Will Ferrell might spend a lot of his on-screen time with his pants off, running and screaming, but in person, promoting his new movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, he can be as buttoned down as Tony Snow before the White House press corps. Maybe for good reason. A comedy about a bumptious race car driver, Nights has lots of laughs at the expense of the NASCAR crowd. But if those folks get offended, the laughs might also be at the expense of the movie’s box office.
FIRST? LAST?: Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have more than a little mischief in mind.
“It’s next to pro football,” notes Ferrell of the sport’s popularity. “Seventy-five million fans, they boast.”
Despite the huge market, one that the animated Cars tried to exploit earlier this year, Ferrell insists that he and director Adam McKay weren’t just inspired by potential ticket sales. “We were drawn to it by the fact that it didn’t seem like anyone was doing it. That and the fact that with our previous movie, Anchorman, we had such an initial hard time getting any studio to want to make it because they couldn’t get their heads around a comedy about news people. Then we were like, ‘Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. We should just pick something that everyone has either heard about or knows something about. For instance, NASCAR.’ We kind of laughed about it, and then we were like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s kind of a good idea,’ without knowing anything about it.”
Had Ferrell any interest in NASCAR prior to the movie?
“I never really watched auto racing that much. So I didn’t understand it at first until I went to some of the races and saw that it’s more of a visceral thing. You have to go and see it and watch it and smell it and hear it and then you understand why the fans get so into it.”
“I’ll pretty much watch now on Sundays just to see who’s battling it out. We’ve gotten to meet a fair amount of the drivers and a lot of the people in NASCAR. So I definitely find myself stopping on the race as opposed to blowing by it on Sunday if I’m watching sports.
Does he see himself as going the way of Paul Newman, who took up race-car driving after making Winning in 1969?
“I will not. I got to drive around at the Richard Petty Driving Experience and did 135 miles an hour, and that was as fast as I’ll ever go by myself.”
What kind of car does he drive in real life?
“A Prius. I have a Prius and then I have an electric car.”
One wonders how this admission would have gone over with the 200,000 fans at Talladega who cheered Ferrell when he was introduced as “Ricky Bobby” during the making of the film. Would they have booed him as lustily as they did Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Jean Girard?” Would Ferrell say his politics were more in line with those of the decidedly more liberal French race-car driver?
Is he laughing with or at NASCAR fans?