Trying to make an actor laugh can often be an embarrassing prospect; even the performers most eager to jump into jokes while answering questions seldom if ever adapt quickly to your sense of humor, and much more often, are able to help you adapt to theirs. Of course, the end result of that struggle can sometimes be perfectly hilarious for the reader in its awkwardness, but as self-deprecating as most journalists are, few of them voluntarily publish pieces that make them look bad.
SuperHeroHype recently sat down with Will Ferrell at the Los Angeles press day for Megamind, his latest film, and prompted by proximity to the funny man, if not also probably sleeplessness and general delerium, we elected to try and at least break the ice with a joke, even if it descended into an otherwise humorless exchange. But the great thing about Ferrell is that even as a guy who always seems to be trying to make people laugh, he never seems tired of laughing himself. And whether or not history ultimately judges this interview as funny or painfully unfunny, it was rare (for us, at least) to conduct an interview that turned out to be so much fun, and yet offered plenty of insights into why and how Ferrell played his character in the film.
SuperHeroHype: How disappointing was it to think you were going to realize your childhood dream of working with Brad Pitt only to discover that on an animated film you don't actually spend time with your co-stars?
Will Ferrell: My childhood dream is still unrealized (laughs), in answer to your question. It is tragic. But we only had a couple of scenes together – do you feel let down by that, by the way?
SHH: No, not at all.
Ferrell: Good. I wondered – I wondered if like in the context of the movie, are people like, wait? That's it? He's gone!
SHH: I think he's in there enough.
Ferrell: Good. But we recorded at the same place, so we used the same microphones. So that part of my dream, which when I think back, my dream specifically was about recording stuff with [the same equipment], so that part's been realized (laughs), but not in terms of actually getting to be in the same room.
SHH: Was this a typical voice-recording process where you were recording by yourself?
Ferrell: Yeah. Tina [Fey] and I got to do one session together, and that was kind of cool. But for some reason, they don't do it that way, and I guess it's a technical thing or something. But I had asked – why don't you pair people together? Because it seems like you could get a lot from the give and take, and improvise a few things. But I guess with the overlaps and this and that, sometimes it just doesn't work out. But Tina and I got to do one session, do some scenes together, which was great, and which was helpful. We kind of found some fun things there. But yeah, for the most part you just show up and you really work – it's amazing how you work really closely with the director, and the director is almost like the person you see the most in this whole process.
SHH: In what ways did you have to adjust your performance style for a role where you're just using your voice?
Ferrell: You know, what's interesting is that you really have to give yourself over to a trusting of the director, because in a live action film you do a take and you can go right back and watch the playback. You can see immediately if you're on the right track, or if I'm not, you can watch the dailies, and you can figure out how a performance is looking and roughly where it's going to go. But with this you really have no idea, because there would be some days where it was like, "do you want to see the rough animation of this one sequence, because we kind of put this together?" You get a little bit of a handle on it, but mostly you're just blindly trusting everything. But it's the ultimate process of discovery in terms of coming up with the voice, coming up with how the character is going to sound, and it's all about just playing around. And we would just kind of describe what I thought in the ballpark of what this guy was going to sound like, and Tom was like, yeah, that sounds good to me. But we would play around in terms of some of the more emotional scenes that the voice got less character-y in a way. And it was easy, at least in my mind, hopefully audiences think the same, it was easy being funny. But when you had to change gears and you had to get really real and you had to show the fact that he was upset or sad and just do that with your voice, and that's such a skill. That was the challenging part of doing this.
SHH: When you came onto the project, did you see him purely as a super-villain? Or do you see him mostly as a guy who doesn't know what he is?
Ferrell: You kind of get pitched the whole story when you come in, so you roughly see the arc of where he's going. So that is somewhat spelled out for you. That having been said, that's what I loved about this project and what felt original about it: There's this guy who's a self-proclaimed evil genius, and it's be careful what you wish for – the day he finally gets the ultimate victory, he finds out that without that rivalry, his whole life was built around defeating this guy, and when that's gone he really doesn't know what to do with himself. And you see that he really, if it wasn't for a different set of circumstances, he might have been a good guy; he literally gets bumped off into a different direction, and his life changes. So at his core, he's really just someone seeking acceptance and, like you said, he doesn't know where he belongs. He's just trying to figure that out, and through the course of this he does figure out, I think, what his priorities are and where he's supposed to be in the whole scheme of superheroes.
