Will Ferrell does few print interviews, perhaps he feels the films speak for themselves. But Ferrell, whose success has been dramatically speedy to say the least, is well and truly behind the driver’s seat as a racing driver who peaks too quickly and tries to make a comeback after a major accident. As hilarious as it is heartfelt, here is a movie that the ex-SNL star is clearly proud of. Quietly introspective, the actor talked to Paul Fischer.
Question: YOU’RE REALLY FUNNY IN THIS, BUT YOU LET EVERYONE ELSE BE FUNNY TOO.
Ferrell: Oh, that’s very generous of me. Yeah, I guess so. Well, I’ve always been a fan of the ensemble and we’ve always – Adam MacKay and I, we wrote the script together and Adam directed it – been firm believers in that it’s more fun to have a lot of funny characters than just one. That’s the goal. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, and that also takes the pressure off of the main character too. So it’s a very sly plan.
Question: SO WHERE DID THE INTEREST IN NASCAR COME FROM?
Ferrell: This whole thing was actually a byproduct of having a lot of difficulty getting ‘Anchorman’ made. We knew nothing about NASCAR and every studio passed on ‘Anchorman’ our first time around and then it really wasn’t until ‘Old School’ came out and it was the usual game of, ‘We always loved that script.’ But it was just difficult for them to wrap their heads around all of it, that it was a comedy about newsmen. We were just like, ‘No. Think of them as crazy characters.’ In commiserating over that we should just pick a topic that everyone knows about and is really accessible like NASCAR and it was like, ‘That’s a good idea.’ That’s kind of how it started out. Then of course we gained a little more insight after going to track and races and that sort of thing. But I think that in a weird kind of backwards way our ignorance about the sport allowed us to feel free about creating outlandish scenarios and characters that had we known too much might have edited us in a way. So by the time that we started learning about it we had already written a lot of it and so it enhanced what we already had.
Question: HOW DOES THAT PROCESS DIFFER FROM DOING AN ‘OLD SCHOOL’ WHERE SOMEONE SENT YOU A SCRIPT?
Ferrell: I mean, it’s kind of what you would expect in the sense that you’re creating it from the beginning and every step of the way and have obviously worked on the character from the ground up and the other characters and that sort of thing. In terms of like ‘Elf’ and ‘Old School’ where you’re more offered the part, it’s just apples and oranges. It’s a different process in terms of people still want you to inject your influence in the project that you haven’t written and I’m constantly being offered to rewrite things and that sort of thing. So it’s just two different processes.
Question: SO WHEN YOU BRING SOMEONE LIKE SACHA BARON COHEN ON DO YOU LET THEM TAKE OVER THAT CHARACTER OR IS IT WRITTEN IN THE SCRIPT THAT IT WAS GOING TO BE A CERTAIN WAY?
Ferrell: A lot of the basic setup of how that character was written and then what we usually like to do is just take a week of rehearsals to work on the scenes and then improvise them and kind of put that on tape and try to go back and film all the options that we thought of in an improvisational setting. And of course we just kind of let Sacha run with it, which is kind – we almost have to warn a lot of the cast members. In some way it looks like a wonderful opportunity thought a lot of actors are intimidated by it. ‘What am I supposed to say now? What if it’s not funny?’ We’re like, ‘Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be funny. If it happens it happens. We still have our script here.’ So it can be a hard thing to let go of, but this cast was really open to doing that.
Question: DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW THAT YOU WANTED A FRENCH DRIVER TO BE THE VILLAIN?
Ferrell: Yeah. We were really, as we were writing it were like, ‘Who’s going to be the villain?’ First it was Cal’s [Johnson] character that was going to be my arch-nemesis and this, that and the other. Then we started making Cal more of a buddy and it was like, ‘What would be the one thing that would be a real threat to this world? Maybe it’s someone who is Formula one? Oh, that’s good and it makes sense on a sports level. What about making him from France and he’s gay? Okay. I think that covers it.’ So that was all thought of ahead of time.
Question: DID I HEAR A LITTLE GEORGE BUSH, TEXAN IN YOUR VOICE?
Ferrell: Yeah, I mean, that did come out subconsciously. When I actually saw the film I was like, ‘God. I sound just like the Bush thing.’ But it wasn’t a conscious thing, but I do agree that it does come out a bit. I should’ve said that it’s my smart little twist that I put on the whole thing, but it just kind of happened.
Question: DO YOU HAVE A CLAUSE IN YOUR CONTRACT NOW THAT SAYS YOU HAVE TO APPEAR IN YOUR UNDERWEAR AT SOME POINT IN THE FILM?
Ferrell: I committed a crime that I can’t talk about when I was in high school and it’s part of this work release program that I have to honor with the state of California. I think that I only have three more films that I have to do that and then I don’t have to do it anymore. So rest assured.
Question: YOU SEEM TO BE ENJOYING IT. YOU LOOK VERY COMFORTABLE AT IT.
Ferrell: Yeah, that’s what everyone seems to think. I’m not as comfortable as you would think, but then at the same time what’s the big deal. After three takes you can do anything. You just kind of forget.
