The Campaign is a unique pleasure not just because it’s so funny, but because it pairs two of comedy’s modern titans together. As Cam Brady, Will Ferrell plays a career Senator on track for the vice presidency, with an equally ambitious wife who shares his dreams of power and helps hide the truth of their lives (including his mistress) behind a veneer of respectability.
For years Brady’s been running unopposed, but two local power brokers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) want to install someone more friendlier to their plans to sell off much of the state’s manufacturing to cheap Chinese labour. They select, groom and underwrite Cam’s first opponent in years, tour guide and professional dolt Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis).
thevine.com.au spoke to both actors in Los Angeles.
Will, you’re known for your George W Bush impressions. Do you channel anything from the past for a character like Cam Brady or start completely fresh and forget everything you’ve done before?
Will: I really was cognisant of all the Bush stuff I’d done. The character of Bush in my mind was the frat guy who was put in office and didn’t really want to be there. But Cam Brady loves it. He’s convinced he’s an articulate communicator. I watched a lot stuff on John Edwards and how overly earnest he is. He always starts every comment with ‘I want to thank you for taking this time to do this interview because I know you’re incredibly busy and it means a lot to me. So thank you for that’. So I was like trying to steal from all that stuff as opposed to George Bush and trying to keep them separate.
You guys are two of the biggest talents in comedy. Had you been looking to working together for a long time?
Will: Zach had been bothering me for years now and I was like, I’m too busy. Jesus!
Zach: And ‘don’t come to my house anymore’, and ‘how did you get my address?
Will: Yeah, and at weird hours, not normal visiting hours. Three in the morning.
Zach: I find pestering people works.
Will: I loved the character Zach does in the movie. He’s done it before on various things and he’s literally one of the funniest characters. I wanted to know who the guy was and what his deal was. At first we were just two southern guys and Adam McKay [frequent creative collaborator with Ferrell] said we should be duelling candidates in a political race in the small town south. We thought it was a great idea.
Were you conscious that it was a way to be political or did you just want to be funny?
Zach: It is a way to be political. Humour is such a good avenue to take politics on. Even more so than if it were a serious political movie, then it could kind of be accused of trying to tip the scales a little bit. But comedy is a good bullshit detector and I think that’s advantageous to this subject matter. Advantageous is word I looked up earlier today just to sound good.
Will: To have a big word.
Zach: I needed an eight-letter plus word. I don’t know how many it is. I can’t spell it.
Will: It was the correct pronunciation.
Zach: Thank you.
Who’s inspiring you and or exciting you guys in comedy whether it’s writing, producing, directing or stand up?
Zach: I’ve always been a big fan of Steve Coogan. I just think he’s so funny.
Will: Louie CK is a funny guy too.
Zach: Yeah. There’s a lot of people in the underground scene, if you will, that aren’t known yet but they’re super, super funny. You know who I think is funny? Do you know who Steve Harvey is?
Will: Yeah, sure.
Zach: Oh my God.
Will: I don’t know if I’ve ever watched his stuff or not.
Zach: Who’s watched Family Feud? He’s the host of Family Feud.
Will: Yeah. I met him on a plane once, he was the nicest guy.
Zach: I love that guy. I think he’s so funny.
Will: Kristen Wiig is just a powerhouse, crazy specific characters and kind of a genius.
Zach: Oh God, yeah.
Usually there’s a funny guy and then there’s the foil for the funny guy to play off. In The Campaign you’re equals. Was there any challenge in that?
Will: I kind of hate the funny guy, straight guy formula. I mean obviously it has its place, but I’ve always wondered why there can’t be two or three funny central characters. Why can’t you just keep passing the ball around? I think we were able to do that. It worked too because Marty is just as earnest as they come and the sweetest guy ever. Cam is a crazy man, a little bit of an arsehole.
Zach: The only trick is that we weren’t similar.
Will: Yeah, we had to be different.
Zach: We actually talked about it, not playing the same thing.
Everyone says that comedy’s harder than drama, but why does drama have so much more legitimacy than comedy?
Zach: I do have a chip on my shoulder about that, I have to be honest.
Will: I do too a little bit, yeah.
Zach: I think most comedians do because with drama you can just sit there but with a comedy you have to hear something out of people. That’s really much more difficult to do.
Will: But comedies don’t get the same amount of recognition because when it’s done really well it looks like it’s easy, it looks like we’re just messing around. And it’s always that question ‘looks like you guys are having fun’. No, we had countless meetings to the point of too many, going over and over the script and this and that. A lot of work goes into comedy, but I think people just think it looks effortless.
Zach: Also when comedic actors try to do something dramatic, people are like ‘what’s he doing?’ but when a dramatic actor does something funny, it’s cool.
Any directing aspirations?
Will: I’d love direct the actors only one day without any of the other work a director has to do like go to all the meetings, drive around in a van scouting, make decisions on wardrobe, meet with every department head. Basically 84 percent of the job a director has to do, it’s too much work for me.
So that’s why I don’t think I’ll ever direct. You really have to love that process of micro-managing because there are so many parts of the film. And when you’re done filming that’s just part one. You’ve got to edit. I don’t know if I could keep it all straight. It’s a daunting task.
Zach: There’s a discipline there that I don’t know if I have. The way I would do it is probably do one take and go, ‘yeah, we got it, good, who cares?’