Spotlight on: Adam McKay and Will Ferrell


`Talladega' duo's life in the fast lane

The Buzz


HOLLYWOOD — HOLLYWOOD-- --Real men eat yogurt parfaits.

That may be the conclusion after sitting down with writing partners Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, two 6-foot-plus white-bread guys who are the director and star, respectively, of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which opens today.

Talladega Nights is a cheerily demented look inside the world of NASCAR racing, in which the women are hot, the men dumb and the racing cool.

McKay and Ferrell - who've written together since meeting at Saturday Night Live in the mid-1990s - specialize in "men being men." They adore lunkheads - be it the swinging, mustachioed, chick-chasing newscaster in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, who finds himself dropped head-first into the 1970s battle of the sexes, or Talladega Nights' Ricky Bobby, the fastest race car driver on the circuit, who loses his mojo after getting upstaged by a Formula One driver who's not only French but gay (played by Sacha Baron Cohen).

"The type of guy who we like as characters are the act-first, think-later kind of males," says Ferrell, demurely spooning yogurt and granola into his mouth.

"We're so up on the Jackass guys," chimes in McKay. "They are the most fun to play, and he does it really well," says the director, gesturing to Ferrell.

In person, the 39-year-old comedy superstar has the charisma of a dad ready to barbecue.

McKay, who's written with Ferrell both credited and uncredited (including Elf and Bewitched), seems descended from a similar gene pool.

The 37-year-old writer-director and his pals from the Upright Citizens Brigade troupe used to study the male species at a bar in Chicago he calls "the epicenter of white guy frat culture."

Ferrell and McKay are part of perhaps the most elite frat in America: the ring of multimillionaire comedy stars, writers and directors.

Talladega Nights grew out of Anchorman, specifically the experience of having their script about an obnoxious newsman turned down by every studio in town.

"Anchorman was too abstract for studios to get their heads around. We said we should just pick an idea that's really accessible. What's the biggest, fattest, funniest, undeniable idea you could ever pick?" recalls Ferrell. They picked NASCAR, the holy grail of redneck manhood.

"[Ferrell] came up with the name Ricky Bobby, and he started doing the voice. It was a cross between a cocky guy and a little wisp of George Bush," recalls McKay. The duo enrolled in the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Charlotte, N.C.

"We were all very glib about it, making jokes during the instructional video," says Ferrell. Then the instructors put them in a van going just 70 mph. At that speed, "you feel like the van is going to tip over. You're kind of like, `I'm immediately frightened now.'"

They stuck them in a car with a driver hurling around at 170 mph. "You feel nauseous. You feel scared," he says.

The director hired the most gung-ho car stunt specialist in the business and Oliver Wood, the cinematographer from the Bourne Identity movies, to make the driving sequences look splashy and authentic.

"It looked so insanely good that we all started laughing. It looked way too good for our movie," Ferrell says.

Rachel Abramowitz writes for The Los Angeles Times.

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