At the centre of Fatman are a kid and Santa Claus. However, don’t let that fool you. This is not a traditional holiday film.
Written and directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms, Fatman — out Nov. 13 in select theatres and on demand Nov. 24 — tells the story of Billy, a neglected rich kid who hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to take out Santa after the big guy acknowledges Billy’s really, really naughty nature with a lump of coal. Vancouver’s Chance Hurstfield. plays the 12-year-old kid with the reindeer-sized chip on his shoulder.
All this is happening while a cash-strapped and more bummed out than jolly Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) and his wife (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) turn their workshop into a kind of military industrial complex sweat shop in order to keep Santa inc. afloat.
“It’s not your ordinary Christmas movie. I mean it does have some elements of a Christmas movie,” said 14-year-old Hurstfield over the phone recently in Vancouver. “There’s Santa Claus. There’s a tiny bit of Christmas music. It takes place on Christmas. There’s snow. But the premise of the movie itself is not very Christmasy.”
Hurstfield’s character is an over-achieving kid whose neglect by his parents has turned him into a complex mess of neediness and maliciousness. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants. In this case revenge on what he thinks is a shortchanging Santa.
“He is a very sinister child. He compensates for the fact that his parents aren’t there,” said Hurstfield describing his character. “His dad is God knows where with God knows what girlfriend. His mom left him and the only family member he really has is his grandmother. She is very frail and he has to take care of her so he compensates for that fact by just being an evil person overall and when he gets that lump of coal for Christmas that’s a breaking point. That’s when he snaps and goes all crazy evil.”
The filmmakers wanted to put cynicism aside and wonder what kind of guy is Santa and how would he be in the world today.
“The word we use the most as a quantifier is probably ‘grounded.’ We wanted to drill down on what Santa might truly be struggling with in the 21st century,” said co-director Eshom Nelms via email. “How does he fit into our world? What might Chris Cringle have in common with everyday people despite his saintly nature? Our goal was to keep the film and its characters as grounded as possible, regardless of the fantastical scenarios.”
Fantastical scenarios including the casting of recovering Hollywood untouchable Mel Gibson as Santa.
Hurstfield was aware of Gibson’s complicated reputation, but said he saw nothing but a nice guy in the few interactions they had while filming.
“I remember the first time I got onto set and met with him,” said Hurstfield, whose resume includes co-starring alongside another young Vancouver standout Jacob Tremblay in the Seth Rogen produced movie Good Boys. “It was my first day on set and I was so nervous to meet him. I remember sitting with him at the lunch table and I was thinking can somebody pinch me right now? Am I really sitting with Mel Gibson?
“He’s a very funny guy. I remember him making a lot of jokes. He was everything I would have wanted him to be. He didn’t treat me like a kid, which I loved. He treated me like an equal. Like I was his co-star.”
Hurstfield was also quick to praise the directing brothers for being transparent about their plans and allowing him to wade in on Billy.
“They really let me shape a part of my character. They showed me the in between stuff. They showed me the storyboards, the sketches of how the scenes were going to play out … It was amazing,” said Hurstfield. “They really included me in the shape of the way the scenes were going to play out.”
The Nelms saw Hurstfield first via a video audition. They liked what they saw but they had some concerns.
“Chance sent in an audition tape from Vancouver. We were really excited about what he did with the character. Our only reservation and question was how’s he going to be to work with? He was so convincing as a little snot, but upon having a video meeting with him, he couldn’t have been sweeter! That really impressed us,” said Ian Nelms. “But what ultimately cinched it, was his ability to make adjustments during the meeting,”
Eshom Nelms echoed that saying that Hurstfield’s instant flexibility and fearlessness went a long way in getting him the role.
“We threw out a few things to try, expecting him to record later and send it to us, but he was adamant about just doing it for us right there on the spot. And he was terrific! We gave him a few more tweaks and he was able to turn on a dime and really nailed them. It was impressive,” said Eshom Nelms. “Right then and there we knew he was the right actor for Billy!”
Shot at the beginning of the year in Ottawa, Fatman wrapped just before COVID-19 rolled in and shut down the industry. At the time of the shut down Hurstfield was working on the ABC-TV family drama A Million Little Things in Vancouver. He plays Daniel Dixon on the series that returns for a third season on Nov. 19.
A Million Little Things, like 50 or so other productions running here in B.C., halted production in early March. Six months later it resumed production under the new health and safety protocols.
“It’s very interesting. It is definitely different from last season. With our cast we are a very huggy, lovey-dovey kind of cast as we are all good friends, so it is a little different not being able to hug each other after not being able to see each other for almost a year. But it’s going pretty smoothly,” said Hurstfield, who gets tested for COVID-19 twice a week. “You can never be too safe in times like these.”
While he is shooting the ABC-TV series Hurstfield is also doing voiceover work here in Vancouver. He has recurring roles in Paw Patrol as Harold Humdinger and also voices Spud in the series Chip and Potato.
Now in Grade 9 in online school, Hurstfield first began acting when he was four. His career took a noticeable turn upwards a few years later, partly due to his location.
“I feel like one of the reasons I have been so lucky to get a bunch of awesome roles is because I’m from Vancouver,” said Hurstfield. “Put it this way if I was in L.A. I would definitely not have some of the roles I have right now because in L.A. I’m going up against every other L.A. kid who is already established.
“But in Vancouver we have some amazing actors, but we have a bunch of amazing actors that haven’t fully established themselves in this industry yet. So Vancouver for me was a great place to start and build a resume.”