Everyone in show business knows that comedy is hard. Apparently, however, it’s not hard enough for Will Ferrell. The SNL-bred all around comic superstar decided sometime ago he wanted to make a film in Spanish. He didn’t know what the movie would be about, but one thing was clear, the far from fluent Farrell would need to learn his part semi-phonetically, which by all accounts is every bit as difficult to do as you might imagine.
With the help of writer Andrew Steele and first-time feature director Matt Piedmont, that movie evolved into “Casa de mi Padre” (“House of My Father”). A broad but reasonably affectionate and detail-oriented spoof of telenovelas and Mexican and American exploitation movies, the film stars Farrell in one of his best performances yet as the 100% virtuous Armando Alvarez. Armando’s unwavering good guy nature is tested by the disrespect of his wealthy patriarch dad (the late Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) as well as the fact that his beloved brother, Raul (Diego Luna), has become a powerful narco at war with the ultra villainous La Onza (Gael García Bernal). Even more challenging is the increasingly melodramatic mutual attraction betwixt Armando and Raul’s fiercely stunning fiancée, Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez).
Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to meet with several members of the cast and crew one day earlier this month. Along with comedy superstar Ferrell, we met with Latin-American heart-throb and respected U.S. actor Diego Luna, who may still be best known stateside for co-starring in 2001’s hyper-sexual “Y Tu Mamá También” with real-life lifelong best pal and “Casa” co-narco Gael García Bernal. Also along for the ride was fast rising comic actor Nick Offerman of “Parks and Recreation,” who portrays a bigoted DEA Agent. To discuss behind-the-camera matters we also spoke with screenwriter Andrew Steele (“The Ladies Man”). Also present at the event was the beguiling Génesis Rodríguez, who is the subject of a separate “5 Questions” feature.
Below are some highlights of the rather freewheeling discussions.
Will Ferrell on how “Casa de mi Padre” came to be.
I had always thought that it could be interesting to put myself in the middle of a Spanish language movie and fully commit to speaking Spanish. That heightened world of the telenovela meets the bad Mexican spaghetti western — all of that seemed like it could be a recipe for a type of movie you hadn’t seen before.
Diego Luna on his opinion of Will Ferrell’s Spanish.
He sounds perfect. You understand everything, basically. I was very worried. Forty days before we started shooting, I sat down in a bar with him and the director and he knew no Spanish at all. He couldn’t speak it.
He said, “Yeah, well, I’m gonna try.” Thirty days later he gave this two-minute monologue and, in fact, he makes sense. He understands what he’s saying. That was impressive, and [it was also] very impressive that two weeks after he forgot everything.
Will Ferrell on learning his lines in Spanish
Patrick Perez, who translated the script from English into Spanish, I kind of got to know him and he said, “Hey, I’m willing to work with you on your Spanish if you want.” I said “That’d be great.” We just started working about a month to six weeks out in front of the movie, meeting three or four times a week. Once we started filming, we would drive to the set every day and drive home every day. In the morning, [we’d] work on the scene or scenes for that day. On the way home, [we’d] start to work on the next day, to try to just embed it into my brain.
Every day I finished I felt like I’d wrapped an entire movie. It was just “Groundhog Day.” Diego and I laugh about because he improvised every take and I had no idea. “Okay, he’s finished? Now, I go.”
Farrell on the efficacy of Rosetta Stone language learning software.
I actually got it, believe it or not, but it was so frickin’ hard to set up and figure out how to use, that I [gave up on it]. Someone had written something like, “You’re a walking advertisement for Rosetta Stone.” I want to blatantly put out there, do not use Rosetta Stone. It’s really hard to use.
Writer Andrew Steele on absorbing the necessary South of the Border pop culture.
I did a lot of watching of ’40’s, 50’s, and 60’s Mexican cinema, which to me is the real Mexican cinema. They all turned to shit in the ’70’s and ’80’s. I got a lot of those videos. Those are fun to watch because it’s fun to watch low-budget filmmaking. We didn’t want to just parody that style, but there’s a lot of great things you can learn watching. I remember one Mexican movie where they didn’t even have enough money to have fake boxes. They had two boxes — they were taking off drugs from the back of a truck — and they kept cutting to the same two boxes.
Nick Offerman on getting the “Casa de mi Padre” gig
For years I’ve been friends with Will and I often wondered if he knew I was an actor, which is true. I got to be friends with him when my wife [Megan Mullally of “Will and Grace”] hosted SNL. I was Megan’s husband.
We’d enjoy each other’s company but, unless you’re a douchebag, if you’re friends with somebody like Will, you don’t go out to dinner and [say] “By the way, you know I’ve done Chekhov, right? I’m quite funny. Could you pass the butter, please?”…So [getting the part] was a crazy surprise, and I cried.
Will Ferrell elaborating on how it felt to know that his co-stars were improvising en Español, even though he couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Ignorance is bliss. When you don’t realize people are improvising, it’s okay.
There were a couple of moments I was able to do something physically or in terms of a reaction. I just put all my faith in the fact that speaking Spanish for an entire movie was enough.
Diego Luna on the fact that Will Ferrell would not always know when he was improvising.
That was cool, but you know what was even better? Not even the director knew what I was doing. I would say, “You liked it? I just changed a few words.” I could say anything I wanted.
It was fun. It was weird, you know. Because, at the beginning I thought, “we’re doing a film with Will Ferrell.” Suddenly, Will Ferrell was this guy who was attached to a piece of paper and a dialect coach talking to him. He looked like a monk in a corner just praying these weird mantras….
As he soon as they would say “action,” though, something happens, because the guy is so intense and also so funny. I would be struggling to stay serious until the end of the takes. Also, the director would leave the reactions for a minute like they do in soap operas. So, you finish the sentence and you have four seconds of us looking at each other. It was tough to stay in control.
