This week, Will Ferrell returns to theaters with yet another sports parody, set in, of all places, lovely Flint. The funnyman takes us back to 1976 and the last days of the American Basketball Association, before four of the ABA's teams were absorbed by the NBA in a merger, while the movie's fictional Flint Tropics were dissolved. Ferrell, who plays the Afroed Jackie Moon — a one-hit pop star who's the owner, coach and power forward of the Tropics — sat down with co-stars Will Arnett and Woody Harrelson to talk about the not-so-epic undertaking. Jokes ensued, of course. And Harrelson showed up late.
Metro Times: Will, we've seen you in many sports movies, ice skating in Blades of Glory, driving NASCAR in Talladega Nights. How hard was it to sculpt that beautiful body of yours into a basketball player's physique in Semi-Pro?
Will Ferrell: Well, I pretty much have a stereotypical basketball physique to begin with. I'm getting laughter beside me [from Will Arnett], but I don't know why. But, you know, Jackie Moon is a player from a different era, when players were a little more, uh, voluptuous. He's a voluptuous player.
MT: Since the movie takes place in Flint, Mich., do you expect any response from Michael Moore?
Ferrell: I heard he's going to protest the movie actually. Heard he's already picketing.
Will Arnett: Really?
Ferrell: Yeah. He doesn't feel we gave a proper depiction of Flint.
Arnett: [stunned] Wow.
MT: What about those short shorts Jackie Moon had to wear? Anything fall out? [Timing is everything: Woody Harrelson walks in, 10 minutes late.]
Ferrell: Oh great, Woody. We started about an hour ago. It's just a lack of respect, for journalists, for fellow cast members.
Woody Harrelson: Sorry, I had trouble getting started this morning.
MT: What about those shorts, Will?
Ferrell: I think Andre [Benjamin] and I had the shortest shorts, because a lot of our fellow teammates kept pulling them down. I did have to wear a second pair of underwear because, when I went into a defensive stance, there was a potential for ... things to happen.
MT: What about the period costume? That was pretty much a first for you, though you've relied on costumes throughout much of your career.
Ferrell: I felt completely at home. [Laughs]. No, no. In looking at a lot of the reference photos of the league and the period, [what we wore] might look funny, but it's not that far from the truth. I love the fact that it's kind of historically accurate and humorous all at the same time. And you know, I might start wearing neckerchiefs from now on. It's a nice piece of accoutrement. If you have any unsightly blemishes or a weird, ah, Adam's apple, it covers it right up.
MT: You also got to work with a bear in Semi-Pro. Whose job was it to herd it?
Ferrell: You know what? We did something unusual that's never been done before. We went what's called "wild." No bear trainer. We just captured a bear. In fact, most of the preproduction was devoted to that. That's why it was a nine-month shoot. Six of the months we had to trap a bear. The first bear we got wasn't big enough, so we released it somewhere in Burbank, I think. Then we found our bear, and just let it do its thing.
MT: You guys went to basketball camp to get in shape and hone your game. Who was really the best player?
Ferrell: I heard you said you started out excellent, and then got better.
Harrelson: We were all pretty evenly matched. [He makes a kind of "yeah, right" expression].
MT: Will, this is your third sports movie in the last couple of years. Career strategy?
Ferrell: I'm actually doing a college football movie next, but it's actually a drama taking an in-depth look at steroid abuse. It's not a fun movie at all.
Harrelson: You could get a few laughs out of it, I think.
Ferrell: There might be. Listen, this is just a coincidence. These movies just kind of lined up the way they did. While I love combining sports and comedies together, only one of them was my idea, and that was Talladega Nights. I was asked to be part of the others. That said, it's just a great framework to do comedy. You can parody the sport. In this movie, you can parody the era. Plus, you have the added fun, in Semi-Pro, of watching a team of losers try to attain the lofty goal of fourth place.
MT: Speaking of sports, the Olympics are coming up. Any sports you think have been neglected by the IOC for far too long?
Arnett: Pogo. It's definitely been overlooked.
Arnett: It's a real sport.
Ferrell: You know, I hate the Olympics.
Ferrell: Yeah, all the countries get together. It's all about good will, people helping each other.
Arnett: You're not into that?
Ferrell: No-ah! [Laughs]. You know what I'd like to see? I'd like to see them open it up to small children. Power lifting. Hammer throw. Shot put.
MT: What's up next for you three?
Harrelson: [disconsolately] You guys have a lot going on after this?
Ferrell: I have Stepbrothers coming out in July, with John C. Reilly, and then a passion project of mine, The Lee Iacocca Story.
Arnett: You're finally getting it made?
Ferrell: Ten years in the making.
Arnett: I've got a kids movie [called G-Force] with Zack Galifianakis and Bill Nighy [he omits Nicolas Cage] for Mr. Bruckheimer — as I know him — but that doesn't come out for about a year ... mostly because of the all the post to, um, remove me from the scenes.
MT: The future? Will?
Ferrell: I'd like to make fun of the future, because I'm an amateur futurist, yes. Some kind of space travel movie where pogos are the main source of transportation.
Semi-Pro hits theaters Friday, Feb. 29.Cole Haddon is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]