist Blacky Shepherd (“Pumpkinhead”).
The con appearance gives him a chance to return to a region of the country he enjoys. His wife, actor/producer Jennifer McMahan, is from Seattle, and one of her closest friends lives in Coeur d’Alene.
In fact, Ward and McMahan married at her home last summer. Ward, who hails from Toronto, also did a six-episode arc on the final season of “Z Nation,” which filmed in Spokane, portraying a Marine-turned-zombie named Lt. Dante.
“I remember driving from from Washington into Idaho and knowing nothing, taking a little nap as my wife was driving, and waking up and being just gobsmacked by how beautiful the countryside was. Just blown away,” Ward said. “When shooting ‘Z Nation’ over in Spokane, it was great. I loved the town. It’s just beautiful. It’s got this great retro vibe to it and some really lovely people.”
It’s all been part of a four-decade career that started when he tormented Ralphie Parker. Since then, he’s had a varied career. He followed “A Christmas Story” with a performance as Moody Spurgeon in the 1980s TV miniseries “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avonlea.” He’s guested on everything from “NYPD Blue” and “NCIS” to “Deadwood” and “American Horror Story.”
He played Christopher Titus’ brother for two seasons on the Fox sitcom “Titus.” His feature film credits include the horror movies“Jason vs. Freddy” and “Resident Evil: Apocalypse.” He’s even returned to Christmas movies, with “2nd Chance for Christmas” set for DVD release in December.
Ward also has shifted into directing and producing. He co-wrote, directed and acted in the 2016 indie horror film “Restoration.” There’s a couple short films to his credit and a filmed pilot for a proposed series. He’s equally at home behind the camera as he is in front it.
“I see them all as extensions of the same universe,” Ward said. “And they’re very different experiences. … The nice thing is that I enjoy both of them. I enjoy the writing, I enjoy the editing, I enjoy the producing, I enjoy the acting, the directing. It’s all a lot of fun. It’s a lot of hard work, to be honest, but it’s a great experience.”
He’s currently directing an indie family/adventure movie titled “Patsy Lee and the Keepers of the 5 Kingdoms.” It stars James Hong, the veteran 90-year-old actor whose extensive movie credits include “Blade Runner,” “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Chinatown.” He also lent his voice to Mr. Ping in the “Kung Fu Panda” films.
“He plays a grandfather in a small town in Arizona who owns a curio shop. He and his granddaughter get embroiled in a sort of a mystical hijacking and end up being transported to a mystical land through a portal stone and have to find their way back” Ward said.
“I’m really excited about it because it’s done in an ’80s style with practical effects. Our creatures are actual existing creatures, not just digital manifestations. We have talking lizard people and tortoises and chicken people and rat people and witches and magic. It’s fun.”
His work in the entertainment industry in many ways traces back to his time on the set of “A Christmas Story” and working with director Bob Clark.
“My experience with Bob Clark the director was something that really set a standard for my life as a performer. There’s a moment in the movie … Peter Billingsley as Ralphie has just come down an alleyway, and he gets hit in the face with the snowball. I jump off the car and say, ‘Listen, jerk, when I tell you to come, you’d better come. What are you going to do, cry now? Come on, cry baby, cry for me.’
“I was 13 and this was the first feature I had done, and I kept on schlubbing my lines around, and I wasn’t really connecting to them, and I wasn’t playing them properly. And instead of getting frustrated, Bob just walked over to me and sat down right beside with me and ran the lines with me, and ran the moment, and he did it over and over and over, and he did it with a smile on his face.
“And he helped me not be intimidated by the scenario surrounding me, all the people waiting, but he focused on me being present, getting my stuff down, being prepared and having fun with it so I could find the nuance in it,” Ward said. “And he spent the time with a smile. It went on like five minutes, and when we shot it, it worked.
“What Bob taught me as a child is they way I’ve tried to be as a director, and as a producer, as a writer, as an actor, it’s find a solution. Because the solution lasts forever, and the emotional frustration is fleeting and irrelevant.”
It was a pretty profound lesson to learn as a kid.
“That’s because Bob Clark was a profound man with a lot of patience and kindness, so it makes a big impact when you treat people with respect.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.