The October skies were still grey and swollen with potential rain as I sped across town to make it to my early morning interview on Saturday with Will Ferrell.Â Perfect weather to interview a supervillain.
Sitting down with Ferrell, 43, has become something of a habit for me over the last decade or so.Â I’ve stood on-set chatting with Ron Burgundy, sat in a crazy forced perspective classroom beside Buddy The Elf, and there have been any number of interviews as he’s released his films.Â This summer, I moderated the “Megamind” panel at the San Diego Comic-Conâ€¦ or more accurately, I stood onstage and asked a few questions while Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and a cardboard Brad Pitt expertly worked the audience.
I like that when I sit down with him at this point, there’s no obligation for him to be “on.”Â He’s always sharp and funny, but he doesn’t exhibit some manic urge to score points or play some character.Â He’s a thoughtful, soft-spoken guy when we sit down.Â Especially when it’s 10:00 AM and I’m the first interview of what will no doubt be a very long Saturday for the star.Â I feel good about the fact that my decision to recently shave everything off my face for the first time in about a decade makes Will laugh the moment he walks into the room, and for the first few minutes of the interview, as we settle in to talk, every time he looks at me, he cracks up anew.
We begin by talking about the basic premise of the film and the way it riffs off of the traditional idea of the arch enemy.Â “There’s always that one guy, and when they catch him, they lock him up forever.Â Onlyâ€¦ it doesn’t really work out for some reason.Â Somehow, that guy always makes it off the prison island.”
On most animated films, actors spend their time alone, recording lines by themselves.Â “That’s sort of the pitch on these things, isn’t it?Â ‘Drop by in your sweats, do some funny voices, make a whole movie in five days.'”Â Ferrell said there were some surprises for him as a performer, though, starting with some actual face-to-face time with one of his co-stars.Â “Tina and I actually did get one full session together.Â I had to be in New York for something else, so we spent a day.Â Which was great, because we have some quiet, sort of intimate scenes to play.”Â HeÂ laughed about how people imagine things work on this sort of a film.Â “I’m looking forward to being asked about a thousand times this weekend.Â ‘What was it like to work with Brad Pitt?’Â And I don’t know.Â I’m sure it’s very nice.”
The character Megamind is one of Ferrell’s most outrageous on the surface, an alien with an oversized blue melon whose best friend is a fish bowl with a robot body.Â Yet Ferrell’s performance reveals the vulnerable heart of Megamind, no easy feat when playing something so conceptually over-the-top.Â Asked about playing something so tonally difficult, Ferrell offered up praise for the film’s director, Tom McGrath.Â “It’s an act of blind faith.Â Most movies, you get a script.Â Here, they bring you in and you see designs and some storyboards, and you got the script in drips and bits and pieces.Â And even after you record something, they may come back and say, ‘Oh, we had an idea for this,’ or, ‘Hey, this scene doesn’t play right.’Â So I’d lose track of what went where and where I was on his arc, and Tom was the one I had to trust.”
Ferrell was at the Toronto International Film Festival this year with “Everything Must Go,” an indie drama about a a man whose marriage collapses and his unusual response to the situation.Â Comparing that experience to the making of “Megamind,” he said, “We were working on this film before and during ‘Everything Must Go,’ and it was justâ€¦ two different ends of the spectrum.Â On ‘Everything,’ I’d be sitting outside on this chair in the front lawn and I would leave between takes.Â There was no time, and reallyâ€¦ nowhere to go.Â And if we did five takes on that film, it was a luxury.Â I really enjoyed that pace, and that’s just part of the challenge of shooting something on that budget.”
Asked if he was happy with the overall “Megamind” experience, he said, “I haven’t seen the final film yet.Â But I’m really curious to see what happens when I’m watching it, to see if I’ll be able to just detach and watch the character, or if I’ll be pulled out because it’s my voice.”Â We talked about the way they shoot reference footage of the actors as they record, and how often the animators use gestures or body language they observe in that reference footage.Â “Oh, definitely.Â As soon as animation started coming back, I spotted things.”
Before we wrapped up, I asked Ferrell if he’d be willing to play a quick round of Movie God, and he asked me to explain the rules.Â I laid it out quickly, and he said he’d be up for it.Â For those of you who don’t listen to the podcast, this is a game I’ve been playing with friends for a while now, a fiendish proposition in which you’re given two film titles, and you, as Movie God, must strike one of those films from the record.Â That means that the film never existed, and whatever came after that never happened as well.Â Even before I gave him his two choices, he was laughing.
Since Will’s an inarguable comedy icon at this point, I wanted to set two legendary comedies opposite each other, so I offered up “Duck Soup” versus “Animal House.”
After a long beat, Will smiled at me like he had a very dirty secret.Â “What ifâ€¦ what if Movie God hasn’t seen one of those movies?”
If there is anything I am proud of in the last month, it is the fact that I didn’t immediately move to advanced ball-busting over the idea that he hasn’t seen the single greatest Marx Brothers film, and one of the best comedies of all time.Â Instead, I just repeated the rules, and told him he had to make the call.Â “I mean, my first impulse is to say I’d keep ‘Animal House,’ because that’s one of my favorite films of all time.Â But if this is about the effect it would have on movies, thenâ€¦ I guessâ€¦ I guess I’d have to say that you keep ‘Duck Soup,’ and you kill ‘Animal House.’Â That’s crazy.”Â When I reminded him that he probably just erased John Belushi’s film career, he laughed.Â “Yeah, but I saved Groucho Marx, right?”
He started the interview as a supervillain.Â He finished it by saving Groucho Marx.Â That’s a Saturday well-spent.
“Megamind” opens in theaters everywhere November 5.