With election season upon us, its no wonder that Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Step Brothers) and Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Due Date) have set their sights on politics for their next film. Individually the two are arguably amongst the best in absurdist, quasi-slapstick comedy, and now they join forces in The Campaign as rival politicians. Ferrell channels his Saturday Night Live George W. Bush impresion as all-American Cam Brady, while Galifianakis brings his Between Two Ferns alter-ego, Seth Galifianakis, to life in Marty Huggins, Brady's pug-loving, sweatervest-wearing competition.
Every dynamic duo needs a straight man, and Dylan McDermott stepped into the role with some of the dark charm left over from his stint on American Horror Story. McDermott, along with Ferrell, Galifianakis, and director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers), sat down with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier to talk ridiculous politics, the role of the media, and juggling two strong, crazy comedians on set.
Emmanuel Itier: What was it like to be caught in the crossfire of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis? Was it overwhelming at times?
Dylan McDermott: It is, because I mean, they’re so smart and so funny that if you’re not on your toes you’re going to drown. So I knew that going in that I was going into a lion’s den, certainly with these guys. And I braced myself.
EI: How did you prepare for your role? Did you contact any campaign profilers?
DM: Once in a while – it happens rarely – where a character just comes to me, but this guy just came. You know what I mean? I didn’t have to talk to anybody. I didn’t do nothing. He just came. It was just like, whoa. So sometimes you just have to honor that. You know what I mean. I thought about him and I daydreamed about him, and it's just like [snaps fingers], there he was.
EI: Are you into politics and what does politics mean to you?
DM: I mean, I like the arena of politics as a backdrop, certainly for a movie like this, but I think ultimately we can all agree that politics are ridiculous at this point. And the reason that politics exists now is certainly about humiliation. I think that everyone who gets into politics at a certain point is humiliated because they’re brought down by their own personal behavior, or, you know what I mean. You have to be squeaky clean to be a politician - unless you’re in France, of course.
EI: What do you think the movie is about for you? What are the themes that you enjoy exploring or seeing being explored?
DM: I mean really when you think about it, the movie is Will comes to the realization that he is too sinister in all of this. You know what I mean. He finally finds out that he can’t – [there’s a] beautiful moment in the end. And Marty is – his sincerity of who he is as a person is fantastic. So there is a theme in this, there is redemption at the end of the day, and I think that Will’s character finds that. I don’t know if there’s redemption for Tim Whattley. I don’t think he’s that type of person. He’ll just disappear into the curtain. But for them I think that they really find out who they are.
EI: Obviously two very iconic actors have ventured into politics. Have you ever thought about going into that sphere yourself?
DM: No, never. I wouldn’t want that life. That’s worse than being a lawyer… being an actor is the greatest life you can have because you play many people in one life. And I think that’s the best. That’s why I became an actor because when you have your one life, it's limited. And when you get to play all these different people in life you get to learn about you.
Will Ferrell & Zach Galifianakis
Emmanuel Itier: While making this movie, did you learn anything deeper about the election process or current political landscape?
Will Ferrell: I don’t know if we learned. I mean, I think in the development of the script and kind of the idea we already knew a lot going in and it was – it’s obviously fertile ground to make fun of.
Zach Galifianakis: I think I just kind of felt that when you imagine running for office as we were forced to do when we were doing this movie, you do realize that in this day and age there are cameras everywhere and it's very hard to slip up because someone is going to record something. So I was aware of that and I kind of feel sorry for the process because of that. I don’t know if cameras everywhere is necessarily a great thing.
EI: Was there a lot of improv and a lot of craziness on the set?
WF: Well, I opened my trailer door on several occasions to find that Zach had found a bunch of rabid, stray dogs and put them in my trailer and they would attack me.
ZG: I put stray dogs, about 17 stray dogs in his trailer, and 18 cats.
WF: And, you know…
WF: …let the games begin.
EI: Besides the plot of following an absurd election campaign, what were some of the underlying messages in this movie?
WF: Well, we just thought it would be a nice departure and a diversion from the constant bombardment of the political cycle. And, at the same time it was also just a chance to work with Zach and do these fun characters. And also, we made a little bit of a point – one of the messages is that there’s just a massive amount of spending going on at unprecedented levels, which I don’t know if that exists in France as well, but it just seems like it's…
EI: Out of control…
WF: …it's out of control here. They’re talking about the unprecedented levels of cash that’s being spent this cycle. In four years it’ll probably be doubled, and tripled, and just keep going and going.
Emmanuel Itier: What was it like to work with Zach and Will? How did you survive that sort of wild circus?
Jay Roach: Well, you just keep them busy. If they turn on you, you’re dead. You try to keep them turning on each other as much as you can. And I often tried to kind of pit them against each other because they like each other so much, you can tell that. And they’re so different, but they really are simpatico. So I would always get them to compete for the background actors that were supposed to be clapping for them in the debates. I’d make them earn that by wooing those people and they often went negative. They used negative campaigning to trash each other, to win over the crowds.
EI: How deliberate was the decision to release it so close to the US elections?
JR: It was not accidental that is was going to come out around the time of the November elections. We figured people might be interested in some comedic relief from all the stress and frustration and absurdity of normal politics. So it’s certainly inspired by it and it's a kind of skewering of both parties in our country, but it's meant to be just pure silly. So it was – yeah, it wasn’t accidental that we would be making fun of politics before he presidential campaign here.
EI: It also felt like The Campaign touched on the show business qualities of election season.
JR: Yes. It's also about big money, pumping in billions of dollars into these campaign ads that are designed to play on people’s fears and to give the media a chance to milk the conflict. The media love scandal and dark battles over people’s personalities more than issues. It's become really – it is a circus. It's professional wrestling. It's very difficult to tell what’s real and what’s put on and there’s no such thing as facts anymore. As soon as you say a fact someone else accuses you of it being propaganda, which itself is propaganda. So it's all propaganda. Yes, it's ridiculous.
EI: Do you think the media is, in a sense, responsible for trashing politics?
JR: Sure. I mean and we, film makers, are responsible too because we like the charismatic person over the wise, thoughtful, slow talking people. We’re storytellers. What’s a better story, the person who’s trying to figure out how to spend the taxes the most carefully? That, sadly, doesn’t get the weekend box office – and so it's unfortunate because there should be more attention placed on the not very funny people. However, I don’t – I’m going to have to make comedies about the ridiculous people.
EI: Did you ever have a personal desire to go into politics?
JR: I don’t think I ever would have run for office but I would love to be the spin doctor. I’d love to the dark Rasputin, if I could tap into my shadow side, because it's dark black magic what those guys do.
EI: At the end it all, what was the biggest challenge making this movie?
JR: Figuring out how to have a baby take a punch and have it be realistic but no so realistic you’d worry for the baby.
EI: So, thanks to CGI…
JR: CGI and to Raging Bull, Robert de Niro’s boxing movie where you see the mouth piece fly out of his face in super high speed, slow motion.
'The Campaign' is in theaters nationwide now.