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Surrey’s ‘Bad Santa’ kid, now 28, finds ‘gold’ playing paralegal on TV series ‘Family Law’

Two decades after starring in Christmas comedy, actor Brett Kelly is still recognized as Thurman Merman
Surrey-based actor Brett Kelly in a scene from “Family Law,” a Vancouver-filmed television series shown on Global. (Submitted photo)

In December every year, chances are greater that Brett Kelly gets recognized when he’s out in public.

As an eight-year-old, the Surrey-raised actor played lovable loser Thurman Merman in the holiday comedy “Bad Santa,” released in 2003.

Now aged 28 and living in the Guildford area, Kelly is still acting, and people still recognize him as “the kid” from the cult-classic Christmas movie, which starred Billy Bob Thornton as a drunk, foul-mouthed mall Santa.

“If Christmastime is coming around and I have my hair fairly long and curly, yeah, I get it quite a bit,” Kelly conceded. “It’s that cyclical nature of a Christmas movie, coming around every year, and I do get recognized.”

These days, people on the street might recognize Kelly as Cecil Patterson, the paralegal he plays in the Global television series “Family Law,” a legal drama that also offers some laughs.

Now in its first season, the Vancouver-filmed show has kept Kelly busy during the pandemic, and he’s loving the gig.

“With the series, it’s going about as well as we ever could have imagined, I think,” Kelly told the Now-Leader in a phone call.

“Family Law” stars White Rock-born actor Jewel Staite, who plays a recovering-alcoholic lawyer, and Victor Garber, her estranged father and boss in the family business.

At the firm, Cecil’s skills are woefully under-utilized, and Kelly’s recurring character isn’t good at pushing back. Also, he may or may not be in love with the bubbly new receptionist.

“It’s a lot of fun playing more of a lighthearted role like that,” Kelly explained. “A lot of people would consider the show to be a drama, but we don’t focus in too hard on being overly dramatic, and it’s nice to play in something that has a good amount of levity to it as well.

“Anything with a nice comedic touch is where I find I get the best opportunity to shine,” he continued. “And with the writing we’ve got, I’m so lucky that I’m getting served up so much gold. With that and working with the other actors, it makes my job very, very easy.”


PICTURED: Surrey-based actor Brett Kelly in a scene from “Family Law,” a Vancouver-filmed television series shown on Global. (Submitted photo)

The TV show is the latest in Kelly’s acting career, which began with his first commercial at age six. He scored some small film roles leading up to “Bad Santa,” and later worked in the TV Series “Dead Like Me” and a lead in Paul Feig’s 2006 film “Unaccompanied Minors,” among other projects. He reprised his role in “Bad Santa 2” in 2016.

There’s been no talk of filming a third “Bad Santa” movie, Kelly insisted.

“To be completely honest, with how long it was between the first and second movie, I think we were all surprised that it got off the ground when it did – something like 13 years between them,” he said. “Never say never, but I think we’re getting pretty close to saying there won’t be a third ‘Bad Santa’ movie.”

That first one, he admits, would definitely be tough to top.

“I think when we made it, I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams thought it would still be as relevant 20 years later,” Kelly continued. “There was probably more of a feeling of, will it ever even get released, you know, because of the backlash at the time. It was kind of one of the first things that really turned up the dial on a holiday movie, even in that stretch in the early 2000s of comedies that were OK with being extremely filthy. It was one of the first in that wave, where some people wondered if there’d be an audience for it, even, never mind being watched so many years later.”

The “Bad Santa” movies gave a young Kelly the opportunity to work with some talented adults, including Thornton, Bernie Mac, John Ritter and others. Mac died in 2008, five years after Ritter.

“One of the things I was sad about is that I never really got a chance to work with either of them, Bernie or John,” Kelly said. “With my role in the movie, our paths never crossed. I never met John Ritter, and my path with Bernie Mac only crossed once or twice, during the shooting.

“Looking back, it’s surreal to see some of the names involved and people I did get to work with, like Billy Bob (Thornton) and then in the sequel, Kathy Bates. It’s like, you look around and think, ‘Hmm, someone might be a little out of place here,’ and then you realize how lucky you are to work with that kind of talent. I realize how lucky I am with the opportunities I’ve had because of ‘Bad Santa.’”

Kelly and the others involved in “Family Law” filmed the second season last summer, and news about a third could be forthcoming, given the popularity of Season 1.

“Anytime you’re part of something that people seem to be responding to, it’s great,” Kelly said.

“For me, the most exciting thing about doing this show is showing off Vancouver, and in this, Vancouver is such a big part of the show,” he added. “Usually, they go to such painstaking lengths to hide Vancouver and make it look like somewhere else, and you never usually get to see the city for all that it is.

Acting, he said, is “the best job in the world,” even though it’s not always easy.

“There are some struggles that come with the job, but when you get to actually do the work, and you get to work with the kind of people I am on ‘Family Law’ right now, it makes all the hard times worth it, especially in my home town like this. It’s probably the best job I could ever imagine.”

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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