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A Band Of 'Brothers' And A Barrel Of Laughs

The team behind the car-racing comedy Talladega Nights is taking another lap. Director Adam McKay and actors Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly talk about their new film, Step Brothers, and the laughs they had making it.

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Other segments from the episode on July 23, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 23, 2008: Interview with Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Adam McKay; Review of Silver Jew's "Lookout mountain, lookout sea;" Review of two books on China "The Last…

Transcript

DATE July 23, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Writer/director Adam McKay and stars John C. Reilly and
Will Ferrell on their new movie "Step Brothers"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The new movie "Step Brothers" is something of reunion for my guests Will
Ferrell, John C. Reilly and director/screenwriter Adam McKay. They
collaborated on the 2006 film "Talladega Nights." "Step Brothers" is about two
40-ish men who never fully matured. Neither of them have jobs and they still
live with their parents. Ferrell's character, Brennan, lives with his mom,
played by Mary Steenburgen, while Reilly's character, Dale, lives with his
dad, who's portrayed by Richard Jenkins. After their parents meet and decide
to get married, Brennan and Dale are forced to live under the same roof and
share a room. They start out hating each other. Dale makes fun of Brennan at
the dinner table. Brennan plays Dale's drums, even though it's forbidden.
Eventually their relationship comes to blows on the front yard in front of all
the neighbors. In this scene, they've just had the fight and are recovering
on the couch in front of the TV. Their father walks in, ready to turn it off.

(Soundbite of "Step Brothers")

(Soundbite of motor noises)

Mr. WILL FERRELL: (As Brennan) It's such power, it's such raw power.

Mr. JOHN C. REILLY: (As Dale) Dad, what are you doing? It's shark week.

Mr. RICHARD JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) OK, here's the deal. You have
one month to find jobs or you're out on your asses. I will arrange interviews
for Monday, and you will go!

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) Dad, why are you talking to me like this? I'm your
son.

Mr. JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) I'm not buying that crap anymore.

Ms. MARY STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) You yelled "rape" at the top of your
lungs.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) Mom, I honestly thought I was going to be raped
for a second. He had the craziest look in his eyes, and at one point he said,
`Let's get it on.'

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) That was about the fighting.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) See?

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) I'm so not a raper!

Mr. JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) All right, that's it! You two guys
leave me no choice. No television for a week!

Mr. REILLY and Mr. FERRELL: (As Dale and Brennan, in unison) What?

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) We are so serious.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) You're high!

Mr. REILLY: (As Dale) Are you out of your minds?

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) Goes in Robert's wall safe.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) Come on!

Ms. STEENBURGEN: (As Nancy Huff) And it's going to stay there.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) No!

Mr. JENKINS: (As Dr. Robert Doback) OK.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Brennan) This house is a prison!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay first met in the 1990s when they both
worked on "Saturday Night Live." They also worked together on the movie
"Anchorman." John C. Reilly's other films include "Boogie Nights," "Chicago"
and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Adam McKay, welcome to FRESH AIR. Do you know
a lot of parents with adult children who are still living at home?

Mr. FERRELL: I don't know if I do--this is Will speaking--but I do know a
lot of--I have a lot of friends who left the nest late in life, so that kind
of was more of our experience in terms of writing the script. In fact, I
myself moved back home after completing my university studies--I like to say
university studies--and lived at home for three years before I pursued acting
and comedy and that sort of thing. And I had another friend of mine who I
went to college with who actually got kicked out of his house--or was not
allowed to come back, and so he lived with me at my house as well. So I kind
of...

GROSS: Gee.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, it was a good deal for both of us.

GROSS: So how much of a script is there in a movie like "Step Brothers" when
you go into it, and how much of it is like more skeletal and you actually
improvise it as you're doing it?

Mr. ADAM McKAY: Believe it or not, we actually worked the script pretty
hard. We rewrite it eight, nine times, we do read throughs. And it's funny
because the goal is to make it feel like it's not a script by the time you're
done, but no, there is a script for our movies.

Mr. FERRELL: In fact, this one, it was such a kind of a--so freeing to write
scenes with, you know, just in kind of a contemporary setting that the first
rough draft came out at 180 pages, which, you know, would be how long? What
movie would that be?

