A Roundtable Chat with Will Ferrell, Will Ferrell interview, Semi-Pro

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Don't miss our Will Ferrell's Highs & Lows feature for a closer look at Will's career path.

Deep in the bowels of the Columbus Schottenstein Center, hours before the latest stop of the Funny or Die tour, Will Ferrell has willingly subjected himself to assorted local and online press in order to promote his latest movie, “Semi-Pro.” After doing about two dozen on-camera interviews for local TV affiliates (give or take a dozen), Ferrell did a brief roundtable discussion that covered the complexities of improvising in a sports movie. But first, he offered the press some cubed cheese he found on his way into the conference room. Will Ferrell is a giver; don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Reporter: You have done basketball. What’s next? What other sports do you want to go after?

Will Ferrell: I would love to do a deep sea diving movie…in space. What else? I would love to do a billiards film and a jockey; I’m a really tall jockey. Those are the three that I’m working on.

Reporter: Would you want to do a…you’re very proud of your body.

WF: And I should be, yes.

Reporter: How do you keep in shape?

WF: Well, it’s all about the cubed cheese. I eat probably three party packs of cheese a day just to create a base and then from there, anything is possible.

Bullz-Eye: Now, there’s no nudity in this movie. Have you gotten modest on us?

WF: What do you mean? Oh, in this one?

BE: Yes.

WF: Well, I think the shorts are pretty good, so you know, I think that’s still a big win in the body department.

Reporter: You’re a marathon runner. Do you ever think that you’re going to wake up fit one day and you’re going to have to just rely on your hair for the physical part of the comedy?

WF: Well I haven’t run a marathon in four years, so I’m not really…I’m retired for that reason; I got scared.

Reporter: What was it like to see yourself as you might have looked in the 1970s?

WF: You know I…well, it was great to get to grow my hair out like that, because you rarely get an opportunity to do something like that. That’s why I love the ‘70s; it’s that people thought the fashion was good. They thought that they were looking stylish and they really weren’t, so that’s obviously a big part of the film, the wardrobe and the look, and the crazy thing is it’s not exaggerated at all. I was watching a press conference with Rick Barry and he literally had a neckerchief that fell off his shoulder, and that’s where I got the idea to always have a scarf tied around my neck. Fashion, especially in the ABA, a lot of the players were ridiculous, so it was fun to kind of bring that to life.

Reporter: Did you consult with any former ABA players, especially Rick Barry with the underhanded free throw?

WF: You know Kent (Alterman), our director, consulted with…there is some guy who runs a website that’s, like, everything about the ABA and I think that’s where we got a lot of our logos and material. NBA owns all that stuff too so we worked with them, and I think Andre (Benjamin) had a conversation with Dr. J., and then at the front of the movie we have Artis Gilmore, George Gervin and James Silas, so those guys all came back and were blown away as to how authentic and crappy everything was. So that was cool to watch those guys walk into our arena that we had made and have them go, “I feel like I’m stepping back in time here.”

Reporter: For you in particular, how did you try to approach building the character Jackie Moon?

WF: You know, a lot of it was already in the script. I’ve known (screenwriter) Scot Armstrong since “Old School,” and he was telling me he was working on this crazy 70’s basketball movie and the foundation was there, and I kind of built upon that, basically.

Reporter: Would you characterize Jackie Moon as a jive turkey?

WF: Oooh…those are strong words, but I would have to agree with you, he is very much a jive turkey. Yeah, yeah, capital J, capital T. Yes.

Reporter: How much do you actually ad-lib in your movies as opposed to sticking to the script directly?

WF: Twenty percent. I’ve done 23, 25 in the past and it was too much and 17 is not enough.

"Well, it’s all about the cubed cheese. I eat probably three party packs of cheese a day just to create a base and then from there, anything is possible."

Reporter: How much different is it working on any of the sports movies as opposed to something like “Stranger Than Fiction” or “Winter Passing,” where I’m going to guess there is less than 22 percent ad-libbing?

WF: Yeah they are totally different universes and I think, especially if you throw in the sports element of it…which, even though it’s a comedy, we were still having to run these choreographed plays and all these different camera angles and everything so that adds another level of complexity that actually cut down on maybe some of the improv that you would normally do. We only had so much time in the day and 10 guys on the court and a crowd of 2,000 people and you had to be just really organized. When you have those types of films it cuts down on when you can kind of throw stuff out. That’s what’s so fun about working in comedy, especially the ones I write with Adam McKay. We scare other actors who come onto the set because we will literally do the written scene twice and then say, “Okay, let’s just start playing around.” People are like, “Uh, do we have to?” And we’re like, “Yeah, it doesn’t matter, just make it up and if it works it works and if it doesn’t we’ll never use it.” So yeah, they’re pretty different.

Reporter: What was it like working with Woody Harrelson and André Benjamin on this? How was that whole interplay?

WF: It was great. We had a two-week…a two-or-three-week training camp before the start of the film, which Woody was still working (on another project) but he came for the second half. Andre threw himself…he was already wearing the short shorts at practice. It’s great we all kind of come from three different worlds, in a way. Andre’s just getting to be an actor now and obviously comes from music; Woody, he came from comedy but he’s also a fantastic dramatic actor, and the I’m kind of in-between all of that, so it was really fun to just kind of meet and kind of put all of our heads together about this.

Reporter: Do you come to the set “on” when you have to do your really sort of crazy scenes, or do you have to just turn it on when you’re there?

WF: No, I’m usually in the same mode of just having fun on the set, you know. I don’t even know if I think about it. If it’s something where I have to scream because I’m being attacked by a bear, I’m not walking around going “Ahhh” all day long. I just do it when they say “action.” I just kind of snap into it, I guess is the answer there.

Reporter: Did you work with a stunt bear for most of that?

WF: I actually…here’s the weird thing. I actually lived with a bear in Montana for about six months, and then we developed a relationship where we never used that bear so then it was a brand new bear and we didn’t feel comfortable with each other, so I wasn’t actually working with a live bear.

BE: How about the roller skating?

WF: Roller skating…the shot where I’m at the top of the ramp, that’s me.

BE: And that’s where it ends?

WF: Yes, and then he’s getting up, that’s me, too.

Reporter: Everyone looks like they had dribbled a basketball before in this movie. Was that a prerequisite in the casting? They looked pretty good.

WF: Yeah, it was. I played a lot of pick-up and played in high school, and Woody obviously still plays, and when we auditioned Andre, we literally stepped out into the parking lot and just dribbled around a little bit, just to see if he looked like he could do it. They had a pretty intense trial period in L.A. to find all the players for the other teams. It was kind of amazing, you would be acting next to a guy who played at Loyola Marymount. Everyone either played in college or is currently playing overseas; it was kind of wild. It always tripped me up because they were playing at, like, quarter speed, so you get lulled into false confidence that I can kind of hang with the guys and a couple of takes we were like, “Let’s open it up,” and they just run right by you; dunk on you and you’re like, “Okay, I’m not that good.”

"Andre’s just getting to be an actor now and obviously comes from music; Woody, he came from comedy but he’s also a fantastic dramatic actor, and the I’m kind of in-between all of that, so it was really fun to just kind of meet and kind of put all of our heads together about this."

Reporter: Did you ever get Andy Richter to try out with the basketball?

WF: No, we knew never to ask Andy to dribble a ball.

Reporter: But what about the ‘fros…I mean, yours was yours.

WF: Yes.

Reporter: And Andre’s…was that his?

WF: That was not his. That was not his.

Reporter: So you were the only authentic ‘fro.

WF: I’m the only authentic ‘fro.

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