WHAT’S ON THEIR (MEGA) MINDS?
FiRST wanted to pick the brains of the cast of new animated flick Megamind. But leads Will Ferrell and Tina Fey – the funniest man and woman in Hollywood these days – left their jokes behind in the recording booth
By Sylvia Toh Paik Choo In Los Angeles
October 29, 2010
Will the Will Ferrell we laugh at and love say something really funny?
Maybe this is the real Will Ferrell, he who – surprise! – doesn’t do improv at press conferences.
We are at The Wedding Party. It is not the title of another frat pack comedy, but the unwitting set-up of the publicity blitz for DreamWorks’ latest 3-D superhero animated feature film, Megamind, that will make you LOL – if only Ferrell, Tina Fey, David Cross and director Tom McGrath would, in the flesh.
The garden of Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills is pristinely studded with white furniture, dining tables and chairs alongside a buffet.
Pew-like rows of white seats occupy one end of the marquee. And on a raised dais, the table for the four main guests – you’d expect that’s where they’ll be giving the toast.
Said foursome enter to take their places.
No sooner than all the media check in, one journo punches in: ‘I want to thank you, Will and Tina, for inviting me to your wedding. How long have you been engaged…Now for the real question – what’s it like to be front centre for this film?’
Ferrell, 43, goes first: ‘This stage wedding means my marriage of 10 years is not real.’
A mere titter across the garden.
Fey, 40, uptakes: ‘It took years to book with Four Seasons.’
And Ferrell has his cue: ‘I want to thank Jensens for the tentage, whose slogan is, ‘If you want a tent, call Jensens.’
Now the laughter, although not all of us got it.
The comedian, impressionist, actor and writer of more than 30 movies, whose last few features have each grossed more than US$100 million (S$129 million), then responds meekly: ‘I don’t consider myself front centre of this fine cast…’
We all point to the film poster behind the quartet.
It has the big-headed and blue-coloured Megamind – whom Ferrell voices – who eclipses the rest, like Metro Man, Roxanne Ritchi, Tighten and Minion.
Everybody chuckles. Ferrell admits: ‘It was exciting to work on a (Jeffrey) Katzenberg movie.’
Is that all? Not even one blue joke?
Megamind, which opens here on Nov 4, focuses on the titular villain, who is so bad at being bad he just might be great at being good.
Brad Pitt voices Metro Man (good-guy strong man), Fey is news reporter Roxy (Superman to the rescue of Lois Lane!). There’s a super-nerd Hal (Jonah Hill) and Cross is Minion, Megamind’s lifetime assistant who happens to be a fish in a bowl (for a head) on a robot’s body.
The movie is funky and funny, all the characters are excellently fleshed, and the villain is Avatar-blue, the colour of the decade, for sure.
Director McGrath, 45, who also helmed Madagascar and its sequel, repeats his production notes quotes: ‘There are deep themes, good versus evil. We all have a nemesis. It’s a story about redemption.’
Another journo thinks Megamind’s accent is rather British, and asks for confirmation.
Ferrell comes out of reticence: ‘It’s so disappointing. Of course, it’s not your fault, but it’s a Lithuanian accent I was doing…
‘It’s the accent of someone who thinks they’re important, a completely insecure character.’
McGrath lets the light in: ‘We had a French designer on the set and he pronounces Metro City as ‘me-trocity’. We ran with it.’
With a trio best known to US audiences for their improv skills – Ferrell and Fey established themselves on Saturday Night Live, playing among others George W Bush and Sarah Palin; Cross is another stand-up comic – sparks and barbs should have cross-fired during the press conference.
Yes, they did improv, but perhaps only in the recording booth.
Ferrell and Fey reportedly defied animated movie conventions by recording several of their exchanges together in the same sound booth (it’s usually done in isolation).
Fey feels that method acting needs you to think about what you’re going to say but improv makes you focus on the partner, and what he says helps you build the scene.
‘About 30 per cent of the scenes were improv. Tom was very welcoming of that. We had to do a number of them several times because of the laughing.’
It is both hard and free-ing to work only the voice.
For Fey, there’s an absence of vanity in a recording booth. ‘You can try your lines, stop and start again. There’s no waste of film, and how you look doesn’t matter.’
In Ferrell’s case, the difficulty IS the voice. ‘It’s hard to articulate. The gear shift with the voices, that’s a real skill.
‘However, unlike Tina, I go into the recording booth in a three-piece suit, full make-up on because I’m a professional.’
But was Fey bummed at not to have shared a recording booth with Pitt?
She tells me seriously: ‘No, it was fine. We hung out.’
So what was it like interacting with the Hollywood superstar?
McGrath says: ‘Amazing, the paparazzi always knows. He almost has to ride his bike into the studio.’
Ferrell came onscreen in 1995 and, since 2002, has just about erased equally funnymen Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler. Even Jack Black, Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson could bite the comedy central dust.
Didn’t Elf, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades Of Glory and The Other Guys tickle your funny bone? (A minute’s silence, though, for Land Of The Lost.)
So has all the success gone to your head? Duh, he’s Megamind. Yes, but ever get megalomanic?
Ferrell, who has three young sons with his Swedish wife, said: ‘What I have in common with Megamind is a lot of tight leather pants. Which I don’t wear, keep them in a vault.
‘I have a body part that is blue – genetic defect, which I will not share with you.’
In Megamind, the brainy bad guy goes into a true blue-black funk, yet another trait the actor does not share.
‘Well, once. I wanted to sail round the world in a handmade boat. I had one built for me and, on the second day out at sea, realised I’m not a sailor – no supplies, no navigation skills – I (messed) up.’
It was a lake really.
Ferrell’s humour, what little there was that day, is from a safe place, in Middle America, Main Street suburbia. No drama. He has said they had to create their own by doing funny things to crack friends up.
How about cracking us up huh, here, now?
Dour and deadpan, his occasional flash of a remark is led on first by a journalist’s question.
‘Do you have any quirky fears, like jellyfish?’
‘Yes, heights, and er, jellyfish.’
Admittedly they are not Pulitzer Prize-winning questions, from a gardenful of 75 media persons putting hands up to try to ask one.
Like, if you had to choose between Megamind and Metro Man, Tina, who would you go for?
Oh, mega-nod – should have seen that one coming.
Fey – the funniest woman in America (because of SNL and 30 Rock) and mother of five-year-old girl Zenobia (they have Greek roots) – obliges: ‘I’d go for Megamind. The purple undertones of his blue skin’s beautiful, and, he’s smaller than me.’
A lightbulb moment for Ferrell – ‘I wish I had his waistline’ – indicating the movie poster.
What’s upmost on their minds is the long day as, after the press conference, there are one-on-one interviews with the US media and international television.
‘This is gonna go on till 9 at night,’ Ferrell sighs. ‘Because I have to wait for them to take down the tent.’
Ooh, unexpected laugh there.
Up next for the professional funnyman is a Spanish film based on a telenovella, a soap opera.
For Fey, there’s the prospect of growing old with Sarah Palin, her award-winning, spitting-image impersonation. ‘She was the luckiest thing to happen to me, I’m going to be doing her at 70 in some auto show.’
Arrested Development star Cross, 46, pipes up: ‘I’m, of course, waiting for Minion The Sequel.’
Meanwhile, come this Sunday, no prizes for guessing the Megamind costume’s going to take over America as the nation celebrates Halloween.
Last word to Ferrell: ‘You know, George W Bush would have said about Megamind, ‘He looks funny.’