Mr. McKAY: Be about a four-hour movie.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah. Three and a half hour movie, yeah.

Mr. FERRELL: So Adam and I kept writing these scenes, we're having so much
fun, and, you know, what would normally be a one and a half page, two page
scene would often be 10 pages. And we knew it was ridiculous, but we couldn't
help ourselves, so we had to kind of, you know, cut all that back.

GROSS: Adam McKay, when you're directing John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in
scenes, are there times when you have to almost like rein it in because like,
in addition to what you've all written, they're improvising, too, and laughing
at each other's jokes? I mean, are there times when you have to just kind of,
yeah, rein it in a little bit?

Mr. McKAY: Tell them to stop? No, actually, you know, we do kind of the
opposite. The idea is to always kind of be pushing to go further.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. McKAY: And try more stuff and...

GROSS: How do you do that?

Mr. McKAY: Well, on this movie, particularly because there weren't any race
cars, there weren't any green screens, there was none of that stuff going on,
it was all scenes with people talking. We did a ton of improv. So there were
a couple days where these guys would show up and just be like, `Come on. Let
me have one day where we just do the lines.' Because honestly, it's
exhausting, and these guys did so much improv. You know, it's just purely,
after three or four takes where you've done the written script to saying,
like, `Try this,' or `What if you did something with this?' Or, you know,
yelling at them off camera, `Is there anything else you want to try?' And then
while we're changing out the mags, maybe we'll talk and go, `You know what? I
think it should go in this direction.' And meanwhile on the page, it's
literally a one-line scene. It's just like, `Hey. I've got the envelope.'
And it ends up being two hours and, you know, you shoot just footage, you
know, tons of footage on and stuff. So yeah, mostly in this film we just were
pushing and pushing, going forward. You actually don't want them to stop, is
the goal.

GROSS: So what's the editing process like? You've shot all these improvs,
you're doing it different ways, and then you have to sit down and figure out,
so which is the funniest? Which are you going to use and how are you going to
piece it all together.

Mr. McKAY: This was by far the craziest post we had on any of the films
we've done. Our first cut was a five hour cut of the movie. There was so
much footage. It was brutal. It was like a lot of stuff. So you just go and
you start testing it, you put it up in front of audiences, you get a sense of
where it's kind of feeling right, where the story's kind of working. And, you
know, even though the story's pretty minimal, pretty simple in this film, it's
always that's what takes precedence. There's certain jokes that just fall out
because they don't work for the arc of the movie.

GROSS: In the clip that we just heard, it ends with one of you saying, "This
house is a prison." And I'm pretty sure I remember my brother saying that a
lot, my older brother when I was going up.

Mr. McKAY: Right.

GROSS: Do you remember saying that to your parents in anger?

Mr. FERRELL: Huh.

Mr. McKAY: I think I said "hell hole."

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: I don't think I said prison.

GROSS: What made you want to like bust out when you were a kid? Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: I have to say, if I'd said half the stuff that Dale and Brennan
say to their parents in this movie, I would have been beaten to a pulp. My
parents did not truck the kind of sass mouth that Dale and Brennan get away
with, I think just because they had to maintain control. With six kids, you
couldn't let any of them get too out of control or else it would be mayhem.

GROSS: Where were you in the pecking order?

Mr. REILLY: I'm fifth of six.

Mr. FERRELL: Hm.

GROSS: Fifth youngest.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah.

GROSS: So...

Mr. REILLY: I had one younger brother.

GROSS: One of the fun things about the film is how the adult kids' bedroom
looks, like the themed wallpaper.

Mr. FERRELL: Right.

GROSS: And cowboys on the lampshade, and there's like Wookie masks that they
have.

Mr. FERRELL: Yes.

GROSS: Can you each like describe what your bedroom was like when you were a
kid?

Mr. FERRELL: Well, I actually had bunk beds that were constructed by my
father, which was very impressive that my dad, who was this musician, could
also build these bunk beds. That being said, they were very rickety. And it
was, you know, that first kind of, you know, ideal of wanting to have bunk
beds and how cool it'd be is quickly lost when you're in the top bunk and you
have to crawl up every night. And I remember thinking, bunk beds aren't what
they're cracked up to be. This is a lot of work for not that much fun being
on the top bunk. But I think I had a Dodger poster above my bed.

