Will Ferrell showed that his improv skills haven’t left him during his recent Dallas interviews for “Casa de mi Padre.” As he began answering the first question, one of the recorders put in front of him—which also happened to be a phone—rang. Without missing a beat he answered it, talked for a bit with a reporter’s mother, and then asked if she’d like her daughter to call back. And after the roundtable was over, he even reminded the embarrassed journalist to return her mom’s call.
Ferrell did make time to talk about the picture, though. When asked how the idea for a spoof of 1970 Mexican westerns came about, he said, “I don’t know exactly where or when, but I just had this idea for the longest time. It stemmed from watching telenovelas—not that I’m an aficionado by any means—and how ridiculous they are, and I mean that lovingly. I just thought, boy, it would be funny to put yourself in the middle of one of those, not to have the joke be that you’re speaking Spanish poorly, but to try to speak as well as you possibly could—the premise being that you’re watching a movie and it’s an entire Latino cast, and that Will Ferrell is essentially playing a Mexican actor as part of this cast.
“That was the idea, and I had it for awhile, and I heard that someone was writing a script about telenovelas, and I thought I’d better do it, or someone [else] is going to jump on the idea.”
Of course, the project would require Ferrell to voice the lead character—a naïve rancher’s son who comes up against drug dealers, corrupt cops and DEA agents while falling for his own brother’s beautiful fiancee—in Spanish. “I know enough Spanish to where I wasn’t learning [the dialogue] phonetically,” he explained. “But Patrick Perez, the guy who translated [Andrew Steele’s] script from English to Spanish, just offered to be my coach. We started working about a month out from the beginning of filming, and then he would come to my house every day, depending on the call at lot of times at five, five-thirty in the morning, and we’d drive to where we shot, about an hour outside L.A., and go over the lines for that day. And we’d drive back home and start the work for the next day. So I had to continually work on the Spanish.
“But if anyone would improvise [on set], I never knew.” And the look of bewilderment on his character’s face? “That’s the look of an actor just trying to remember their lines in Spanish,” he admitted. He also noted that “Casa” is “the first [movie] in which I am subtitled,” though a scene in “Anchorman” used subtitles for a gag involving someone else. “Maybe I can get into the Oscars for Best Foreign Film now. That’s the goal.”
Ferrell surrounded himself with notable Latino talent in the cast, including Pedro Armendariz, Jr., as his father, Diego Luna as his brother and Gael Garcia Bernal as an infamous drug dealer. “We were lucky in that Diego and Gael were a little bit of one-stop shopping, in that they’re represented by the same agent here in the States,” he said. “She had read the script and thought it was really funny and reached out to them. I think Diego read it first. He was actually mad when he read it. He said, ‘My first reaction was to be angry that we didn’t think of this idea.’ Then Gael read it, and they’re not ever asked to do comedy, to do a send-up of these cheesy spaghetti westerns that were predominant in Mexican cinema in the early seventies. And they also loved what it said about the cliched views that Mexico has about the US, and vice versa. We were just lucky that they wanted to be a part of it, because it obviously gives the movie legitimacy in the eyes of Latinos to have actors of their caliber being on the screen. And even though the movie is arch and silly and over-the-top, everyone really performed in an earnest way. A movie like this, it was a great game to see how many flubs we could put into the movie, and that’s why it’s really fun to watch it with an audience, because each audience reacts differently and points out different things.”
Which brought up a serious question—did Ferrell expect a negative response from Hispanic viewers? “Yes,” he replied in perfect deadpan. “Next question. No, here’s the thing. Unless they’re lying to me, most, if not all, of the Latino press have just loved the movie. I’ve even had people thank me for making it because you don’t really get that many opportunities for Latino actors to have comedies dedicated solely to them. I think it would be different if I were just speaking bad Spanish. But I think that it’s kind of fair to both sides, and that’s what we intended.”
And as the interview ended he shouted out to the reporter with the intrusive phone, “Call your mom!”