February 24, 2008

Will Ferrell Interview - February 22, 2008, Chapel Hill, NC

by Neil Morris

Will Ferrell, with Semi-Pro director Kent Alterman

The dual purposes for Will Ferrell’s presence in Chapel Hill, NC on Friday, February 22, 2008 were the last leg of his nationwide Funny or Die campus comedy tour and promoting Semi-Pro, being released in theaters on February 29. I was part of a press contingent who sat down with the famous comedian to discuss a variety of topics, beginning with the genesis of the Funny or Die tour:

Ferrell: “We thought of the tour last August as a way promote the Funny or Die website as well as Semi-Pro and get both the website and movie studio to pay for it. It wasn't anything I've ever done before, but it seemed like a fun thing to get up on stage and think of some crazy reason to travel to a lot of colleges that wouldn't normally get (to host) something like this.”

On the heels of Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, and Kicking and Screaming, Semi-Pro is Ferrell’s fourth sports-related comedy, which Ferrell claims is sheer coincidence:

Ferrell: “That's been a line of questioning I’ve gotten a lot – whether I'm obsessed with sports comedies, and I'm not. They're fun to do, but I don't have this list of 80 sports-related movies I'd like to do. The movie is really a parody of this insane league, the ABA (American Basketball Association), which a lot of people don't realize was actually a league, and it's not a movie about playing bad basketball. When the ABA ended in 1976, I was nine-year-old and kicking ass in the third grade, so I wasn’t really aware of the league until my adult life when reading about it and collecting information. But, when you read accounts of the ABA, you can't believe the stories and that it survived for 9 years. It was behind the 8-ball the entire time, but it had a larger-than-life cast of characters and personalities that drove that thing, and that's kind of what we're parodying.”

Ferrell’s recent career has followed a familiar trend for many film comedians, mixing his trademark brand of madcap humor with more dramatic roles such movies as Stranger Than Fiction and Winter Passing. But, according to Ferrell, his career is not “confined to any master blueprint”:

Ferrell: “I obviously have a number of things I'm developing, some slightly more dramatic and others are out-and-out comedies. But, I love those two experiences, especially Stranger than Fiction – I'd love to do more films like that. But, I never want to be guilty of forcing that issue because I want everything to feel like it fits. I'm definitely not the comedian who has the agenda of, ‘Please, I'm begging you to take me seriously.’ It's so much fun to do dramas and other types of movies and take on those challenges, but I love doing comedy, too.”

On working with his longtime collaborator, Adam McKay, with whom Ferrell cowrote the screenplays for Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and the upcoming Step Brothers:

Ferrell: “We kind of hit it off on Saturday Night Live, where we first got hired together. We just share the same sensibilities, we tend to think the same things are funny, and we like working in the same style. Even if it's a crazy idea, we're like, ‘Great, write that down.’ We like to work fast and messy and clean it all up later. We found at SNL that we loved to write sketches as fast as we could. We would take about an hour where a lot of people would toil all night long on one sketch, and we could never figure out why. Whether we work 8 hours or 1 hours on a sketch, they all came out about the same. What's unique about us is that a lot of times we can't remember who came with an idea. We never say, ‘No, I thought of that.’ Usually, we say, ‘I think it was Adam,’ or ‘No, I think it was Will.’ We are very egoless in the way we work.”

Due for release this July, Step Brothers costars Ferrell and John C. Reilly:

Ferrell: “It's different in that it's not based on broad, over-the-top characters. It's pretty grounded, or at least as grounded as Adam & I can get. It's about family life: two 40-year-old guys who still live at home whose single parents then get married so we have to become stepbrothers. So, in that regard, both characters refuse to get jobs and have a list of excuses why they don't feel motivated. It's our little way of saying that there are certain people out there who have that kind of righteous indignation. We all know people who say, ‘As soon as I get my welding degree, I'm going to get a job, but I'm NOT going to do that until I get my car fixed.’ We all have characters who are like that in our lives, so that's what we're playing around with there.”

Who would win a pickup basketball game between Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, and André Benjamin, his Semi-Pro costars?

Ferrell: “Well, I would, because I have great fundamentals, and that's what wins games ultimately…I would think.”

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