Mr. McKAY: I had football cards. I had Los Angeles Rams football cards
stapled to the drywall of my room, just covering my room.

Mr. REILLY: Wow.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah, it was...

Mr. FERRELL: I had a Rams pillowcase.

Mr. McKAY: Did you?

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: We had--it was me and my three brothers all in the same room, so
we basically each got like a corner of the room, and it was like kind of a
barracks-type situation in there. And I had--remember those things called
Wacky Packs?

Mr. McKAY: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

Mr. REILLY: Fake packaging like little stickers? I stuck them directly onto
the painted walls.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: Next to my bed in the corner, and then eventually when my two
older brothers took over the play room and had their own room, me and my
younger brother got a trundle bed.

Mr. McKAY: Oh. A trundle.

Mr. REILLY: I desperately wanted a bunk bed, but my mom did not think they
were safe.

Mr. FERRELL: That was the compromise, the trundle.

Mr. REILLY: So we got the trundle.

Mr. FERRELL: Huh.

Mr. REILLY: Which I got the regular bed, my brother got the trundle. And
then there was a point where my mom wanted to sort of make the room special
for me and my little brother, and so we collaborated on what the room would be
decorated like, and we came up with like an African animal theme.

Mr. FERRELL: Wow.

Mr. REILLY: And the idea was this pretty cool...

Mr. FERRELL: Wow.

Mr. REILLY: ...like sepia and brown tone animal print wallpaper all over the
top, and then dark brown corkboard, which was in vogue in the '70s.

Mr. FERRELL: Whoa.

Mr. REILLY: Remember that really dark cork?

Mr. FERRELL: Sure.

Mr. REILLY: You could buy it in panels?

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Sounds beautiful.

Mr. REILLY: And that was going to be the bottom part, but then somehow we
just lost steam.

Mr. FERRELL: So that's it?

Mr. REILLY: So we got a couple panels of wallpaper, a few cork things and
the rest of it kind of this pale blue color.

Mr. McKAY: Still, though, that sounds great.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah, I mean, what I really wanted was a chimpanzee habitat for
my room.

Mr. FERRELL: Hm.

Mr. REILLY: And I used to tell my friends that my parents were going to get
that for me like, `Oh yeah, and we're going to get a chimp sometime in the
next six months. It's going to live with me.' My friends were like, `Really?'

Mr. FERRELL: It's a done deal. Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: `Aren't they like dangerous when they get older?' `Yeah, no, but
if you train then from baby.' I was so confident that I was getting a
chimpanzee, it was like...

Mr. FERRELL: How hold were you?

Mr. REILLY: I just taught myself that it was true. I convinced myself. I
was probably 12 or 13 at that point.

Mr. FERRELL: Wow.

Mr. REILLY: Really wanted a chimp.

GROSS: What were some of the things that you had or that you wanted to have
that you thought were really cool, and looking back are just like hopelessly
dated?

Mr. REILLY: Besides a chimp?

GROSS: Chimps never date. Chimps are eternal.

Mr. REILLY: I wanted Jimmie Walker Dyn-o-mite cap.

Mr. FERRELL: Oh.

Mr. McKAY: Oh.

Mr. REILLY: I wanted one of those newsboy kind of caps.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: I collect hats now, I think, as a result of not getting...

GROSS: Do you really?

Mr. REILLY: ...hats when I was a kid. I really wanted hats, and it was an
unnecessary luxury, I think, in my parents' mind.

Mr. McKAY: I remember wanting the Hogan's Heroes hats that they would always
play over the credits. They would always have the German hat and the Allied
hat. And really being focused on that, talking my dad, `How can I get those
hats?'

Mr. REILLY: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: And he would just say, `Box tops.' And I never knew what that
meant. It took me 20 years to realize he was being sarcastic.

Mr. REILLY: The German hat with the spike on top of it, that's like the holy
grail of hats for kids.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah. Yeah, I wanted that badly.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah.

