Will Ferrell, Adam McKay Champion 'The Other Guys' Will Ferrell plays a cop who prefers pushing paper to chasing criminals in the new comedy from his frequent collaborator Adam McKay. Actor and director join Fresh Air to discuss how they prepared for the buddy-cop film.
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Will Ferrell, Adam McKay Champion 'The Other Guys'

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Will Ferrell, Adam McKay Champion 'The Other Guys'

Will Ferrell, Adam McKay Champion 'The Other Guys'

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Our next guests are Will Ferrell, star of the cop comedy "The Other Guys," and Adam McKay, who directed and co-wrote the film. It's just come out on DVD. The movie is the latest in a long string of collaborations between the two, who first teamed up when Ferrell was a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and McKay was a writer.

"The Other Guys" is a satire of buddy cop movies and action films, about the cops were not the action heroes of the police force. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg played cops assigned to desk duty. Ferrell's character is happy where he is. Wahlberg's character is not.

Early in the film, too daring members of the police force, played by Samuel Jackson and Dwayne Johnson - The Rock - returned triumphantly to police headquarters, after catching some bad guys. They're welcome to with a round of applause.



SAMUEL JACKSON: (as P.K. Highsmith) We know, we know, we know. All right, all right, all right, listen up, listen up. We're having a celebration tonight at Butter(ph). Brody Jenner's going to be there, and most of you are on the list.

Unidentified Actor: You're the best.


DWAYNE JOHNSON: (as Christopher Danson) Let me say something right now. We couldn't do our job if it weren't for you guys doing all the paperwork, answering the phones...

JACKSON: (as Highsmith) All the gunfights, all the car chases, all the sex we don't want to have with women but we have to, all due to what you guys do. Thank you.

WILL FERRELL: (as Allen Gamble) And we'd do it again and again.

JACKSON: (as Highsmith) Hey, hey, hey, you shut your face. If we want to hear you talk, I will work your mouth like a puppet, you hear me? Cash bar.


BIANCULLI: Terry Gross spoke with Will Farrell and Adam McKay last year and started by discussing another scene from the film.

TERRY GROSS: Now I love the opening scene. It's a great satire of the obligatory opening car-chase scene in cop movies. Now, there's the bullet flying in slow motion before it hits its target, the cars crashing, cars flying through the air, cars crashing through glass windows. One of the cops jumps onto the hood of a moving car. Innocent bystanders are watching in horror. And it's all so quickly edited that you can't follow what's going on or who's doing what to who.


GROSS: So what are some of the elements that you really wanted to parody in the opening?

MCKAY: Well, that was the idea, was the gross excess of the whole sort of modern-day heroes as they're kind of perceived through movies and TV, just how sort of ridiculously over the top they are.

And, you know, the real truth is cops had to stop doing high-speed chases because they were doing too much property damage. So it was an agreement with most police that they go, OK, let's back off and eventually, we'll catch the guy.


MCKAY: And so the end of our giant chase, of course, you find out that it was all over a quarter pound of marijuana and that they destroyed 40 vehicles and blew up a building.

FERRELL: Yeah, we actually went on a couple ride-alongs with NYPD detectives. And I kept asking the guy I was with, like, do you have any crazy chase stories? And they basically said, no, we kind of lay back and know that they'll probably come back again. So don't try to be a hero. If you want to be a hero, join the fire department.

So it's funny to kind of make fun of the, like Adam said, the gross excess.

GROSS: One of the other things you make fun of, too, is how in cop movies, the cops are always making - well, not always, but in a certain kind of cop movie, the cops are always making witty retorts just as their lives are most at risk. So can you talk about trying to write the best retorts?


MCKAY: We actually wrote some that, it might have been a little too inside for the audience, but at one point, Samuel Jackson and Dwayne Johnson crash through a bus in their car, and there's just sort of a beat where they're in the bus, and obviously, he's supposed to say a funny line.

At one point, we had him say a line like, man, I feel a lot of pressure to say something clever right now.


MCKAY: And that really made us laugh, but I think it was - like, it's funny. You make fun of it, but you also want it to be a little funny for the audience, and that one got dead silence. But, yeah...

GROSS: Is that why you cut it out, because it didn't test?

MCKAY: Yeah, you know, if something's on the fence, we'll certainly put it in, even if it doesn't play, but when it completely dies and sort of stops the energy of the movie, we will actually heed the advice of the audience in those cases.

Will Ferrell, would you describe your look as the cop who likes to do the paperwork and the forensic accounting?

