(Left to right) David Koechner is Champ Kind, Paul Rudd is Brian Fantana, Will Ferrell is Ron Burgundy and Steve Carell is Brick Tamland in ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES.
Will Ferrell grew up in Irvine, the son of a schoolteacher mother and a musician father, and he says the relative serenity forced by the city became the breeding ground for his comedy.
“I think growing up in Irvine definitely influenced how I am now,” he says. “It is a very suburban place, a very harmless type of place. It was remarkable for the fact that not a lot really happened – but who wants those sorts of dramas when they are growing up? I didn’t. As a result, making that entertainment was fun and engaging and dramatic and completely harmless. I loved trying to make my friends laugh, and it was all done for each other’s enjoyment. There was no need to prove ourselves – we were just harmless kids.
Staying classy: Path to comedy career started in Irvine
Home: Park West apartments
Schools attended: Turtle Rock Elementary, Rancho San Joaquin Middle School and University High School
High school activities: Kicker on football team; captain of basketball team; soccer team; student council; performed comedy skits in talent shows, voted “best personality” by classmates.
Ferrell recently sat down with comedian Marc Maron for his podcast. Among the highlights from the interview:
Re-enrolled at Irvine Valley College after graduating from USC and joined a weekly news television show to build up enough clips to become a broadcaster. Ultimately, he said he liked being in front of the camera more than getting the story.
Played saxophone from sixth to eighth grade to impress his musician father.
Took acting classes at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa after receiving a nine-week scene study class from his mother for a Christmas gift.
Took a stand-up comedy workshop at Irvine Valley College that was run by Steve Klasky. The class culminated with a performance at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach.
Thriftiness in his soles
Will Ferrell’s father labored to teach him the value of thrift, particularly when it came to buying shoes, reports The Week in its Dec. 20 edition.
Now, Ferrell finds it difficult to part with any of the shoes he has been given and has a wall of them at home. When the wall gets full, the magazine said, Ferrell leaves shoes in hotel rooms as gifts for staff or other guests.
Sometimes the hotels call and say, “You left your shoes.” Ferrell replies, “No, I did it on purpose.
“I know that all sounds quite idealized, but that was just the way it was. Only when I got older and left Irvine did I realize that not everywhere is like that. Some kids go through some really tough stuff, and the way they turn out as adults ends up having a lot to do with that. Am I lucky? You bet.”
Ferrell recalls one incident in particular while in school when he caught a rush from the laughter of others, a feeling that he would go on to crave in his professional efforts.
“I didn’t play it up in school too often; I was not the joker in the class. But there were times when I would be. We were always trying to find out which side of funny and naughty we would land. It was sometimes a fine line, but the teachers understood we were just kids discovering ourselves.”
He recalls a time in first grade when his teacher, Mr. Chad, told the class to do some exercises – he meant math exercises.
“But I started jumping up and down in the classroom – star jumps, springs, everything,” he says. “After that, it was all about trying to make the girls laugh.”
How did he do that?
“I learned a trick about how to open the door, let it hit the bottom of your foot and then let the door head back your way and hit you on the face,” he says. “I did that all the time to get people to laugh, and it worked. I made a lot of new friends that way, especially girls. That was much easier than just going up and talking to them. And that was another way that I knew I could be funny.”
Comedy was an interesting route for Ferrell. His father, despite having toured with the Righteous Brothers and having enjoyed notable success in the music industry, didn’t want his son to follow in an insecure profession. Instead, Ferrell studied sports broadcasting at USC. His enjoyment of the subject only went so far, though. Encouraged by his mother, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue comedy and acting.
After a successful audition, Ferrell joined The Groundlings, a comedy group, where he honed his impression skills, getting spotted in 1994 for “Saturday Night Live.” His famous impressions, including those of George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein, remain YouTube classics.
“When I got on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ it was a dream come true in itself,” he says. “That is the dream job if you are an American comedian; it is the one you want.
“But, of course, they make it so that you can’t ever relax too much. For your first contract, you’re guaranteed nine shows, and then you’re supposed to be guaranteed the next 11. But then they changed it in midseason and guaranteed just six more shows. So, you always felt as though you could be on your way out. I guess it was a way of keeping you fresh and eliminating complacency.”
Ferrell became a hugely popular figure before leaving to pursue a film career in 2002.
The sense of silliness that runs through many of his films is, Farrell says, just an extension of his character, something that has always been with him; the comedy allows him to express it.
“I think what I do has always been there inside me,” he says. “I think my job is a bit like having a vice for me. I have always been like this to some extent. I have always had ideas that have been a bit crazy. All that happens now is that I am able to act them out because of my job. It is a whole lot of fun. And I think a lot of it works because of the way that I look – that adds to it.”
Ferrell, who is married to Swedish actress and auctioneer Viveca Paulin, reprises one of his most famous roles in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” which opens today in theaters. The much-anticipated follow-up to the 2004 film about San Diego’s top-rated newsman, Ron Burgundy, will delve into the realm of 24-hour news.
“We had wanted to do a sequel for a while,” Ferrell said. “We actually decided when we did the first movie that we would love to do a bunch of films. We were thinking about the ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ films; I was quite jealous. They looked like they were doing it because they enjoyed it and loved hanging out with each other and didn’t care about anything else. I wanted that as well. I wanted to have some fun.”
Ferrell says he tries not to think too far ahead about his career “because each step hasn’t been planned too much. So I don’t like to predict what will happen. But I have to say that I am pretty satisfied with how it has worked out and where I am.
“Of course, landing a slot on ‘Saturday Night Live’ was incredible, and I was so happy, but that was just one step in the journey. I then had to stay on the show and be funny, which was another step, and then I ended up becoming famous from that and actually getting notoriety from it, which meant I could go and make films. It has all been steps toward where I am today. And I have been happy with every single step.”