On August 10th, Warner Bros. releases the Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis political comedy, The Campaign, and—based on what we’ve seen thus far—director Jay Roach might have a monster hit on his hands. The film looks topical, hilarious, and like it pulls no punches while skewering politicians on both side of the aisle.
Back in February, Collider and a few other members of the online press were invited to the film’s set in New Orleans. While there, we had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Will Ferrell to learn more about his Campaign character, and found him to be one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever encountered. What’d he have to say for himself? Find out after the jump, folks!
When me and a few other online members-of-the-press visited the set of The Campaign back in February, getting a chance to conduct a group interview with Will Ferrell—an actor/comedian I’ve been a fan of for many, many years—was a particular highlight. In the interview below, you’ll get to hear what he had to say about playing Cam Brady (a John Edwards-like politician with a intense interest in his hair’s appearance), which politicians informed his character, and why he thinks political junkies from both side of the aisle will be so entertained The Campaign. But first, some highlights:
- On his character, Cam Brady, Ferrell says, “Cam Brady is more the slick, John Edwards version, very polished. He can kinda take command of a room, but then you leave realizing he literally didn’t say anything that was of any value, or anything with any substance. He just knows he’s got great bedside manner and is super polished, but he’s not really of any substance.”
- Ferrell says that the creative team behind the film never really planned on the idea of The Campaign’s release date matching up with the actual Presidential election happening shortly thereafter, but considers it a happy accident.
- How obsessed is Cam with his hair? Says Ferrell: “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 are moments where we literally reshot something because the wind was blowing and my hair was looking too crazy.”
- Ferrell says that the “long shooting days” that have become typical on popular Hollywood comedies have a lot to do with the fact that everyone involved has so much material to work from: their improv skills, the script they started with, and the stuff that gets written during rehearsals.
- One of the film’s crazier moments involves…well, I’ll just let Ferrell tell you: “I have a whole rally where I come flying in on a wire playing a keytar with Bachman Turner Overdrive playing behind me…and I have like a Janet Jackson headset on and I got this whole crowd of people to chant, ‘Hate Marty Huggins’, and it was really fun”.
- On the genesis of The Campaign, Ferrell tells us: “This kind of came from Zach and I meeting about trying to do a movie together, and we landed on doing these two southern characters… Zach’s from North Carolina and I have family in North Carolina and it just became a thing. And then Adam McKay was like, you should be two dueling southern politicians. And that’s how it happened.”
Question: Will, let me start by asking you the most important thing: what are you expecting on Sunday night when you ride as King Bacchus (ed. Note: Ferrell was slated to ride in the Mardi Gras parade, an event taking place just days after our set visit)?
Have you ever been down here before for Mardi Gras?
FERRELL: No, no. Which is kind of the…I do have to say everyone who’s come up to me has said, “Oh, have you not been here for Mardi Gras?” They have the same speech pattern. They go (ominously), “Have you been here before Mardi Gras?” And I say, “No”. And they go…they pause, then they go, “Oh”. (Laughter)
You’re going to have a good time.
FERRELL: It’s slightly ominous, like it’s a fraternity hazing or something. But I don’t know what to expect. I’m not going to try and predict that I know, and I think it’s going to be crazy and fun.
Well, give me the phrase that pays. What do people scream at you on the route and you’ll give them (beads)? This is your chance to make everybody in New Orleans scream the same sentence.
FERRELL: Gosh, I don’t know. They could scream, “Cam Brady, oh-twelve”. Yeah, they’d definitely get beads if I hear, “Cam Brady, oh-twelve”.
There you go.
FERRELL: That’ll work.
FERRELL: I mean, there’re going to be probably cut from the same cloth a little bit in that, you know, they’re fumbling politicians. Cam Brady is more the slick, John Edwards version, very polished. He can kinda take command of a room, but then you leave realizing he literally didn’t say anything that was of any value, or anything with any substance. He just knows he’s got great bedside manner and is super polished, but he’s not really of any substance. Whereas with George Bush, you know, he misspoke all the time and it was a little more obvious. I think Cam is the more polished version of that.
What is it that you like about this character?
FERRELL: 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. You know, I’ve gotten to speak in the same speech patterns as you hear where…it’s just so fun– as a politician– to say (adopts politician-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 fifteen minutes out 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.” (Laughter) You know, it’s like…what the fuck?! I love just, like, never answering a question with a statement like that. And when we initially sat down and, you know, 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- (laughter) -and, you know, that he’s funny. Because I know I’ll be funny.
