At the start of his career in the mid 1990s, Will Ferrell imitated George W. Bush, Al Gore, and Saddam Hussein on Saturday Night Live. He went on to star in now-classic comedies like Old School, Elf, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Wedding Crashers, and Step Brothers. Known for his outlandish, over-the-top sketches and characters, Ferrell’s latest project is an all Spanish-language comedy in telanovela style, Casa de mi Padre. He recently sat down with Izumi Hasegawa to discuss his role as Armando Alvarez, what inspired the film, and learning Spanish for this oddball role.
Izumi Hasegawa: Did you always want to be a telenovela actor?
Will Ferrell: Always. Ever since I was little. Yeah, always. No, I'm probably kind of like so many people who turn on the television, going through all the channels at 2:00 in the morning, landing on a telenovela going, "What is this? Why are they so over-the-top? This is amazing." And that's my exposure to them, which happened a while ago. And I always had this idea of, "Wow, that's such a heightened, funny world that it would be -- it would be really funny to see myself in that world," and I thought, God, you never seen an American comedy person in a foreign language film and have them commit to it in a way that's believable. And I thought, if you could pull it off, that would be an original movie. That's how it all started.
IH: Do you see this as a sincere homage to that genre?
WF: It really isn't – it technically really isn't homage specifically to telenovela, whether it's sincere or not. It's a mix – telenovela is a board description for it, but it's an homage to that, it's an homage to the Mexican spaghetti western, it's an homage to bad movie making, continuity mistakes, it's an homage to over-acting [laughs], it's an homage to stuffed wild animals [laughs]... So once we started to write the script and talk about how we're going to shoot the movie, we thought this was a real opportunity to play around with a bunch of different elements.
IH: Is this the movie of your own that makes you laugh the most?
WF: It's going to be one of them, for sure, yeah. I feel fortunate enough that the stuff I do see on TV, when it's played on cable, I do stop and it still makes me watch, still makes me laugh. But this one ranks up with one of the craziest things I got to do... You can only be so lucky to be in a situation to take risks like this.
IH: Did you ever question your motives?
WF: Yeah, first day of shooting was my moment because for some reason, the schedule worked out where I literally had a two-page monologue in Spanish. The scene in the movie where my father is making fun of me for not ever having a girlfriend, and I have to reveal what my idea of the perfect woman is. That's this huge monologue, which was cut down in the movie now, but it was even longer. And I remember thinking, whoa, this is disastrous; yeah, this is going to be tough. But once I got the first couple of takes under my belt and I could see people behind the monitors, "His Spanish is okay, it's not that bad," then I thought, oh, okay, I'm going to make my way through this.
IH: How did you immerse yourself in Spanish?
WF: A gentleman by the name of Patrick Perez, who translated the script from English to Spanish -- we got to know him -- a very nice guy -- and said, "I'm willing to be kind of your coach if you want." And I said that'd be great. So we started working about a month out from filming, probably meeting three or four times a week. And then he was there every day on set. And we would drive there together and drive home together, and we would work on that day's lines, and then driving home, we would work on the next day's lines. So it was just a continual bombardment.
IH: Genesis Rodriguez pointed out that the one thing she admired about you is your humility -- you're humble. You're one of the biggest comics in the world, and you're still humble. Is that something you got to, or has it always been that way?
WF: Only in the last year. Prior to that, I was a raging a**hole. Something just clicked, like, you've got to be nice to people. No [laughs], I grew up in the entertainment business, watching my dad. He's a musician, he still is, at 69 years old, and still playing piano. I saw, at an early age, just how unpredictable entertainment is, and when I decided to try my hand in comedy, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that if I was to have any sort of success, I would always feel fortunate and have a lot of gratitude for it, because we're extremely lucky to be able to get to do what we get to do. For what literally is the best job in the world, that's why the cliché of stories of actors going off on people – I'm always fascinated by it. What could possibly put you in that place where you have to...? So yeah, I've always had that kind of approach. And everyone's just trying to do their job and be professional. So you may as well enjoy it and not make too big a deal about it.
