Will Ferrell knows exactly how to build us laugh. Hes back with Mark Wahlberg for his latest movie, Daddys Home, and will shortly return as Mugatu in Zoolander 2. Tim Adams fulfills him to assure whats behind the most expressive jowl in America
Half an hour before I interviewed Will Ferrell I attained the mistake of watching a clip of him interviewing himself. In one of Ferrells many Saturday Night Live( SNL) incarnations he did a celebrated spoof of the long-running American arts demonstrate Inside the Performer Studio , in which James Lipton presents cerebral interrogations of Hollywood starrings. Ferrell donned a bald wig and beard, sat with a pile of Liptons opted blue notecards and went through a parody of the questions he might have asked: Whats your favourite curse word? he asked of himself. If heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive? And, of acting in general, and slapstick including with regard to: Is it craft or is it crap?
Ferrell is capable of grotesque facial extremes from the self-obsessed gurnings of Ron Burgundy in Anchorman to the annual festive rapture of Buddy in Elf but his straightest face, a thing of perfect innocent blankness, is his most effortless and dependable comic creation. There is no suggestion of a created eyebrow , no ghost of a giveaway grin. It eludes you to project knowingness. It is this face that Ferrell assumes throughout his interview with himself as Lipton: courteous, slightly puzzled, charming, doing his best to answer, while inviting dark laughter at the pretentious absurdities of any such encounter. And, of course, having watched the clip, it is this face that I dread seeing as I contemplate interviewing Ferrell in a high-ceilinged London hotel room, while rehearsing my own abruptly lame-sounding and hopelessly predictable lines of enquiry.
As it runs, in the hour in which we talk, Ferrell is unfailingly polite, friendly, thoughtful, engaged. But even so, all the time, I cant quite shake the sense that I am clearly the fool with the blue cards; that somewhere, style beneath that impervious surface, under the rollneck sweater and mop of hair, the easy smile and frank handshake, the sometimes earnest, always affable answers, he is choking an uproarious belly laugh.
Its something like this expression that Ferrell wears for large parts of Daddys Home , the most recent pitch-perfect instance of what he calls broad commercial slapstick the genre he has, for a decade, induced pretty much his own. Ferrell plays Brad, the worlds greatest stepdad, who are interested nothing more than the vaguest emotional acknowledgement from his wifes children, and who is undone in that passion by the return to the family home of their wayward biological father, Dusty, playing with suitable subversive danger by Mark Wahlberg. The double act is a reprise of Ferrell and Wahlbergs good-cop-bad-cop routines in 2010 s The Other Guys . Ferrell had been aware, long before they worked together, that he could find some giggles playing off Wahlbergs pumped-up intensity. Mark is the guy who could walk down the street in a movie with his own theme song, he says. People will step aside. He generates that dynamic without saying a word. He represents the lion male to my kitty cat
As a teenager Ferrell spent a lot of time watching Steve Martin on SNL . The results of that survey are everywhere apparent in the way he occupies the suburban certainties of Brad, the latest in a line of regular guys he has created around whom all the craziness happens.
He is so emotionally available on an nearly sickening level, reading the script made me laugh every time, Ferrell says. You know that line in the movie where someone says: No one likes smooth jazz He is hands-up: I do! He loves benign and mediocre; he loves his Ford Flex. It might drive someone else nuts, but he only loves where he is.
You watch Brad with the sense that Ferrell, who grew up in sunny Irvine, California, did not “re going to have to” search too hard within for him. Hes always watched the comic potential of that threatened all-American way of life, of Norman Rockwell idealism, and its close proximity to more anarchic urges.