Rockefeller Center in early December is a crazy place, packed with tourists trying just to get a glimpse of the famous Christmas tree and skating rink. It feels pretty funny to weave through the clumps of starstruck people hovering outside The Today Show only to hop in an elevator, enter a nondescript office right inside 30 Rock, and come face to face with Will Ferrell.
With the madness of Christmas at Rockefeller Center 28 stories below them, Ferrell and his collaborators were hard at work shooting a summer comedy. The Other Guys had been taking over sections of New York for months, filming car chase and shootouts all over the city, but the day I visited the set with some online colleagues, things were limited to a regular office scene-- but that didn't mean they were normal. A routine investigation of a businessman's suicide devolved into silliness when detectives played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg were assigned to the case, and that's even before their competition, played by Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr., showed up to taunt them and maybe flirt with each other a little.
As you probably already learned in the movie's trailer, The Other Guys stars Ferrell and Wahlberg as a pair of detectives who finally get a chance to step up to the big leagues when the force's star cops-- played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson-- are indisposed. No one was telling us whether or not the star cops die or simply get injured early in the film, but given the wild tone of the film, I'd count on a spectacular death sequence. Given the chance to investigate a suicide, the pair of cops jump all over their opportunity to hit the big league, but they're constantly being investigated by both their boss (Michael Keaton) and the rival team of cops played by Riggle and Wayans, who always show up to try and take them down.
We saw all of that in the scene they were filming that day in 30 Rock, where Ferrell and Wahlberg arrive to investigate the scene and start collecting clues, only for Keaton to show up and take them off the case, telling them all the reasons their clues mean nothing. Rubbing salt in the wounds are Riggle and Wayans, who have become so popular for their own work that they were at a bar doing shots with Derek Jeter, while Wahlberg's character has become notorious for, uh, shooting Derek Jeter. In the leg. The fact that Wahlberg is a famous Bostonian and Red Sox fan will probably make this movie a huge hit in Boston, as Wahlberg himself pointed out on the set.
Director Adam McKay took the cast through a lot-- a lot-- of takes of each scene, both to capture the standard different camera angles and to allow the actors room to improvise. They would stick to the script for a few takes to get the lines down, then McKay would encourage them to improvise, with every one of the actors getting in on the fun. Keaton constantly made up different photos to pull out of the envelope that was supposed to contain evidence-- quilting patterns was one-- while Riggle and Wayans, who ended the scene, carried out their final dialogue to the point that, in the last take, the two buddy partners seemed on the verge of making out. Even Wahlberg, who may be the least experienced in improv among all of them, was able to get in on it with McKay encouraging him, using some of his trademark intensity to make it truly hilarious when his character was demoted to the traffic beat.
Though we couldn't see McKay from the monitors we were watching, it was fascinating to watch the way Ferrell works with him from on camera. At one point we could hear McKay telling Ferrell he was "like the coach's son," basically telling him he was in charge among the fellow actors. I couldn't think of a better way to describe the working relationship between an actor and a director doing their fourth movie together; the two clearly get one another in a way that makes any great collaboration possible, and though Ferrell is the star, he also recognizes to help McKay turn the movie into what he wants to make it. As an unabashed fan of everything they've done together so far, I was really encouraged to see this kind of collaboration happening between them on The Other Guys as well.
You can call this overkill, but I swear this is true-- we were joined as visitors on the set by a family from Kentucky who were there because the youngest son was a Make-a-Wish kid, and apparently had the dream of visiting a Hollywood set. During on break Ferrell came over to chat with the entire family, take countless photos and sign T-shirts, and chatted amiably with them about their experience in New York. While we journalists moaned about being stuck inside on a Saturday afternoon, this kid and his family were thrilled to be in the very room. Way to put us in our place.
During breaks between scenes we got a chance to talk with all the principal actors as well as McKay and screenwriter Chris Henchy. Below is the interview with Ferrell and Wahlberg, and we'll be running all the rest of the interviews throughout the day. (Read Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr. here) Included in the interview are three brand-new images from the film that you'll only find at the sites that visited the set-- and given how small that 30 Rock office was, there weren't that many of us. The Other Guys comes out August 6 this year, just in time for you to be totally sick of actual action movies and ready for a summer movie that is actually intentionally making you laugh.
There have been a lot of buddy cop comedies over the years. What made you and Adam decide to do one?
Will Ferrell: We just were big fans of Mark’s, and just thought that no one’s really used him in a comedy this way. If he was up for it we thought it’d be a fun kind of thing to do.