IH: Did you do this before Eastbound & Down (executive producer, TV series) did its second season in Mexico, or did it have anything to do with it?
WF: No, they were two separate things. We might have been simultaneously working on those things.
IH: Okay, because when I saw that Eastbound & Down was shot in Mexico, I thought that's what inspired it.
WF: No, I had the idea probably...I had been carrying it around probably for five, six, seven years. And I had either read somewhere or heard somewhere that one of the studios was writing a telanovela comedy movie, and I thought, "Ugh," because it would always happen to me on Saturday Night Live, that I would have an idea for a sketch, and I'd wait around to write it, and sure enough, someone would inevitably land on the same idea. And I can't write that, people beat me to the punch, and I thought, "Don't let that happen on this." That's when I started trying to get it going.
IH: Are you going by Guillermo Farrell now?
WF: Only when I visit Miami. [Laughs]
IH: Do you have any Spanish go-to words now that you can just use at your will?
WF: Well, "chingado" is a good word. I love chinga this, chinga that. It's a good word. [Laughs] But that's commonly used.
IH: I heard "cono" used in prime-time television. Isn't that the "F"-word?
WF: What is?
WF: No, "chinga" is the "F"-word. Cono...I don't even know what "cono" is.
IH: "Cono" is like, "Damn!" And it's mainly used by Cubans.
WF: That's what's fascinating about Spanish. Nala, who financed the film – Emilia, the owner, he's Mexican, but then there are Cuban Americans who worked for that company, so you have all these different dialects and different types of Spanish who would throw their two cents in on our translation. Like, "That's not the way you say it," and we had to go, "Let's just say it one way."
IH: Are you fluent in Spanish?
WF: No, unfortunately. I think my comprehension is much better than it used to be, in terms of listening to it and answering questions and that sort of thing. But yeah, you stop working on a project and go onto something else. Had I kept up with the Spanish, I'd be really good right now, but I didn't. I could make my way at a resort in Mexico. At the Four Seasons in Mexico, I'd probably be okay.
IH: Eva Mendez was your love interest in The Other Guys, and she's Latina, and Genesis Rodriguez is your love interest in this film, and she's Latina. Is there a trend going on? Are you doing this on purpose?
WF: I'm trying to. A lot of beautiful Latina women [laughs] for sure. No, it's just a funny coincidence that we were able to get Eva do to that movie and here's Genesis.
IH: What are you jealous of in Latinos?
WF: We did one of these morning talk shows in Miami -- Despierta America -- which is like a big Good Morning America in Miami. And I think you're envious of how there's a lot of freedom with Latinos. Here we are on this morning show, and all of a sudden, the co-host is dancing. There's relatively little inhibition. People are just free with themselves, and that's something I think is really cool.
IH: You took certain jobs that have a lot to do with the Mexican-American politics. Can you talk a little bit about that?
WF: That was another great thing that Andrew Steele, when he wrote the script...we saw, in the midst, that it would be an over-the-top silly comedy, that we could also have a satirical quality to it, and to comment on the Mexican perception of us and vice versa was really a fun thing to get to do, and it sneaks up on you in a movie like this. And that's another thing that attracted Diego and Gael (Garcia Bernal) and Pedro (Armendariz, Jr.) to a project like this. Amidst all the fun, we also were able to have a strong point of view.
IH: Was it your idea to show the butts in the sex scene?
WF: No, that was just written. But it was my idea to put a mannequin in the middle of it.
IH: But you were game to do it?
WF: Yeah. I read it and I thought it was so funny to do this epic passionate love scene, then it's just way too many shots of butts for way too long. I just thought you've never seen that, that's hysterical.
Pantelion Films' 'Casa de mi Padre' is released in theaters on Friday, March 16, 2012.