By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Will Ferrell thought it would be funny to make a comedy entirely in Spanish. Never mind that the California-born funnyman didn’t actually speak the language. He also was a longtime fan of the Mexican-Western genre. Thus was born the idea of “Casa de mi Padre” (which translates to House of my Father), a romantic action adventure, in which the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member plays the simpleton son of a Mexican rancher, who gets caught up in the drug war, and falls in love with his brother’s fiancee.
Ferrell called on his former “SNL” colleague Andrew Steele, a writer, to pen the script. He also tapped Matt Piedmont, another “SNL” alumni, to direct the feature.
The general concept of Ferrell’s vision revolved around the classic telenovela, dramatic, serialized melodramas in Spanish popular in Latin America and in Latin communities in the U.S., which Steele carried out.
Ferrell, who was honored last year with the Mark Twain prize for American Humor, which recognizes people who have made an impact on American society in the tradition of humorist/author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), explains how he made a dream of making a Spanish-language film a reality.
Front Row Features: Why did you want to make a film in Spanish?
Will Ferrell: It’s something I knew I wanted to do when the idea hit me that people were going to be sitting around going, “What the hell?” That gives me such joy. I’m just finding that it’s getting more and more fun to do things that are kind of left of center and outside of the norm of what you’d expect. Audiences are looking forward to things that surprise them, or at least I hope.
Front Row Features: Is it partly a reaction to how things can get formulaic, typical and structured in Hollywood?
Ferrell: It didn’t manifest itself in a way that was calculated. It actually just simply hit me as I was watching one of these telenovelas we’ve all glanced upon and going, ‘God, it’s amazing how over the top it is,’ watching for a little while and then going, ‘It’d be funny if I was in the middle of one of those.’ That’s simply how it started. Once we kind of got the team together with Andrew (Steele) and Matt (Piedmont), we just started seeing it as a real opportunity to kind of make an anti-movie movie in a way.
Front Row Features: Now that you’ve conquered American television and cinema is this part of your grand plan to take over the world one country at a time?
Ferrell: Pretty much, yeah. Jamaica is next. Don’t ask me why.
Front Row Features: Did you learn Spanish while you were growing up here in Southern California?
Ferrell: It’s hard not to learn some Spanish growing up here, obviously, and I had three years of high school Spanish and a couple of semesters at USC as part of a requirement, but that was it. That was my basic working knowledge. So, when this started to take off, it was like, “Oh. Now I actually have to learn Spanish.” That’s when it became a bit of a fever dream. I worked with a translator for a month before shooting. When we started filming here in L.A., he would show up at my house at 5 a.m., and we’d drive to the set.
Front Row Features: Did you understand everything you were saying?
Front Row Features: It wasn’t phonetic?
Ferrell: No, no, no.
Front Row Features: Your lovely co-star Genesis Rodriguez said you had a knack for the Mexican dialect. Is that from years of being a mimic and picking up on that verbal nuance that you need to throw in as a comedian?
Ferrell: That definitely helped, but it was also the way that Patrick (Perez), the translator, was literally teaching me more of the Mexican pronunciation. Then there’s a whole other level going on because my character uses the formal “usted” form. It’s fun to have jokes for the English-speaking audience and have a whole other level for Spanish-speaking audiences that the English audience doesn’t even know is going on.
Front Row Features: Were you ever concerned that the script, which was written in English and then translated to Spanish, had some jokes that wouldn’t translate well?
Ferrell: What you quickly learn is in the world of Spanish-speaking countries is that there’s so many dialects of Spanish. There are so many different accents and uses of slang. Our script supervisor was bilingual. We had other people working on the movie who would often say, “No one would ever say it this way,” and we would have to say, “We’re doing that on purpose because when it comes out in English we want it to be really awkward and formal.” Then there were certain phrases in English where the translator would say, “There’s no real way to say this.” But we did have to kind of govern that and make sure what I was saying could be translated the way we wanted.
Front Row Features: Are you going to go out to Spanish0language countries to promote this film?
Ferrell: The irony is that the release in Mexico is actually bigger than it is here. It’s only on 300 screens here 400 in Mexico.
Front Row Features: When did you figure out that staying so committed to the most absurd premise makes it funnier?
Ferrell: I learned it pretty quickly. The comedians I was a fan of growing up—the Dan Aykroyds of the world—were people who just fully committed. I just loved how they fully committed to their work. When I started doing sketch comedy at The Groundlings (comedy troupe), I’d look across the room and say, “Oh, that person is just as funny as me. That person is even funnier.” I knew the one thing I would have over anyone is just to commit fully.
Front Row Features: What did you take away from the experience of making this film and what did you learn about yourself?
Ferrell: In the movie business, you come across groups of people who are willing to execute ideas and make them work and other groups who say, “That’s too hard. We can’t do it.” This was a group of people who, if I said something like, “This is probably too hard to do, but can we get a hundred pretzels to just throw on the floor?” they would say, “’Let’s see if we can do it.” In terms of myself, it was a good litmus test in terms of pushing myself. There were moments where I thought, “I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I don’t know how I’m going to do it.” The first day of filming was a two-page monologue straight to camera and I thought, “This is not going to go well,” but then somehow it’s amazing if you test yourself you can exceed your expectations.
Front Row Features: After you received the Mark Twain Prize last year, did you wake up the next day wondering what you were going to do next? Was that a little scary?
Ferrell: Yeah. I tried not to think about it. There is a moment where I had to battle with that little bit. I was thinking, “If I accept this, am I saying my career is over? Is it time to say bye bye?” You just really have to embrace it for what it is. It’s just a very nice pat on the back. I just have to have the confidence to keep going and keep growing and creating other stuff.