Will Ferrell’s much touted one-man Broadway show, You’re Welcome America, a Final Night with George W. Bush, will have its final night broadcast live on HBO. Ferrell spoke to SheKnows about his entire ‘W’ run.
With Ferrell’s comedy series Eastbound & Down already gaining momentum on HBO, the network is clearly fond of Ferrell. “One of the great things HBO does is specialize in making live events and making them count and making them special,” Will Ferrell raves to SheKnows. “I’m sure some people will think the show was too harsh, and somebody will think it wasn’t harsh enough; but I honestly think people should expect the unexpected and I hope people will just want to view it, you know, as a comedy (cough).”
Anyone who has seen Ferrell’s Bush impersonations knows to expect the funny, but with an eight-week run scheduled at the Cort Theatre, Broadway marks a definite change of pace for the wacky Saturday Night Live alum.
“It’s the longest sustained performance of anything I’ve ever done,” Ferrell notes. “I did do the Bush-a-thon (in 2005). Sixteen straight hours of Bush, but this will be the longest-running thing.
“In terms of sustaining it beyond five minutes, we just tried to create a piece that goes through the two terms of his presidency,” he continues. “Unfortunately, there’s so much material that we had to figure out where we were going to go with it. It goes in and out of real events, real actions, real quotes of his too. We take little tangents that are fictional, but there’s a narrative that connects the whole thing to make it one piece.”
A history with W
While Tina Fey was a shoo-in to play Sarah Palin in SNL’s coverage of the recent elections, Ferrell was a less obvious call when he fell into the role of W back during the 2000 race.”Darrell Hammond was always going to play Gore, and then Lorne Michaels (SNL exec producer) asked me if I wanted to play Bush,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Yeah, this will be fun. I’ll play him for a couple of months. He probably won’t win,’ and then not only did he eventually win, he just kept gaining momentum in terms of his comedic persona!”
Ferrell is not just referencing W’s political snafus. It made his task easier that the nation was looking for some laughs at the president’s expense. “He went from the 90 percent popularity to the longest sustained drop in popularity in presidential history,” Ferrell marvels. “There’s been an incredible combination of some insane news events that he’s had to deal with and, obviously, some poor decisions on his part; along with his type of personality and the fact that he can’t speak properly. That makes for a wonderful kind of comedic stew, and I like to use the word “stew” whenever I can.”
Ferrell admits, however, that 9/11 tempered his performances of the character for awhile.
“There definitely was kind of an adjustment period, regardless of whether it was political comedy or any sort of comedy,” he reflects. “I think we did a show two or three weeks after 9/11, so we had to figure out what the parameters were. I just viewed it as one of the many characters I got to do. There were periods of the news cycle where you were doing him a lot and other times when he kind of faded away, so I never really kept tabs on it in that way.”
Of course, Ferrell left SNL back in 2002, turning his attention to making goofy flicks like Old School, Elf, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory and Step Brothers, to name a few!
“I haven’t really been doing (Bush) much since I left the show, so I haven’t focused on him that much,” Ferrell notes. “This will be a fun way to send him off.”
Bush: thanks for the memories
With someone as funny as Ferrell, it’s not easy to choose a favorite sketch, even when narrowing it down to Bush spoofs. Ferrell himself had to think a minute before coming up with his own.
“One I enjoyed doing the most was a sketch called West Palm Beach Nights or something,” he says. “It was a soap opera about the vote recount and the final beat was George Bush playing with a cat toy on the sofa like a cat.”
Ferrell has less trouble coming up with his fave memory of the former president, immediately sighting the time he met the man himself.
“He was then governor, Governor Bush,” Ferrell recounts. “It was obviously during the campaign. I’d just started playing him and, supposedly, he and his people said they were huge fans of mine and would love to meet me, so I hurried down to the studios at SNL. All of these photographers were there taking all of these photos and they pushed me into this circle of people. They said, ‘Go. Go and say hi.” I went up and said, ‘Hello, Mr. Governor. Thanks for doing the show.’ And I could just tell he had no idea who I was.”
Out of left field
While Ferrell is already working the Broadway crowds, he’s also busy co-producing the new HBO series Eastbound & Down, starring equally wacky Danny McBride as Kenny Powers, a washed up baseball pitcher who returns to his old high school to teach physical education.”This is several years after his fall from fame,” Danny McBride says. “So he’s literally burned every bridge, spent all the money he’s ever had and ends up on the couch of his brother back in the town he grew up in. Of course, he’s pissed away any love that he may have had there. He dumped the love of his life when he got drafted early and had this attitude of his hometown as ‘that shit town that he came from’, so all the people in town aren’t very glad to see him there.”
“It’s definitely structured to be a story of redemption,” he continues. “His biggest problem is himself and I think his redemption lies in his own hands. He’s given many avenues to redeem himself, and he makes his own choices.”
In addition to landing funnyman Andy Daly as a cast regular, the show is touting some impressive guest starts, including Craig Robinson, Gina Gershon and Ferrell, himself.
“Just a cameo appearance,” notes Ferrell, who appears as baller Ashley Schaeffer in episodes two and five. “I don’t know if you are familiar with the wrestler Ric Flair, but Ashley’s look is patterned after him.”
Those who think they don’t know McBride might reconsider when they hear his list of credits, which includes Tropic Thunder and the Seth Rogen flicks Pineapple Express and Superbad. In fact, after a slow build, McBride finds himself quite in demand these days.“There’s been offers for different films,” McBride admits. “I finished Land of the Lost with Will, which comes out this year. That should be a pretty fun movie. I don’t know what’s next. I’m working on a lot of things, but the show has been the priority for the last several months, so our heads have been here.”
The “our” he’s referring to is himself and his co-creators/co-writers on Eastbound & Down, Ben Best and Jody Hill. The trio earned Ferrell’s attention with their film The Foot Fist Way and sold him on Eastbound & Down over dinner. The rest, as they say, is history.
New episodes premiere Sundays at 10:30, with repeats throughout the week, but you can also catch up via HBO On Demand. Ferrell’s You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush closes on Broadway with a live telecast on HBO March 15.