We talk to Will Ferrell about his role as the supervillain Megamind in the new DreamWorks Animation movie of the same name. In this spoof Ferrell’s character faces a dilemma when he actually manages to defeat his nemesis, the superhero Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) . . .

Q: Is it more fun to play the bad guy, a character like Megamind?

A: It was fun to play a bad guy—it’s always fun—but I think what is unique about Megamind is that he’s only bad because of circumstances beyond his control. It turns out that he’s really kind of a sweetheart who upholds the tradition of good versus bad. He comes to realize that without ‘good’ there can’t be ‘bad.’ He’s the first bad guy to miss the good guy once the good guy’s gone.

Q: How did this project start for you? Did they come to you with a pitch?

A: It started at a meeting with [director] Tom McGrath and [DreamWorks Animation head] Jeffrey Katzenberg, where they pitched the whole concept, and a lot of it was already there. It’s mostly a new thing for me, because I’ve only done one animated film before. I hadn’t done anything else since, because I was fairly ambivalent to the whole genre. So we met, and we just started playing around with the voice; it’s villainous, and yet, it’s also slightly pathetic.

Q: I’m sure you’ve been offered a lot of animated films. What was it about this one that made you say, ‘Yes’?

A: When my manager came to me and asked, ‘Would you be interested if it was with DreamWorks? They know how to do it right. What if it was going to be more of a comedy?’ That sounded like the right combination for me. So I had lunch with Tom and I asked him how he worked. He said, ‘I’m just there to facilitate whatever direction you want to go in and however you want to do it.’

That sounded great to me and, I have to say, he was true to his word. He’s great at directing—in terms of performance, he’s really flexible, and he has a funny eye. It’ isn’t a free for all, though. He is strict about the story, about conveying the story, but he encourages you to play within that. When I came up with a sort of a Brando voice for a character, it wasn’t too weird for him—some people might have said, ‘Well, that’s funny, but I don’t know if we should do that…’ But he embraced all of that.

And once I met with Tom, I knew that this would not only be a really cool film, but a whole lot of fun. There were also many others reasons why I wanted to do this one – the cast for a start. You’ve got Tina Fey, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill—how cool is that? I had a great time doing this.

Q: Tom was saying that he wanted you to improvise and you clearly did. Where did the Marlon Brando riff with the Space Dad character come from?

A: Well, it came from Tom telling me that he wanted me to voice Space Dad—and the way it was animated, to me it looked like Jor-El from the Superman movie. I think there’s a little homage there. I said, ‘What if I do my best attempt at doing Brando?’, which I knew would still come out bad. When we started recording it, it just made us laugh so hard.

And within that, it was easy to improvise the voice, and come up with lines like ‘You make me laugh…’ And Tom showed it at the studio, and he said, ‘It’s really making us laugh, so I think we’re going to keep it.’ It’s fantastic to work with a director who’s willing to go out on a limb and trust something like that. So now it’s in the movie, and I think it’s a memorable little chunk.

Q: Tell me what it’s like in the recording booth. Is it challenging at first? It’s a very different environment from working on a live-action film—you’re alone and you’re just using your voice.

A: I do think that in certain scenes, where you have to convey a particular kind of emotion, it is a little challenging to get that across using only the voice. At least, that’s what I found. You read the line and you know that the character is sad, so in your mind you think, ‘Okay, I need to be really sad.’ Then you say the line, and you think, ‘Hold on, that doesn’t sound sad.’ So I did feel challenged at times. But after awhile, you get used to working that way, and Tom encouraged me to improvise and explore, and that helped bring it to life.

"Space Dad -and the way it was animated, to me looked like Jor-El from the Superman movie!"

Q: What about the casting? Were you involved in that at all?

A: Well, most were already there—and that was a big draw. Tina had signed, and Jonah and Brad came onboard. And I thought that it was a great cast, a really cool, eclectic mix of people. Tina is amazing—what she has accomplished in comedy—and she’s one of the funniest people you will ever be around. Jonah is so funny and unique with what he does, and I don’t think Brad Pitt has ever done anything like this. Getting all of us together sounded really interesting.

