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When it comes to political comedy, Will Ferrell is no novice. During his years on Saturday Night Live the comedian cemented himself into pop culture history with his brilliant and hysterical impression of George W. Bush, but it doesn’t even end there. In 2009 Ferrell took the character to Broadway, performing in “You're Welcome America,” a show directed by Adam McKay, and the website he co-owns, Funny or Die, regularly produces politically-charged sketches and videos. But now he’s ready to take political comedy to big screen with The Campaign.
Earlier this year myself and a group of other journalists flew down to New Orleans, Louisiana to watch the filming of the new movie and talk with the cast and crew. During our time on set we were fortunate enough to have Ferrell sit down with us for 25 minutes to talk with us about the ridiculousness of the political world, his character’s amazing hair, and his experience working with co-star Zach Galifianakis.
What's the biggest difference between playing Cam Brady against somebody like George Bush?
There're going to be probably cut from the same cloth a little bit in that they're fumbling politicians. Cam Brady, though, is more the slick John Edwards version. He's very polished. He can kind of take command of a room and then you leave realizing he literally didn't say anything that was of any value, with any substance. But he just knows he's got great bedside manner and is super polished, but is not really of any substance. Where George Bush, you know, misspoke all the time and is a little more obvious. I think Cam is the more polished version of that.
What is it that you like about this character?
What I like about the character is what I love about the movie. We've just been able to make fun of the fertile ground that is modern day politics. I've gotten to speak in the same speech patterns as you hear. It's just so fun to, as a politician, to say, [in his Cam Brady voice] “Thank you so much for that question. I really appreciate you. In fact, I appreciate all of you coming down here today. Because it's not easy. You guys have busy lives and schedules, and to carve out fifteen minutes of your day to come down here and speak face-to-face means a lot to me and the people that you report to. And you should feel good about that.”
You know, it's like, “What the fuck?” Like I love just never answering a question with statements like that. When we initially sat down and kind of constructed this idea, we just thought, “Boy, this would be a great opportunity to kind of comment on everything's that happening.” Little did we know that we'd be in the midst of the craziest political season we probably ever had on record. So if anything we just hope Zach lives up to his end of the deal, and is funny, because I know I'll be funny.
Jay was talking about like there's a running gag about your hair.
I'm focused on my hair throughout the movie, yeah. That's kind of a huge thing. And I don't know if there's anything coming, but I know there's moments where we literally reshot something because the wind was blowing and my hair was looking too crazy and it just wouldn't work for Cam. So we reshot a whole speech so that I could have more perfect hair. But, yeah, that's a huge element, which has been fun because I think there was- someone snapped a picture of us when we were outside and it ran in Huffington Post already saying, “Look out Mitt Romney, there's new hair in politics.” [laughs] But, yeah, so that was something that was one of the first things I thought of when I thought of my character, was I wanted to have this perfect, photogenic hairstyle.
The crazy Republican primaries are still going on right now. Do you ever watch what's happening when you go home at night or whatever and get inspired by any of that stuff and bring it to set the next day?
Well, I don't know if Jay spoke to you at all, but what we had in the script was obviously all the things we're doing were fairly heightened and, you know… the only think we're worried about now is our movie crazy enough, because we've seen, you know, with Herman Cain and with, you know, the Rick Perry's of the world and all these things that keep coming out. Gingrich's ex-wife suggesting that he wanted an open marriage [laughs]. Like we're just riding the line with this movie. It's weird. And so I forget what your original-
Oh, I was just saying if you would like ever see something crazy happening, you know.
Well, we just kept seeing– we did. We kept seeing things and emailing stuff, “Did you read this, did you read that?” It's exactly what we have in the movie. So I just hope it's probably- once we get to the primaries the focus, the craziness will probably dip a little bit, but then it will rise back up when it's time for the conventions, which is when this movie comes out.
We were just talking to Zach and he was telling us that Marty, when he's not on the political stage, kind of progresses back as his normal self.
Is that the same thing with Cam or is he always the politician?
Yeah, he’s lazy incumbent. You know, he's the guy who just thought he'd roll into a fifth consecutive term. He runs unopposed, and he's thought that he needn’t to worry about the rest of the world. He's been mentioned as a possible VP candidate, which is the height of his aspirations. He doesn't want to be president. It's too much work. He wants to be vice president. So he's kind of a political creature. And you do kind of see glimpses that he is a little more human behind the scenes, but for the most part my character is the one who wants it so badly it controls his whole life.
You're all very creative, improvisational, funny actors. What is it like on set? Do you crowd each other or is there an atmosphere of improv and collaboration?
Yeah, yeah. The times that I've gotten Zach to laugh are like high watermarks for me. And that's usually the goal too. It'll probably never make it in the movie, but to try to make each other laugh is usually the most fun. I think that's just kind of becoming the norm of comedies these days, is I think some of the stuff that we helped kind of establish with, you know Anchorman and some of the movies where you get these casts who are willing to improvise and that sort of thing. And at the same time that becomes the headline a lot of times, which I think discounts the writing going into the process. And we also have a lot of stuff that was already written and already really funny. Jay got us here two weeks before filming and we literally sat down every day and went through every scene and rehearsed them and figured out what was working or what we thought. Within that process we came up with additional lines that Chris Henchy would kind of write down. So we have this whole other playbook that we'll just open up and go to all these other alts that we came up with at rehearsal. So between what we already had and alternative stuff and just stuff we come up on the spot that's why you shoot such long days.
We saw a bit of the filming of Zach's character's home life and your sort of infiltration of that home life. What is Cam's family life like?
