Actor and screenwriter
Born John William Ferrell, July 16, 1968, in Irvine, CA; son of Lee (a musician) and Kay (a schoolteacher) Ferrell; married Viveca Paulin (an art–house auctioneer), August, 2000; children: Magnus Paulin. Education: University of Southern California (sports journalism), 1990.
Agent—United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 500, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Actor in television, including: Saturday Night Live, NBC, 1995–2002; Bucket of Blood, Showtime, 1995; Living Single, FOX, 1995; Grace Under Fire, ABC, 1995; The George Wendt Show, CBS, 1995; Cow and Chicken (voice), 1997; Disney's Hercules, ABC and syndicated, 1998; King of the Hill (voice), FOX, 1999; Family Guy, 2000; Strangers with Candy, 2000; The Oblongs (voice), 2001; Family Guy, 2001; Undeclared, 2001; The Guardian, 2003. Film appearances include: Criminal Hearts (uncredited), 1995; Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, 1997; Men Seeking Women 1997; A Night at the Roxbury, 1998; The Whistleblower, 1999; The Thin Pink Line, 1998; The Suburbans, 1999; Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, 1999; Dick, 1999; Superstar, 1999; Drowning Mona, 2000; The Ladies Man, 2000; Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, 2001; Zoolander, 2001; Boat Trip (uncredited), 2002; Old School, 2003; Elf, 2003; Starsky and Hutch, 2004; Anchorman, 2004. Author of screenplays, including: A Night at the Roxbury, 1998; Anchorman, 2004.
Emmy award for outstanding individual performance in a variety or music program, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for Saturday Night Live, 2001.
Actor Will Ferrell is best known for his seven seasons of appearances on the NBC comedy show Saturday Night Live, on which he impersonated United States President George W. Bush, Attorney General Janet Reno, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and many others. The Emmy Award–winning actor portrayed a variety of other characters on the show, and has also appeared in several hit films, including Elf and Old School.
Born and raised in the Los Angeles, California, suburb of Irvine, in 1968, Ferrell was an easygoing child. "He was born like that," his mother, Kay, told Scott Raab in Esquire. "You know those little Matchbox cars? Will would line up his Matchbox cars, by himself, and be totally happy. You'd say, 'You wanna go to Disneyland today or line up your cars?' and he'd have to think about it." Ferrell was known as a funny kid even in elementary school, where he would punch himself in the head just to make girls laugh.
Ferrell's father, Lee, was a musician who toured with the Righteous Brothers, and as Ferrell grew up, he decided he would never go into show business like his father had. He saw that performing was uncertain and financially unstable, and vowed to become a businessperson. However, he didn't count on the fact that he was inherently talented at performing. He got his first taste of performing when he read daily announcements to students over his high school's public address system. He also re–enacted comedy skits he had seen on television to entertain his friends.
During his college years at the University of Southern California (USC), where he majored in sports journalism, Ferrell took whatever job he could get. For one job, he worked as a parking garage valet at the Meridien Hotel in Newport Beach. On the second night of that job, he drove a van into a parking garage that did not have enough clearance for it. The entire luggage rack came off when the van hit the low ceiling. Surprisingly, Ferrell was not fired for this mishap. Another disastrous job involved working as a bank teller; on the first day, his cash drawer was short $330, and on the second day he was short $280. He had not taken the money; the job was just not suited to him.
After graduating from USC, he worked as a sports-caster for a local cable series. He did stand–up comedy routines at comedy clubs and coffeehouses. He also took classes with the Groundlings, a Los Angeles–based comedy and improvisation troupe that had helped Saturday Night Live stars Laraine Newman, Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman, Cheri Oteri, and Friends star Lisa Kudrow start their careers; six months after he began his studies with them, the group asked him to become a member. In addition to his work with the Groundlings, Ferrell spent a summer studying scene construction, dialects, movement, and writing at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, California.