Q: Although I think I’m right in assuming that there was never a moment when you were all together in the recording booth?

A: No, sadly not. But Tina and I did get to record a couple of sessions together, and that was great.

Q: I saw you at on a panel together this summer at Comic-Con, and you were like a double act, playing off of each other. Was it the same sort of thing in the recording studio?

A: It’s a funny situation, because it’s a recording, so you can’t really overlap—it’s not like something we could do onstage together, like at Comic-Con, where we could go back and forth. Because of technical reasons, you can’t quite do that. But it was still so nice to be able to look across and see the person you are working with—that really helps with rhythm.

Q: Often actors say they do an animation movie for their kids. Was that the same for you?

A: You know, I’ve been asked if the fact that I have family influences what I do. Whether it’s good or not, I’m still not governed by that in any way—I still do what I think is funny and what interests me. Some projects will be outrageous and other things won’t. This was about the project, the work—the opportunity to do a very well-thought-out animated film, and do it the right way.

But, when I saw some rough footage, I did think, ‘My sons are going to love this,’ my six-year-old for sure. I think my three-year-old will say, ‘Hey, you’re doing that voice!’ I can’t wait to show them the little comic books that they have made from the film and say, ‘This is what I’ve been talking about!’

Q: How much artwork were they able to show you before you started recording?

A: It’s storyboarded at the first pitch—when I saw the storyboards, I saw some of the ideas for the animation, and I got a real sense of it. And along the way, they kept showing me stuff. When I saw a rough cut of the movie, it was really great. There were scenes that weren’t completely animated, still story boards, but I was very impressed. I thought, ‘Wow, this feels like a big movie.’

Tom has done such a great job with this. What struck me was how fast you stop listening to your own voice. Because when you first see the animation, you think, ‘Oh, that’s me, how does it sound?’, and you analyze it. You’re thinking, ‘That’s good,’ or ‘That’s bad,’ and going through that whole neurotic thing. Then, the next thing you know, you forget all of that, and you’re just watching the character. That’s really what struck me – the way it all gels together – the voice, the story, the characters, the animation, everything. In the end, because of this amazing animation, Megamind is really this lovable guy.

Q: Okay, explain that, because Megamind is the villain, right?

A: Well, he thinks that being evil has been a strength for his whole life, but really, he is just a sweetheart. That’s what I liked about the character—it turns the whole superhero notion on its head. My guy is the villain, but really, he’s not. And when he finally defeats Brad’s character, Metro Man, he starts to ask himself, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on here?’

Q: The bar is constantly being raised with animation. Did you enjoy being part of such cutting-edge filmmaking?

A: Yes, very much so…but I really don’t understand how they do it, to be honest [laughs]! It’s really all about foresight—with these incredible movies, DreamWorks Animation is really thinking three or four years down the road. I guess that’s due to the fact that these are master storytellers just doing their thing.

Q: DreamWorks have had a lot of success with animated films. What was it like working with that team?

A: I think what is unique about doing a DreamWorks movie is that Jeffrey [Katzenberg] is involved in everything—from the pitch, to stopping by during the recording sessions, everything, which, in terms of other movie-making situations, that’s pretty rare.

Q: When you were young, did you think about acting, or did you think about stand-up comedy as a career?

A: When I was young, I loved comedy—I was funny with my friends, but I never in a million years thought about being here and having this wonderful career. My dad is a musician, and I pretty much got a first-hand view of the ups and downs of a life in this business. When I first said to him, ‘I’m going to take a run at this,’ he said, ‘Okay, but just know that there is a certain amount of luck involved.’ His advice, which may have sounded harsh on the printed page, was really kind of comforting. He said, ‘If it was all about talent, I wouldn’t worry about you, you’d be fine, but just know that it’s luck. And if you find yourself going down the road and it’s just not working, it’s okay to find something else.’ You know, it took the pressure off, and I didn’t take it quite so seriously. After I graduated from college, I decided to give it a shot, and somehow, it worked [laughs]!



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