Question: WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE YOU CRACK UP LIKE WE SEE IN THE OUTTAKES?
Ferrell: A lot of times it just hits me like a ton of bricks the absurdity of what we’re doing or what we’re saying and that’ll be when I lose it. But it’s hard to kind of make me break. And then also, if you’re really enjoying the other actors that you’re working with it almost heals itself, but for the most part I don’t normally have a problem with that.
Question: WHAT AUDIENCE DO YOU THINK THAT THIS IS FOR? NASCAR FANS OR PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT NASCAR?
Ferrell: Well, when we went into courting NASCAR and seeing their interest level what we were hoping to do was obviously make a sports comedy which the sport that’s involved has to have some awareness that we’re having fun with what they do and that sort of thing. At the same time we made it clear to them that we wanted to make the racing look clear, real and intense and we wanted the footage to be as if it was from a serious racing movie. So we feel like we sort of split the difference. In early screenings of the film with friends and colleagues who were writers and other comedians, most of them having no knowledge of the sport their reaction was like, ‘Wow. You really make the sport look really cool.’ So we were just trying to split the difference, but it wasn’t about making a film of fans in overalls in the stands and that sort of thing because if you go to these races you see a wide range of a type of fan and actually I don’t know if we ever really met a drive who is like Ricky Bobby. I mean he is a throwback because the guys that you meet now are real polite and nice and they have so much responsibility that they kind of can’t race the way that Ricky likes to race and that sort of thing. So the ultimate goal was to have a fun movie for people who didn’t know anything about racing and then also to have a little fun and pay homage to the race fans who enjoy the sport.
Question: WHAT ABOUT THAT LINE, ‘IF YOU’RE NOT FIRST YOU’RE LAST?’ IS THAT VARIATION ON THE THEME THAT WINNING ISN’T EVERYTHING, IT’S THE ONLY THING?
Ferrell: [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know. As we were writing it just seemed funny. All of those things were things we were having a little fun with, America’s need to be number one and also stuff too like the fact that they think Shake and Bake is the greatest name. It’s the celebration of simplicity.
Question: WHAT ABOUT THE IDEA OF BABY JESUS? THAT SCENE WAS SO FUNNY.
Ferrell: Good. Thanks. Once again, that was one of those that was oddly enough – the movie had a lot of improvisation – but that whole run of the baby Jesus thing was something that we wrote. We just thought that it was a funny argument to have over this family’s interpretation of what type of Jesus to pray too. It just kind of happened in the writing.
Question: BOBBY RICKY ISN’T BASED ON ANY REAL GUY I’M GUESSING?
Ferrell: No. No. It was more just someone who would be fun for me to play and cocky and southern were one of my goals. I mean it was also at the same time something that’s always fun to have, however idiotic the character is or brace, to have some underlying thing of humanity. Ricky is cocky, but there is a part of him that’s like still needs his friends to tell him he’s on the right track. So he doesn’t even know for sure.
Question: YOU HAD FOUR MOVIES LAST YEAR AND SOME CAMEOS. WHEN DID YOU HAVE TIME TO BECOME A FATHER?
Ferrell: I’m not the father. Yeah. We had a surrogate. A really nice guy. I could not fit it into the schedule. My wife was cool with that.
Question: HOW IS FATHERHOOD FOR WILL FERRELL?
Ferrell: It’s so much fun. In fact I just left my wife and son. They’re back in Sweden. We were just there for a month and so I miss him dearly.
Question: DO YOU NEED TO BE FUNNY ON AN INFANT LEVEL, JUST TO ENTERTAIN HIM?
Ferrell: Yeah. He’s tough. He’s tough to make laugh. He just stares at me a lot like, ‘What are you doing? It’s not working. Come on, give me a little more.’ He’s very discriminating. It’s very funny, but it’s all the clichés. It just adds another aspect to your life that you never thought would be possible.
Question: WILL YOU BE WORKING LESS AND DO YOU WANT TO HAVE MORE KIDS?
Ferrell: We actually have another baby on the way. My wife is due in late December and this year, yeah, I really haven’t – we only started filming ‘Blades of Glory’ in March and we’re on this hiatus and then we film the rest of it in August and so conceivably that might be the only one I do this year, that film. And then just promoting ‘Talladega Nights’ and then ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ and so it’ll be a low impact year. But that having been said Adam and I are hoping to start writing a new script and so there is always stuff worth doing and that we’re doing.
Question: IS THERE A POSSIBILITY OF A SEQUEL FOR THIS FILM?
Ferrell: We’re bad at thinking about those types of things. We’re kind of just focused on the one thing. I don’t know. If something hits us we’ll see. Hopefully this is a hit movie that people will like.
Question: DON’T YOU THINK IT WILL BE?
Ferrell: We never know.
Question: ALL THE CYNICAL REPORTERS ARE LAUGHING WITH THE FILM.
Ferrell: Good. That’s great to hear, but I’ve also been through a lot of these where everyone seems to have positive comments and then it’s like, ‘Ooh, wait. They really didn’t like it.’ I know that’s just the way it is, but we’re just cautiously optimistic.
Question: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE KIDS IN THE FILM? THEY WERE GREAT.