FERRELL: 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 are 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. We reshot a whole speech so that I could have more perfect hair. That’s a huge element…which has been fun. I think someone snapped a picture of us when we were outside, and it ran in Huffington Post saying, “Look out, Mitt Romney, there’s new hair in politics!” (Laughter) But, yeah, that was one of the first things I thought of when I thought of my character: I wanted to have this perfect, y’know, photogenic hairstyle.
The thing is, politics are crazy: Republican primaries still going on-
–right now. Do you ever watch what’s happening when you go home at night and get inspired by any of that stuff, bring it to set the next day?
FERRELL: Well, I don’t know if Jay spoke to you (yet), but what we had in the script was…well, obviously all the things we’re doing were fairly heightened. The only think we’re worried about now is if our movie is crazy enough. Because we’ve seen the Herman Cain’s and 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! Like we’re just right in that line. It’s weird. And so I forget what your original–
FERRELL: We did. We kept seeing things, emailing stuff. “Did you read this, read that?” It’s exactly what we have in the movie. So, you know, I just hope that–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 when (Zach’s character) Marty’s not on the political stage, he kind of regresses back inside his normal self…
Is that the same thing with Cam, or is he always the politician?
FERRELL: Yeah, I mean, he’s the lazy incumbent. He’s the guy who just thought he’d roll into a fifth consecutive term. He usually runs unopposed. And he didn’t think that, you know, he needed to worry about the rest of the world. He’s been mentioned as a possible VP candidate, which is at the height of his aspirations. He doesn’t want to be President. It’s too much work. He wants to be Vice President. He’s 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, yeah.
FERRELL: Yeah, yeah. I mean, 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. You know, I think that’s just kind of becoming the norm on comedies these days, 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, I mean, 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, you know, was already written and already really funny. I mean, Jay got us here two weeks before filming and we literally sat down every day and went through every scene and kind of, you know, rehearsed them and figured out what was working or what we thought– I mean, within that process we came up with additional lines that Chris Henchy would kind of write down. So, we had this whole other playbook that we’ll just open up and go to all these other alts that we came up with at rehearsal. Between what we already had and alternative stuff and stuff we come up on the spot, you know, 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?
FERRELL: You know, the Brady’s kind of put on appearances that they (have their own) Camelot. He’s like a poor man’s Kennedy. He wants everything to look great, but behind the scene I have a really kind of tough, aggressive, ladder-climbing wife who’s pushing him. You know, she wants it as bad, if not more, than I do. And my kids are kinda dismissive and hate me. So, yeah, behind the veneer it’s, you know, but we don’t see so much of my home life. You see more of Marty’s.
FERRELL: Well, I mean, it’s my first time working with Jay. And Jay’s kind of fit into what we do and vice versa. And so it’s…I don’t know if it feels that much different than a lot of the other movies. I mean, it feels like par for the course in terms of, y’know, 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?
WILL FERRELL: No, it’s more grounded. You know, Jay’s brought all of this experience from the legit political movies he’s done with Game Change and Recount, so in terms of the shot composition and everything, it has the feel of an epic, awesome political movie. We played it totally straight. Yeah, we keep our feet on the ground for the most part and then we kind of take license with political ads. There are moments where you kind of–for the sake of comedy– say, well, I don’t know if that would happen, but we’re almost that close.
FERRELL: (Some of this stuff) actually happened in real life. We take some big swings with stuff, but for the most part, yeah, this is abstract in a way like Anchorman. It’s all played really real and awesome, though.
Have you shot some big scenes in front crowds? What was that like for you?
FERRELL: I mean, tomorrow’s the last day, but… it was great. We shot a whole thing where, I forget which old theatre we were at downtown, but we had a whole thing where my campaign kind of gets revitalized and I have a whole rally where I come flying in on a wire playing a keytar with Bachman Turner Overdrive playing behind me… because my campaign song is “Taking Care of Business”. We had Boston Rob come out and introduce me to, you know, to show off (the idea that) consulting groups will get some people in pop culture and put them in there. And I have like a Janet Jackson headset on and I got this crowd of people to chant like, hate Marty Huggins, and it was really fun, you know.
Is it fun to play with a diverse cast like this, with Brian Cox and Dylan McDermott?
FERRELL: You know, I think that those have probably been some of the most satisfying casting choices that we’ve made. 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, the dad in Stepbrothers. Like, it’s so great to cast legit actors in funny roles and let them, you know, use their strengths and make that juxtaposition. And Dylan’s fantastic. He’s so serious and like this kind of… he’s always dressed in black. He’s this political operative who comes in and shakes the candidates up. 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.
