SET VISIT: 'The Campaign'!

We chat with Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Sarah Baker, writer Chris Henchy, and director Jay Roach on the New Orleans set of this new political comedy.
We visit Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis on the New Orleans set of The Campaign
We visit Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis on the New Orleans set of The Campaign
It seems quite serendipitous for comedy superstars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis to finally share the same screen in The Campaign, and yet shocking at the same time that they haven't done so before. Back in February, I was invited down to New Orleans to visit the set of this upcoming (and perfectly-timed) political comedy.

In case you haven't seen any of the trailers, TV spots, or, if you live in Hollywood like me, the hilarious billboards, The Campaign, arriving in theaters August 10, centers on a four-term incumbent, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), who finds himself running against the eccentric Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) for the Congressional seat in a small North Carolina district. The comedy was actually entitled Dog Fight when we were on the set, a title that still suits this movie quite well, since these candidates go after each other's reputations... and kids... and wives... in hilarious and unorthodox ways.

When we first arrived on the set, the first person we saw shooting is the up and coming actress Sarah Baker, a Groundlings veteran who plays Marty's wife Mitzi. Even though it was a fairly innocuous scene, where she tries to cover her cigarette-smoking tracks with Lysol and wine, we were still trying not to laugh while they were rolling. Just in that tiny scene, I thought we might be seeing the next Melissa McCarthy or Rebel Wilson, because she clearly knows how to make the most out of anything put in front of her. That notion was solidified a few hours later when we saw her in a side-splitting sex scene with Will Ferrell's Cam Brady, who one-up's Marty's stunt involving Cam's son by having sex with his wife. When we caught up with the actress after the scene, she talked about trying to keep a straight face in such an outrageous sequence.

"It's just crazy because I'm just so used to watching him and openly being able to laugh at him. And like the first thing we did was coverage on him and it was just him coming to the door for our scene. I was just kind of like, huh, he's funny. I was like, oh, I have to participate in this scene! I can't just sit back and enjoy. You kind of have to dive into it. And then there are certain moments where you just can't bear it and you laugh because he's so freaking funny. I mean, what are you going to do, when he's in my ear! It's really some loud Will Ferrell noises in my ear. I mean, you have to laugh."


We also got to speak with with screenwriter Chris Henchy (The Other Guys) on the set. Since this is an election year, the writer talked about the quick production turnaround, that enables them to fit in some current, political jabs.

"We're lucky because we have a pretty quick turnaround. We started this a year ago, writing and going into a kind of an accelerated production schedule. I think for a feature film, it's about as current as you can get staying on top of what's going on. Up until these last sixty days of shooting, we've been trying to incorporate what we anticipate, what we've seen into the current script. There's definitely a lot of influences from the news and also from past congressional experiences."


At the heart of this production, with all of its comedic stars, is director Jay Roach. The filmmaker is just as well known for his blockbuster comedies (Austin Powers and Meet the Parents franchises), as he is for political movies (Game Change and Recount), so this project is obviously a perfect fit. When we spoke with him over lunch, the director talked about what kinds of real-life politicians inspired certain aspects of these characters.

"Will's hair came from Rick Perry and John Edwards. Those people have just like the perfect hair. It seems like you can't actually have really bad hair or be bald and run for President of the United States. So there's a whole joke, a running joke about, 'How's my hair?' 'Strong.' It's always real strong and your hair is so strong. And the look of Will came I think from that. I think Marty's character is inspired more by the out there candidates that come out of nowhere and just become suddenly significant. Pick your favorite dark horse out of the blue. He is not really like any of them because he's so specific. He's got a very specific take on the character."


Zach Galifianakis and Jay Roach on the set of The Campaign
Zach Galifianakis and Jay Roach on the set of The Campaign
After lunch, we finally got to speak with the candidates themselves, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. Check out what they had to say about the comedy, and any number of humorous items.

Will Ferrell - Cam Brady


What's the biggest difference between playing Cam Brady against somebody like George W. Bush?

