Will Ferrell first made a name for himself in the 1990s as a cast member on the NBC sketch show “Saturday Night Live” before embarking on a successful film career with hits like “Elf,” “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” As an unofficial member of the critic-dubbed “Frat Pack,” he is best known for his juvenile man-child characters and prolonged comedic timing. “Casa de mi Padre,” however, casts him in an entirely different light: as a naïve Mexican cowboy who gets caught in the crossfire between two rival drug lords.
Although the film pushes boundaries for its genre, the greatest departure for Ferrell fans will be seeing the comedian act entirely in Spanish.
“I didn’t want the joke of the movie to be that I spoke Spanish poorly,” the actor said in an interview with The Daily. “I wanted it to be a thing where halfway through the movie it sneaks up on you—‘Oh my god! I forgot he doesn’t speak Spanish.’”
For a month before filming Ferrell worked extensively with a tutor to master his character’s Mexican accent, and even during the shoot would practice his lines relentlessly on the way to and from set. But aside from the preparation, acting in a foreign language presented other challenges, especially for someone used to improvising.
“It [was] kind of an out of body experience,” he recalls. “Acting almost came third because it was all I could do to memorize in Spanish and then my focus was on pronunciation.”
Even so, Ferrell and his cast mates relished the opportunity to be completely over the top.
“[Co-star] Diego Luna described it as we’re all characters playing characters,” says Ferrell. “We’re like really bad actors trying to win an Academy Award with every scene.”
Set just south of the border, “Casa de mi Padre” toys with the issue of transnational drug trafficking, replete with bumbling DEA agents dispatched from the Department of Justice. But as Americans, the creative team, which also includes writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont, was sensitive to how the trade and the characters were portrayed.
“We wanted this movie, while also being outlandish and funny and different, be a little satirical in the way that we comment on our cliché views of Mexico and vice versa,” says Ferrell. “The fact that I’m an American playing a Mexican talking about the crazy ‘shit-eating monster babies of America’—that shows that we have an understanding.”
The film’s style exhibits a similarly shrewd irreverence, continually breaking the fourth wall and reminding audiences that they’re watching a film. While creating continuity errors and visual gags became like a game for the cast, getting the crew to cooperate was another matter.
“In a business where you’re not supposed to make mistakes, it was so hard to get [the crew] to mess up on purpose,” laughs Ferrell. “So in some ways I think we could have even had more mistakes.”
Of course, the film’s many quirks and subversive elements have come at a price. Sensing that the material would be much less accessible than Ferrell’s previous films, studios have been slow to reach a distribution deal. This doesn’t seem to faze the actor at all, who is proud of the finished product and optimistic about its future.
“It’s like any of these movies we’ve done, whether they’re commercial successes or not,” he said breezily. “We firmly believe in what we’re doing, but we have no idea if it will work.
“It’s a bigger release in Mexico, actually, than it is here,” he continues. “So what would be great is if it were a big hit in Mexico and not so here [in the States]. That would make me laugh harder than anything.”