Meeting someone who you perceive to be your biggest competitor and threat to securing your long desired goals for the first time can be an intimating process. Forming and maintaining a relationship with that opponent, especially if they’re close to your family, and has the ability to threaten your happiness, can be even more terrifying. That harrowing process is amusingly and despairingly explore in the upcoming comedy, ‘Daddy’s Home,’ which Paramount Pictures will release on Friday in theaters. Co-writer and director Sean Anders’ family-driven film alluringly reunites ‘The Other Guys’ stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg on screen. The former plays an likeable beta step-dad, and the later portrays a charismatic alpha dad, who relentlessly fight and do whatever it takes to win the love of their children.
The filmmaker and lead actors were recently joined by lead actress, Linda Cardellini, and co-scribes, Brian Burns and John Morris, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in New York City. The group generously took the time to discuss how they formed an endearing comedy that shows how both fathers can work to find a way to be meaningful presences in their children’s lives.
‘Daddy’s Home’ follows the eager-to-please Brad Whitaker (Ferrell), a hard-working jazz radio station employee who’s determined to be embraced by his two young new step-children, Dylan (Owen Wilder Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez). While his wife, Sarah (Linda Cardellini), has faith that her second husband will develop a strong bond with her son and daughter, Brad is initially skeptical that they’ll ever become close, despite his desire to connect with them. Since it has been proven difficult for Brad to father his own children, he’ll do whatever it takes to win Dylan and Megan’s love and respect. But with the advice of his favorite guidebook, ‘Step by Stepdad,’ he slowly begins to gain their admiration, which leads Dylan to ask him for help on defending himself against bullies, and Megan asking her to her school’s upcoming daddy-daughter dance.
However, their slow-but-steady growing connection unfortunately falters when the children’s biological father, Dusty Mayron, (Wahlberg), who has been away from his children for several years, unexpectedly arrives on the doorstep of their home. While Sarah is skeptical of her ex-husband’s motives of showing up without warning, their kids are thrilled to have their masculine dad back. While the non-intimidating Brad is threatened how Dusty’s return will affect his relationships with Dylan and Megan, he also realizes how important it is for Dusty to spend time with his children. While the two drastically different men continuously struggle to understand the motives, actions and emotions of their perceived enemy, and will do whatever it takes to win Dylan and Megan’s undivided love and attention, they inadvertently learn to respect each other’s positions along the way.
When the writers were initially asked where they came up with the idea to have an alpha dad and beta stepdad compete, Burns admitted the script was partially based on his personal experiences with his own stepchildren. “When my wife and I got married, I inherited two really terrific step-kids,” the scribe explained. “I also inherited a real dad, who I came to discover was terrific, but not so much in the beginning. (laughs) So that was really the beginning of the idea of the movie.”
The scribe added that the inclusion of the idea of Megan asking Brad to her father-daughter dance also arose from his personal experience. Burns’ stepdaughter, Cameron, asked him who was going to accompany her to her own dance, soon after he proposed to her mother.
Anders then revealed that he heard about the idea for the comedy a while before signed on to direct it. “There was somebody else attached to it at the time…At some point (during the development of the film,) my wife and I adopted our kids from the foster care system. So I’m not a stepfather.” The filmmaker then admitted that he and his wife realized “from the time that we got our kids (that) someday it’s very likely that (they’re going to want to) reunite with their birth parents. We’re going to have to make that adjustment of sharing our kids with their birth parents.” The filmmaker added that by the second time he received the script for ‘Daddy’s Home,’ “it spoke to me from that level. I just thought there’s so much comedy in the insecurity of that” situation.
Then delving into how the two lead actors determined who was going to play the father and step-father in ‘Daddy’s Home,’ Ferrell amusingly joked that he and Wahlberg “arm wrestled…I beat Mark, like, nine out of ten times. Even though Mark looks so physically fit, he’s super weak…he’d fall asleep while I was arm wrestling him. I thought, oh, that’s perfect for Brad.”
Ferrell added that he and Adam McKay, who served as one of the producers on ‘Daddy’s Home,’ and also directed ‘The Other Guys,’ initially questioned if Wahlberg would “be interested in…a commercial comedy.” The actor noted that they then soon realized that “we’ve had some success in some of the other films we’ve done together where we’ve plucked more dramatic actors, and thrown them in comedic circumstances, and it’s worked great. We just sat down with Mark and pitched him the idea. Luckily for us, he was on board right from the beginning.”