In 1995, Lorne Michaels, the producer of Saturday Night Live, came to town looking for fresh talent for his show. Ferrell told Esquire's Raab how he made it through the first audition and what occurred when he was called back for the second, which involved a meeting with Michaels in New York City. Ferrell hoped to make an impression by being funny at this meeting, and brought a briefcase full of fake money, planning to do a mock bribe of Michaels. However, when he got there, the meeting was dead serious, so he kept quiet and never brought out the fake money at all. The show's producer, Steve Higgins, was present, and after Michaels said everything he wanted to say, he asked Higgins what he thought. Higgins looked at Ferrell and said, "Nice briefcase." Ferrell eventually won a slot on Saturday Night Live, leading to seven seasons of performances made notable by Ferrell's imitations of President George W. Bush, Attorney General Janet Reno, pompous television host James Lipton, and singer Neil Diamond, as well as a cheerleader and a "ladies man," among many others. His impressions of Bush became wildly popular during the 2000 presidential election. Ironically, the president did not recognize Ferrell when they met on the Saturday Night Live set one day; in Bush's defense, "I was wearing a beard for another piece," Ferrell explained to Newsweek's Marc Peyser. In addition to meeting Bush, Ferrell also met another target of his lampoons when Reno appeared on the show. Ferrell told Peyser that he told Reno that "we've always portrayed her as a take–charge, almost superhero kind of character, and she kind of went, 'Oh, be quiet!'"
Although Ferrell worried that he might be bothered by fans when he was out in public, his characters—not the actor himself—were what viewers remembered. Out of makeup, in his own clothes, he could often go out in public and never be noticed. Joel Stein commented in Time that Ferrell "doesn't stick out. He looks backgroundy, and his shockingly mellow demeanor makes him extra–unnoticeable." Ferrell told Newsweek's Peyser, "[Before I began working on the show] I remember thinking I'd better take the subways a lot, because once we do our first show, I'm going to be mobbed. I'm still taking the subways." Nevertheless, Michaels told Peyser, "He's the center pillar [of the show]. He's as good as anyone who's ever done the show."
Ferrell made his feature film debut in 1997 with the role of Mustafa in the Mike Myers comedy, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. He also appeared in spinoffs from Saturday Night Live, including A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, and The Ladies Man.
He continued to star on Saturday Night Live, but he was always aware that he might become stuck in a rut with the show, and he wanted to avoid that. "It's an interesting show to be a part of," he told Ed Bark in a Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service article. "Some people leave too early, some people stay too long." Ferrell wanted to leave while he was on top of the wave, and he did. In 2002, Ferrell left Saturday Night Live to pursue a film career. He knew this was risky; as he told Jeff Jensen in Entertainment Weekly, "There's an argument that maintaining a presence on the show means you have a nice platform in front of the public. At the same time, at some point you just have to take a flying leap."
In the 2003 film Old School, Ferrell played Frank the Tank, a middle–aged man who, longing for those good old partying college days, joins with his friends to form a fraternity to relive them. Costar Luke Wilson told Entertainment Weekly's Jensen that Ferrell has "this total thousand–yard stare that's scary–hilarious. There were times in a scene where I couldn't look at him—I'd look just off to the side of him—because otherwise I'd crack up."
In one scene for that film, Ferrell streaked, running nude down a long street full of shops. Ferrell joked with Newsweek's Bret Begun about that scene: "When you have certain physical gifts, I think you should share them. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of this body." Ferrell does get a lot of mileage out of his body; when he is not acting, he is an avid long–distance runner, a fact that became apparent to many of his fans in April of 2003, when he ran the Boston Marathon—his third marathon race. According to Esquire's Raab, Ferrell spent the entire 26.2 miles of the race hearing spectators yell "Frank the Tank!" when he sped past them. "Kids were running next to me, snapping pictures," he told Raab. "Runners were running up ahead and then having their buddies stand next to me, snapping. It was insane."
