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They’ve built a full-scale suburban household — complete with a surrounding white picket fence — within the dark confines of a large soundstage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in suburban New Orleans. Sure, the lawn is Astroturf, but the whole setup feels so homey you half-expect someone to start firing up burgers and dogs in the fake house’s fake backyard barbeque.
Especially once family guys and fast friends Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg slide into nearby lawn chairs for a chat in between takes and start teasing each other. “He loves it,” Ferrell says of the greasy mullet Wahlberg is forced to don for Daddy’s Home, despite Wahlberg repeatedly griping, “I’m ready to cut it off, that’s all I’ll say.”
It’s January and the pair is near the end of production on their new family comedy, which reteams them five years after their hit buddy cop flick The Other Guys. This time around, Ferrell plays Brad, a lovable radio suit and doting stepdad to two kids whose domestic bliss is sabotaged when their hotshot biological father, the special-ops agent Dusty (Wahlberg), returns to try to win back his ex (Linda Cardellini).
Through six years of development, the Sean Anders-directed movie saw various potential pairings: Ferrell was always attached as star, but almost played the aggressive Dusty role opposite Ed Helms’s softy Brad; then Ferrell was lined up as Brad opposite Vince Vaughn’s Dusty. Given their success together in Other Guys and burgeoning résumé in comedy, though, Walhberg became an easy final choice.
In our onset sit-down, the actors talked about seeing their unlikely partnership evolve in their second go-round, how their parental philosophies compare to their characters’ outlooks, and that scene shot in front of a live NBA audience that went viral.
Yahoo Movies: What sort of tone are you guys aiming for with Daddy’s Home? It’s obviously more family-oriented than The Other Guys.
Mark Wahlberg: I think we’re making something that’s extremely funny but has a lot of heart.
Will Ferrell: In terms of the movies we’ve produced, we don’t have any problem doing heightened movies that get crazy. But this one is kind of in the zone of Meet the Parents, in that it’s pretty relatable in terms of the scenarios and relationships. The comedy still sometimes gets outrageous, but there are so many families now that are not traditional families, blended families with stepparents… So I think it’ll be fun for people to see us comment on that dynamic.
There are similarities between these guys and your Other Guys characters. Will is again mild-mannered, Mark is the wild-card tough guy. But instead of partners, you’re rivals. Do you guys get pretty competitive with each other on set?
Wahlberg: We always are in character. We’re constantly playing this game… But no, my first comedy was The Other Guys — other than that little bit I did in Date Night — and I’ve always felt like Will had my back. And I’m in good hands to really risk trying anything, and I don’t have to worry about looking ridiculous.
Ferrell: Mark and I have gotten to know each other even better since The Other Guys, so working together was not even a question.
Wahlberg: We’re both very similar in a lot of ways. We work really hard, and are all about family, have beautiful wives and kids. We both appreciate the opportunity that we have, and certainly don’t take for granted what amazing jobs we have. I’ve worked with a lot of people who are all about just their thing or their moment, they’re not really focused on the guy they’re working opposite. And then meeting other guys in the comedy world… it was a nice relief when I met Will. He just enjoys making people laugh and he’s a really sweet guy. Would I like to spend four months hanging out with him? Absolutely. Didn’t know if he felt the same way. Didn’t give a s–t.
How did you feel, Will?
Ferrell: I didn’t feel the same.
Wahlberg: It’s funny because he’ll ask me questions about my life and my past and [it seems like] he’s interested. I don’t know if he thinks I’m a crazy person. But he seems interested.
Ferrell: No, I’m totally interested.
Enter for a chance to meet Wahlberg and Ferrell and the movie’s premiere:
Do you guys find yourselves becoming more compatible, comically, given this is your second film together?
Wahlberg: Yeah. Will’s also pretty crazy from the get-go. He’s fearless, he doesn’t give a s–t.
Ferrell: And he’s ready for that.
This film originally starred Will and Vince Vaughn. When Vince left and Mark entered, did the character have to be rewritten? You guys have very different comedic styles.
Wahlberg: There were discussions, and little stuff to make it tailored to me.
Ferrell: The bulk I would say not. Because Dusty’s just supposed to be this alpha male. But he’s very charismatic at the same time. He just makes you think he’s your best friend, and then he’s turning the tables on you every day.