Will Ferrell: I mean, they are going to be probably cut from the same cloth a little bit in that they're fumbling politicians. Cam Brady, though, is more the slick John Edwards version. He's very polished. He can kind of take command of a room and then you leave realizing he literally didn't say anything that was of any value, you know, with any substance. But he just knows he's got great bedside manner and is super polished, but is not really of any substance. Where George W. Bush, you know, misspoke all the time and is a little more obvious. I think Cam is the more polished version of that.

What is it that you like about this character?

Will Ferrell: What I like about the character is what I love about the movie. We've just been able to make fun of the fertile ground that is modern day politics. I've gotten to speak in the same speech patterns as you hear a politician say, 'Thank you so much for that question. I really appreciate you. In fact, I appreciate all of you coming down here today. Because it's not easy. You guys have busy lives and schedules, and to carve out fifteen minutes of your day to come down here and speak face-to-face means a lot to me and the people that you report to. And you should feel good about that.' It's like what the fuck. I love never answering a question with statements like that. When we initially sat down and kind of constructed this idea, we just thought, boy, this would be a great opportunity to kind of comment on everything's that happening. Little did we know that we'd be in the midst of the craziest political season we probably ever had on record. So if anything we just hope Zach (Galifianakis) lives up to his end of the deal and, you know, is funny, because I know I'll be funny.

We were just talking to Zach and he was telling us that when he's not on the political stage, kind of progresses back inside his normal self. Is that the same thing with Cam or is he always the politician?

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis at peace in The Campaign
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis at peace in The Campaign
Will Ferrell: Yeah, I mean, he's the lazy incumbent. He thought he'd roll into a fifth consecutive term. He usually runs unopposed. And he's thought that, you know, that he needed to worry about the rest of the world. He's been mentioned as a possible VP candidate, which is at the height of his aspirations. He doesn't want to be president. It's too much work. So he's kind of a political creature. And you do kind of see glimpses that he is a little more human behind the scenes, but for the most part my character is the one who wants it so badly. It controls his whole life, yeah.

You're all very creative, improvisational, funny actors. What is it like on set? Do you crowd each other or is there an atmosphere of improv and collaboration?

Will Ferrell: The times that I've gotten Zach to laugh are like high watermarks for me. And that's usually the goal too. It'll probably never make it in the movie, but to try to make each other laugh is usually the most fun. I think that's just kind of becoming the norm of comedies these days, some of the stuff that we helped kind of establish with, you know, Anchorman and some of the movies where you get these casts who are willing to improvise. And, you know, at the same time, that becomes the headline a lot of times, which I think discounts the writing going into the process. We also have a lot of stuff that was already written and already really funny. I mean, Jay got us here two weeks before filming and we literally sat down every day and went through every scene and kind of, you know, rehearsed them and figured out what was working or what we thought- I mean, within that process we came up with additional lines that Chris Henchy would kind of write down. So we had this whole other playbook that we'll just open up and go to all these other alts that we came up with at rehearsal. So between what we already had and alternative stuff and just stuff we come up on the spot, you know, that's why you shoot such long days.

How heightened is the reality in the movie? Like is it Anchorman levels of absurdity or is it something more grounded in reality?

Will Ferrell: No, it's more grounded. Jay has brought all of this experience from the legit political movies he's done with Game Change and Recount and stuff. So in terms of the shot composition and everything, it has the feel of an epic, political, awesome movie. So we played out totally straight. Yeah, we keep our feet on the ground for the most part and then we kind of take license with political ads.

Have you shot scenes in front crowds? What was that like for you?

Will Ferrell: I mean, tomorrow's the last day so it was great. We shot a whole thing where, I forget which old theater we were at downtown. We had a whole thing where my campaign kind of gets revitalized and I have a whole rally and I come flying in on a wire playing a keytar with Bachman-Turner Overdrive playing behind me because my campaign song is "Taking Care of Business." Then we had like Boston Rob and The Miz come out and introduce me just, you know, to show off some consulting groups that get some people in pop culture, put them in there. I have like a Janet Jackson headset on and got this crowd pumping of people to chant like, hate Marty Huggins, and it was really fun, you know.