Cardellini also chimed in on her involvement of working with Ferrell and Wahlberg on a comedy, and also having Sara be the source of tension between Brad and Dusty. The Emmy Award-nominated actress noted that the experience “was great for me. Who wouldn’t want to be in the middle of these two? I was a fan from watching them together in ‘The Other Guys.'” Cardellini added that being in the “middle of that chemistry, and getting to be the object of their affection, is a no-brainer. They’re great, and everything you want them to be and more.”
Ferrell also revealed that he felt making ‘Daddy’s Home’ with Wahlberg was “a nice change of pace” from their collaboration on ‘The Other Guys.’ The ‘Saturday Night Live’ alum noted that “it was nice to get back into a family movie that explores this idea of the blended family, which is becoming more and more common.” The actor added that he appreciated that his second film with Wahlberg could combine humor and an important message.
Also delving into the experiences of reuniting with Ferrell on screen, Wahlberg add that they “picked up right where we left off. It was great. I hadn’t done comedy before I worked with Will, and he always made me feel very comfortable.” The Oscar-nominated actor added that Ferrell “creates a very safe environment so you can risk looking ridiculous, and you know that you’ll still be protected. He was always encouraging me to try things and open up. I think he regrets that now.” (laughs)
Wahlberg added that when he originally read the script for ‘Daddy’s Home,’ he thought, “I could take the obvious choice, just play this guy like a pr*ck. But then Sean was like, ‘Well, we want him to be much more interesting than that.’ You also want Dusty to be likeable.'” The SAG Award-nominated performer also revealed that they wanted to make his character more interesting and well-rounded, and easily complement Brad. Wahlberg added that appreciated how the two fathers “really learn a lot from each other…they’re finally able to become mature enough to put their own differences aside and do the right thing for the children.”
While the two actors valued the important family message that’s included in ‘Daddy’s Home,’ they also thrived on infusing comedy into Brad and Dusty’s forming relationship. Ferrell explained that the film’s comedy “goes through so many steps. It starts with a read through where we’re able to get as much of the cast as we could, just so we can hear it out loud. Then you rehearse the scenes. Sean and John were always writing down ideas.”
So between the scripted scenes and the ideas the cast and crew developed everyday on the set, they always had “alternate lines that we could throw out. So we always had a bunch of different choices in the edit room, where you can dial a scene up or down.” Ferrell added that if they “wanted something to play a little straighter or more emotional, then we could go to those lines. Or if something was just a little too stiff here, we could hopefully put a laugh in here.”
Also speaking of incorporating comedy into a family-driven film, Anders noted that he wanted to stay away from comedic clichés as much as possible. “This movie at its heart is a very warm comedy. Comedies about men…whose families are involved include the idea of, ‘I have to leave the kids and the old ball and chain at home and go party with my buddies.’ There’s always that sense of men trying to get away from their families in comedy.”
Anders added that “we just thought this was a good opportunity to make a comedy about two guys who actually want to be with their kids. The whole goal of the movie is how much these guys love their kids. So we just approached this movie as a family comedy from the beginning, and these two guys are vying for the love of their children. We wanted it to be a movie that you could go see with the whole family.”
Ferrell also indulged that when Burns “came to pitch this story to us, it really resonated with us. I think it’s the first time you get to tell the story of the stepdad. He’s not evil. This is a stepparent who’s really in earnest trying to do the best job he can.” The actor added that his character “comes up against the feelings of insecurity when the real dad shows up in the picture and reverses all the good work he’s done.”
As the filmmakers put ‘Daddy’s Home’ together and started testing it with audiences, Ferrell said they realized it was relatable, and transforming into “such an endearing, charming film.” The actor joked that when the comedy’s distributor, Paramount Pictures, looked at its schedule, “it thought, this could be great counter-programming to what’s out there. It seemed like a big opening for a nice family comedy to be released around the holidays. So ‘Star Wars’ is scared sh*tless.” (laughs)
With the comedy being a family-driven film, the cast and director enthusiastically praised Estevez and Vaccaro’s acting abilities. “The kids are so sweet and talented, and so much fun to be around,” Cardellini noted. “They loved these guys,” she added, referring to Ferrell and Wahlberg, the latter of who added that he “made sure they didn’t love Will so much.”
