In 1991, he moved to L.A. and struggled. "I remember going to do a scene study, and they said, 'I'm sorry, I don't know how to tell you this, I'm not trying to be mean, but you're not good.'" Undeterred, he tried out for the Groundlings, the famous improvisational-comedy troupe, was accepted, rose through the ranks prodigylike, and within 18 months wound up on SNL, where he became a hit both with the audience and with the show's writers. Unlike other SNL luminaries, he'd take on even the smallest of parts, believing he could make something of them anyway. If the writers came up with 40 sketches for a show, Ferrell would be written into 30 of them. He stayed for seven years.
In 1998, he headlined in his first movie, A Night at the Roxbury, co-starring Chris Kattan, and bombed. It looked like his winning streak was over. But then, in 2003, he got his second chance and had two hits in a row, first in Old School, and then in Elf, and he followed them up with two other biggies, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Along the way, he and McKay evolved the perfect archetypal Ferrell character. On the one hand, a guy who is "all puffed up," as Ferrell says, "with that we're-number-one attitude, and yet horribly flawed." On the other hand, he's a total deadpan absurdist – "like when he's doing Ron Burgundy," says McKay, "and he's telling Christina Applegate that San Diego means 'whale's vagina,' and he's not playing it goofy, he's playing it real, and this crazy fucking thing he's said sneaks up on you. That's his favorite kind of laugh." Those kinds of laughs are what have made Ferrell superpopular, especially among rappers. "He gets mentioned in rap songs a lot, probably because of how he makes fun of the absurdity of white culture, and how full of self-importance and jive white culture is," says McKay (Jay-Z and Kanye West sampled Ferrell dialogue for last year's hit "Ni**as in Paris"). "Wherever we go, where there's a black crowd, they go nuts for him."
And so it's gone, with only a few wobbles along the way, like the 2005 groaner Bewitched. But even the biggest of his flops – 2009's disastrous Land of the Lost – couldn't keep him down. Within a year, he was back, in The Other Guys, a buddy-cop spoof that earned $170 million. His attitude has always seemed to be, if this one doesn't work, then for sure the next one will. As Lorne Michaels once said to him, "You and Steve Martin are eternally optimistic – you were raised in Southern California, where it's sunny all the time."
And so here he sits, dallying over his margarita, blessed as blessed can be, his Swedish-born wife of 11 years, Viveca, at home in L.A. taking care of their three kids, ages seven, five and two, all blond-haired, blue-eyed boys. If it's raining anywhere in the world, you wouldn't know it by him. But then, sit with him long enough, and a few oddities do crop up.
For one, he didn't have sex until he was 21 and a junior in college. According to him, it was no big deal: "In my mind's eye, it seemed like the way it was supposed to happen." And maybe so. Or maybe that's just how it plays back in his head, another fortuitous byproduct of a sunny disposition. Certainly, his mom thought it'd happened years earlier, while he was a senior in high school, when she concluded he'd slept with one rather loose classmate in particular: "'I'm telling you now,' she said, 'if you slept with this girl, you'd better slap a condom on that pecker of yours.'" Ferrell chuckles while telling this story. Apparently, that's just how his mom talked.
And he is a little weird about his wardrobe. "I rotate my clothes so everything is equally worn. I rotate my tennis shoes as well, so sometimes that can mean black shirt with orange shorts and red shoes, which I don't give a shit about, but my wife will be like, 'Really?'"
And he does have Joan Rivers as an enemy. "In a magazine she said, 'You have to be careful of meeting your idols, because I met that Will Ferrell and he's an asshole.' This is where that came from: At the Golden Globes, a producer told me to go say hello to Joan while she was talking to Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer, so I do, and Joan is like, 'Excuse me, do you know who you're interrupting?' and I'm like, 'Yes, they're very big important people.' She thought I was being a jerk." He shrugs. That's the way it sometimes goes, when he blunders into things. But for the most part, it's been a nauseatingly smooth ride.
Not even any big childhood illnesses?
"Nope, I've been fairly lucky."
Come on, man, seriously, no adolescent angst ever? No self-loathing?
"No way. Not even close."
What about pills? Are you on any pills?
"I take fish oil and 81 milligrams of aspirin a day." He smiles. "81. Science has shown 80 wasn't effective."
OK, what about animals you hate. Have any of those?
A long pause. Finally, "I don't know if I love Chihuahuas." It's a careful phraseology, purposefully designed to soften the blow of his opinion to the Chihuahua fans of the world. Which is just like him. He's Will Ferrell. He's been fairly lucky. Why should he make it any worse for you, just because you happen to own a Chihuahua?
This is from the March 15th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.
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