Old School opened doors for Farrell. He told Time's Stein, "I like to think it was because everyone saw how funny it was, but it's because it made a lot of money." Farrell went on to star in Elf, a Christmas comedy in which he played Buddy, an orphaned human who is raised at the North Pole and is told he is an elf. When he discovers the truth, he sets off to New York City to find his birth father at the suggestion of his kindly adoptive elf father. His human father turns out to be a hardnosed workaholic who has no time or patience for his long–lost son.
The six–foot–three actor might have seemed like a stretch in the part of a human elf, but as the film's producer Jon Berg told Glenn Lovell in a Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service article, Ferrell is funny because he is so down–to–earth. "Whether he's screaming like a madman or acting like a goof-ball, he's always going to be a sympathetic character because his humor comes from a really sweet place." Ferrell told Newsweek's Peyser that he feels the pressure to be funny, but that it is not like him to be humorous all the time: "Sometimes I feel like I'm continuously letting people down by being normal." Michaels told Peyser that Ferrell "exudes a kind of goodness. There's something sunny about what he does." The film's director, Jon Favreau, told Time's Stein, "His humor has a real vulnerability to it." In Daily Variety, David Rooney commented that the film "achieves much of its buoyancy from Ferrell's exuberant physical comedy and the character's immensely likeable guilelessness."
Ferrell married his wife, Viveca, an art–house auctioneer, in 2000, after knowing her for six years. "I knew when I met her," he told Esquire's Raab. "She's the one.… I'm just gonna wait for her to come around the bend." The couple has a son, Magnus, who was born on March 7, 2004.
In 2003, Ferrell began working on a film by Woody Allen, titled Melinda and Melinda. According to Time's Stein, he was chosen to replace actor Robert Downey, Jr. in the lead role because Allen did not want to pay the cost of insuring Downey. At CNN.com, Stephanie Snipes asked him what that film was about. "That's a good question," he said. "I'm in the midst of it and I don't even know." He was allowed to read the script once, but it was then taken away from him, apparently so that the storyline would not become public knowledge. He also told Time's Stein that he had some trouble relating to Allen: "Woody Allen has been nothing but nice and complimentary to me, but every time I've tried to joke with him, I get nothing. He thanked me for doing the script and asked me if I liked it, and I said I really liked the car crashes. He went, 'Uh–huh. Anyway.'"
Also in 2003, Ferrell was cast as Darrin Stephens in a movie remake of the 1960s sitcom show Bewitched and as the lead in a film version of the John Kennedy Toole novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Ferrell played a pompous 1970s newscaster in Anchorman, released in the summer of 2004, and in the same year, he appeared in a dramatic role in Winter Passing. The year 2004 continued to be busy for Ferrell, as he filmed the soccer comedy Kicking & Screaming and the dramedy The Wendell Baker Story and provided the voice of the Man in the Yellow Hat for the film version of the classic children's book, Curious George. Ferrell was also scheduled to appear in the film adaptation of Broadway's The Producers and cowrite and star in Talladega Nights, a stock–car racing comedy planned for 2006.
Ferrell told CNN.com's Snipes that his career role model was Bill Murray, another Saturday Night Live performer who went on to do many landmark comedies, and who then moved to more serious films. Whatever he chooses to do, he vows to put all of his talent into it. He told Esquire's Raab, "What I recognized when I started doing comedy was that I'm probably not the wittiest, not the fastest on my feet, but the one thing I can guarantee is that I won't hold anything back."
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, vol. 25, Gale Group, 2000.
America's Intelligence Wire, February 24, 2004; March 11, 2004.
Daily Variety, October 27, 2003, p. 4.
Entertainment Weekly, February 28, 2003, pp. 33–34; November 28, 2003, pp. 15–17.
Esquire, December 2003, p. 162.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, May 8, 2002, p. K5221; November 6, 2003, p. K5196.
Newsweek, February 19, 2001, p. 56; February 24, 2003, p. 13.
People, November 24, 2003, pp. 71–72.
Time, November 10, 2003, p. 90.
"A Chat With Will Ferrell," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Movies/11/07/sprj.caf03.qa.Ferrell/index.html (November 10, 2003).
Biography Resource Center Online, Gale Group, 2003.