Skating comedy gives Ferrell a chance to sparkle

[29 March 2007]

By Terry Lawson

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

They call it the Paul Newman Syndrome: An actor takes a role, as, say, a race car driver, and then develops a lifelong love for the sport.

Will Ferrell, who plays a competitive ice skater in his new comedy “Blades of Glory,” does not have that syndrome.

“I have not had my feet in a pair of those diabolical torture devices since the day we wrapped the movie, and I feel I can state with some certainty I never will again,” he says. “Unless, of course, this is some kind of monster hit and the public demands the sequel. But maybe if that happens, I can be the coach. In fact, I’ll just throw that out there right now.”

Ferrell hadn’t been on ice skates in years—“like, why would I?”—when he was offered the role of the uber-macho egomaniacal, hard-rock, hardcore and soft-bellied Chazz Michael Michaels in “Blades” which is, roughly, to skating what “Talladega Nights” was to stock-car racing, “except with sparklier uniforms,” says the actor.

Ferrell plays the swaggering, belching, lifelong rival to beloved one-time child prodigy Jimmy MacElroy, played by Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”), who, with Chazz, is banned for life from singles competition when their antipathy boils over into WWF-style televised brawling after they tie for the gold at the World Championships.

Three-and-a- half years later, Chazz is a drunken has-been doing third-rate ice shows, and Jimmy is selling skates at a sporting goods store when Coach—played by TV’s “Coach” Craig T. Nelson—discovers a loophole that would allow them to compete as partners. It turns out the official bylaws failed to designate that partners meant male-female.

“There’s obviously something inherently funny in the idea,” says Ferrell. “The question is whether it’s funny enough to fill up a feature film. About halfway through the script, I realized that wasn’t a problem.”

The script also came highly recommended from Ferrell’s longtime friend and fellow aficionado of absurd comedy, Ben Stiller, who is one of the producers of the movie, which Stiller had developed for himself.

“Once again, taking Ben’s table scraps,” says Ferrell. Stiller ultimately decided against doing the movie because he felt the character was too similar to the male model he played in 2001’s “Zoolander.” Ferrell also appeared in “Zoolander,” as fashion mogul Mugatu.

“Yeah, but I have no problem repeating myself,” jokes Ferrell. “My standards aren’t as rigorous as Ben’s.”

Will Ferrell in 'Blades of Glory'

Will Ferrell in ‘Blades of Glory’

Ferrell has branched out farther than Stiller—playing the uptight Internal Revenue Service auditor who realizes his humdrum life is being appropriated by a novelist in last year’s “Stranger than Fiction,” providing the voice of the Man in the Yellow Hat in the adaptation of the children’s book “Curious George” and playing a depressed guitar-strumming go-fer for a reclusive novelist in “Winter Passing”

“As cliched as this might sound, it’s really more about the characters than the genre for me at this point,” says Ferrell. “I’m like every other actor out there, looking for good characters to play.”

Will Speck, who co-directed “Blades” with Josh Gordon, points out that “Will has been creating characters for years,” starting with “Saturday Night Live” and continuing in film. “He is an amazing performer who is so good at what he does that you forget that, as the saying goes, comedy is hard.”

Made harder yet with competition skates, which Ferrell points out are more ankle-challenging than recreational or hockey skates.

Though Ferrell gives credit to the choreographers and skating pros who helped him get through his ice time, he was all too happy when the stunt doubles and the effects team attended to the heavy lifting—including when he hoists Heder over his head in the routines.

“Jon was so funny. Before we started he told me about how he was going into training, and was really getting into it and he was going to do all his skating himself. I just smiled secretly to myself. On the second day he was like, `What did I get myself into?’ You get really sore really quick, not to mention black-and-blue.”

As for all the real-life Olympic skaters who have cameos in the film, including Nancy Kerrigan, Brian Boitano and Peggy Fleming, Ferrell says they were well aware of what they were getting into when they agreed to lampoon the sport they love.

“You know, it would be pretty hard to do what they did if they didn’t have a sense of humor about themselves. The costumes, the routines and the whole spectacle—it’s completely over-the-top.

“And yet there’s this hushed atmosphere of seriousness when they are on the ice, with the announcers whispering and offering this academic commentary about every minute flick of the wrist. And yet for all that—maybe because of all that—you can’t resist it. Just try to walk by a TV when skaters of that caliber are in the groove. You’re hooked and amazed by it every time.”

Ferrell says that in his relentless quest to “appear in a parody of every sport played anywhere on the globe,” he is filming “Semi-Pro,” a comedy about the former American Basketball Association, once a stepping stone for NBA hopefuls.

Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner-coach-player of Michigan’s Flint Tropics. The comedy costars Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, recent Oscar nominee and one-time “Bad News Bear” Jackie Earle Haley and Andy Richter.

And unlike most films set in Michigan, the cast and crew will be in Flint “soon, very soon,” according to Farrell, for about five days of location shooting.

“It’s all about authenticity,” he says. “To be a Flint Tropic, you got to live like a Flint Tropic.”

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