Film comedians seem to more often than not want to take the risk and stretch out into dramatic – after all it workd for the likes of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. Now, Will Ferrell tries something a little more subtle and meatier than his usual fare with “Stranger than Fiction”, an odd little movie from “Monster’s Ball” director Marc Forster.
In “Stranger”, Ferrell plays Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), a dour Chicago auditor for the Internal Revenue Service who lives a solitary and obsessive compulsive life. He suddenly finds himself the subject of wry narration only he can hear, a narration which begins to affect his entire life and is planning to kill him. Ferrell recently sat down with the media to talk about this unexpected and compelling new comedy.
Question: Your producer mentioned that one of the attractive things about casting you in a film like this is despite the fact that you’re a big movie star, there’s also a sense of ordinariness about you that makes you perfect to play a character like this. Can you identify with this guy, was it easy for you to tap into that aspect of him?
Ferrell: I’ve had moments in my life when I’ve thought if I wasn’t acting, if I wasn’t doing what I do and I had a career in the private sector and I didn’t have a family, that I do have some tendencies where I could really kind of have a monastic existence and be okay with it. You know, ’cause I think there’s been times in my life, well certainly recently as things get more and more hectic and chaotic, you kind of seek refuge in having some order and also just like very simple things and so, yeah, I identified kind of right away with Harold Crick.
Question: If you must have a voice in your head telling you everything they read in your life, whose voice would you choose to hear for the rest of your life?
Ferrell: Probably someone very sensuous and sexy like Julio Iglesias maybe, very soothing, saying you’re doing great, you look very handsome today, yes, yes, go buy a loaf of bread, yeah, yeah Julio.
Question: Do you look at a script like this and say this is my Oscar nomination, Jim Carey didn’t get one for “Truman Show” but I’m going to get one for Harold Crick?
Ferrell: Well first of all I don’t look at the script. I have like a team of fifteen people who read it and then if it gets through them then I have my dog look at it, just kind of sniff it and if he gives me a look which, sometimes I don’t know if he’s giving me the look or he’s just hungry, I have to decipher that, and then I’ll I read it and then I’ll put it down. You know this was one of those scripts that was kind of a talked about and everyone was kind of circling around it and so I was just, I don’t know, there was no agenda other than wow what an amazing project and I’d love to meet with Marc [Forster] and this would be fun.
Question: Was it a sure shot that you’d even do this?
Ferrell: No, no everyone keeps asking me, “How did you select this ‘Stranger Than Fiction’.” And it’s like believe me I wish I could have selected it, it was, you know it was really up to Lindsay [Doran] and Zach [Helm] and Marc [as well as the] people at Mandate and everyone kind of really talked about who was out there and Marc was very frank with me. I’m not very good at the hard sell, I didn’t know how to approach this. I didn’t know whether to say, “look I’m gonna camp outside your house for a month until you tell me I’ve got the part.” We just had a really kind of nice breakfast and just talked about it. We were like I don’t think this is a very over the top thing… We kind of had some shared beliefs in how it should be played and this and that and then he was like, so look I like you but I don’t know if I have to figure out if I’m going to use a dramatic actor who I think can pull off the comedy or vice versa. And so I said well I respect that ’cause you have to figure out who’s going to be the best for the type of movie you want to make and then I was lucky that he kind of decided on me, after Russell Crowe fell out.
Question: Do you rely on the director to sort of give you guidance how, sort of how, what level to play something like this or is it more of an internal process?
Ferrell: Yeah I, I kind of, especially in this relied on Marc heavily and at times. [He] has such a unique style in that you almost don’t even feel like you’re being directed. He’s very much, he’s like a phantom, a Swiss phantom and he kind really allows you to kind of explore it and figure it out. But, because of that there were times when I said to him, “are you okay with all this so far you haven’t said anything in like an hour.” And it’s like “no, no, no, no, no very good, yes , no, believe me I’ll tell you.” I landed exactly where he thought it should be and I think we have the same idea of who this guy was.
Question: At any time in your life did you have to feel like your character, like you’ve been living on automatic pilot and just do something about it?
Ferrell: I don’t know about living on a automatic pilot, but I’ve had times where I’ve decided to just test myself and my mettle and for no good reason other than it’s what life is. So you know I’ve had, even before I was acting, I had like one day in high school I decided to just show them my pajamas, just for no good reason, just [so] people would go, what are you doing, and just to see if I could stand the withering looks of people going that guy’s a weirdo. And it was a good test, psychologically, but like I do odd things and they turn out to be great kind of stepping stones for really being committed to what you’re doing, which later I think laid the ground work for being committed to character and which is kind of the only thing I think I really do well, is once I lock into something I’m pretty much that person.
Question: Did you lose any friends after the pajama wearing incident or did you gain more friends?
Ferrell: No I gained. I gained a lot more friends, yeah.
Question: And what did the pajamas look like?
Ferrell: They were, they were just kind of, do you remember goranimals, and no they weren’t goranimals. But I think they were just standard like basic kind of button up pajamas.
