June 2004 By Philip Berk
The surefire way for an actor to make it in Hollywood?
Drop your drawers!
Ewan McGregor did it.
So did Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Paul Bettany, and Charlie Hunnam.
Come to think of it, they’re all British, and they all went on to bigger and better things!
The only American to make that leap is comic Will Ferrell.
Before Old House he was just another Saturday Night Live guy trying to make it Hollywood; in fact he’d been in six movies, including the misbegotten A Night at the Roxbury
But then strolling through the streets of Pasadena buck naked, he had Hollywood in the palm of his hand.
And before you could say ‘Show off!’ thanks to Elf, he’s become a superstar who’ll be romancing Nicole Kidman in her next movie.
I once asked him about his nudity in Old House.
Was that a challenge or was he having fun?
“I’ve always been fearless, and on Saturday Night Live you didn’t know from week to week if you were going to have to be dressed in drag or walk around in a Speedo, so that’s kind of fun for me.”
And he had no problem running naked down a street in Pasadena?
‘The sad or heroic thing depending on how you look at it is I’d already done that. I’ve run down many streets naked so that was no no big deal; in fact the (neighboring) city of Montrose is having a parade every year to commemorate that.”
With Will you never know if he’s serious or not. In this case not.
Was he asked, as was Paul Bettany for A Knight’s Tale, if he wanted to use a sock?
“You mean the infamous marble sack.”
Paul thought it more embarrassing to use than not to use?
“It’s almost pornographic to put that on. But I did — I went with the device but only for practical purposes because if it happens to get on camera it’s easier to blur out, but yeah it’s bizarre wearing something around your genitalia even though I’m wearing one right now just to keep in the moment.”
See what I mean!
Has he always had the compulsion to be funny?
“Obviously if you’re in comedy, there’s that anticipation especially from fans who expect you do do something crazy all the time. I’m always leaving people with a sense that I’ve let them down. But I don’t feel any pressure to be anyone but myself, and like everyone else sometimes you’re in a light, funny mood and other times you’re just going about your business.”
At his press conference for Anchorman he’s somewhere in between.
When he walks into the room, he’s very serious, but he’s wearing a U.P.S. uniform.
How come? I ask him.
“I friend of mine who used to work for UPS sent it to me. That’s pretty much the story.”
“He thought, ‘Wouldn’t you like to have this?’ And I said yes. It’s a fun conversation piece. I like to wear it.”
Are Dreamworks okay with it?
He shrugs his shoulders, knowing that the movie is one of their few hits this summer. It opened bigger ($30 million) than Terminal or Collateral and garnered some great reviews.
In it he plays the a smug, fatuous newscaster, named Ron Burgundy
Wasn’t that his first job, as a newscaster?
“After I graduated from college I worked maybe six months for a local cable station in Orange County. It wasn’t a paying job so I was taking acting classes and doing a little bit of stand up at the same time.”
Does he have a favorite newscaster?
“There are a lot of good people in sports. I like Al Michaels. I actually presented an award to him last night.”
When I’m amused by his answer, he gets angry.
“Were you there?” he asks me.
Was he wearing his toupe? I reply.
“Orange Afro. No,” he answers angrily.
(Michaels was kicked off the air two years ago when he solicited a prostitute. He is also well known for his hairpiece. He’s back on.)
Speaking of hair, did he have his hair straightened for the part?
“The irony was, everyone thought my hair was real and my mustache fake, and it was just the opposite. It was a very good wig.”
Ron Burgundy works for a TV Station in San Diego, Calif.
Why San Diego?
“We wanted a place where Ron Burgundy could be a big fish in a little pond. So San Diego seemed perfect. It’s a big city but not too big. It’s not the greatest city in the history of civilization. and because he’s so shallow and probably never been anywhere else, it seemed perfect.”
The highlight of the film is a rumble between rival anchormen. To give away more would spoil the fun.
How was he able to get all those actors to do that scene?
“We’re very proud of it because what would normally take three days to shoot we shot in one day. It’s kind of West Side Story meets Planet of the Apes meets Gangs of New York. Basically it was between myself and Adam (McKay, the co-writer-director) and the producers. we all know each other and luckily we think each other is funny enough to go in and out of each other’s movies. So yeah, we did pick up the phone and luckily everyone was available on that day.”
Let’s talk about Will Ferrell, upstanding citizen
Has he always been self-confident?
‘I guess a little. I wouldn’t say self-confident. I’ve always wanted to challenge myself.”
He’s married. What can tell us about his wife?
“Her name is Viveca Paulin, and she’s a fine art auctioneer.”
Do they have separate careers?
“Right, but sometimes she sells nude art, so we kind of converge.”
Like the character he played in Old School, was it difficult for him to adapt to married life?
“I’m very different from him. I’ve always been the marrying kind. It was always something I was excited to do. I’m a bit of a homebody. I like to go home and play with the dogs.”
How did he and his wife meet?
“We met on an acting program. She had just graduated from college where her minor was theatre and for a time was interested in that. We kind of dated for a little bit, were friends for the longest time, and then kind of reconnected.”
How did that happen?
