Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Ryan Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Frost
Saturday Night Live, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers
Currently Known For:
Actor, Comedian, Producer, and Writer
1990s - Present
July 16, 1967
Saturday Night Live, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers
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“Inappropriate behavior makes me laugh.” Will Ferrell is an actor and comedian who got his big start in show business on the NBC sketch comedy series, Saturday Night Live, in the 1990s. His performance on SNL earned him an Emmy Award nomination and, more importantly, paved the way for an outstanding career on the silver screen where he’s starred in hits like Night at the Roxbury, Elf, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers, Blades of Glory, Daddy’s Home, Megamind, The Lego Movie, and Old School. Along the way, he’s built his reputation as a member of Hollywood’s “Frat Pack” alongside Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, Vince Vaughn, and Owen and Luke Wilson, many of whom Ferrell has shared the silver screen! So, how did the former high school jock end up as Hollywood’s most awkward and down-to-earth funny guy?
“I’ve never been a conceited person or cocky, never felt boastful, but I always had a sense of self-worth; I always had a real sense of myself.” Long before he was named GQ’s Comedian of the Year, John William Ferrell came into this world on July1 6, 1967 in Irvine, California as the oldest of two boys born to a school teacher and an aspiring entertainer. With his father constantly on the road pursuing his career in show business, Ferrell’s parents separated and divorced when he was eight years old but not even that phased the youngster as he told his little brother, “Look at it this way… we’re going to have two Christmases!” Fortunately, his parents remained friends and gave Ferrell and his brother an incredibly stable childhood.
“I’ve got no dark secrets. I wasn’t beaten up, my parents were kind to me and there was a low crime rate where we lived,” Ferrell said of his childhood. “Growing up in suburbia, in safe, master-planned Irvine, there was no drama, so we had to create it in our heads. My main form of entertainment was cracking my friends up and exploring new ways of being funny. I didn’t have to have the survival mode and instinct like other comics who grew up in tough neighborhoods. I had the opposite. For me, I grew up in Mayberry and the humor broke the boredom. And there was a lot to make fun of.”
Because his father was constantly gone, Ferrell was raised by his progressive mother who taught him the value of self-confidence and a sense of humor, which he used to his advantage. “I learned in first grade how to open a door and have it hit the bottom of your foot and then snap your head back like it hit you in the face, and I started doing that making other kids laugh, and it became a new way to make friends,” Ferrell said. “It was also an easy way to talk to girls, to go up and be funny. I was never really bullied much, either. I was big for my age and fairly athletic.”
By the time he reached University High School, Ferrell was one of the most popular and well-rounded students in his class and played on the varsity football, soccer, and basketball teams. He was known for making his peers laugh by wearing pajamas to school or cracking jokes on the school PA system, which earned him the honor of “Best Personality” in his senior year. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Southern California where he majored in sports broadcasting and took an internship with the sports department at the local television station. The internship ultimately changed Ferrell’s life because he realized that he wasn’t that interested in sports despite having earned his degree.
“One day, I said to my father, ‘I’m thinking of giving the comedy thing a try, what’s your advice?’ He goes, ‘If it wasn’t based on luck, I wouldn’t worry about it because you have talent. Just know that there’s a lot of luck involved and if you eventually decide to do something else, don’t treat it as a failure. Just know it’s one-in-a-million.’ Those words took all the pressure off and I just treated it like a game.”
Career Beginnings & Rise to Fame: From SNL to the Silver Screen
“I did plenty of jobs that I hated. I was a bank teller and terrible at it. I parked cars, a valet, I answered phones. I somehow avoided being a waiter. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the order straight. I’m not much of a multi-tasker.” Taking on different jobs as a hotel valet and then a bank teller, Ferrell made numerous mistakes at both jobs and was fired within a few days, which is why his mother encouraged him to stop wasting time and pursue his dreams. He took her advice and moved to Los Angeles in 1991 to launch his career in comedy but found Hollywood to be a lot harder than he imagined, at least at first.
“I remember going to do a scene study, and they said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know how to tell you this, I’m not trying to be mean, but you’re not good,’” Ferrell recalled. However, he refused to give up on his dream and tried out for the well-known comedy troupe, The Groundlings. Instantly accepted into the troupe, he climbed the ranks and, within 18 months, had already made appearances on series like Grace Under Fire and Living Single when he caught the attention of Saturday Night Live mogul Lorne Michaels.
At the time, SNL had seen a sharp decline in ratings, which prompted Michaels to look for new cast members for the 1994-95 season. First turning to The Groundlings, Michaels invited Ferrell and several others to audition for the show. Needless to say, Ferrell’s unique sense of humor and his stellar impersonations left a lasting impression on Michaels who immediately cast him on the show, marking the beginning of Ferrell’s seven-year tenure. Over those seven years, he became a household name on late night television where his impersonations of everyone from President George W. Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy to Attorney General Janet Reno, Alex Trebek, and dozens of others left audiences tuning in night after night for more.