When you think back on like Anchorman and you get this cast of just all these amazing beings. This one you have people like Brian Cox and Dylan McDermott, they aren't necessarily known for as much comedy. Is it more fun to play with a more diverse cast like this?

Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis at war in The Campaign
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis at war in The Campaign
Will Ferrell: You know, I think that those have probably been some of the most satisfying casting choices that we've gotten. It's so great to cast legit actors in funny roles and let them, you knouse their strengths and, you know, make that juxtaposition. And Dylan's fantastic. He's so serious and he's always dressed in black. He's this political operative who comes in and shakes the candidate. But all he has to do is walk into a scene and just his uber-seriousness makes it funny. We love getting to do that. And obviously those actors love to get to the flip side of it.

Tell me about some of the like alternate kind of like takes you have. Do you guys have maybe like alternate like TV spots that might even serve as the actual spots for the movie when it comes around time for marketing it?

Will Ferrell: That's a great idea. No. I mean, maybe, but that's a great way though. And I'm going to steal that. Thank you. No, but that would be fun to run. We haven't done that yet and I think anything that we shot for the movie out of context probably wouldn't play on its own. All my ads make him out to be a terrorist because he has facial hair.

Can you talk about John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd as Motch brothers?

Will Ferrell: We kind of wanted to pick some actors who had a little bit of gravitas and they were kind of this perfect combination. They were great. You know, my only regret is I'm not in any of the scenes with them because they were kind of behind the scenes as the puppet masters and funneling money into our campaigns. But they were great and they had the best time and had never met each other. I think they're now new buddies because they like went to dinner every night and all stuff like that. But I think they both really loved, you know, working with Jay and just the excitement of a movie like this.

Can you talk about your relationship like with your campaign manager character?

Will Ferrell: Oh, yes. Mitch, who is played by Jason Sudeikis. He's kind of like the guy who's always kind of kept me out of trouble, but hasn't had to work too hard. But, yeah, he's the smarter version of Cam in a way, but he's still not that smart. He still allows me to do some horrible things. He is a really great improviser. And we didn't give him a chance to rehearse and I think we worked together that first week and right away he just stood in and it felt like we had a relationship. You know, it felt like these two characters had really been with each other through the trenches just because he was so comfortable stepping in there. I think he's so funny and a great guy. It was fun working with him.

Zach Galifianakis - Marty Huggins


Can you tell us a bit about your character?

Zach Galifianakis: My character's name is Marty. He comes from a political family, but he is the black sheep of the family. He only gets plucked out of obscurity because of his family name. He's kind of been ostracized from the family. Then they decide to take him in again, simply because the powers that be, the puppeteers, decide that the family name will help the political cause of that particular political establishment.

There are a lot of parallels to George W. Bush, it seems. Have you incorporated anything that into your performance, as far as his personality?
 
Zach Galifianakis: No, and I actually haven't even thought about that. It was more about the plucking out of the obscurity, the Sarah Palin, and how your ego can kind of run you over. When someone plucks you out of obscurity, you kind of start believing the hype, I think, if a machine does it. And he does that. I think, to a certain extent, some of these politicians that are plucked out of obscurity do start believing the hype. And that's kind of part of the problem.
 
What has it been like working with Brian Cox, who is playing your father?
 
Will Ferrell and Katherine LaNasa in The Campaign
Will Ferrell and Katherine LaNasa in The Campaign
Zach Galifianakis: What's good about that is that you get this really serious actor in a comedy movie. I think it's always fun to see those types of actors do that. But then again, when a comedian tries to do that, everybody's like, 'What the hell are you trying to do?' They always let the dramatic guys be funny. But acting with him, it's just one of those things. This guy has been in a lot of great things that I've seen. He pulled it off. He was really, really good.