SHH: In this film, you get to perform one of the greatest superhero references of all time.
Ferrell: That might be my favorite, the most fun part of the whole process. When Tom was describing that [I] morph into this space-Dad character, and we've drawn him like Jor-El, so we were thinking, what if he does sound like Brando. I was like, yeah, why don't we do that - why don't I try to do my best Brando, which won't be that good, and let's do it. We started recording it and it made us laugh so hard. I was like, that's so crazy – does it work? And he was like, I don't care – that's what we're doing. I'm glad to hear that people are totally responding; that's so silly. And I love that in my effort to do Brando, it came out like, [doing the impersonation,] "You're such a good son to me," like it came out like a cross between Brando and like Garry Marshall (laughs). It was like the weirdest thing, like [mumbling] "I'm proud of you." But the fact that they were willing to take such a weird turn, I think in a way this is like kind of a DreamWorks film that really kind of [appeals to adults]. The fact that they have AC/DC songs and my character wears tight leather pants, it's really one of the more adult films they've done. It's really trying to do something that they haven't done before, in a way.
SHH: How much of the character was defined beforehand and how much did you bring to him? For example, his pronunciation of "Metro City" as "Metrocity" – was that there or did you add that?
Ferrell: I need to check with Tom again because it becomes hazy to me as to what we were just making up and what was scripted – I can't remember (laughs).
SHH: Just take credit for everything.
Ferrell: I should. I should (laughs). But I do remember that when we were doing the voice, if he was someone who prides himself on his articulation, it would just be funny if every now and then, there's these common words and he has no idea because he's been so sheltered and led such a weird life that he doesn't realize that "melancholy" is not "melloncollie." So I forget if that was a scripted thing, where he would mispronounce things, but I think it was just we did the first word and I thought, let's just keep picking out words that we'll just keep messing with. So it was probably like a 50-50 combined whether it was their idea or my idea. I can't remember – but I should just take credit, you're right.
SHH: You said you got to do one session with Tina, but how is it working with someone with whom you've shared a collaboration in the past but in a new setting?
Ferrell: Well, it is totally different. It is different because you're isolated, and the physical nature of it makes it different. But the process kind of goes like this: you'll go back and do a scene you already did because of the playback of something that Tina had done, and you'll match up to that. so when I would come up with stuff that Tina would come up with, or David Cross, it always felt comfortable. Especially with Tina – that's hilarious. Oh yeah, let me respond to that in a way. So that kind of felt comfortable enough, and of the same kind of fabric as where we've worked together [before] in a way. Even though everyone forgets, I think, that my work experience with Tina was more as a writer. She was doing 'Weekend Update,' but it wasn't like Tina and I did all of these sketches, so a lot of times I was just saying her words. So this in a way was almost uncharted territory, and yet we did press together at Comic-Con and we'll do stuff tomorrow. And we've never done press together, and yet we just kind of hit the ground running, which is great. So I guess you always speak a common language in that sense.
SHH: Ultimately, was there anything in particular that surprised you or you felt most gratified by after having done so many interpretations of a scene?
Ferrell: Well, I still haven't seen the finished-finished movie, I haven't seen it in 3D and all of that, so there's still another step of appreciation and enjoyment ahead of me. But the version of what I saw, I had forgotten because it's just so fragmented, the making of it, that the thing that was most gratifying was to see the story strung together. There was moments that surprised me, and I was thinking, oh, I don't remember that happens (laughs). It actually tricked me at the end, so I guess kind of the overall – and I'm sure next weekend when I see it again – it will feel like I'm watching this movie for the first time. Which you're not used to; any of the other movies I've done, by the time you're at the premiere, you've seen the movie eight times and you're used to all of the twists and turns. So that will be kind of cool.
Megamind opens in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D theaters on Friday, November 5. With today being Midterm Elections, Megamind has also put out an election ad that you can watch below!