Building his reputation on SNL, it wasn’t long before Ferrell made his way to the silver screen with appearances in popular films like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Zoolander, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, A Night at the Roxbury, and Drowning Mona. Because of his growing success on the silver screen, Ferrell decided to leave SNL in 2002 but didn’t exactly have any projects lined up—at least not yet. “I left Saturday Night Live without a film to go to, and I’d filmed Old School while I was in my last season of the show and that hadn’t come out yet,” he said. “I was a free agent in a way, but I knew it was time to leave the show and test the water.”
Ferrell’s leap of faith paid off with the success of Old School, which earned him widespread praise from film critics and audiences alike as well as an MTV Movie Award nomination for Best Comedic Performance. Months later, he returned to the silver screen as the star of Elf and sealed his fate in Hollywood with comedic roles in Melinda and Melinda, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and Starsky & Hutch. Before long, he was dubbed the newest member of Hollywood’s “Frat Pack” alongside Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, and Owen and Luke Wilson as he raked in over $40 million in 2005 alone.
In 2006, Ferrell proved his talents as a dramatic actor in Stranger Than Fiction only to return to his comedic roots shortly after in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. He then starred opposite John C. Reilly in Step Brothers, which earned $128 million at box offices worldwide and pushed Ferrell to even greater stardom. From there, he starred in Land of the Lost, You’re Welcome America, The Other Guys, and Everything Must Go before he produced and starred in the 2012 Spanish-language American comedy, Casa de mi Padre. “I can’t tell you where I first thought of Casa de mi Padre and I can’t tell you when, but a lightbulb went off that said putting me in a Spanish-speaking movie with the cast being entirely Latino, and myself playing a kind of Latino actor, and the joke not being that I'm speaking poor Spanish, that it would be hilarious,” Ferrell said of the film. “I guess I did it specifically to raise the question, ‘Why did you do this?’ It’s one of the craziest things I’ve done.”
While the film raised eyebrows, Ferrell pushed forward unscathed and has since starred in Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, The Campaign, The Internship, The Lego Movie, Get Hard, Daddy’s Home, and The House. He’s also reprised his most popular roles for sequels like Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013), Zoolander 2 (2016), and Daddy’s Home 2 (2017).
Life Beyond the Spotlight – Marriage and Future Projects
“The funny guy doesn’t get the girl until later in life. High school, college, everyone still wants the brooding, dangerous guy you shouldn’t have.” Outside of his stellar career in Hollywood and his wild antics on the silver screen, Ferrell is perhaps one of the most normal and laidback guys on the red carpet and is even the first to admit it! “Meeting fans, I’ll be like, ‘Oh, hey, how are you?’ And, literally, they’re like, ‘What are you going to do? Do something! Are you sure that’s him? He’s not doing anything!’ Yes, I fear they’re horribly underwhelmed.”
Part of Ferrell’s normalcy stems from his life at home with his wife, Swedish actress Viveca Paulin, whom he met at an acting class in 1995. Dating only a few months, the two broke up when Ferrell moved to Los Angeles and later to New York City to work on SNL. “I was in another relationship and Viv and I would talk as friends for two hours, and it would feel like five minutes, and then my girlfriend would call and after 15 minutes, I’d be like, ‘God, it’s really late here on the East Coast. I should get some sleep.’ For me, Viv was the one that got away,” Ferrell admitted.
Fortunately, Viv didn’t get away and the two remained friends for years before Ferrell returned to Los Angeles on a hiatus from SNL. Meeting up for a beer, the two picked up right where they left off, only this time, Ferrell leaned in for a goodnight kiss. “We started over—after a five-year friendship, we literally started courting each other,” Ferrell said. Marrying in August 2000, they spent the next four years in wedded bliss before welcoming the first of three sons into the world—Magnus Paulin Ferrell—in March 2004. Two years later, they added Mattias Paulin in March 2006 followed by Axel Paulin in January 2010. “What I love most about Viv is very simple,” Ferrell says of his wife. “She totally got my sense of humor. I sent her flowers every day for a week with a card like, ‘You’re the fifth prettiest woman in the office.’ She loved it. We had a shorthand with each other.”
That shorthand has lasted for over 18 years as Ferrell and Paulin are still happily married and divide their time between their homes in New York City and Orange County, California. As for what’s next for Ferrell’s career, the 51-year-old actor worth over $85 million can certainly afford to be selective in his roles—after all, he’s one of Hollywood’s funniest men. “It’d be great to be in a position where you can make choices regardless of money,” he says. “My tastes are always going to lead me to go for the amazing project where I’m being paid in Turkish cantaloupes.” While we highly doubt that’s the case, if anyone can make Turkish cantaloupes funny, it’s Will Ferrell!