FERRELL: I hate to sound so simplistic in that I knew that my character would wear glasses, but that was kind of a key element, and once I found kind of the right glasses for this guy, it kind of set the character off.

But he's a guy who's very kind of well-put-together, but all of his suits are probably bought at the next step below like a Men's Warehouse, not quite a Men's Warehouse.

MCKAY: Marshalls? Yeah.

FERRELL: Maybe a Marshalls. And so he's very sensible, very prudent with his finances, and yeah, so we try to embody that character in the look.

MCKAY: We said a little bit, it was like Keith Olbermann with a gun.


MCKAY: Sort of the vibe.


GROSS: You mentioned the eyeglasses, and they're kind of like the '80s version of aviator glasses.

FERRELL: Yeah, they're not - they're just a little off.

GROSS: Those wire-rimmed aviator glasses. Yeah.

FERRELL: As soon as I found them, we forwarded pictures to Adam, and Adam was like, that's it. That's the look.

GROSS: How did you look for them?

FERRELL: Just with the propmaster, and just kind of looked through a sea of glasses, and...

GROSS: The propmaster brings it in. You don't go to, like, LensCrafters and say, give me something very '80s.

FERRELL: Right. No, I didn't do that. But I did go to a - I wanted to give myself a standard-issue haircut, and I did go to a Supercuts in the San Fernando Valley and just walked in and got a standard haircut, and I then forwarded the pictures to Adam. And you kind of were shocked. You...

MCKAY: It was a thing where we heard Will was going to do it...

FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

MCKAY: And in theory, it sounded like such a great idea, but you know, you have to remember, when you're about to go into a movie, that look is what you carry for the whole movie. So...

FERRELL: I think your quote was: We still want you to look good on camera.


FERRELL: But the haircut was - was perfectly bad, in a way...

MCKAY: Oh, yeah.

FERRELL: ...and we kind of had to reshape it.

GROSS: Did the haircutter not know who you were?

FERRELL: She cut my hair for 15 minutes, and then halfway - she didn't say a word, and then finally, towards the end of the haircut, she's like, you're one of the "Step Brothers," aren't you? And I said yes. And then that's all we mentioned it. We didn't talk any more. So that was, it was kind of funny.

GROSS: Now, "The Other Guys" may be a comedy, but the explosions in it have to look real. They have to look as real as a real cop film would. And so what are some of the things you each had to learn in order to pull off the explosions and the stunts?

You know, like, you know, there's like, a wrecking ball that smashes into a car and then into a building, and there's cars crashing into each other. There's explosions...

MCKAY: We were actually pretty thrifty with this movie because, you know, we had to shoot in New York. It was a pretty big movie. So all told, we only crashed, like, destroyed, like, four cars.


MCKAY: And we were doubling a lot of cars. And that's kind of what we learned is that even though these movies look big and excessive, our second unit guys were very thrifty with it. And when we would shoot our stuff, we really had to plan when we were going to break something because didn't have doubles on it.

It wasn't like a $200 million movie, where you just do whatever you want. So that was a little surprising to us. And then the rest of it is just a lot of planning, like a lot of storyboarding. You go over it and over it, and you do safety checks.

And, I mean, some of this stuff's pretty scary, what they do. I mean, we have a car that shoots into a building that explodes at one point and jumps another car. And sort of halfway through, you're like, oh my god, like, if anyone got hurt because of this - it's just a comedy. You know, so I think that's about as far as we would ever go with those kinds of stunts.

GROSS: So you said, Adam McKay, that you had to double cars because you didn't have a big budget. What does that mean?

MCKAY: It means you crash into one, and you wreck the right side of it, and then in another scene, you turn it around so you only see the left side, and you wreck that.


MCKAY: It's real tricky stuff like that. But, yeah, they do it. They re-use it. Or if there's not a whole lot of damage to it, sometimes they'll fix it in their own shop, our second unit, and - I mean, these guys are super crafty. They know what they're doing. So we got a lot of use out of a lot of things.

FERRELL: But to speak to what you were initially bringing up, Terry, the - I think it is so funny because the action does look so real, and we never wink at any of that.

MCKAY: Yeah, there's actually a couple scenes that are pretty cool, like the slow-motion shootout in the office and in the Gehry Building. And, I mean, that was kind of our goal. Like, if you're going to do - it's the same thing we do with "Talladega." If you're going to have race scenes, let's at least make them cool.

So we did our best. We did our darnedest with them, and I think a few times, we get off some pretty cool moments.