Ferrell: Yeah, I loved them. They were great, and that was another goal that we had. Adam and I really kind of have a thing about kids in comedies. We wanted them to play it really real and not precocious and he flew to Alabama. We were like, ‘Lets get real southern kids.’ These two guys were just the nicest kids and great friends and had never been in a movie before. It was just an open call in the south in Birmingham and I think in Charlotte as well. So we found those guys. Houston and that little red headed boy, Grayson. We found Grayson first. He was fantastic and then Houston we found second, but they really worked well together and they were the most conscientious actors on the set. They were just like, they knew their stuff. They were like, ‘Yes, sir. Adam, sir, would you like me to show you that again?’ They were so sweet and I think that they have become rock stars at their elementary school, which is fun, but I loved the fact that they’re just these characters that you can cut to at any moment. It’s something that makes us laugh about writing lines for kids who should not be saying those words.
Question: YEAH, TO HEAR THAT COME OUT OF THEIR MOUTHS WAS HILARIOUS AND MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN SO ON PAPER.
Ferrell: That’s what was so funny about the family dynamic. Ricky and Carly think that they’re doing a great job and they’re the worst little kids ever.
Question: HOW IS YOUR ICE SKATING?
Ferrell: It’s coming along. I’ve had so many starts and stops with it and August will be when we’re doing all of the ice-skating finally. So I can go forward pretty well, backwards crossovers not so good.
Question: HOW IS JOHN DOING?
Ferrell: Jon Heder broke his ankle a month before we started filming. So there was this big talk about whether we would still do the movie or do we not, and then this whole thing was worked out where it was a relatively minor break and then if we did all the non-skating stuff it would slowly heal and then he had another movie commitment that he had to keep which he’s filming right now and then when he’s done with that we start again in August. But he’s doing great. He’s back on skates.
Question: YOU TWO ARE AN ICE SKATING DUO?
Ferrell: Yes. We are the top men’s figure skaters. We’re arch enemies and we get kicked out of the sport for fighting on the medal stand and you cut to us three years down the road and we’re both just pathetic without the skating and we’re convinced that there’s a loophole that we can compete again if we compete as the first men’s pair team.
Question: WHAT UNDERWEAR SCENE CAN WE EXPECT IN THAT FILM?
Ferrell: I’m not sure if there is one. Oh, I’m in a towel in that film which is classier.
Question: DO YOU TRY AND WORKOUT A LITTLE BIT BEFORE THE FILMS?
Ferrell: Well, I mean, the sad truth is that I have to workout just to look fat. I run like probably three times a week if not four to five, four or five miles.
Question: YOU WERE MARATHON RUNNER, RIGHT?
Ferrell: Yeah, and so I still like to run and all of that, but I can only get to that so much and I have to do a million sit-ups and I don’t know if that would work.
Question: WHAT ABOUT ‘STRANGER THAN FICTION,’ IS THAT MORE OF A SERIOUS MOVIE?
Ferrell: That’s kind of actually a film that has a lot of really funny scenes in it.
Question: IT SOUNDS LIKE IT MIGHT BE LIKE ‘CLICK’ OR ‘BRUCE ALMIGHTY’ WHERE IT HAS SERIOUS MOMENTS.
Ferrell: Yeah. I mean, it’s got somewhat of a different tone from your normal comedy and I think that it’s the best thing. It’s an amazing film just by itself with all of the elements that you hope for in terms of this kind of amazing and touching story and it has some really sweet and funny parts to it and a real emotional center that is great. It’s really just kind of an amazing tale and journey.
Question: DO YOU DO THE NARRATION IN IT OR IS IT SOMEONE ELSE?
Ferrell: Emma Thompson is this writer in it and her voice is what I hear in my head, and then I realize that I’m the central character of this book she’s writing.
Question: HOW SURPRISED ARE YOU BY THIS INCREDIBLE SUCCESS YOU’VE ATTAINED AND THE FACT THAT THIS HIT VERY QUICKLY?
Ferrell: You know what, it’s fast in relative terms but it hasn’t been fast. I was on the show for seven years that everyone forgets, so it’s been a very gradual thing. So, you kind of get used to a certain level of exposure on that show and then things just kind of seem to happen at a perfect pace for me in a way that wasn’t too overwhelming. So I don’t know, it just feels like it’s all kind of happened gradually.
Question: HOW ARE YOU HANDLING IT THOUGH?
Ferrell: I just had a nervous breakdown and I completely wet my pants. This is my third pair of jeans today. No, I mean, sometimes you have little moments that are like, wow, this is crazy, and I still don’t think I’ll ever get over driving down the street and seeing a billboard of yourself, it’s always just crazy. And yet at the same time I just try to have fun with it. I handle it by kind of thinking that none of this is real and It kind of isn’t. I have a running joke with my wife where I’m like I’m always thinking of other jobs I can do when this goes away. I don’t ever feel like I have a firm footing, like I always still am going from movie to movie. Obviously I’m getting presented more opportunities and that sort of thing, I understand that, but there still is a feeling of like, okay, you’ve still gotta keep trying to prove yourself.