And Will, in the early goings, you were considering playing Dusty?
Ferrell: Yeah, this project was one of the first pitches we heard when we started our production company. So we’ve had it on the shelf for however long Gary Sanchez Productions has been around, six years or so. So I’ve gone back and forth [on which character I would play], but I really landed on wanting to play the earnest [Brad]. The scene that hooked me with the character was when Megan, the little girl, asks me to go to the daddy-daughter dance and I immediately have to fight back tears. There’s something that just made me laugh about a guy so emotional at a drop of a hat. It’s sweet on one end, but on the other hand you’re like, “Come on, get it together.” And that just made me laugh, so I locked into playing the Brad part.
As you mentioned you guys are both family men, both fathers. For roles like this, that require so much interaction with kids, are those fatherly instincts coming in handy? Are you similar dads to your characters?
Wahlberg: I’ve refrained from putting the discipline down.
Ferrell: Brad has learned all the latest parenting techniques, and there’s a storyline where [his stepson] Dylan is getting picked on by fourth graders. Brad’s instinct is to talk, and role-play, and do conflict resolution dialogue. And Dusty’s like, you gotta teach him how to fight. And in real life, I’m [like Brad] to a point. But I’m more like, ‘Be respectful, but if that kid throws a punch, you can punch back, it’s OK.’
Have you guys brought your own kids on set?
Ferrell: My kids have come to visit.
Walhberg: Mine [two sons and two daughters] were here for about a week and a half. They didn’t want to spend too much time hanging out on set.
Do they get bored?
Wahlberg: Yeah they get bored. They want to go to a jumpy place.
Ferrell: I’ve got three boys and the middle guy is very fascinated with all of this. He could hang out on set all day long. The other two are like, “Whatever.”
There was a lot of physical humor in Other Guys, being an action-comedy. Do your characters get pretty physical with each other in this film?
Wahlberg: He punches me in the face.
Ferrell: But it has no effect.
Wahlberg: And it’s the first time he ever punched anybody, ever. And then I tell him I have no choice but to bust him up. But he would take that beatdown for those kids.
Ferrell: And Dusty ends up respecting him for that.
Wahlberg: So after that I become quite fond of him.
Ferrell: We have a whole skateboard ramp that goes awry. Some motorcycle riding that goes awry. A scene at a basketball game that goes awry.
Yeah, let’s talk about that basketball scene. Knowing that you were going to have thousands of witnesses with cell phone cameras, were you expecting that scene involving you and the NBA cheerleader to go as viral as it did?
Ferrell: I don’t know why, but I’m still caught off guard by those moments. For some reason I still have blinders on when we do things like that. The next day it was everywhere… It was kind of hilarious. But it was more hilarious that people thought it was really me running onto a court on my own accord and pegging a cheerleader in the head, and people saying, “He should be sued!” That’s what was making me laugh.
Watch a clip from the film’s basketball scene:
What was your vantage point on it, Mark? Did you enjoy the show?
Ferrell: Two direct hits! You were pleasantly impressed.
Wahlberg: Yeah, it was spot-on. I’ve had to do something similar where you’re going out in front of a crowd, where they’re not necessarily in on the joke. I did it at a concert opening up for Megadeth [filming Rock Star] where I had to perform three songs. We held this charity concert with KROQ and 20,000 people at The Spectrum, with one heavy metal band and then another, and then all of the sudden I come out, and just fall down the stairs. It was like, “What the heck’s going on?"… They got tired of it real quick and were throwing s–t.
Was that an odd kind of pressure to be under though, Will, to get it right live? Were you doing target practice on a mannequin?
Ferrell: Yeah, we were rehearsing at 2 o'clock that afternoon. So we were marking the thing really carefully… So I had it fairly dialed in. But you never know, your adrenaline starts going. I was like, "It’s going to be a bummer if I miss her on the first throw because that will give away the gag.” But luckily I pulled it off. In fact I’m surprised that I didn’t break character because I was so surprised I hit her as hard as I did.
You’re a huge sports fan. Was that your first time being wrestled down and forcibly removed from a sporting event?
Ferrell: Yeah, I think so.
'Daddy’s Home’ opens Dec. 25. Watch the trailer: