Peter Billingsley visited Buffalo Grove for several hours on Monday.
But that’s OK, because he didn’t really want to be noticed, and besides, 25 years have passed since Billingsley became a holiday icon as little Ralphie Parker, the cherubic star of “A Christmas Story.” At 37, he only vaguely resembles that lovable kid forever clutching his Daisy Red Ryder BB rifle.
Monday, a bundled-up Billingsley stood kitty-corner from the Buffalo Grove Village Hall in a marrow-freezing wind chill to direct a scene from his romantic comedy titled “Couples Retreat.”
The shot consisted of a van making a turn off eastbound Lake Cook Road on to southbound Raupp Boulevard. In the final film, star Vince Vaughn – who grew up in Buffalo Grove – will be “driving” the van.
“It’s winter and I’m having a tough time talking!” Billingsley shouted above the frigid, whining wind, “and they tell me that this isn’t even that cold for Chicago!”
Billingsley wore a thick wool hat, heavy-duty coat and a pair of New Balance 587 runners. While waiting for his crew to set up, he extolled the virtues of making a movie in Buffalo Grove, and he almost sounded like a commercial for the local filmmaking industry.
“The characters in the movie are from this area, so it’s really nice to be shooting here,” he said. “I love it! Obviously, since Vince is from here, he has an affinity for it. Having come in as an outsider, it’s been a terrific experience. The film crews. The local cast. The film commission from the top down has been a class act.”
“Absolutely. You see these crews? Second to none! That’s why I hope the state continues to get work. We always look for an opportunity to bring films here.”
“Couples Retreat” marks Billingsley’s first feature film as a director. It stars his longtime friend Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis and Malin Ackerman in the story of four couples who attend a marriage retreat, only to discover that they can’t avoid the counseling services.
“Our last location was Bora-Bora,” Billingsley said. “You can’t get more severely opposite than going from Bora-Bora to this!”
On Saturday, Billingsley directed Vaughn and his co-stars for a few shots at O’Hare Airport. The crew remained behind on Monday to shoot the frosty exteriors.
Billingsley has appeared in numerous TV shows and movies as an actor, most recently in cameo roles in projects that he has produced. These include “Four Christmases” (with Vaughn), “Iron Man,” “The Wild West Comedy Show” (with Vaughn) and the Chicago-shot “The Break-Up” (with Vaughn).
How did this partnership with Vaughn begin?
“We met as friends when we were acting on an ‘ABC After School Special’ about the dangers of steroids,” he said, the cold daring him to change his facial expression. “I played his best friend, who was on steroids. We just became good buddies. He had recently moved out to Los Angeles from Chicago. We were both around 18 or 19 years old. We just became good pals.”
The crew was ready for the shot.
Billingsley called for action. The van rumbled down the street, then turned. The scene went perfectly. The crew packed up for an additional location in Chicago.
And Billingsley never shot his eye out.