November 2003
ELF : An Interview with Will Ferrell

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

An Interview with Will Ferrell

It may have taken some time but Will Ferrell is about to be a big player in Hollywood. Just recently he was asked to play the lead in Woody Allen’s next film and earlier this year, "Old School" came out and became a hit. One of the reasons for that was because of Ferrell’s hilarious scenes. The guy just makes you laugh whenever he’s in the groove. Ever since he left Saturday Night Live, he’s been making supporting appearances in films such as Dick, Superstar, and The Ladies Man, but now it’s time for him to break out and show the world how gifted he is. Coming out on Nov.7 is ELF, his first feature as the lead. In the film, Ferrell plays Buddy, a human who grew up raised by elves. When he needs to discover who he is, he goes to New York City to find his father, played by James Caan. In an interview with, Ferrell talked about the joy of playing the role of an elf.

It had to be exhausting being happy all the time.

WF: Well, actually it wasn't. That was kind of the fun part of getting to play this character because I don't know if I've played anything that was constantly eternally optimistic. So that actually was the fun part of doing the role.

Was the sidewalk gum pre-cleaned for you?

WF: No, we didn't have a big enough budget, so I actually had to eat old New York City gum. But it wasn't as bad as you would think, still relatively favorable. Good to know if you ever have to eat any gum off the streets.

How much cotton balls did you eat?

WF: A few bushels. No. How would you measure cotton? A few hundred cotton balls.

You didn't spit it out between takes?

WF: No, actually, we fooled you. That was cotton candy that we made special things out of.

What about the sugar rushes?

WF: Yeah, that was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will if that's what the job calls for.

How did wearing the Elf suit change you?

WF: It's always nice to having something like that especially in the wardrobe area that immediately kind of helps you become the character. The elf outfit immediately, I didn't have to try too hard once I got in the tights. It was kind of a perfect visual.

When you got the script, what was the appeal to make you decide to do this? Old School had not even come out by then.

WF: I had it for a while. If we could find a way to handle it correctly and shoot, the appeal of it was to be able to shoot a film that would be funny but also heartfelt and be a different type of thing for me to do in terms of something that a family audience would see as opposed to some of the other projects that I have gotten to work on which hasveobviously been for a different audience. That was the appeal. To have the potential to be in something like this.

When you pratfall, do you try to take everything with you?

WF: I guess. I don't know if I think about it so much. It's just the fact that I'm falling now. Hope I don't hurt myself.

If comedy is all about reaction, do you practice your reaction shots in a mirror?

WF: I don't. I actually don't work on anything. I'm very lazy. Someone mentioned to me that I didn't blink for the entire film, which I wasn't conscious of, but that's just something that manifests itself in whatever way it's going to once I'm in character.

Were you excited to work with Bob Newhart?

WF: I really was. I didn't realize how much I would be but it was kind of great to work with someone like that. It's always nice, when we were thinking about casting, it's rare that you get you get to actually cast the person that you are using as the type of actor you want for the role. So we talked about who could play Papa Elf, and we started saying someone like Bob Newhart would be perfect and when you actually get that person, it's truly a special thing.

When you thought about leaving SNL, did you worry about how much work you need to do to succeed when there have others who have left the show and failed?

WF: Yeah. I was at a point in terms of being on the show. I just felt I had been on the show for a nice amount of time. I definitely wanted to leave Saturday Night Live at a time when I still enjoyed doing the show and so I didn't have a supreme confidence that I would be immediately successful after leaving the show but I just knew it was the right time to test myself and get out there and try other things.

Speaking of things, the lovely and talented Zooey (Deschannel) told me that your next movie with her is not a comedy. Is that going be tough for people with you in it?

WF: Yes. (Long pause) I don't know. It will be a whole different thing in a way that hopefully you view a Bill Murray doing something like that.

Good example, because Jim Carrey is so talented but nobody takes him serious whenever he does a drama film.

WF: It will be interesting to see 'cause it's a smaller film. It's more like an independence Sundance type of movie. I'm really looking forward to seeing if I'm going to be in over my head or if it will be just another aspect of something I have within me that I'm able to do. We'll find out. I'm going to try my best.

