Interview By: Michael Dance
What can you say about Will Ferrell? He was the best utility man on Saturday Night Live since Phil Hartman, and after the one-two punch of Old School and Elf, he joined alums like Adam Sandler as one of the show’s bona fide movie stars.
It’s hard to believe that Elf was released four years ago â€“ and Ferrell has been remarkably prolific since then. In Anchorman, Bewitched, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, and now Semi-Pro, he’s played variations of his signature character: the bone-headed, wildly overconfident quasi-celebrity who spends an inordinate amount of time half-naked.
Lest you think that’s all he can do, however, he’s also worked with the likes of Woody Allen (in Melinda and Melinda), been nominated for a Golden Globe (in Stranger Than Fiction), sang in a musical (The Producers) and even launched a successful comedy website with frequent collaborator Adam McKay called FunnyorDie.com (it’s a very vague possibility that you maybe have heard of an under-exposed video called “The Landlord.”)
TheCinemaSource was lucky enough to hear from Ferrell while promoting Semi-Pro, in which he plays Jackie Moon, the coach/owner/teammate of a fictional 1970s American Basketball Association team called the Flint Tropics.
“It really was a renegade league in that all these guys had been passed up by the NBA,” Ferrell says of the ABA, which merged with its better-funded rival in 1976. “So the spirit of all these teams was that they really had something to prove to the more famous league.”
In the film, Jackie Moon is also a former pop star, having released a #1 hit single called “Love Me Sexy.” When asked whether it was harder to sing or play basketball, however, Ferrell doesn’t hesitate. “Well, I’m a pretty gifted athlete,” he says in a matter-of-fact deadpan. “I always wanted to do a basketball movie, so this was a dream come true. I’ve played a lot of basketball, but
So how did he train? “I actually went to a funk camp, conducted by Isaac Hayes. Up in Vermont. You never get to see Isaac Hayes though, he’s in the other room and he just speaks to you. He’s like, ‘Yeaaaah. You’re doing great. You’re looking real good.’ He just watches you. It’s really kind of a creepy camp, actually.”
Whatever happened seems to have worked, because Jackie Moon is already permeating the social consciousness â€“ Ferrell has appeared in character on Budweiser commercials, an Old Spice commercial, and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. “Yeah, this movie was created by Proctor & Gamble,” Ferrell says. “All the major conglomerates are coming up with the great ideas now. It just makes sense. I’m doing a Dal chemical film next.”
And now for the serious answer: “I think just in the course of talking about building a campaign for the movie, this type of character kind of lends itself â€“ if you’re up for it, if you think the movie is funny â€“ to do a commercial or a photo shoot like that. It was also timing, too, you know, the Sports Illustrated issue comes out now, in February. Some things lined up that don’t always line up that way.”
If you’ve gotten the inkling that Ferrell has done a lot of sports movies, that might be because he originally wanted to be a sportscaster â€“ in fact, he has a degree in Sports Information. “Sport Information was basically a Sports Journalism degree. In terms of how it’s influenced these types of movies, it’s kind of just coincidence that a number of these movies lined up the way they did.”
Just a coincidence? “I do love sports, obviously, [but] Talladega Nights is really more of a cultural movie than a sports movie,” he
Finally, since we’re in New York and talking about basketball, Ferrell is asked whether he has any advice for the Knicks, who currently have an alarming 18-40 record. “My advice to the Knicks would be, let’s just save money and stop the season right now,” he says. “Just take the rest of the year off, maybe do some journaling, put your feet up.”