Will Ferrell Plays Dirty

On jocks, jokes, and why he's no Cuba Gooding Jr.

Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

Will Ferrell was in Austin earlier this month for a screening of Semi-Pro, the Kent Alterman-directed basketball chapter of a jocks-and-jokes quadrilogy that has previously taken on preadolescent soccer, NASCAR, and figure skating. For a review of the film, see Film Listings, p.100. For photos from the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar event that required fans to gear up in full Flint Tropics regalia – headband, jersey, socks, and short shorts – in order to gain admission, see www.originalalamo.blogspot.com. For a quick conversation with Ferrell, see below.

Austin Chronicle: You guys nailed the style – on the court and off – of the American Basketball Association. The Spirits were before my time, but I'm from St. Louis, and I noticed that vintage KMOX radio banner courtside.

Will Ferrell: I'm supposed to talk to Bob Costas soon. He's mentioned a lot in this book [Terry Pluto's] Loose Balls, which we took a lot of research from. And Costas tells the famous Marvin Barnes story. He was a really great player for the Spirits. They were on the road, and they were traveling east to St. Louis. They were taking off at 9. And Barnes was like, "Well, what time do we land?" They're like, "Well, we land at 8 or whatever with the time change." "What are you talking about?" "You know, with the time change, with the time zones." "I ain't getting in no time machine." Rented a car. Drove. ... There were guys like that all over the place. That's where we got trading a washing machine for Monix [Woody Harrelson]. There was this one guy; he negotiated. He wanted a salary of $10,000 and a new refrigerator. And the team was like, "We can give you 10 grand and an old refrigerator." He's like, "I'll take it."

AC: You're having a lot of fun with the sports comedies, with the big casts and fertile ground, but do you ever see yourself becoming bored with it?

WF: I probably won't do another sports comedy for a while. ... There's not really a certain formula to how I think things should be. It's more fun to work that way. ... But, yeah, that might change. I thought Stranger Than Fiction would trigger a lot more dramatic scripts, but it really hasn't. So I haven't really had the opportunity to do that again. I would like to do more of that stuff.

AC: Some of the language and imagery in Semi-Pro seems to me a little ramped up from your earlier stuff.

WF: Oh, yeah, it's R-rated. It's a conscious choice to be R-rated. ... That was another thing that was fun to me. I haven't gotten to do an R-rated movie in a long time. And because of the era and the grit that the film has, this has to be R-rated. It wouldn't be right otherwise. ... I've had people come up to me, and you can tell they're a more family audience, and they're like, "Thank you for making Elf." ... And I'm not opposed to making those types of movies, obviously, but I've never been, like, "Ooooh, kids are gonna hear or see this." Because I kinda got known on Saturday Night Live for going there. ... But if anyone were to ever hold me to that standard of "How dare you make that movie?" I wouldn't care what they had to say. ... It's a fucking comedy. You're gonna have to live with it. I just don't think you can govern yourself by those rules, because then you might as well just make ... what's that dogsled movie that Cuba Gooding Jr. made? Like, I might as well just make those movies. Air Bud.  

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Will Ferrell, Semi-Pro

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