FERRELL’S HOUSE OF CARDS
Will Ferrell talks about his new comedy The House, out in the UAE today, in which he and Amy Poehler star as parents who start a casino to fund their daughter’s college education
By the time Will Ferrell was in the sixth grade, he was almost 6 feet tall and owning it. “I never felt gawky or like it was a disadvantage. I was kind of proud of being tall,” said Ferrell, who grew up in Irvine, California, where he played baseball, basketball and soccer. “You’re more looked up to. Literally. You are literally looking down on people.” Throughout his film-and-television career, Ferrell has used his height (he’s now 6-foot-3) and athleticism to his advantage, wringing laughs as Buddy, the oversize Santa’s helper, in Elf (2003), the preening, looming broadcaster Ron Burgundy in Anchorman (2004) and the goofy stepfather battling a buff Mark Wahlberg in Daddy’s Home (2015). In one of this summer’s funniest flicks, The House, which opens in the UAE today, Ferrell is Scott Johansen, an average suburban dad who learns to walk tall out of misguided necessity: When he and his wife, Kate (Amy Poehler), discover they can’t afford their only child’s college tuition, they raise money by opening a Las Vegas-style casino at a neighbour’s house and become menacing enforcers in the process. “It’s against their better judgment, but in a weird way one of the greatest things they’ll ever do,” said Ferrell. “And I get to wield an axe.” In real life the 49-year-old Ferrell is soft-spoken and the father of Magnus, Mattias and Axel, who recently got to watch their dad film a scene with John Lithgow for the coming Daddy’s Home 2. “It didn’t cross my mind to tell them that we play the type of father and son who are so affectionate that we don’t think twice about kissing each other on the lips when we say hi,” Ferrell said. “But the boys, apparently, were cracking up watching that.” Excerpts from a conversation with the actor.
You’ve starred in so many comedies. What’s the one question that you just can’t answer seriously anymore?
The question that inevitably gets asked for every comedy is: “How much is improv in the movie, and how much is scripted?” And it’s really hard not to mess with people. I’ll just say, “On this movie, 14 per cent is improvised.” And they’ll go, “Oh! How do you know?” and I’ll say, “We have a logarithm” or “We run it through a computer that analyzes it.”
What appealed to you about playing a nice guy who transforms into a thuggish casino boss?
One thing I thought was great was getting to play a couple who are both equally committed to the premise. Usually, in a movie, one of them – the wife, the husband – is in on the plan and the other is, like, “What’s going on?” But here, for better or for worse, they’re both like, “OK, let’s just do it.” They get to be funny together. I liked that.
You and Amy Poehler will both do whatever it takes for a laugh.
Shooting the scene where we’re walking home drunk and she relieves herself in the front yard. There was all this talk about [in a sincere, worried voice] “How do we shoot this?” and being very professional. And Amy goes, “I’ll just pull my pants down!” and I thought, “Oh, my god. This is great!”
Was gambling a part of your parents’ lives?
My dad’s a musician. He had his own lounge acts, then played with the Righteous Brothers on and off for 20, 25 years. He played a lot in Vegas. I have a nostalgic view of Vegas because, as kids, we’d go stay with him for a week at the Riviera. Then, combined with that, were the cautionary tales we’d hear of people losing all their money and thinking, “That’s not for me.”
Speaking of viral videos, the recent speech you gave at U.S.C., your alma mater, has more than 2 million YouTube views.
I didn’t realise that it’d get that much reaction. I’m used to writing things that are sarcastic, not things that are supposed to be funny, but also insightful and earnest. So it was an interesting challenge to find that middle ground. But also my family was there, my parents were there, and I got to sing a Whitney Houston song.
Hollywood makes few dramatic movies about middle-class worries now. So can comedies fill that gap?
I love comedies where we get to either make very direct satirical comments about what’s going on or indirect. I think it’s great when we can slide that stuff in. But is that the only way we’re going to get people to listen? It seems to be more and more that way. When you feel like you get more real news by watching The Daily Show or Samantha Bee, that’s saying something. Margy Rochlin, The New York Times Syndicate
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