We met with actor, comedian, producer, and writer Will Ferrell, and talked about his European adventures, and his new projects Downhill and Eurovision.
Will Ferrell started performing comedy skits while in school. However, he didn’t want to join show business because his father, who was a musician, never got his paychecks on time. After graduation, he tried out odd jobs but ultimately moved to Los Angeles and joined the comedy group Groundlings on his mother’s advice. His breakthrough came when he was spotted by Saturday Night Live (SNL) producer Lorne Michaels. He successfully took the stage in the show for seven years and was voted the best Saturday Night Live cast member of all times. Although he appeared in a number of films while doing the show, his film career actually took off after he left SNL. From 2003 onwards, Ferrell has starred in many popular films that have been both critically acclaimed and hits at the box office.
I know you love basketball. I have seen you many times at Lakers games. Kobe Bryant was a global brand ambassador for Turkish Airlines. Do you have any memories with Kobe you would like to share with us?
I watched the first Lakers game after Kobe’s death which was so emotional. The Lakers did such a beautiful job honoring Kobe. It’s something that surprised us, how emotional we all feel. I got the news at the Sundance Film Festival on a lunch break. I had to continue doing my interviews and our premiere of Downhill that night. We all took pause and were wondering how we were going to get through the day and luckily it was a bit of a distraction to get to talk about the movie. I had met Kobe a handful of times; he had done a cameo in the first Daddy’s Home (2015) movie. We had kind of been instructed, “Look, Kobe wants to get this done in a certain amount of time, he’s got a game that night,” and it was and it was just the opposite. He was there for as long as we needed. If I remember correctly, he once in a press conference actually said he wanted me to play Kobe Bryant in the Kobe Bryant Story. And he said, “How hilarious would that be?” I will be forever flattered by that. You have to remember, getting drafted as a 17-year-old, he grew up in the NBA, and that couldn’t be an easy thing to do. To evolve and become the man and the husband and the father that we all saw that he was is pretty extraordinary, along with obviously his professional accomplishments.
I enjoyed watching your latest movie Downhill. It’s a very realistic portrayal of a married couple. The original film is from Sweden, your wife’s home country. Is that maybe part of the reason you wanted to make the movie?
The Swedish connection was just a serendipitous kind of afterthought. I had been sent the Jessie Armstrong adaptation through my agents, so I heard it’s an adaptation of a Swedish film. I hadn’t seen Force Majeure (2014) prior to reading our script. I really liked the project. I sat down with Julia (Dreyfus), and we laughed about the fact it was literally the first time we had ever crossed paths despite the fact that people just think between Saturday Night Live and shared things that we would have known each other. And I said I’m in love, I just love it so much and she said why don’t you watch the original just in case, just to know tonally. Obviously it’s not going to be exactly the same, but there are some elements that we’re going to try to replicate. And then not only did I watch it, but on a ski trip forced all of the two other families to watch it as well. It’s such a well-made film, and it’s so interesting and different. They were like “wow, you are going to make a different version of that, that’s great.” I just think it’s kind of fitting that I’m with my wife and our connection to Sweden, and now I’m connected with a movie that originated there.
Downhill is about a family crisis during a ski vacation. Do you like winter vacations?
We’re very fortunate to be able to take ski vacations, because they’re not necessarily cheap. But there’s something very cozy about being with your kids and being able to do this shared thing, to be able to ski down a mountain no matter what age you are. The kids love it because there’s a certain autonomy they get to have, they get to go off on their own and we are going to try this trail. And we make sure they are with the ski instructor, that sort of thing.
Did you ski in Europe? If yes, do the skiers behave differently there?
I did, for the first time in Austria. It was definitely the first time skiing outside of the U.S. I’ve been lucky enough to ski in Montana and Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, California. The Rocky Mountains in the U.S. are beautiful, but the Alps are so stunning, it kind of takes your breath away. I was just laughing because I was there by myself, so on weekends I would just ski, then take videos and send them back to all of my friends in LA. I would say there’s some different mountain etiquette in Austria, sometimes you will be standing in the lift line and someone has their skis in-between your skis and bumps up against you. I would turn and be like, “I’m sorry,” and they would be looking just straight ahead, and like come on, move, go! Where here we are “After you, no after you. You first, please.” And there it’s just like get out of my way, I have to ski, here we go. Up and down, up and down, up and down. So there’s a little bit of a different kind of approach.
By making the Eurovision movie, it is almost like you are becoming an American ambassador in Europe.
I discovered Eurovision on one of my trips maybe 20 years ago, and my wife’s cousin was like “Should we watch Eurovision?” And I said, “Okay, what is that?” We proceeded for the next three hours to watch the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I thought, “Gosh, this would make a fun movie,” all along thinking someone was going to do it. Four years ago, we started going to Eurovision, meeting with all the people who ran it and got their permission to do it, so that will come out in May.
Can you give us a little preview? What is it about?
It’s myself and Rachel McAdams; we play we are from Iceland. It’s a lovable loser story. We get into the competition on a technicality and we are way in above our heads. The broader themes are art versus commerce, and that winning isn’t everything and that you really should be true to yourself as an artist -all in the insane world of Eurovision.
I am sure there is a lot of humor in Eurovision. Do you think Europeans understand your humor?
I have been told when I was in Austria by Austrians that they thought I was really funny. I don’t know if they meant from watching my movies or I just look funny. I mean humor is cultural obviously. There’re always discrepancies and what could be funny to Europeans, Americans don’t get the joke, and vice versa.
Becoming a father and a husband did that change you professionally? Did it have any impact on your professional life and if so, how?
I really have an amazing understanding in terms of the time commitment it takes for the projects I work on. There was never a “now we have a family, you can’t go along.” My wife is incredible in the sense of that’s just what you do and you always make it up by taking time off. We make sure we always have plans to be together. I wouldn’t do something now because I am a father, they are separate. I am playing characters, however crazy or outlandish or this or that, it’s just pretend. There was one decision: I remember being sent The Lego Movie (2014) and they sent me a bunch of storyboards. All the boys were like “Dad, you have to do it, you have to do it, yes, do it.” So I was like “okay, let’s do it.” That was one influential time, but for the most part, I still make decisions from a creative standpoint.