The Brady's kind of try to put on all appearances that they have the Camelot. He's like a poor man's Kennedy. He wants everything to look… behind the scene I have a really kind of tough, aggressive, ladder-climbing wife who's pushing. She wants it as bad, if not more, than I do. And my kids are dismissive and hate me. So, yeah, behind the veneer it's… but you don't see so much of my home life. You see more of Marty's.
Working on this movie, there's a lot of people that you've collaborated with in previous projects. I'm curious how that affects the environment on a set.
Well, it's the first time working with Jay, and Jay's kind of fit in to what we do and vice versa. And so I don’t know if it feels that much different than a lot of the other movies.
But like working with Chris, I mean, and of course Adam as well.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, it feels like par for the course in terms of the stuff we've done and the way we work. Yeah.
How heightened is the reality in the movie? Like is it Anchorman levels of absurdity or is it something more grounded in reality?
No, it's more grounded. You know, it's shot. It's very much shot. You know, Jay's brought all of this experience from the legit political movies he's done with Game Change and Recount and stuff. So in terms of the shot composition and everything, it has the feel of an epic, political awesome movie. So we played out totally straight. We keep our feet on the ground for the most part and then we kind of take license with political ads. You know, there are moments where you, for the sake of comedy, say, “Well, I don’t know if that would happen,” but we're almost that close to it actually happening in real life. So we take some big swings with stuff, but for the most part, yeah, this isn’t abstract in a way like Anchorman. It's all played really real and awesome.
When you think back on like Anchorman and you get this cast of just all these amazing comedians. This one you have people like Brian Cox and Dylan McDermot, who aren't necessarily known for as much comedy. Is it more fun to play with a more diverse cast like this?
You know, I think that those have probably been some of the most satisfying casting choices that we've gotten. Even when we started working with John C. Reilly before people really knew John could do comedy or, you know, Wahlberg and the other guys and like Richard Jenkins that's the dad in Step Brothers. Like it's so great to cast legit actors in funny roles and let them use their strengths and make that juxtaposition. And Dylan is fantastic. He's so serious and he's always dressed in black and he's this political operative who comes in and shakes the candidate. But all he has to do is walk into a scene and just his uber-seriousness makes it funny. And, yeah, we love getting to do that. And obviously those actors love to get to the flip side of it.
Do you find that that changes your own performance or that it just sort of embraces the clash of how you act against them?
You just embrace the clash. I mean, I remember doing Elf and James Caan the whole time I could just tell was looking at me like, “What are you doing?” [laughs]. In fact, afterwards he said, “I got to hand it to you. I thought you played it way too big the whole time, but it worked out.” And so I sat down, “Oh, that's a good sign.” Even when you think it's going bad, just keep talking [laughs]. And that contrast will be pleasing to the audience. So, no, it doesn't change anything I do either way.
Have you wanted to do a political movie in general for a while?
No. It wasn't necessarily a goal even though doing political things are so much fun. In The Bush Show on Broadway was just, to this day, one of the most fun things I've gotten to do. And this just kind of came. Zach and I had met about trying to do a movie together and we landed on doing these two southern characters. And we both have… Zach's from North Carolina, and I have family in North Carolina, and it just became a thing. And then it was Adam McKay was like, “You should be two dueling southern politicians.” So that's how it kind of happened. It wasn't like, “Let's make a political movie,” and then thought, “Oh, wow, if we start now, if we shoot it and get it out for 2012, it'll be great timing.” So that's kind of how it all came together.
Are you anticipating then being a fun part of promoting the movie though as having it against the election?
Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I mean, knock on wood, I hope it'll be kind of, you know, in what's now becoming a two-year endless campaign. These candidates start two years out and we're so tired of it by the time we hit the conventions in a way that I think this is going to come and be such a nice breath of fresh air to kind of make fun of everything. And I think the media will like the break, that there's something you can still talk about politics, but we're now talking about this comedy that's coming out. So I hope it lines up in that way. It's a fun departure.
I was just thinking that it might well shame some of those politicians into dialing it down.
It'd be fun if it did! But I think there's just too much big money now behind everything. I don't know. Unless we want to make real serious changes about that, I think this…but we make fun of– that's part of one of our through-lines, is how much money's getting infused into what is really a small district race in our movie. And that's what sets off the insanity of the two candidates.
Can you talk about Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd as Motch brothers?
Yeah. We kind of wanted to pick some actors who had a little bit of gravitas and they were kind of this perfect combination. You know, Dan Aykroyd kind of being one of my Saturday Night Live heroes that I wanted to be. And in John Lithgow, both guys have such a great handle on comedy obviously, but can play things seriously. And they were great. My only regret is I'm not in any of the scenes with them because they were kind of behind the scenes as the puppet masters and funneling money into our campaigns. But they were great and they had the best time and had never met each other. And I think they're now new buddies because they like went to dinner every night and all stuff like that. But I think they both really loved working with Jay and just the excitement of a movie like this.
Have you ever reached out to somebody that you were interested in doing a project with and then found out in the process of trying to line something up, maybe they didn't have the sense of humor that you thought they did? You ever had anything like that?
You mean in terms of somebody who's actually been cast and you're-
Well, no. Maybe somebody you're thinking about for a project and you're like my energy would work really well with this, probably like a straight thing and then you get them on the phone and it turns out they're like, oh-
No. Yeah, I don’t really– we haven't really-
Not that you would name them, but-
I mean, I don't feel like I've come across that. You know, it's more that you have pie in the sky ideas and they're just not interested.
Yeah, right. So it doesn't even get out the door. Yeah, yeah.
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