“I got on Saturday Night Live, and then she liked me. No, it was just one of those things where you’re romantic for a while and then become friends. It was the classic situation where we both thought the other was the one that got away. We were friends, we were both single, we talked to each other, and then at a certain point she kinda brought it up to me that she still liked me, and I said, “I don’t like you anymore,” and then I said, “No I’m only joking I like you too.”
They have a son, Magnus Paulin, born in March.
How is he adjusting to fatherhood?
“We’re definitely enjoying being parents, and I only see him once a week.” (His cue to be funny.) “I keep him in a separate part of the house because I like to play with his toys. I would like to teach him how to be a safecracker so he can he can become a master jewel thief.”
He needs the money?
“I barely make anything after taxes.”
Is this a happy time for his wife?
“It’s a very happy time for all of us including my parents, It’s their first grand child. It’s interesting how much excitement a baby generates within a family. It’s almost like heroin. Everyone is like, ‘I have to see the baby. What’s it doing? It’s just sleeping right?”
Speaking of parents, his own father was the keyboard player for the Righteous Brothers.
Was that an an important part of his growing up?
“We all grew up — my bother and I, and we have a half sister who’s much younger — knowing my dad played music but not really knowing who the Righteous Brothers were. But then when we would mention it, people would kind of light up. As we got older we’d go with dad to see him play in Las Vegas, and it slowly dawned on us that the band was a big deal and had a lot of influence on rock n roll. So it was really kind of special for us, and subconsciously I guess it was responsible for my wanting to get into entertainment and perform.”
Does he have any musical talent?
“I played the saxophone from the sixth grade through the eighth. Then I gave it up.”
How did he get along with his dad?
“Even today we’re extremely close. We probably talk a couple of times a week. I feel very lucky to have a strong relationship because so many people in this business don’t have one. I’m very close to both my parents, and I feel lucky for it,”
Old School got his ass in the door, but it was Elf that made him a star.
And he’s worked non-stop since even replacing uninsurable Robert Downey Jr. in Woody Allen’s new film, still untitled.
Was he also the jokester on Woody’s set?
“I tried to joke around with Woody.”
Are you serious? I challenge him.
“Am I here right now? Do I exist? he deadpans.
Then jokingly he continues, “I am giving you a 40 percent serious answer. I would try to lift Woody up and carry him like a little baby.”
Was it intimidating working with him?
“A little bit, sure, to be in his presence, even though he is nothing but nice. He really does his own thing, and he lets you perform anyway you want to. ‘Go ahead, change the dialogue,’ that sort of thing. I found it a very comfortable working relationship.”
And looking to the future, he’s signed for two movies with Nicole Kidman.
“Actually six,” he corrects me.
Which one will he talk about?
“We’re doing Bewitched and then The Producers, and then four sequels to Cold Mountain: Colder Mountain, Coldest Mountain, Freezing Mountain, and Frigid Mountain.”
Seriously, is he looking forward to Bewitched?
“It’s really going to be fun. Working with (writer-director) Nora Ephron, I’m a big fan of hers. It’s a big opportunity for me. I hope I don’t blow it.”
Did he have to audition for Nicole?
“I met with her in New York on the set of Stepford Wives. We had never met before. We’ve talked a few times since. I didn’t have to audition, but it was her call in a way. Thankfully she wanted to do the movie.”
Supposedly she’s a big fan of Old School?
“We were just talking, and she started laughing. And I said, ‘Are you thinking about my butt?’ and she said, ‘No I am just laughing at you. But now I am thinking about your butt, so it’s making me laugh even harder.’ But she’s so disarmingly down to earth, as big a star as she is. I think we’re going to have a great time.”
When he was making Elf, did he ever think it would become a huge blockbuster?
“We had some idea that it would attract a family audience, but that it would became a huge hit, we were clueless, although we were looking for that balance between sentiment and comedy.”
It must have been scary walking away from Saturday Night Live?
“I wasn’t scared about leaving, not because I felt supremely confident but because I’m the type that once I make a decision, I go with it. I had done the show for seven seasons so I felt it was a good time for me to leave. I wanted to do other things creatively because when you’re doing SNL you’re unavailable from September through May. You only have the summer to squeeze in a movie, and I wanted to open myself to that. At the same time I wanted to leave the show on a good note. I liked the place, I have a lot of friends there. Even today I miss it, but for the most part I’ve moved on. And it’s fun to do other stuff.”
Since he doesn’t have a Nudity Clause, is there anything he wouldn’t do?
”What wouldn’t I do? As long as it’s in the context of the character and makes sense I’m pretty much open to anything.”
Some quick round up questions:
Is he good at sports?
“I’ve always been — always played sports and am a huge fan.”
How about exercise?
“I stay fairly athletic. In the last couple of years I’ve taken up running and biking. I’ve run three marathons in the last three years, the last was the Boston Marathon”
And his time?
Before he clicked as a comedian, what are some of the interesting jobs he held?
“I valet parked cars for a while. For a hotel. I banged up a few. I left the key of one car in another car. They drove home for the night. Not a good multi-tasker. I was a bank teller. The first day my drawer was $300 short.”
Who does he find funny?
“I like comedy that’s played real. I’m not a big Three Stooges fan.”
Favorite classic comedy?
“I have a broad based knowledge of older comedies. Not really a student of anything in particular.”
“Poseidon Adventure. That thing cracks me up. I get a real chuckle out of that.”
This time he’s serious!