WILL FERRELL and JOHN C. REILLY put a comedic spin on the iconic Victorian supersleuth and his trusty assistant in Holmes & Watson.
acrime has been committed in Buckingham Palace. Whodunnit? Fear not, Sherlock Holmes and his trusty assistant Dr. Watson are on the case!
In Holmes & Watson (in theaters Dec. 25), Will Ferrell, 51, stars as the legendary sleuth, and his real-world sidekick John C. Reilly, 53, plays his No. 2.
Yep, the same duo that delivered belly laughs in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers is taking on the stuffy Victorian era, and fans of the Ferrell and Reilly tag team will get a healthy dose of their patented physical and endearingly imbecilic humor. “This does feel like a continuation of our other movies,” Reilly says, adding that he and Ferrell have a “real comedic kinship.”
The son of a teacher and a professional musician who toured with the Righteous Brothers, Ferrell hatched his comedy style back in elementary school in Irvine, Calif. “I learned that if you kicked the door and snapped your head back at the same time, it looked like you smacked into the door,” he recalls. “I tried it, and it got rave reviews.” After graduation from the University of Southern California, he went into comedy full-time and joined the L.A. improvisational troupe the Groundlings in 1994.
Just one year later, a Saturday Night Live producer watched his act and encouraged him to try out for the iconic sketch show. For seven seasons between 1995 and 2002, he was a standout with impressions of President George W. Bush, Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek and baseball announcer Harry Caray. He transitioned easily to the big screen in hit comedies such as Elf (2003), Old School (2003) and Daddy’s Home (2015).
Reilly, meanwhile, grew up in workingclass Chicago, where his dad ran an industrial linen supply company. His first audience: his five siblings. “I didn’t know anyone in show business when I was a kid and never dreamed that’s what I would do as a living,” he says. After graduating from DePaul University in Chicago, he was hired as an extra in the 1989 drama Casualties of War, where he met his wife, producer Alison Dickey, on the set; they now have two collegeage sons. Meatier roles in many other films soon followed, including Boogie Nights, The River Wild, Magnolia, Gangs of New York and Kong: Skull Island.
Ferrell and Reilly met in 1999 and became almost instant friends. But it wasn’t until 2006 that they first collaborated onscreen, in the NASCAR spoof Talladega Nights. Two years later, in Step Brothers, they caused hijinks as bickering blended-family rivals who become best buds. The two stars have also stayed close
over the years, as Ferrell notes that Reilly and Dickey are regulars at his family’s annual Swedish Christmas party.
For Holmes & Watson to stay true to Sherlock’s roots, they shot on location in London—a first for Ferrell, who had never filmed outside the United States or Canada. Working on the set—with co-stars Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Kelly Macdonald and Steve Coogan—they were intent on adhering to the essence of their characters, down to reciting some of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original prose. “I didn’t want to change the language,” Ferrell says. “I memorized a lot of long passages. At times, it was limiting because it hampered my improv brain.” Both actors insist, however, that Holmes & Watson is not a slapstick, Victorian-era Step Brothers. “This is not a case of two lost souls combining their strange superpowers to do nothing,” Ferrell explains. “Sherlock has this superhuman ability to decipher all this information in a way that will always be forever cool.” Beat. “And his hat is pretty awesome.”
In conversation, Ferrell and Reilly both circle back to the same topic: the wondrous joy of making people laugh. “I have a special affection for comedies,” Reilly says. “I always get asked, ‘Do people come up to you [and ask you] about Step Brothers all the time?’ And I say, ‘Only when I’m in public.’They appreciate it. It’s not lost on me.”
Ferrell admits that he still has pinchme moments about his comedy career. “Up until seven or eight years ago, my wife and I still joked that if it all fell apart, what could we possibly do? Maybe open a business of kenneling dogs or be UPS drivers. We finally stopped thinking of plan Bs.”
Ferrell and his wife, art auctioneer and actress Viveca Paulin, who wed in 2000, have three boys— Magnus, 14; Mattias, 11; and Axel, 8—and he proudly says they all have inherited his funny bone. His oldest, a high school freshman, recently posed for his class photo wearing his friend’s eyeglasses and a serious expression. “He asked me if he was in trouble and I told him, ‘Magnus, that is totally my sense of humor.’” Still, his sons don’t necessarily huddle around the TV this time of year to catch his Christmas comedy classic Elf (see “Everyone’s Favorite Elf,” page 10). “We’ve never forced them to watch my stuff,” he says. “My sixth-grader just got into Saturday Night Live, so he’s been watching a few things on YouTube and asking me about it.”
The key to making people laugh? “You have to get over any kind of shame—and it’s an unnatural thing for us to do as human beings,” Ferrell says. “My kids are like, ‘Dad, how did you do that? Isn’t that embarrassing?’ You do look stupid but you have to have fun.”
And when you do, the rewards are priceless. “The whole point of making movies and being actors is to move people and have stuff resonate,” Reilly says. “That gratitude that people have when you give them laughter is different than the gratitude people have for an action movie or a dramatic movie.
“There’s something special about alleviating people’s suffering with laughter.”
As Sherlock would say, that’s elementary, my dear Watson. ETTY IMA ESAE