Writer and non-Spanish speaker Steele on the vagaries of having your screenplay translated into another language.
I wrote a script that has a lot of areas that are purposefully very bad. Bad English. Bad writing. It’s a style that I really enjoy. The translator has to understand…he can’t fix it. He has to try to get my style. So I got a translator, Patrick Perez, who ended up understanding what we were trying to do — for the most part. I’m, of course, in the dark here, but Diego seemed to understand it. Gael seemed to understand it. Interestingly, [recently deceased septuagenarian film legend Pedro Armendáriz Jr.] said, “this is a shitty translation!”
Nick Offerman on playing the Spanish-mangling DEA Agent
It was fun, especially the way Agent Parker disrespects the Spanish language. He knows enough to speak it grammatically, because he needs to for his job, but I feel like he shows such a lack of respect in his pronunciation. “I’m gonna speak your shitty language, but I’m not going to be happy about it.”
[As for myself, however] I would take some Latino street cred from drinking a lot of Jarritos soda and I know what the suffix “ito” and “ote” mean. For example, I would prefer you call me Nicolasote [Big Nick] to Nicolasito [Little Nick/Nicky].
Will Ferrell on how the heroic Armando Alvarez fits in with his other characters.
He is not in the overconfident, cocky mold. He is very sweet and super earnest about his beliefs. It’s almost cliché how he is the moral center of the movie. He only wants to do good, despite the fact that his family thinks he’s a little slow and dumb and speaks funny [and are drug dealers]. He’s not someone who has that confidence and you’re thinking, “Why is he so confident?” He’s just an earnest guy.
Diego Luna on his approach to playing the amoral, yet beloved, Raul Alvarez.
Behind that character there was another character, which was this terrible actor who was allowed to do anything he wanted. You know what happens with actors? With the same line they want to cry, smile, make you cry. It’s like everything needs to happen to me all the time so I can show you how much I can stretch my emotions. This actor allowed himself to do the weirdest choices; this actor would allow himself to stay in the frame too long in order to make sure he’s in the film…that’s just complete fun.
Nick Offerman on whether he modeled the bigoted Agent Parker on any particular person or character.
I based him, pretty specifically, on this nun that taught my catechism in school, named Sister Jesuinna. She hated the Latinos. She would beat them. [Laughter in a room that was roughly 3/4 Latino.] No, Sister Jesuinna was super cool. We had her in eighth grade and she brought Playboy magazine to Sunday school…she loved Latinos, and all people.
Will Ferrell on being the onscreen lover in two recent films of two Latino mega-beauties, “Casa” co-star Génesis Rodríguez and Eva Mendes of “The Other Guys.”
If you can create those kind of situations fictionally, why not? [Laughter] I think that’s just coincidence. In “The Other Guys” it was a running joke that it would be funny that my straitlaced character had this hot wife, “like an Eva Mendes.” Then, sure enough, we were able to actually get Eva Mendes.
In this case, we knew the heroine was going to be, hopefully, the type of leading woman you’d see in one of these soap operas. The amazing thing about Génesis was, she was the first actress to audition and we saw a ton of talented actresses. She kind of blew us away. We found out later that she worked on a telenovela for like six years.
Without even giving her a note, she was super serious with the material, she got herself to cry at one point…[I said] “How do you do that?” She said, “You just learn to cry on cue.”
She was sitting there [thinking] “why are they laughing so hard?” It was the first time we’d heard it read and you’re doing it so real and committed. We couldn’t get her out of our mind.
Diego Luna on filming his alcohol and nicotine loving character’s final scene.
It was very tough. They said there are all these elements that we’re going to blow up — like a bomb here, gun shots here, the fountain was going to explode. They said, “Well, you might be safe if you go through here.” And I said, “through where?” They didn’t even draw [me a picture] or anything. They had four cameras and just one shot. They said, “We cannot reload these and there’s no money to do it and no time. So, please, go to the end. No matter what happens, get to the end.”
I took it very seriously and I said, “I don’t care what happens but my drink and my cigarette are going to stay with me until the very end of this shot.” It was so much fun. So stupid, oh my God.
Will Ferrell on his next, politically themed, comedy.
I just finished “The Campaign” with Zach Galifianakis. That’ll come out in August, right before the conventions, I think. It’s the story of a small congressional race in North Carolina. I’m a four-time incumbent who usually runs unopposed. I only have aspirations of becoming Vice President, that’s it. Zach is a member of a big, prestigious political family. He’s kind of the black sheep and they run him against me. It’s basically just a vehicle for us to make fun of how insane this political season has been.
Diego Luna on whether he thinks “Casa de mi Padre” will go over in the Spanish speaking world.
I have no idea. I hope it does. They’ve been asking me a lot: What do I think? [Are] people going to get offended in Mexico? What I’m saying, because I truly believe it, is I think they’re going to be more offended here. The few lines [Will Ferrell] says about Americans — whoa.
I have a line I love which is where my character, the drug dealer, is trying to explain to his brother. “Look, I’m not a bad guy. I would sell chocolates if America wanted to buy chocolates, but they want drugs, and they want a lot…” I would love that to go out and make people laugh in the States. Then, there might be a chance that, at the end, they’ll think about it and say, “Well, yeah, probably this amount of violence happening [in Mexico] has something to do with us.”
Tags: Armando Alvarez, Casa de mi Padre, Diego Luna, Eva Mendes, Gael García Bernal, Génesis Rodríguez, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation, Raul Alvarez, Rosetta Stone, The Campaign, The Ladies Man, The Other Guys, Will and Grace, Will Ferrell, Y Tu Mamá También, Zach Galifianiakis