Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Will Ferrell

After joining the cast of NBC's late-night variety series "Saturday Night Live" in 1995, Will Ferrell gained a popular following for several of his characters, eventually joining the roster of "SNL" alums who have gone on to become big screen draws. With specialties including wild impersonations and a knack for portraying innocent child-men, audacious egomaniacs and earnest if often clueless Everymen, Ferrell quickly rose to become one of Hollywood's biggest comedy superstars.

A tall (6'3"), blond Californian with clean-cut good looks, Ferrell began his career as a sportscaster for a local cable station. Stifled and somewhat frustrated, he started making appearances at comedy clubs and college coffee houses. By 1991, Ferrell had enrolled in improvisational comedy classes with the noted troupe The Groundlings. Within six months, he was invited to join as a performer, taking his place alongside such future co-stars as Chris Kattan, Ana Gasteyer and Cheri Oteri. Four years later, he auditioned for Lorne Michaels for a spot on "SNL" and landed a regular berth.

Although some critics were at first dismissive of his talents, Ferrell persevered and created his memorable characters. Indeed, after a few seasons he became the show's go-to utility player and saving many a half-baked sketch with his spirited characterizations. Among his more hysterical impressions and creations were President George W. Bush; Steve Butabi, one half of the club-hopping Butabi brothers; "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek; musical middle school teacher Marty Culp; Professor Klarvin, the overly amorous "lover"; Attorney General Janet Reno ; Spartan Spirit cheerleader Craig; "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton; lounge singer Robert Goulet and the late great Chicago Cubs sportscaster, Harry Caray.

Like many former and present cast members of "SNL", he moved to the big screen playing the seemingly unkillable—but often in straight-laced agony—Mustafa in the hit comedy "Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery" (1997) and its sequels. The following year, Ferrell and Chris Kattan co-starred and contributed to the script for "A Night at the Roxbury", based on their "SNL" swingers characters. He also landed supporting roles in the comedies in "Dick" and "Superstar" (both 1999) and later appeared in the "SNL" spin-off "The Ladies Man" (2000) and as a loopy state trooper in Kevin Smith's self-reflexive "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001).

After his SNL work earned him 2001 Emmy nominations for Outstanding Individual Performance and Outstanding Writing on a Variety, Musical or Comedy Program, Ferrell announced he was leaving "SNL" in 2002 to pursue a movie career. He acted in the offbeat hit comedy "Old School" (2003), playing one of a trio of middle-aged men who retreat from life by starting their own frat house—the comic highlight of the film, Ferrell displayed an unflinching lack of vanity (he did his own nude scenes) and the confidence to go to sublimely funny extremes to sell a joke. The comic took the lead role in the holiday fantasy-comedy "Elf" (lensed 2003), a project directed by Jon Favreau, as a human raised by elves at the North Pole who journeys to Manhattan to find his birth parents. The comic brought a wide-eyed guilelessness to the part that, combined with Favreau's deft incorporation of understated sentiment and warm pop cultural holiday references, helped make the film seem poised to become a Christmastime classic.

Hot of his "Elf" success, Farrell segued into an amusing cameo as a imprisoned informant with a unique way of trading in his secrets in "Starsky & Hutch" (2004) before headlining his next major film, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy" (2004) playing the titular character, a pompous but popular newscaster in the 1970s who resists the inclusion of a female anchor (Christina Applegate). Ferrell delivered a less clownish but no less humorous performance in the comedic half of writer-director Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" (2005), as Hobie, the struggling actor who becomes besotted with the neurotic Melinda (Radha Mitchell) and is thrilled when his wife leaves him so he can pursue her. Ferrell's role was that would've most likely been played by Allen himself in earlier films, but unlike other actors who've taken on the Allen doppelgangers, Ferrell did not try to emulate Allen's distinctive style and brought his own comic sensibility to the part. Then it was on the amusing comedy "Kicking & Screaming" (2005), in which the comic played an overzealous soccer dad whose coaching technique is exacerbated by his relationship with his win-at-all-costs father (Robert Duvall).

Ferrell was more enjoyable in the otherwise pointless big-screen remake of the beloved '60s sitcom "Bewitched" (2005), playing a vain but washed-up Hollywood actor who's cast as Darin in a remake of the magical TV series and, in a bid to bolster his stardom, recruits an unknown beauty (Nicole Kidman) to play Samantha, not knowing that she's actually a real-life witch trying to give up the craft. Along with his trademark fearless comedy, Ferrell also proved an effective romantic comedy lead opposite Kidman. He also scored with a terrific cameo role in the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson comedy "Wedding Crashers" (2005); by this time, Ferrell was clearly established as a central figure in what many characterized as a comedic Rat Pack-style clique of actors who frequently teamed up and/or cameoed in each other's films--the group also included Ben Stiller, Vaughn, Owen and Luke Wilson and Steve Carell. The comedian closed out his extremely busy year playing the manic, Nazi-obsessed playwright Franz Liebkind opposite Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in the 2005 big screen adaptation of Mel Brooks' hugely popular film-turned-Broadway-smash "The Producers" (2005).

The comedian voiced Ted, the Man with the Yellow Hat in “Curious George” (2006), the comic tales of a CGI monkey who stows away on a ship after an enthusiastic museum guide goes to Africa to find the lost shrine of Zagawa. Ferrell was next slated to be seen in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006), a comedy about a go-for-broke race car driver who either wins first place or doesn’t finish at all. Meanwhile, fans awaited his next film, “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006), a comedy about an IRS auditor whose life is interrupted by the sound of a personal narrator who knows everything about him, including when he’ll die.

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