GROSS: So even though it's a comedy, you know...

MCKAY: Why didn't you agree with my statement that we...

GROSS: Oh, no, I agree.


GROSS: I was going to start describing it, but I figured how much of the movie should I be giving away.

MCKAY: We're very insecure.

GROSS: No, I love the part where Mark Wahlberg is kind of - he seems to be on some kind of, like, roller cart or something because he's kind of shooting and rolling backwards at the same time.

MCKAY: That's all we needed.

GROSS: He's officially on some paper, but yeah, yeah, I won't give it away.

MCKAY: That's all we needed, Terry, just affirmation like that.

GROSS: Yeah. Right.


MCKAY: We work hard. We're very vulnerable.

GROSS: So again, you know, these - it's a comedy, but the stunts had to look real, and you used the same kind of stuff that the real action movies do. So, Adam McKay, that meant you had the real responsibility of making sure no one got hurt. Not the kind of thing you'd have to worry about as much in something like "Anchorman."


GROSS: But - so was that a lot to carry around?

MCKAY: Well, you know, all you can really do as director is sort of set a tone. And the tone I tried to set was I just constantly said safety first. Don't do anything that's risky. I constantly checked with, you know, Conrad, our second unit director, and Brad Martin, our stunt coordinator, and is there anything that's edgy? Please don't do it. Don't do it. It's not worth it.

And I just kept saying that over and over again. Fortunately, you know, Conrad and Brad are, like, consummate pros. So they were super safety-conscious. And, you know, we had, you know, there's always a couple close calls, but you know, knock on wood, thank God, no one was seriously injured, and you get through it.

But it's crazy. It's a part of filmmaking people don't often think about that people do get hurt doing these insane stunts, and so that's the only thing you can do. There's some, you know, some people shoot a little looser from the hip and say, just get it done. And I just tried not to do that and over and over again said be safe. And our producers said the same thing.

Will, on the other hand, had a whole different attitude about it.

FERRELL: I would then behind Adam's back tell everyone don't listen to him.


FERRELL: We got to get this shot, and you're fired if you don't. So between the two approaches, I think it came out pretty good.

MCKAY: Yeah. I wasn't happy with what he was doing, and it undermined a lot of my credibility as a director, but the movie did work out and no one was injured. And what are you going to do? You know, Will wants the movie to be good.

GROSS: Now, there's also, like, a financial crisis, financial scam, reform theme through the movie because the main villains are involved with financial misdeeds. And, you know, there's references to the Federal Reserve. There's a few, like, Federal Reserve and SEC jokes.


GROSS: Like, what's it like to write jokes like that and not worry that people won't get it?

MCKAY: Well, you know, there's nothing the people love more than a Federal Reserve joke.


GROSS: Now, don't I know?


MCKAY: Yeah, I mean, you can tour the Midwest for years based on prime rates and actuarial jokes, and yeah. No, we thought that was kind of a cool thing with - the reason you could do a cop buddy movie was because crime has changed so much.

You have a guy like Bernie Madoff literally steal $80 billion. You have, you know, AIG steal hundreds of billions, Goldman Sachs. Crime has changed so much, and to really do a movie with, like, drug dealers or drug smugglers is kind of almost quaint at this point.

So we wanted to have that sort of laced throughout it and yet, you know, not be too didactic or boring about it. And it fit in pretty nicely. It doesn't tend to stop the rhythm. And I think people can feel the stakes of it, too. They know that it relates to all of us. It actually is high crime. So you, you know, it's a comedy, but you somewhat care what they're doing.

GROSS: So do you have another project that you're going to be working on together now that "The Other Guys" is finished?

MCKAY: We actually want to do the FRESH AIR movie.

GROSS: Oh, of course. Of course you should.

FERRELL: We just need you to sign a release, Terry.

MCKAY: You've been very difficult through all the legal proceedings.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, I'm happy to play myself. It's an adventure film, right? It's an adventure film where I sit in a chair reading all day. But it's exciting.


MCKAY: It's going to be for IMAX. It's going to be 3-D.

FERRELL: It's a 500-day shoot.


GROSS: Well, congratulations on the new one. Thanks so much for coming back to FRESH AIR.

MCKAY: Thank you so much Terry, it's a pleasure.

FERRELL: Thanks, Terry, thanks for having us.

BIANCULLI: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay speaking to Terry Gross last year. Their comedy film "The Other Guys" is now out on DVD.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews a new film that's not a comedy, "Blue Valentine." This is FRESH AIR.

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