‘The Campaign’ Interview: Five Things We Learned From Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis
Publicizing a film is a lot like a political campaign, although instead of kissing babies you have to be polite to a yutz from the Boston Herald.
Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Dylan McDermott and director Jay Roach were in town to answer our pressing questions about the upcoming satire 'The Campaign.' Even though it was early, Ferrell and Galifianakis were quick with the zings, as well as the occasional insight about the state of our nation's politics.
Ferrell hit the stage to a smattering of applause; Galifianakis, whose 'Between Two Ferns' videos betray his jaundiced view of press conferences, walked out booing himself. It was a nice piece of pre-coffee performance art. Here's what we learned during the next forty minutes:
Will Ferrell's portrayal of incumbent North Carolina congressmen Cam Brady is not as much of a retread of his George W. Bush persona as you might think. "He's a much more polished politician," he offered, comparing him more to John Edwards. "I found a lot of inspiration in Edwards' $900 hair cut and the 'I Feel Pretty' YouTube video." Ferrell did admit that Brady is one who "never thinks he's wrong," so certainly that drew from his portrayals of Bush.
Galifianakis' challenger Marty Huggins, however, was much too naive to be based on a real politician. Indeed, he admitted the character was a variation on one he's been working on since his class clown years. Back then he was called "The Effeminate Racist" and he's been doing him in one form or another for years (he's also shown up as Zach's "brother" Seth). "And now he's in a Will Ferrell movie, which is. . .cool," he remarked incredulously.
'The Campaign' is yet another schtick-based comedy for Ferrell to pair up with a fellow comic actor and behave like a bozo (always welcome) but its subject matter - how Super PAC donations are influencing politics - can't help but be a little serious. While the film tackles this in absurdist ways, such as attack ads that escalate to the point that they become sex tapes, Ferrell did put the halt on the yuks for a moment for some straight talk.
In the most conversational, non-preachy manner Ferrell remarked that the current mudslinging process of a political campaign is probably acting as a barrier for some of "the best possible people" to get in the race. "No doubt they look at what they'll need to subject themselves to and think, no thanks, I'll pass."
As it happens, Galifianakis has some firsthand family knowledge of the process. Turns out his uncle, Nick Galifianakis, was a North Carolina congressman. (Look it up, it's true!) When he ran for senate opposite Jesse Helms, the campaign took a then-unprecedented ugly turn. To hear Zach tell it, Helms' team used scare tactics against the son of Greek immigrants, using the slogan "Jesse Helms: He's One Of Us." It's a far cry from the gags in the film (like suggesting anyone with facial hair is probably a member of Al Qaeda) but it must have had special resonance for the actor.
When asked if either had gotten involved in politics in real life, Galifianakis said that he did some phone work for the Michael Dukakis campaign. "I would call and say 'Hi, this is Zach Galifianakis calling on behalf of Michael Dukakis.' It sounded like I was describing two dinosaurs."