Can you tell us what the collaborations have been like for you, from the beginning of the script and working with some of these other creative people?
 
Zach Galifianakis: When Will Ferrell and I started talking about the movie, the movie was supposed to look like and feel more like The War Room documentary that I want to say D.A. Pennebaker did. I can't remember. That's what we initially went for, and then it kind of became a bigger movie. The collaboration with Jay (Roach) and Chris (Henchy), and the writers, and Adam (McKay) has been really good. I've known the guys for a while, so it's been pretty easy. And there's no ego on this set. Except for those pugs. That can be very bad for comedy, to have an egotist on set. There's none of that. That's very helpful for me, at least. Because I'm not nervous.
 
{bold]This is the first time that you put forth the Seth Galifianakis persona into a character on film. Are you excited to have been given that opportunity?
 
Zach Galifianakis: I couldn't wait to do it. Whether it's sustainable for two hours is the question we're working with. I started doing this character when I was high school. Back then, his name was Kenny Ballard, and he was an effeminate racist, which I always thought was funny. An effeminate guy, who probably gets made fun of, to also be racist. I don't know, it was a weird mix. I used to do it for my dad. I used to do it for the black kids at school. They would bump me in the hallway because they knew this character would come out. They were laughing because they knew I was doing a joke about the rednecks that were racist. To answer your question, I had been wanting to try and figure out how to do that persona in a movie. I hope people can sit though it.
 
Can you talk about your relationship with your screen wife? What's she like?
 
Zach Galifianakis: Actress Sarah Baker plays Mitzi, my wife. We kind of made it like Marty is nonsexual. There are some jokes at her expense, because he's not into her. Or into guys. He's just not into that kind of thing. So, I think that's funny that two characters have to interact that way. She wants it, but he just doesn't want to touch her.
 
In most of your recent big movies, you're the oddball character around other straight men. Does your performance change at all, having Will also playing sort of an oddball character?
 
Zach Galifianakis: I think, as I was talking about earlier, this oddball character does go through a bit of a change. You do see that. Or, you see that he is conscious of his oddball character-ness, because somebody has told him, 'You can't act like that to run for office.' But behind the scenes, he's a little bit strange. Is he a regular kind of person? Probably not. I see those movies, with those kinds of leading men, and I say, 'God, that's so boring.'
 
Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Baker as Marty and Mitzi Huggins in The Campaign
Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Baker as Marty and Mitzi Huggins in The Campaign
Can you talk about some of his quirks that come off behind the scenes? Is he a drinker? What kinds of things does he try to hide from the public?
 
Zach Galifianakis: Honestly, he doesn't care about hiding that stuff, but he's being told to be more masculine. It's not a premeditated thought that he has to. He just catches himself, because he always has this svengali right next to him saying, 'Don't do that,' or, 'Watch your 'S's,' which is something that is told to him a lot. There is one thing that I think is funny, I don't know if it will make it into the movie, but I played it that he doesn't like his children, which is not expected for this character. I don't know if that vibe will get into the movie. But when he's in public, and he's putting his arms around his kids, he's faking that. He really does not like his kids. [Laughs]
 
When we were talking to Jay earlier, he was saying that he likes to get a lot of takes. That way, when he's putting the movie together, he can make sure he has the freshest and funniest stuff. But as an actor, you can sometimes start reading lines as opposed to acting. I'm curious as to how you stay in your own head.
 
Zach Galifianakis: Sometimes, if you do a lot of takes, and you work long hours, for me, at least, there's a delirium that starts kicking in on the fifteenth hour. And that can help the movie. The thirteenth hour is where I have concern, because everybody is so tired. But everybody, the crew, especially, steps up to the plate. We're here to make a movie, and tell a story. Jay is a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to getting that coverage. So, you just do it.
 
Will said that when you were on set, he'd try to make you laugh. And if he could make you laugh, his job was done. Have you done the same to him? Have you caught him off guard?
 
Zach Galifianakis: He's more disciplined, I think, because of the Saturday Night Live background, where to laugh is a big no-no. Or at least, I think he prided himself on not laughing. He was a really good straight man on that show. Will had me... I was crying the other night, because I was laughing so hard. I was crying. It's the way all the chemicals are released that makes you feel really good. I guess that's what jogger's high is. I would never know.
 
What drives your character to want to run for office?
 
Zach Galifianakis: I think to get the attention of his father. To get in good graces with his family. His family is, like, yacht club conservative Southern. He kind of grew up, in my mind, hanging out at square dance socials. He's that kind of Southern. So, just to get the approval of his father. Like we're all doing.
 
He kind of sounds like a really nice. Is there a harder edge to him?
 
Zach Galifianakis: Yeah. He has a side to him that's like, "Don't mess with me." And that's before even the powers that be get a hold of him. He can anger quickly.
 
Will was saying how he targets you as a terrorist for having facial hair. Is there something that you particularly go after in his character? We heard about one with you and his son.
 
Zach Galifianakis: Oh, right. I do a hidden camera ad with his son in a park. Which, probably, will come across as really creepy. I go, with the hidden camera, I try to get him to call me dad. If you read the script, it's like, 'God, this is a little bit over-the-top.' But then you read the news, and you go, 'God, it's really not that over-the-top.'
 
Will Ferrell and director Jay Roach on the set of The Campaign
Will Ferrell and director Jay Roach on the set of The Campaign
What do you want people to walk away with from this movie?
 
Zach Galifianakis: An empty bag of popcorn and no hope for our country. No, like any other of these movies, these comedies, I'm all about jokes. I just like jokes. As long as it goes along with the character. As cheesy as it sounds, I think comedy is a really good tool for trying to say something. I think comedy does have that powerful thing that doesn't seem too preachy, because you're also making people laugh. It's a really good tool for messaging.

What I love the most about visiting comedy sets is you, usually, get to see a variety of different scenes in any given day. In comparison, I've been on big-budget action sets where we only saw one or two shots played out, in a multitude of different angles, throughout the whole day. My favorite scene that I saw on The Campaign set was towards the end of the day, where Marty (Zach Galifianakis) and Mitzi (Sarah Baker) were relaxing at home, lying across from each other on the couch, rubbing each other's feet. It was great because, on many of the takes, Zach would throw a random improvised line in there, and Jay Roach would just run rapid-fire takes without cutting. During one exchange, Mitzi asks Marty about his military service, to which he replies, "Dishonorable discharge. Speaking of which, did you go to the gynecologist?" Just another day at the office for some of the funniest people in Hollywood.

That wraps it up from my day on the New Orleans set of The Campaign, arriving in theaters August 10. Both Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are at the top of their comedic game, with a stellar supporting cast at their side and one of the funniest and most political-minded directors in the biz. That sounds like a recipe for comedy gold, to me.

The Campaign was released August 10th, 2012 and stars Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Katherine LaNasa, Sarah Baker, John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd. The film is directed by Jay Roach.



Sources: Brian Gallagher

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Comments (6)

  1. moviegeek

    This thing is rated R. That's surprising.

    2 years agoby @moviegeekFlag

  2. skywise

    Not really much of a fan of these two but this movie looks pretty funny.

    2 years agoby @skywiseFlag

  3. THE JOKER

    @gallagher anytime!

    2 years agoby @mcleve02Flag

  4. Brian Gallagher

    Cool! Thanks @mcleve02

    2 years agoby @gallagherFlag

  5. THE JOKER

    I always appreciate how you either thumbs up or thumbs down your articles so we see them! (yes I'm being sincere) I am looking forward to this film!!

    2 years agoby @mcleve02Flag

  6. THE JOKER

    @brian gallagher

    2 years agoby @mcleve02Flag

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