Established actors are known for staying in close range to the genres that have helped make them famous and respected in the film community. But Will Ferrell, who is known for his physical comedy in such hit films as ‘Old School’ and ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,’ decided to try something completely unexpected: a Spanish language romance action adventure film. The movie, ‘Casa de mi Padre,’ which is set to hit select theaters on Friday, pushed the actor outside his comfort zone.
‘Casa de mi Padre’ follows Armando Alvarez (played by Ferrell), who has lived and worked on his father’s ranch in Mexico his entire life. His younger brother Raul (portrayed by Diego Luna), a successful businessman, returns to the ranch when it falls on hard financial times. With his new fiancee, Sonia (played by Genesis Rodriguez), Raul seems poised to settle all the debts his father has incurred. But the arrangement falls through when Armando, who has never been interested in women before, falls for Sonia. At the same time, he learns that his brother’s business dealings aren’t legal, and Mexico’s most feared drug lord, Onza (portrayed by Gael Garcia Bernal), turns up to ruin the wedding.
Ferrell sat down at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City to discuss why he decided to make ‘Casa de mi Padre’ in Spanish. Among other things, he also spoke about how he prepared for the role of Armando, and what it was like trying to improvise in Spanish.
Question (Q): You speak Spanish the entire time throughout the movie. Gael said when he was approached with the idea, no one could give him a clear answer if it would be in English or Spanish or both. Why did you decide to make the film in Spanish?
Will Ferrell (WF): Well, I created the project, so it was my plan all along to speak Spanish. That was the idea, to put myself in a Spanish-speaking comedy, which I thought had never been done. But also commit to speaking as well as I possibly could, which would be something unique, as opposed to speaking Spanish poorly. That was the intent all along, and I had to work really hard with the translator every day.
I wasn’t that much fun on the set, because I was always with my lines, going over and over again. Diego was so excited to work with me, and he said, you’re so boring, sitting in a chair. (laughs) But if we didn’t get the lines right, we would do it again and again. We didn’t want anything to sound like I was dubbed over. So that was always the intent.
Q: How did your cast support you with the Spanish speaking?
WF: They were just very patient. I once asked Diego, how am I doing? He said, here’s the good news. I can understand what you’re saying, you’re very clear, but you don’t sound Mexican. (laughs) He said, but that’s okay. But that’s why we had the lines, like Pedro saying, you speak so weird. So it would be obvious that we knew that while I was in the ballpark, we knew that I wasn’t speaking perfectly.
Q: When they’re usually casting a movie about Latinos, and they cast Caucasians, you question why. They may be a good actor, but there’s so many Latino actors. But you turned that around.
WF: I wanted to appear as though you’re watching this bad Mexican Spaghetti Western. I’m just a member of an entire Hispanic ensemble. That was just the idea, and the rest of the cast are Latinos, and I just happen to fit in the middle.
Q: You’re notorious for improvisation. Were you able to work that out with the Spanish, or did you find yourself at times stopping, and saying I have to go based on the script?
WF: Like I said, every day’s task was to complete the lines as written, and do them well. There wasn’t any, oh, I don’t get to improvise. I knew if I did this all well, I was placing faith in the whole premise, and it would work. So when the cast would improvise around me, I had no idea what was going on. I would just sit and listen.
So I would kind of have to find my moments of improvisation through physical comedy and reactions. Like when I helped Genesis get up on the horse, and it was so awkward and weird, and I just leave her and walk out of the frame. We never rehearsed any of that. That was just one take. Or when I was on the horse, and I say to her, can you just walk? (laughs) I would ask, how do you say, do you want to walk?
Q: When the cop is talking to you, and you just speak in English.
WF: My accent is terrible.
Q: How funny would it have been if you just kept your American English?
WF: I think if we had done that, it would have sold out the whole premise, in a way, if I reverted back. It’s just as funny, but it’s a different type of joke, though.
