Let me begin with this quote... “Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means ‘a whale’s vagina.’” If you're a fan of the movie Anchorman, you know that is one of the most quotable lines made by Will Ferrell’s character “Ron Burgundy.” Ferrell’s credits in the world of comedy are endless. From his successful run as a leading cast member on Saturday Night Live to films like Elf, Old School, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Blades of Glory and of course, the already mentioned Anchorman films. To audiences everywhere, Will Ferrell is a comedian and a funny man! And I was reminded of one of life’s most important lessons the first time I interviewed him while working as an entertainment reporter and talk show host in Cleveland.
I flew to Los Angeles, as I often did during the course of my television career, to interview Ferrell for one of his upcoming films. When people found out that I was interviewing the actor, their first response was... “HE will be a funny interview!” And I knew they were right. It was going to be my first time interviewing Ferrell, but I expected full belly laughs! And I knew that I needed to be on my toes for any ad lib comedy that he threw my way. I prepared a list of questions for the interview, but I had a sense that I would not need my notes. I assumed the funny man would take our interview in any direction that he desired. On the day of the interview, I was full of energy and ready to embrace the humor of Will Ferrell. As I waited for Ferrell to arrive, I sipped on a cold bottle of still water that the movie studio provided to members of the press. The bottle of sparkling Pierre looked more refreshing, but I didn’t want the carbonation to give me a case of the burps during my interview (although, I did consider that if a burp was going to happen in any interview, it might play well with Will Ferrell). But I reminded myself that I was raised to be a lady and opted for the burp-free beverage. As I continued sipping my flat drink, the actor arrived. He was tall, standing at about 6’3”. His build was sturdy and his presence commanded attention when he walked into the room. But it was the outfit I recall him wearing that immediately made me smile and laugh to myself. It was a baby blue men’s athletic tracker suit with tiger strips. It was the same outfit that he wore in the movie I was interviewing him for called Kicking and Screaming. In the movie, Ferrell plays a competitive father who coaches a kids‘ soccer team. As soon as I saw Ferrell’s outfit, I knew I was in for a wild ride!
There were about 40 journalists who were scheduled to interview Ferrell that day. We were all excited to capture a four minute piece of comedic genius! Four minutes was the amount of time that the movie studio allowed for each interview. Once Ferrell was settled and ready to begin a full day of interviews, the well-oiled-machine known as a movie junket kicked into full gear. There were about 10 reporters scheduled to interview Ferrell before me. And every reporter who came away from their interview said the same thing... “He’s not very funny today.” The more often I heard that statement, the more my expectations started crumbling. Will Ferrell, not funny? But he’s supposed to be funny, right? He has to be funny, I thought to myself. I knew that my audience back home would expect a hilarious interview. What if my interview with the actor didn’t meet their expectations? I started to worry. So I called my boss, the executive producer of the show I hosted. I gave her the 411 on the assessment of the situation. And I remember clearly what she said to me... “If he doesn’t want to be funny, don’t try to make him funny.” The message was clear. I needed to allow this man to be what he wanted to be. And if that meant the only humorous part of the interview was the baby blue tracker suit with tiger stripes, then so be it. I could not expect this man to be something that he wasn’t going to be on this day. And so I pulled out the questions I originally prepared, looked them over, committed a few thoughts to memory and readied myself for the interview. I introduced myself to Will. My first impression was that he was a kind man. I started the interview. He had an expressive face that showcased his comedic tendencies. And while he wasn’t bouncing off walls, he did have a couple funny lines. I had an enjoyable and easy conversation with him. I removed my expectations and allowed Ferrell to be himself. And I thoroughly enjoyed meeting him.
So what is the Will Ferrell lesson? BE YOURSELF. LET OTHERS BE THEMSELVES. You can’t try to make a person something that they’re not. Well, you can try, but eventually you’ll lose in your efforts. Embrace authenticity. You’ll enjoy your own company and the company of others much more when no one has to “fake it.” Leave the acting to the actors... when they’re being paid to play someone who they’re not.
The Will Ferrell Lesson Playlist: