Now it's time to wield an ax...

Now it's time to wield an ax...

Hollywood diaries

Now it's time to wield an ax...
By the time Will Ferrell was in the sixth grade, he was almost six feet tall and owning it. “I never felt gawky or like it was a disadvantage. I was kind of proud of being tall,” said Ferrell, who grew up in Irvine, California, USA, where he played baseball, basketball and soccer. “You’re more looked up to. Literally. You are literally looking down on people.”

Throughout his film and television career, Ferrell has used his height (he’s now 6-foot-3) and athleticism to his advantage, wringing laughs as Buddy, the oversize Santa’s helper, in Elf; the preening, looming broadcaster Ron Burgundy in Anchorman; and the goofy stepfather battling a buff Mark Wahlberg in Daddy’s Home.

In The House, which opened on June 30, Ferrell’s Scott Johansen, an average suburban dad, learns to walk tall out of misguided necessity: when he and his wife, Kate (Amy Poehler), discover they can’t afford their only child’s college tuition, they raise money by opening a Las Vegas-style casino at a neighbour’s house and become menacing enforcers in the process. “It’s against their better judgment but in a weird way one of the greatest things they’ll ever do,” said Ferrell, who arrived for an interview at a hotel dressed in a black suit jacket with a natty pocket square. “And I get to wield an ax.”

In real life, Ferrell, 49, is soft-spoken and the father of Magnus, Mattias and Axel, who recently got to watch their dad film a scene with John Lithgow for the coming Daddy’s Home 2. “It didn’t cross my mind to tell them that we play the type of father and son who are so affectionate that we don’t think twice about kissing each other on the lips when we say hi,” Ferrell said. “But the boys, apparently, were cracking up watching that.”

These are edited excerpts from the conversation:

What appealed to you about playing a nice guy who transforms into a thuggish casino boss?
One thing I thought was great was getting to play a couple who are both equally committed to the premise. Usually in a movie, one of them — the wife, the husband — is in on the plan and the other is, like, ‘What’s going on?’ But here, for better or for worse, they’re both like, ‘OK, let’s just do it.’ They get to be funny together. I liked that.

One of your first successes on ‘Saturday Night Live’ was playing a dad who toggles between grilling hamburgers and shouting at his kids to get off the shed.
The ‘Get Off the Shed’ sketch, I did that at The Groundlings, and it worked right away. Just the combination of regular backyard barbecue conversation — ‘How’s your golf game?’ — juxtaposed with flying off the handle, screaming at your kids for a benign reason. That was such a delicious combination to me. It was also always inherently funny to me to play a dad who thought he had a high-stakes position, but it’s really very low stakes. Sort of like the comedy version of Willy Loman. Playing the befuddled father who’s just earnestly trying his best has always struck me as funny. I don’t know why. I can’t say that’s who my dad was.

Is it true that Michelle Obama is a fan of your and Adam McKay’s ‘Funny or Die’ sketch ‘The Landlord’?
Yes. We were invited to come to the White House for a Christmas party that is only for the Cabinet, the executive branch, their spouses and family. The invite was first for me to come dressed as Buddy the Elf. And I was like, ‘Um, yeah, I don’t have that costume.’ So then they said, ‘Come and read The Grinch.’ Which was interesting because there were no kids. I’m reading it to, like, Defense Secretary Robert Gates. But afterward, we got to sit at the first lady’s table. Michelle Obama, one of the nicest people, said, ‘I’ve got to tell you, my staff and I watched The Landlord all the time’. Then she just started doing lines, like, ‘Give me my money, bitch!’ The Landlord helped launch our site and shut down all our servers. So the fact that she was a fan? That was high praise.

Did you ever get a reaction from the 43rd president of the United States to your eerily spot-on impression of him?
I happened to call Jimmy Kimmel on the day when (President George W Bush) was going to be on promoting his book. And Jimmy said: ‘It’s so funny you’re calling. I’m having ‘W’ on, and I’m going to ask him about how he felt about your impersonation.’

How did he respond?
He said: ‘I loved it. That’s part of the gig. You’re going to get made fun of. That’s freedom of speech.’ And at that moment, he really looked like the adult in the room compared to the current guy (in office). I get the narcissism because I feel like every president has an element of that, whether they hide it or not. But the thin skin part? That’s amazing. You’re kind of like: ‘Really? Can’t you just go with it?’ When (President Donald Trump) wasn’t going to have any part of the correspondents’ dinner you wanted to go: ‘Do you realise that at that dinner you get to make fun of people too? They’ll make fun of you, but you get to punch back.’ I think it hurts so much so even the allure of getting to punch back isn’t enough.
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