A lot of people say that they use comedy to compensate for some tragic in their life. Do you have something that inspires your comedy?

WF: Yeah. I've been asked that question before and it's true, a lot of people have gotten into comedy because of certain influences in their lives or events that were painful and I really have racked my brain to figure it out. I pretty much have had a normal childhood. Maybe it was too normal.

Who influenced you growing up?

WF: I'm not one of those people you talk to who studied and loved so and so. I loved the idea of studying everyone. So I would go from watching Saturday Night Live to a big deal before cable was watching The Tonight Show and getting so excited when there a comic was on. It was such a big deal. I remember watching Garry Shandling for the first time and Jerry Seinfeld and watching their differences. I also had a couple of Steve Martin's albums. All of those things put together and SCTV I guess collectively influenced me in different kind of ways.

What do you think of Chris Rock?

WF: I think he's one of the best, if not the best voices in comedy right now. His stand-up, he has such a unique voice and viewpoint that there's really kind of no one like him.Yeah, he's great.

You and James Caan seemed to have a good rapture on screen. Can you talk about working with him?

WF: That was kind of, once again, I was really lucky that my job in the film was to try to drive him crazy, and I would. I would try to offset anything he could throw at me. I knew it was driving him crazy on one level. It's great to see Jimmy in a way that we're not used to seeing him in and it adds to the effect. His specific casting in that role adds to obviously why it works so well.

Were you intimidated when you first met him?

WF: I wasn't. The first time I met him I just put him in a bear hug and yelled "Dad". I thought that would break the ice. I think he got really uncomfortable 'cause I wouldn't let go.

If this film becomes hugely successful, would you be okay being a family comedian for a while?

WF: I don't know if I can necessarily look that far into the future. I kind of feel I'm going to hopefully have the opportunity to just pick material that's just going to be interesting to me on a project to project basis as opposed to trying to fulfill a certain category or this or that. The movie that's coming out that we shot this summer couldn't be more different from this. So it would be fun to always just keep everyone guessing if I can.

Do you have kids of your own?

WF: I don't. We're actually expecting in March.

When you meet kids, do kids think you're genuinely funny?

WF: I guess they do from stuff they've seen me in, but in person when they meet you, they're a little shell shocked. It's not like I have this great knack for making kids laugh in person but some kids tell me that they think I'm funny.

Did you just decide this is the right time to have kids?

WF: Yeah, we pretty much did. It's something my wife and I wanted to do at some point in our lives and we started thinking "What's the wait? We should jump into this."

What was Christmas like growing up as a kid?

WF: It was always a special time for the most part. We had a little different dynamic in that my folks had split up at an early age so we would go back and forth on Christmas Day to have one Christmas here, and the other Christmas there. But that just amounted to 2 Christmases. I made out like a bandit.

Will you do any SNL movies?

WF: I really can't predict. It's once again just about whether the project appeals to me on a whole.

What was your favorite scene and why?

WF: I don't really know if I have a favorite. One that sticks out in my mind is the scene I have in the department store Santaland with Artie Lang who's playing the mall Santa Claus. That actually was kind of fun because we only had one take to do that because if we thrashed the Santaland, we knew it would take too long to build back up and we were on such a tight schedule. That was really fun and we did that essentially on one take. It's always fun to have the adrenaline of we have to get it right. That's a favorite for sure.

As an actor, do you feel the pressure of carrying a film now that you are a lead?

WF: You know, I don't usually feel pressure so much. I probably should feel it more but it's probably just ignorance on my part. I guess when I really stop to think about it, I feel it a little bit and during the course of filming you kind of realize I'm gonna be the main thing in this. As long as I'm having fun and enjoying it, I really don't try to worry about it.

If you had anything to say about Elf and how universal it is, what would it be?

WF: Hopefully we have made a movie that people are going to find funny and something that can be a shared experience for the entire family in a way that's emotionally satisfying as a story but also works as a comedy and
captures the spirit of the holidays all kind of rolled into one.

Do you think it's important that children believe in Santa?

WF: It's important for the economy. Yes.

Are you doing Old School 2?

WF: You know what, there was talk of it. Then I haven't heard about it for the longest time so I don't know if it kind of derailed or not.