Mark Wahlberg: I’ve been dying to do a comedy, and these guys took me to dinner and bought a bunch of nice wine and said, “Do you want to do a movie?” I said, “Are you kidding me?” If you do the wrong kind of comedy you never get a chance to do it again if you come from my background. Having an opportunity to work with these guys was a real dream come true. Then they actually went through with it and wrote this part that was right up my alley, and I get to work with this guy so it’s a no-brainer for me.
Was it intimidating for you?
Wahlberg: No, because they were very clear that they would take me under their wing and protect me. I always thought comics are completely different from what they appear to be onscreen. You hear stories of how serious they are, how they try to be funny during a take but in-between takes it’s weird and awkward. These guys aren’t like that.
Ferrell: We’re more weird and awkward. (laughs) We just thought it would be a great opportunity to comment on the genre. To do what we do and put the spin on the buddy cop movie.
Who’s good cop and who’s bad cop?
Wahlberg: I try to get him to play good cop/bad cop in the movie. We’re confronting this guy. I say, “I go hard, then you come in.” I tear into this guy, and next thing you know this guy goes twice as bananas as me. [Note: you can see this scene in the trailer]
Ferrell: I mishear him, I think he says “bad cop/bad cop”.
Wahlberg: He goes bananas. To see Steve Coogan’s face when Will went nuts was pretty damn funny.
Mark, what are you learning from Will about comedy improv?
Wahlberg: These guys go non-stop, and not only Will but anybody, whether it’s a bit part or a day-player, everybody that comes in is on fire. You got to be on your toes and they let me riff. Every time they do a scene you get a couple takes that are written, then you go nuts. I’m always trying to learn from every single person I work with. If I was ever the most experienced person on set that’s when I’d be nervous. When you have guys like these around you, you feel like you can do anything you want to do and still come off looking good.
This cast is huge. When you say, “Be in my movie,” does everyone come ‘a running?
Ferrell: This one was so cool because we started making these movies and said, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to get that person?” and there was no way in hell. With this movie the people we actually wanted were like, “Of course, we’ll do it.” It’s nice to see that our work has been liked to the point where you picture Eva Mendes and she’s like, “Sure, tell me when.” Everyone was really looking forward to being a part of this.
Wahlberg: And she plays his wife! (laughs)
Ferrell: Which is a natural conclusion; I don’t know why you’re all laughing. (laughs)
How is it shooting in New York?
Ferrell: We love it. It’s such an energy to shoot here. Definitely when you’re doing an exterior in a big crowded part of the city there’s some issues with people constantly yelling. “HEY ENTOURAGE! I LOVE ENTOURAGE!” (laughs)
Wahlberg: Or you tell people to wait for a minute and they just walk right through the shot. Even old ladies! They’re like, “I don’t give a fuck.”
Will, I think we heard Adam on the set treating you like the coach’s son. Is that what your working relationship is right now, you’re kind of one and the same?
Ferrell: A little bit. I’m more like a coach’s son who was never good at basketball, not allowed anywhere near the court, I just got to fill the water bottles, wash the towels. We don’t even really think about what it is we do because it’s our fourth movie; we kind of know what the other guy is thinking. It’s pretty open territory. It’s not just me, though, he’s open with everybody. It’s best idea wins. He’s one of the few directors to say, “Frank the sound guy had a good idea, we’re going to do this.” He’ll give credit; he takes no ownership of anything. The biggest thing you want to set up is a feeling that if you fail it’s okay. At least 50% of the stuff we come up with, and probably 80% on some days, is terrible. But the 20% is so good it’s worth it. As long as you have that going in and everyone feels comfortable and it’s a great working environment. Adam sets that up.
How realistic is this? Your movies have gotten pretty wacky in the past.
Ferrell: This might be the most realistic thing we’ve done. We are real detectives, and we want this stark, real, gritty background so when we throw in these jokes they bounce even higher.
Wahlberg: Every time we’re doing something we’re trying to make each other laugh and say something funny, Adam’s always like, “Make sure you say something about the case…”
Ferrell: There aren’t any broad portrayals, or super-over-the-top characters.
Wahlberg: Certainly with me I’m trying to stay as committed as possible no matter how absurd it is, and hopefully that’ll translate as funny as opposed to doing pratfalls and shit.
Mark, can you talk about shooting Derek Jeter? Is that something you wrote into the script?
Wahlberg: That was something they were nice enough to write in for me, and he was dumb enough to do it. No, I took great pleasure in that, especially after them winning the World Series.
Ferrell: (laughs) We had to openly root for the Yankees this year.
Wahlberg: We wanted them to show up in a good mood. The Red Sox were already out of it anyway, so I was okay with that. I got to have my cake and eat it too. We were sitting there talking and laughing and I told him, “Do you know how this movie’s going to play like in Boston when I shoot you in the leg?” Just that is enough to cement me in Boston for the rest of my life.