FERRELL: You just embrace the clash. I mean, I remember doing Elf and James Caan like the whole time like I could just tell was looking at me like, what are you doing. (laughter) 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 I thought, oh, that’s a good sign. Even when you think it’s going bad, just keep talking. (laughter) And that contrast will be pleasing to the audience. So, no, it doesn’t change anything I do, you know, either way.
Have you wanted to do a political movie in general for a while or did this–
FERRELL: No. It wasn’t necessarily a goal even though doing political things are so much fun. 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 from Zach and I meeting 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 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.
FERRELL: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, knock on wood, I hope it’ll be kind of involved 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 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-
Do you guys have maybe like alternate like TV spots that might even serve as the actual spots for the movie when it comes around time for marketing it?
FERRELL: That’s a great idea. No. I mean, maybe, but that’s a great way, though. And I’m going to steal that. Thank you. (laughter) Yeah. No, but that would be fun to run. You know, we haven’t done that yet, and I think anything that we shot for the movie out of context probably wouldn’t play on its own, but to shoot like a faux campaign ad for the purpose of spot on TV would be great.
FERRELL: Yeah. You know, we kind of wanted to pick some actors who, you know, had a little bit of gravitas and they were kind of this perfect combination. You know, Dan Aykroyd being one of my Saturday Night Live heroes that, you know, I wanted to be. And in John Lithgow, you know, both guys have such a great handle on comedy obviously, but they can play things seriously. And they were great. You know, 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 they’d never met each other. And I think they’re now new buddies because they like went to dinner every night and stuff like that. But I think they both really loved, you know, working with Jay and just the excitement of a movie like this.
So, what’s your relationship like with your campaign manager?
FERRELL: Oh, yes. Mitch, who’s Jason Sudeikis, is kind of like the guy who’s always kept me out of trouble, but hasn’t had to work too hard because I usually don’t have (many problems). But, yeah, he’s the smarter version of Cam in a way, but he’s still not that smart. He still allows me to do some horrible things. But Jason was, you know, once again, a really great improviser. And we didn’t give him a chance to rehearse and I think we worked together that first week and right away he just stood in and it felt like we had a relationship. You know, it felt like these two characters had really been with each other through the trenches just because he was so comfortable stepping in there. I think he’s so funny and a great guy. It was fun working with him.
FERRELL: Yeah, it gave us a lot of stuff to talk about in between set ups.
Did you know how to work together because of that or did you-
FERRELL: I don’t know if it’s SNL so much as just both having, you know, done improv a lot. SNL shaped some of that but, you know, all the kind of really loose performers, you know, you don’t ever do a take and be like, “Are you going to do that again with your pencil and pad? Because you really threw me off”. And like anyone’s on the same page, performance-wise, would bring that up. You just kind of go with the flow and it’s all process and you know that some of the stuff’s going to work and some of the stuff isn’t, and you don’t sweat any of it. And, you know, in that way you just click right away. You only run into trouble with actors who are like, “Okay, I just wish you’d stick to the script, please and just do it once that way.”
All right. Is there anything that you’re doing with this role that we’ve never seen before, something that’s going to surprise people?
FERRELL: Yeah. I wish I could.
And that, folks, was our time with Ron Burgundy himself, Will Ferrell. For what it’s worth, I found Will Ferrell to be one of the nicest, most gracious, laid-back “famous-types” that I’ve ever had reason to sit down with. Discovering that someone you’re a fan of is just as down-to-Earth and non-douchey in person as you’d hope they would be is always a pleasure, and Ferrell more than acquitted himself as “one of the good guys” during our time together.
Speaking of which, we’ve got more Campaign-related content headed your way, folks! All of that’s going to be dropping today, in anticipation of The Campaign’s August 10th debut. Special thanks to Will Ferrell, the people at Warner Bros., and the great city of New Orleans for facilitating this visit. While you’re waiting on our next bit of coverage, feel free to sound off in the comments section below with your thoughts on Galifianakis, Ferrell, and The Campaign!
Here’s more from The Campaign Set Visit:
- 20 Things to Know from The Campaign Set Visit
- Zach Galifianakis Talks Working with Will Ferrell, His “Non-Sexual” Character, and Disliking Children on the Set of The Campaign
- Director Jay Roach Talks The Campaign, Working with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, His Career Path and How Much of the Film is Based in Reality