Will Ferrell habla de la Casa de mi Padre
Mexico's newest star on his Spanish-language debut, finding comedy between the subtitles, and his plans for a Hermanastros sequel.
Not since Charlton Heston played a Latino drug officer in Touch of Evil has a giant of American cinema so, ahem, convincingly inhabited a Mexican on screen like Will Ferrell in this week's Casa de mi Padre. Making his Spanish-language debut, Ferrell plays slow-witted black-sheep-of-the-clan Armando Alvarez, whose swarthy brother Raul (Diego Luna) is taking the family into the drug trade against the nefarious La Onza (Gael García Bernal). Meanwhile, Raul's fiance, the beautiful and tragic Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez), has fallen for Armando, a wedding turns into a hyperreal bloodbath, and a mystical white panther stalks the patently fake jungle sets dispensing oracle wisdom. The movie is an affectionate satire of the unintentionally comic Mexican telenovelas, with a heavy dose of bad Spaghetti Westerns, overly sincere performances, and even a touch of Jodorowsky strangeness. We sat down with the star recently for a chat about the film...
This movie has everything: action, romance, surrealism, panthers...
Will Ferrell: [Laughs] Yeah.
As I understand, you'd always wanted to do a Spanish-language movie. At what point did it become this one?
You know, I had the general idea and then it really was Andrew Steele, the writer, who just kind of created the whole story, the whole setting. When we talked about it I was kind of like, "Andrew, I don't know what exactly but I'm sure it's gotta be some epic story, probably with a love element and some sort of melodramatic tale." But yeah, he kind of turned it into this story and added the narco traficante element to it. Then when we added Matt Piedmont, the director, to it, he kind of added the surrealism element with the way he shot things and finding and using old lenses at Panavision to shoot on, shooting it anamorphic and not processing the film and stuff like that. It just kind of kept getting... the simple structure was built and then more and more layers of schlack were added.
That being the technical term.
Were you, like Matt, a fan of the telenovelas?
I had seen telenovelas just, you know, cruising around the TV and had always thought to myself, "God, these things are kind of fascinating." They were so over the top and had this weird style to them; they were very bizarre. So that was where the initial concept came from, but then Andrew, those guys, they know their cinema really well and they were kind of connoisseurs of bad Mexican cinema from 1969 through the middle '70s -- you know, a lot of these Spaghetti Westerns with the jump cuts and the continuity issues and things like that.
So we're not talking about Sergio Leone-level stuff here.
More like the kind of movies you'd accidentally see on late night TV...
Late at night on TV, poorly dubbed in English. [Laughs] So they started talking about what if we added those elements, and I thought -- that's amazing. But I can't say that I knew that world so well. Between Matt and Andrew, they really gave it the style that it has.
When you committed to do this, had you made the decision to speak fluently in Spanish?
Genesis Rodriguez was very full of praise for your... cadence.
[Laughs] That's very nice.
She's the expert, having been in telenovelas.
She would know. She's a pro. And Diego [Luna], too, actually did telenovelas 'til he was 19, I guess, which I didn't know. We didn't realize that he saw it as an opportunity to make fun of what he had done as an actor.
He didn't think you were serious about the movie, right? Like it was some kind of practical joke?
Yeah. He even sat down with us -- we all had drinks in Venice and he was like, "Are you really gonna learn Spanish?" And I'm like, "Yeah." Then he said, "Alright, well... I guess I'm in." [Laughs] But when I had the initial idea I always thought, "If I'm gonna do this, the joke won't be that I speak Spanish poorly." The joke has to be that you're sitting in the theater, watching it, and I come up on screen speaking Spanish and a couple of things go through your head, like: "How long is this gonna last? Is it gonna last the whole movie? There's no way... oh my god, I think it is." And the third point being, "And he sounds pretty good, I think." [Laughs]
'Cause that gag would've gotten old in about two minutes.
Exactly. That's a sketch. So I knew that if I was gonna do this I had to at least sound as authentic as I could. That's why he hedged our bet a little bit with the family, with the father and Diego commenting at times, "You speak so weird" and "You're not the smart one.", Also, we knew that for native speakers I would sound decent, but a little off. So I tirelessly worked with a translator for about six weeks out from shooting, and then every day, on the set, we'd drive together and go over the lines, and then drive home together and go over the next day's lines.