Question: Is it important for you at this point to change, switch gears as much as possible? This whole film is about life being a comedy of a tragedy, I mean do you want make sure that you can do both of those?
Ferrell: I would like to, I would like to kind of broader my audience for Danish porn as well.
Question: How is that different from American porn?
Ferrell: It’s, believe me it’s different. If you asked that question you don’t know. Yeah, I think it’s human nature to try to change it up and so hopefully I can. I really admire people who’ve had, you know, the Johnny Depps’ of the world, who are able to kind of do all these fun different things and that’d be fun to do to.
Question: You and Dustin Hoffman have an interesting relationship, kind of mentor type of thing until he decides to kill you but what was it like working with him?
Ferrell: It was, it was great, I mean it was, it wasn’t unlike the film in the sense that Dustin’s so entertaining to be around. Amazing stories and he was almost like a second director in a way. In fact better than the real one. For instance that scene where he tells me I’m about to do, you know that was the end of the first week of filming we had to shoot that scene and I’d never ever done a scene like that where I had to maybe potentially kind of go to pieces and Dustin was incredible, he was like, whatever you need. At one point he hasn’t even been on camera yet. He’s off camera and he’s crying and he’s like that kind of giving of an actor, you know he’s like, so he, that was, I kind of owe a lot to him I think when I watch the movie.
Question: What about the scene where you’re singing?
Ferrell: Dustin did not help me in that scene, no. That was a hard scene. That’s one of the scenes where it’s like if we do this right it’ll be a nice scene, if we don’t is this going to come off cheesy and lame and, but it yeah, it worked. But it was kind of difficult. I mean it was like to sing earnestly but to have the combination of, you know, I think Harold Crick is such a sweetheart and like he sings well enough but he’s not a great singer. I think you know a lot of that is obviously the performance that Maggie [Gyllenhaal] gives that she’s so kind of smitten by this moment. And yeah, it was a tricky scene in terms of that tone and I know Marc was really excited about it like the next day ’cause the editor got to look at the dailies, it was like, “oh this I gonna be a great scene,” so.
Question: Was that you playing the guitar?
Ferrell: That was me. I learned those chords and then we ended up kind of, I just played two, yeah. But I can play that song if you had a guitar, not really I’d have to learn it again.
Question: With a hit like “Talladega Nights” over the summer, doesn’t that put a lot of pressure on you to come back and have Will Ferrell star in another big box office hit?
Ferrell: What, what?
Question: Will there be a sequel to that movie?
Ferrell: Oh probably not, yeah I don’t know. I don’t think Adam and I are so excited about sequels. We’d rather just keep thinking of original ideas.
Question: You have “Old School Dos”?
Ferrell: Yeah that’s a lie to, I don’t know where that [came from].
Question: Wasn’t there supposed to be a sequel to “Anchorman”?
Ferrell: Yeah, no I think that’s because I said that, “oh that might be fun.”
Question: Oh really, that’s what happened?
Ferrell: But then it got written, “Anchorman” two in the works, you know. Yeah I guess if you stop and think about it there’s a lot of pressure, but I can’t worry about it.
Question: I heard before “Elf” was gonna be a sequel, no?
Ferrell: They tried to, yeah.
Question: And they gave up?
Ferrell: Well, after I read the script and said, “I don’t think so,” yeah.
Question: Are you prepared differently for a movie like this than to an “Anchorman” or “Ricky Bobby?”
Ferrell: Well this was unique in that it was, obviously “Anchorman,” those other things I’ve written and I’ve had a big hand in so I kind of know the whole project from the ground up and really kind of know the character inside and out. They’re just different types of films. This was something that was already kind of just so beautifully laid out that I almost, I just felt like I had to follow the blue print that was there and to let the words do the work and this wonderful cast and I just felt like I’d joined the Harlem Globetrotters. This all star team and I was just trying not to foul out of the game or throw the ball out of bounds.
Question: Are you done with the ice skating movie?
Ferrell: All done, yeah.
Question: And how’s that looking? How is your ice skating?
Ferrell: My ice skating is excellent. I’ve been asked to go to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics as an alternate so we’ll see what happens, fingers crossed. I’m starting to design my own line of sports wear for figure skaters.
Question: What is the visual of that?
Ferrell: Mostly birds, peacocks, eagles, falcons, birds of prey, it’s an exciting time.
Question: Did you ever think that you’d ever be a romantic leading man at this point in your career because this is a wonderful romantic role for you?
Ferrell: Yeah, I don’t know, I still don’t think of myself in that regard. I mean that’s where I’m hoping the Danish porn is going to kick in.
Question: What are you starting on next?
Ferrell: We’re gonna start this movie in February called “Semi-Pro” which is about the ABA. It was the step child sister basketball league to the NBA in the seventies that had all these outlandish characters and crazy kind of small market teams and so.
Question: Who are you playing in that?
Ferrell: I’m playing a basketball player.
Question: You said you’re reteaming with John C. Reilly for a film about step brothers. What’s the status on that film?
Ferrell: Yeah, we’re starting to write it right now and, and yeah we gonna be shooting that next year.