Adam McKay Talks Trolling with Will Ferrell for ‘Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters’

Adam Pockross
Movie Talk

Remember when little Hansel and Gretel almost got eaten by a witch in the Grimm Brothers fairy tale that bares their name? Did you ever wonder what might happen when they grew up with a witch-hating chip on their shoulder the size of a magic forest? Adam McKay apparently did.

Though he's better known for directing and writing such comedy classics as "Anchorman" (2004) and "Step Brothers" (2008), McKay is also a prolific producer. Alongside his brother-in-funny Will Ferrell, McKay runs the production shingle Gary Sanchez Productions. Of course comedy comes first, but the creative team wants to make all sorts of movies – including good time gore fests like "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," which arrives on home entertainment this week.Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play brother and sister in arms, who, years after their gingerbread house ordeal, now travel the land as bounty hunters, looking for retribution and clues to their unsavory past. Don't worry: it's not as dark as it sounds. If you love filling in the blanks of fairytales past with pulpy, tongue-in-cheek gore, or if you thought the Brothers Grimm needed a lot more high-tech weaponry, then you should definitely spend some quality time.

[Related: Set Photos from 'Anchorman: The Legend Continues']

But first, check out what McKay has to say about the flick. Though he's in the thickets of editing "Anchorman: The Legend Continues," he found time for a phone conversation discussing his role in producing "H&G." However, even though we focused on the film at hand, McKay did offer one indicative nugget about how high your expectations should be set for the sequel: "It honestly was a bit of a changing perspective on the capabilities of mankind."

"Hansel & Gretel" may not change your expectations for humanity, but it will definitely change the way you feel about witches.

How much did you and Will have to do with that fun aspect of it?

Adam McKay: One of our producers, Kevin Messick at Gary Sanchez showed us “Dead Snow,” brought [director Tommy] Wirkola in, and we all hit it off with him precisely for that reason, of that fun aspect. The fact that he was able to mix that badass action with a genuine sense of humor that didn’t feel sweaty.

One of the reasons I marveled at “Avengers,” was that Joss Whedon was actually making me laugh without eroding the stakes of the scenes. While watching “Dead Snow,” I saw that Wirkola could do that in a kind of Sam Raimi-like way. That was it. That’s the reason we hooked on him.

And then when he wrote the script, and all the specifics, the diabetes and the missing kids on the milk bottles, that was like, that’s what revved us up even more about the project. And yet, at the same time, whenever he would write action, it still had a hard edge to it. You just don’t see a lot of people who can combine those two things like that.

So once the script is in shape, walk me through your and Will’s part of this, this whole procedure.

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AM: Will and I had spoken to Kevin Messick, who’s one of our best producers at Sanchez, and told him, we wanted to do other kinds of movies. Like, I love horror movies, I love action movies. I’m gonna go see “The Purge!” I watch all kinds of different movies. I watch documentaries! And Kevin’s just great. So, he took my words to heart, and he went and found this movie “Dead Snow” out of Sundance.

And then Tommy pitched us the one-liner: "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. They’ve grown up, and they’re witch bounty hunters." And right away in the room, I said, Oh my god, that’s a movie, that will be made, that could be a three picture franchise.

By the way, me being right in that case should be contrasted to the nine other times I’ve been wrong. But, in that case, we were smart enough to know. And this was before all those fairy tale adaptations had come out. There’s been like, five or six of them in the last two or three years. At that point, no one had really done one. There was a Brothers Grimm one, I can’t remember what it was called, but that was the only one.

It just popped, the idea, immediately. So, basically, with Messick, myself, and Will, we developed a script with Tommy, developed a pitch, and took it to Adam Goodman at Paramount who then saw what we saw.

We were with this from the beginning. We developed the whole script, we worked with Paramount, with Tommy. We put the whole production together. Messick was on set every day in Berlin. I flew out a couple times, giving notes on dailies. I mean, this was really from beginning to end on this one.

Does Gary Sanchez have a particular mission statement? Like, how do you go about whittling down what a Gary Sanchez movie is?

AM: A Gary Sanchez movie… obviously, comedy is the base, that’s what we do. So you’re always gonna to have that. But then, our operating rule is: we only want to do things that we actually are excited about and want to see. So the rule is, never do anything for money. Never do it because the deal’s right. And if we do that, we’ll be okay.

Even if, in the case of “Hansel and Gretel,” it didn’t get great reviews, we honestly didn’t care about that. But even if it doesn’t work, if you come into it with that approach, then you’re always gonna feel okay about it. So everything we try and do is something we’re excited about, and that’s kind of the mission statement.

The whole reason we started the company was ‘cause Will and I love movies. Like, I love all kinds of movies, so the fun of a production company is that you get to do different things, and obviously, for comedy guys like ourselves, it’s hard to turn that corner into drama and action and documentaries.

So what was exciting for us about “Hansel and Gretel” was not only was it a kickass, fun movie, but it kind of allowed us to do different types of movies, which was really one of the large parts of why we started the company.

[Related: 'Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' Five Film Facts]

And it’s got a tongue-in-cheek aspect to it as well.

AM: Absolutely. No, it’s not a giant step away from what we do. The fact that there is a sense of humor to it is connected enough to our comedy roots that a studio could see why we were bringing it to them.

Are there plans for a sequel? You said it was a three picture idea that you had.

AM: Yeah, Tommy’s already cooking up the storyline. He’s got it pretty much finished. We’re probably a week or two from the go-ahead for him to write the script. Paramount’s very serious about it. Everyone was really happy with how this movie played, and everyone also feels like the next one could be even better. Like, clearly, once you get over that origin story, it really frees you up to really do stuff. And we’ll also be shedding the idea that it’s a fairy tale adaptation, you’ll get over that on the second one and just kind of take it for what it is. So I think the second one could really knock people over.

Any chance we’ll see Will Ferrell as a troll?

AM: [Laughs]Oh.. that would be fantastic. How about an inn keeper? We should just give him the most meaningless cameo ever. Like, just mopping up a bar, saying “Do you guys want anything else?” Or the guy who gets killed immediately! I gotta pitch that to him.

Are witches real, Adam?

AM: Are witches real?... Uh, yes. No, no, absolutely not. [Laughs] We were talking about it, every year, you will read in the paper, somewhere in the world a village got freaked out and killed someone ‘cause they thought they were a witch. That still happens today, which blows me away. There was some story four or five years ago in Thailand, there was a rash of people killing people because they thought they were witches. There was one recently in like Turkmenistan, they killed someone or attacked someone because they thought they were a witch. To me, that witch paranoia is still present in the world, it’s pretty amazing.

It keeps you relevant.

AM: Irrational human paranoia will never die.

See an exclusive extended clip from "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters' ...