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“It would be great to see it nominated,” says the A-list comedy actor Will Ferrell when, during a recording of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast, we begin discussing the Oscar buzz surrounding “Husavik,” an original song featured in Ferrell’s recent Netflix vehicle Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, which Ferrell also co-wrote, with Andrew Steele, and David Dobkin directed.
The film’s entire musical score — coordinated by compilation producer Savan Kotecha and music supervisor Becky Bentham, and featuring additional tunes like “Volcano Man,” “Jaja Ding Dong, “Lion of Love” and “Double Trouble” — is impressive in the way that it “threads the needle between songs that are humorous and guilty pleasures,” as Ferrell puts it. And it was recently nominated for best compilation soundtrack for visual media at the Grammys, which will take place March 14.
If, the morning after that, its standout tune — which features music by Atli Örvarsson and lyrics by Fat Max Gsus, Rickard Göransson and Kotecha — is announced as an Oscar nominee, would Ferrell — who sings his own vocals on the track opposite Molly Sanden, who dubbed Rachel McAdams — agree to perform it on the Academy Awards telecast? “Oh, my God, of course!” he exclaims. “Absolutely. I’ll go there right now — I live up the street! I’ll just hang out at Hollywood & Highland.”
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You can listen to the episode here. The article continues below.
Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett, Norman Lear, Keira Knightley, David Letterman, Sophia Loren, Hugh Jackman, Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Hart, Carey Mulligan, Seth MacFarlane, Amy Adams, Trevor Noah, Julia Roberts, Jake Gyllenhaal, Glenn Close, James Corden, Cate Blanchett, Sacha Baron Cohen, Greta Gerwig, Conan O’Brien and Kerry Washington.
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It would be a rare opportunity to see Ferrell on the Oscars stage as something other than a funny presenter.
No actor in the 21st century has been associated with more hit comedy films than he has — among them 2003’s Old School and Elf (his first solo vehicle), 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (his first film collaboration with ex-SNL colleague Adam McKay), 2006’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (again with McKay), 2008’s Step Brothers (McKay again), 2010’s The Other Guys (his last rodeo with McKay), 2014’s Get Hard and The Lego Movie and the list goes on — many of which he also co-wrote and co-produced.
But the film Academy almost never recognizes comedic performances or writing, so Ferrell’s major awards recognition has thus far been limited to 16 Emmy noms, three of which resulted in wins (all for producing, oddly enough, including 2020’s best drama series Succession); two Golden Globe noms; and the 2011 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Even so, Ferrell insists earnestly, “Just to be able to dream about making people laugh and actually have it happen — that’s the award.”
Raised in Irvine, Cal., the older of two sons of a musician and an elementary school teacher who divorced when he was eight, Ferrell long suppressed dreams of a career in comedy. “I was going to have a normal job,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I was going to carry a briefcase, and take some form of mass public transit and go to my job, wear a suit and sit in an office.” But throughout the first 25 years of his life, he says, “I enjoyed making my friends laugh,” and even after graduating from USC with a degree in sports information and plans to become a broadcaster (the seeds of Ron Burgundy?), he says, “The comedy itch that needed to be scratched was still there.”
It was at the urging of his mother, with whom he lived for three years after graduating from college (sound like Step Brothers?), that he decided to take two years to see if he could gain any traction pursuing his passion before getting more practical. He worked “gas-money jobs” by day, and by night took classes in acting, standup and, at The Groundlings Theatre & School in Los Angeles, improv and sketch comedy. In just 18 months with The Groundlings, Ferrell rocketed from being a student to a member of the Sunday company to a member of the main company, which is where Lorne Michaels found him — and Cheri Oteri, Chris Kattan and Jennifer Coolidge — when the Saturday Night Live chief came looking for new talent to try to revive his then-struggling show.
Ferrell was brought to New York to audition, was hired and, over the course of seven seasons in Studio 8H — playing characters ranging from George W. Bush, James Lipton and Alex Trebek to a high school cheerleader, a bearded music teacher and a cowbell-playing member of a band — ushered SNL into a remarakble new golden age. “We just had our backs against the wall, and that’s when a lot of great stuff happens,” he says humbly. But by the time he left the show in 2002 to focus full-time on movies — having dabbled in them during offseasons with SNL-spinoff movies like 1998’s A Night at the Roxbury and 1999’s Superstar — he was the most highly-regarded cast member in its illustrious history.
Ferrell made his name on the big screen playing characters who The Atlantic once described as “surreal satires of American arrogance… buffoons invested with the genuine belief that what they’re doing is special,” becoming, as The Daily Beast put it, “a master of buffoonish absurdity whose gift for juvenile nonsense — often laced with explosive aggression — has rightly made him a Hollywood A-lister.” But, it should be noted, he has also periodically used his clout to convince studios to make low-budget dramas, or at least dramedies, like Stranger Than Fiction (2006) and Everything Must Go! (2010), in which he gives two of his very best performances.
Even when playing ignoramuses like his character at the center of laugh-out-loud Eurovision — a moderately talented Icelandic singer named Lars Erickssong who has always dreamed of competing in the titular contest, to the disgust of his alpha-male father — the trick, Ferrell says, is to play things straight. How did he figure that out? “A lot of it comes from having worked on Saturday Night Live, where you would get what you would call a ‘dramatic straight actor,’ and they were usually the best hosts because it wasn’t, ‘How am I going to be funny in this?’ It was more, ‘Oh, no, I’m just going to commit to the character, and the rest will take care of itself.’ And usually those were the better shows.”
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