Ferrell admitted that Anders “really took (his) time in casting those kids. It’s tough to not find precocious comedy kids…Sean was constantly working with them to make sure that they approached everything as if it was a real circumstance.”
Estevez and Vaccaro “are absolutely wonderful kids,” Anders added. “Their parents were fantastic, down-to-earth and grounded, which helped us tremendously. They were just the sweetest kids and really a joy to work with. It was one of my favorite things.”
The actors also noted that there are some frustrations about parenting their characters were struggling to overcome that they related to while filming. Cardellini noted that “My baby’s too small for the carpooling, but I have that to look forward to. But Sean and I talked a lot about it, because there are times in the script where Sarah was silent when there was a lot of swearing going on. I said, ‘You know, I’m a mom. If that comes out of my kid’s mouth, I’m going to say, ‘Hey.'” So the SAG Award-nominated actress added such lines as “Do we have to use that kind of language?” and “Do we need to use that word?” to scenes in which she hears people cursing.
Ferrell added that he has witnessed some questionable behavior from the parents of his children’s peers. “I avoid the carpool lane. I have to time it to where I leave early enough to find a meter to park,” the actor explained. “At our school, there are a bunch of parents who got together to put a video together to point out the behavior of the other parents. We’ve had parents on their laptops as they pull up for drop-off. We’ve had someone just hop the curb and knock the fire hydrant over.”
While ‘Daddy’s Home’ focuses on the importance of uniting children with their stepparents, Ferrell added that he thinks the movie is also driven about forgiveness and redemption. “I think it’s trying to make the best circumstance out of an uncomfortable situation for the benefit of the family and the kids.” The actor added that Brad and Dusty “spend a good part of the movie acting so childish. Then we finally decide to be adults and do the right thing. I think that’s a big message of the movie.”
Continuing to talk about the competition between parents as they care for their children, Ferrell admitted that at times, he does find himself vying for his children’s attention with his wife. “I’m still trying-my five-year-old won’t let me read bedtime stories to him; he’s still very mommy focused. So I pretend to fake cry and that my feelings are hurt. He just laughs and goes, ‘Maybe tomorrow night.’ My kids love daddy, but they love mommy a little more.”
The two lead actors also discussed their big dance sequence that’s featured in the film. Ferrell noted that “Adam McKay and I have been fans of Mark’s dramatic work for a very long time. We noticed in some of his movies that he was also just very funny being so incredibly earnest and committed to his characters. So we just toyed around” with the idea for the dance sequence.
“As far as the dancing stuff, I was absolutely dreading it,” Wahlberg revealed. “Sean continued to ask me, ‘You working on your moves?'” (laughs) The actor would tell the director that “‘Yeah, I’m working on my moves. ‘” But I wasn’t. Then he’d come to the trailer and, say, ‘Hey, let’s work on your moves.”
Wahlberg would ask the filmmaker to allow him to figure out his choreography on his own, but he admitted that he actually wasn’t “working on the moves. I waited basically until the last second.” Since they ended up shooting the sequence at “7:00 in the morning…with a crew of a couple hundred people and a couple hundred extras,” the actor thought, “Oh God. (laughs) But thankfully, Will jumped right in there. He made everybody else feel comfortable. So it was my least favorite thing to do, next to the singing. Of course, I had to do both in the movie. (laughs) But people seem to love those moments.”
Since audience members at the test screenings for ‘Daddy’s Home’ enjoyed seeing Wahlberg improvising his singing and dancing, Morris revealed that the elements that turn a comedy into a classic also include lines “that are quotable. The guys improvised a bunch. We wrote some funny stuff for them, but they improvised a bunch of lines that are hilarious, and we’ll quote them forever.”
Cardellini was also asked if she would be interested in making a sequel to ‘Daddy’s Home,’ since she doesn’t have as much physical comedy in the film as her two male co-stars. “It depends on the story. I think what was great about my character is that here’s the woman who’s not the insecure one. She’s also not the one riddled with anxiety. She’s got her head on straight, and Dusty’s not fooling her anymore at all,” which she love that about Sarah. “So if there was a different circumstance that plays into (a similar situation) in a real way, then that would be fun.”
Written by: Karen Benardello