The star speaks about the universal language of comedy
By Andrew Turner and Taylor Dye
Staff writers Andrew Turner and Taylor Dye sat down with famed actor Will Ferrell to discuss his new Spanish-language film Casa de mi Padre.
Q: Who is Armando Alvarez?
A: Armando is the moral center of the movie. He is very earnest, and a member of the famous Alvarez ranching family and the ranch… has fallen on hard times. He’s the long suffering son who stays at home while his brother Raul, played by Diego Luna, goes off to seek his fame and fortune. And then Raul returns to help save the day, only [for Armando] to find out that he is dealing in nefarious activities and has been swayed by the dark side.
Q: Why produce a Spanish language comedy when it could be easily produced in English?
A: Well, it all kind of started just because I thought that was an idea we’d never seen before. Putting an American comic in a Spanish-language film and really commit to speaking Spanish and speaking well as opposed to making a joke of speaking poorly, I’d never seen in a film before. I thought that’d be a cool type of movie to take a risk with, and if you get a really great cast around it, [it] would be a crossover that would appeal to both Hispanics and also an English-speaking audience. That’s my professional marketing answer. The initial idea came from “It’d be crazy ass to put myself in a Spanish speaking movie.”
Q: Do you think you’ll do more films in languages besides English?
A: You know, I don’t know. This was such a hard thing to do. I mean it was great and I loved every second of it! But it was all I could do. Every day of filming when I wrapped that day, [it] felt like I wrapped an entire movie. It was so much brain power to memorize the Spanish. I worked with a translator for about six weeks prior to the first day of filming, and then we’d just drive together to the set and go over our lines and drive home at night and start the next day’s lines. It was a lot of work. So we’ll see.
Q: Where did the idea for this movie come from?
A: It just came from watching telenovelas. You know we’ve all channel surfed and stopped for a second and said, “What is going on?!?” It just seemed like just a funny world. The movie is really kind of telenovela meets bad Mexican Western really. I had heard about the idea for a long time and was just lazy about it, and then I heard that someone was writing a telenovela movie for their studios and I thought I should hurry up and execute this idea, because if you don’t, someone else will.
Q: The movie was filmed in 24 days. Was that on purpose?
A: It was on purpose because that was all the money I had. We couldn’t get a really big budget, which we were fine with, we thought it was great. Everyone in the cast did it for nothing! In 24 days you have to scramble around. When you have a limited budget you don’t have to worry if the sets look good. In fact, it adds to the comedy. We tried to use it as an advantage in a weird way.
Q: There is a wide range of actors in the movie. What was it like working with the ones who had starred in novelas?
A: It was great. Génesis Rodríguez, who plays Sonia, she started working in them when she was 16 years old! She had all this experience and knew that world very well. I didn’t realize Diego got his start in telenovelas as well. I was working with experts on this style, so we were really lucky. But if they wanted to improvise though, I’d have no idea what to say. They would change lines constantly, and I would listen and just go “here’s my line.” Also, the fact we were able to get Pedro Armendáriz, Jr. who is huge in Mexico, and this is his last movie. It’s an honor to work with him. He is an old-time Hollywood actor, telling us stories of John Wayne and being in this movie and that movie. He’s such a great guy. And it was interesting to be part of a cast and a crew that is predominantly Spanish speaking. You really are the minority, just hearing Spanish all the time. Although it lead to a lot of controversy over Armando’s Spanish because my Spanish is in the ‘Usted’ form and so formal and so awkward, and they would always be like, “Why do you talk like that?”And I’d say back,“You know that’s the joke?” We tried to make my translation bad.
Q: Do you know Spanish now?
A: I comprehend it a lot better, but um… no.
Q: What kind of response are you expecting to see from the critics?
A: The short answer is I don’t care. The long answer is, I’ve been in a number of movies that were criticized at first and then celebrated, and then movies that were accepted right away. We just did something we thought was funny. And we know we’ve made an incredibly unique movie in a time when I think the audience is dying for that, and that’s all you can do. It kind of doesn’t matter what the critics say.
Q: The underlying message of the film can be the Drug War that is occurring between America and Mexico. In America we have such an obsession with it, but here it’s being told from the view from a Latino. Was that one of the intents of the movie?
A: The initial intent was just an off-the-wall premise, but as we started writing the script and Andrew Steele kind of came up with this crazy story, we saw this as an opportunity to show as Americans that we understand the Mexicans’ perspective as well, and that it really is a two- way street. We felt that was important to show as American storytellers that while we obviously wanted to make fun of bad movie making, we also wanted to show we have an understanding. The scene in the bar between Diego and I, where we have the exchange between us, where I ask, “Why are you doing this to our family, why are you selling drugs?” And he’s like, “It’d be one thing if I we’re selling them to Mexicans but I’m selling them to the crazy s***** hamburger-eating Americans.” As an American in that role I say that “Americans are crazy, I hate them too! But you shouldn’t sell even them dangerous drugs!” The fact that we could be satirical on ourselves in the middle of this crazy comedy I think is really important and it’s always fun to do that.
Q: Did you have any other movies in mind while making this?
A: Yeah, that was a lot of math our director and writer worked out. There is some Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in there. And then we shot on film, which is becoming less and less common, and we found old lenses that give it the color pallet that it has.
Q: Do you think the film would have turned out differently if Matt Piedmont, the director, or Andrew Steele, the writer, weren’t part of it?
A: Yeah. We all started at Saturday Night Live at the same time. We all just share the same sensibility. We had one voice in making this movie. I can’t think of one time where we were saying ,“No, that’s a bad idea.” It was more like “That’s a great idea, can we make it crazier?” And that’s the spirit of this movie, to be that adventurous and ambitious within the confines of this small of a budget. With different filmmakers or going to a studio it wouldn’t have worked. They would have said things like “Well, you can’t…” and “way too many butts” or “a mannequin? Why?” They would have tried to shape this for their needs, and this way we we’re totally left alone.
Q: Were you specifically trying to reach college kids with this movie?
A: No, but we had a hunch once we started screening that college kids are gonna love this movie, it’s just right up your guys’ alley. The distributors didn’t want to invest in a college screening program at first, so I just said “well, I’ll pay for it then,” because I want to get this movie out to your guys’ age group. You’re the next generation of determining what is going to happen with our country and what our views are going to be and that sort of thing. Y’all are still deciding on what those views are. I think that this is a fun move to articulate all that.