LOS ANGELES — Deep in the bowels of the Hollywood Palladium, in a dressing room normally occupied by rock stars, Will Ferrell is feverishly texting on his Blackberry.
He nods for a visitor to sit down, apologizing for the delay in starting the interview to promote his new movie “Land of the Lost,” which opens Friday.
“I’m so sorry, but I’m texting Lee to tell him you’re here.”
He’s referring to his father, Lee Ferrell, a veteran musician and onetime musical director of the Righteous Brothers band.
The younger Ferrell, whose parents divorced when he was growing up in Irvine, Calif., remains close to both.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Lee Ferrell long enough to remember the night he excitedly announced that his son, a USC and Groundlings comedy troupe graduate, had been accepted by Lorne Michaels to join the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”
Will Ferrell hosted “SNL” a couple of weeks ago, not as the highest-paid cast member in the history of the show, but as one of the biggest comedy stars in Hollywood.
His latest film, based on the 1970s Sid & Marty Krofft TV series, stars Ferrell as Rick Marshall, a discredited paleontologist who somehow figures a way to leap through time and space to a world inhabited by dinosaurs, aliens, monkey men and lizardlike creatures known as Sleestaks.
In this interview, held in the Palladium for reasons known only to the studio, Ferrell talks about growing up in Orange County, identifies his comic influences and explains what “Land of the Lost” meant to him when he was a kid.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: What was the funniest movie you ever saw?
WILL FERRELL: I know this is going to sound strange, but even as a kid, I had a very comic’s way of watching comedy. Instead of laughing, I’d say something like, “Oh, that’s funny.” I have no memory of going to see “Meatballs” and laughing so hard that my side hurt. I remember saying, “I like Bill Murray; I think he’s funny.”
Q. Wow, that’s such an old pro’s approach to watching comedy. Didn’t anything make you laugh?
A. Oh, sure. I would love watching stuff with my brother because things would tickle him, and it would get me going. I would laugh at watching my brother laugh.
Q. Who else made you laugh when you were kid?
A. We had this upstairs neighbor at Park West apartments in Irvine. His name was Bill Moughan, and he was older than us, but he was the guy we all looked up to. He made me laugh more than anyone. He was the coolest guy ever, and he really knew how to tell stories. And, if you got him to laugh, that was the pinnacle.
Q. Do you ever think of him now when you are doing a gag?
A. I did kind of pay homage to him and his best friend Kenny Culp when we (with Ana Gasteyer) did that sketch on “Saturday Night Live” as music-school teachers Bobbi and Marty Culp. We called ourselves the Mohan-Culps. That was my little tip of the cap to two guys I really looked up to. And they were funny names.
Q. Who were your professional comic influences?
A. I loved Steve Martin. I loved the whole first cast of “Saturday Night Live,” including Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner. And, of course, Johnny Carson. I loved Johnny. If I knew a comic was on the show that night, I’d stay up late, even if I had school in the morning. Also, I loved Bob Newhart and Eddie Murphy. It was so great to work with Bob on “Elf.” He’s still funny.
Q. Do you remember the first time you got a laugh?
A. I don’t have a specific memory, but I know it was in grade school, maybe second or third grade, and probably had something to do with running into a door. I had learned, maybe from the Three Stooges, how to run into a door and make it look like I was hitting it with my head, even though I was using my hand to make the crashing sound. I could make the whole class laugh with that.
Q. That’s a classic grade-school bit.
A. Absolutely; it’s a classic. But it was always a great way to bridge the gap between boys and girls. Girls loved that.
Q. How did “Land of the Lost” fit into your childhood?
A. It was arguably my favorite Saturday morning kid’s thing because it wasn’t a cartoon, and it took itself for real. It had dinosaurs, Sleestak monsters, an alternate universe and this dad and his two kids on a weekly adventure.
Q. Why did you believe all these years later that it would make a good movie?
A. It wasn’t like a personal brainstorm, where I said: “Hey, remember that old TV show? It would make a great movie.” It was more like they started working on a movie, and we were represented by the same management company, and I heard about it and thought it was a good idea. I loved the idea.
Q. What other kind of project gets you out of the house these days?
A. It depends on when you talk to me. I just did the Bush show on Broadway (he is nominated for a Tony for his comic take on former President George W. Bush), and it got me thinking in a new way. Because of it, we’re talking about doing a small movie next year called “Everything Must Go.”
Q. More drama than comedy?
A. I guess it’s like “Stranger-than-Fiction,” but even more serious than that. The Bush show really whet my appetite for that kind of work.
Q. It seems as if every movie comedy coming out is either a Judd Apatow film, or heavily influenced by Apatow. Do you feel the influence?
A. We have enough pull to shape the movies we’re doing so we can be unique. I don’t know that I even think about making comedies in those broad terms. I think more about projects that interest me, and directors who interest me.
Q. During the Great Depression, the public seemed to gravitate toward comedies and other movies with high entertainment value. In the current economic climate, do you sense that filmmakers are aware of that?
A. I only have a sense of it because of you guys (media). I read that comedies are doing well, and that movies are still a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment. Comedies are always a safe bet because they’re inexpensive to make. But people making the movies aren’t going around talking about it. But, probably without saying it, people probably realize that comedies are working right now.
Q. Do you ever worry about waking up one day and discovering that no one thinks you’re funny anymore?
A. Oh, yeah. Constantly.
Q. I’m not trying to make your actor’s insecurity any worse than it is.
A. It’s OK. It’s not crippling, or anything like that. But I think it grips everybody in this business, but some more than others. You have to enjoy the good moments as they’re happening.
Q. Do you enjoy the good moments, like a big opening weekend?
A. Sometimes, it’s more a sense of relief than celebration.
Q. But you’re not feeling vulnerable, or like it could all disappear overnight?
A. No, but when I hosted “Saturday Night Live,” I did notice that they all looked a lot younger than me.