Q: Your career is based on being over the top or telling a joke one too many times, so it’s no longer funny. How do you keep that in mind, so that it does stay funny?
WF: We’re guilty that we like to do jokes for a really long time. That’s what I think is so funny with the scenes with the butts. It just keeps going on for ever, until you’re like, is this going to stop? Then it starts becoming funny on another level.
But I think you learn, just threw editing, you try to get as many options as you can when you’re filming. Then later, when you’re piecing it back together, and you’re doing screenings, it’s like a piece of music. You figure out where it’s good to go fast, and where it’s good to slow down. You just kind of figure out that rhythm.
Sometimes there’s a section where it is a little too long for the audience. But you go, oh, just leave it in. (laughs) Those become the parts where someone comes up to you and says, you know that one part I love the most? This one part where it went on forever and ever. You go, that’s great, I’m glad you noticed that.
Q: You worked with (director) Matt (Piedmont) and (screenwriter) Andrew *Steele) back in your ‘SNL’ days. Did the idea for the film get more difficult for all of you as time went on?
WF: Nala (Films), who financed it, they were on board with it the whole way, they didn’t have a ton of notes. But there was a lot of debate over the way I spoke. Armando speaks very formally and awkwardly, and that was by design. Our script supervisor (Liliana M. Molina), who is bilingual, or certain producers, would say, no one speaks like that. We said, we know, don’t change anything.
They would often go back to the translator and say, you should change that, it doesn’t sound right. We would say, no, change it back. So we would have those arguments sometimes.
But in terms of the three of us working together, we were able to pull this off in 23 days, or whatever we had to shoot. We worked so well together, and shared the same shorthand.
SY: If you do a similar movie in the future, would you do anything differently?
WF: I don’t know. While we had a game plan, there was also an element of make it up as we go along, a little bit, too. If there was ever a crazy idea, we would go, how do we pull that off? A lot of movie sets, they say we just can’t do it, we don’t have the time. I think we’d do a lot of it the same. Sure, we’d have more money. (laughs)
Q: Did you tap into any of your old characters to tap into Armando?
WF: No. I was just trying to deliver on that telenovela style. We talked about how every scene was trying to be an award-winning scene. That was the goal-this is the greatest scene of all time.
Q: Did you watch any telenovelas?
WF: I don’t’ really know the names of any of them. But it was easy to fall into that. Genesis and Diego got their starts in telenovelas. Genesis, who has done it most recently, she was able to give us points on camera angles and turns. There’s a scene where we’re talking to each other, and we keep turning away.
She blew us away. She was the first actress to audition for us. It was the first time we heard any of the scenes read out loud. Here she was, giving us this audition, and she’s being so serious. From her soap opera training, she could cry at the drop of a hat. All of a sudden, she would be in tears. We’d be laughing, and then be mesmerized. We couldn’t get her out of our minds. Obviously, a lot of talented actresses read for us. But Genesis was the one to beat, right out of the gate.
Q: Whose idea was it to have her father in the film?
WF: It was Piedmont’s idea. He asked her if her father would be interested in singing at the wedding, and she said absolutely. His playing is sort of an homage to a Scorsese film, I think it might be ‘Raging Bull.’
Q: You’re going to bring in an audience that Gael, Genesis and Diego wouldn’t bring in on their own. Do you think Caucasians are going to come watch it?
WF: It’s going to be tough to tell. It’s only going to be on 370 screens, so it’s a very limited release. It would be so cool if it was one of those ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ things, where the screenings fill out. It’s one of those things where I bring a certain audience, and they bring a certain audience.
English-speaking audiences who know Gael and Diego’s work all of a sudden get to see them do comedy. Latinos get to see me do a different thing.
One of the tough things is that it doesn’t have a ton of money. There aren’t a lot of commercials running around the clock. So the audience is going have to find it. But it would be great if it was off of word-of-mouth, and it would have a life outside of opening weekend. But I don’t think you can argue that it’s not a distinct, unique movie.
Written by: Karen Benardello