Mr. FERRELL: I had a beer bottle collection that was really extensive, at
least in my mind, but it's probably--when I think back, it was on the ledge of
my bathroom. So it was like literally maybe 30 beer bottles. But I thought
it looked--and I was very fastidious. I dusted them. I rotated them. Made
sure all the labels were facing out. And then finally something just clicked
and then I was like, `Who cares about these stupid beer bottles?' And I just
threw them all out.

Mr. McKAY: They became trash.

Mr. FERRELL: They became trash.

Mr. McKAY: Your fine collection.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

GROSS: When you were making "Step Brothers," did you go back and watch any of
the films about like, you know, kids and divorce and re-marriage and step
parents and stuff like from "The Parent Trap" and, you know, "The Brady
Bunch"? What are the other ones like that, like recombined families?

Mr. McKAY: "Kramer vs. Kramer."

Mr. REILLY: "Apocalypse Now."

Mr. McKAY: "Apocalypse Now."

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. McKAY: We watched "Apocalypse Now" about 10 times.

Mr. FERRELL: It really didn't help us.

Mr. McKAY: No.

Mr. FERRELL: But we love that movie.

Mr. McKAY: Oh, boy. Get you. That was one of the ideas of the film was
that it was going to have a feeling of like a demented 1960s Disney movie.

GROSS: Like "The Parent Trap."

Mr. McKAY: Exactly.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: "Parent Trap" was a huge source for this. And then when our
composer Jon Brion came in, that was his intent as well, was to give it that
kind of warped old Disney kind of feel to it. So, yeah, those were definitely
an inspiration.

GROSS: Did you know going into the film that there had to be one really kind
of funny, incredibly inappropriate kind of gross moment?

Mr. McKAY: You know, we did not set out to do that. Sadly, it happened
organically, which does not speak well for us. But, yeah, it was mainly the
drum set, which was a big kind of centerpiece of the movie. It came from
John's stories about his brothers' drum set, and we just knew that fight had
to escalate to absolutely absurd proportions and had to go way further than
anything we've done with that. And that's sort of how it came out.

GROSS: So, John, tell us a real drum story from your childhood. Because,
well, just to set it up, in "Step Brothers," Will Ferrell's character moves
with his mother into the home that John C. Reilly and his father have been
living in after their parents marry. And John C. Reilly's character has a
drum set and warns Will Ferrell's character, `Don't touch it. Don't touch the
sticks, don't touch the drums,' and, of course, Will Ferrell can't resist.

Mr. REILLY: The funny thing about the whole setup with the drum set was that
a lot of the conflict in the movie that happens between my character and
Will's character could have been avoided if my character had just said he can
have that extra room where I keep my drums, and I'll move my drum set into my
bedroom.

Mr. FERRELL: So we could have, yeah, separate rooms.

Mr. REILLY: But, no, he takes a strong position at the beginning, `That is
my beat laboratory, and I'm not sharing that room. I'm drawing a line in the
sand,' so we're forced to be in the same bedroom then as a result. But, yeah,
growing up, my brother played the drums and was very particular about the drum
set. You know, I've discovered a lot of drummers are actually very particular
about their drum set because there's a lot of things that can move out of
position, and once you find like your perfect sweet spot where you like the
drums set up and everything, you really don't want people messing with it.
But, of course, I, like Will's character in the movie, as soon as my brother
left the house, I was drawn to it like a siren song. I would go down there
and put on the headphones and do like Will does and pretend I was in The Who.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: And, you know, slam away on the drums. And luckily, I was never
caught by my brother. But he still has a drum set in his basement to this
day.

Mr. FERRELL: OK.

Mr. REILLY: He's a grown man with a family now. He's very good, too. We
had a band when I was a kid called Shark Fighter.

Mr. McKAY: Oh.

Mr. REILLY: And I was the lead singer and...

Mr. FERRELL: Oh my God.

Mr. REILLY: ...a neighbor played electric guitar, and my brother played the
drums.

Mr. McKAY: Was it like jazz fusion? What kind of...

Mr. REILLY: No.

Mr. McKAY: No?

Mr. REILLY: A lot of AC/DC, Rolling Stones.

Mr. FERRELL: Oh. Huh.

Mr. REILLY: Yeah. And one original song called "South Side Boy."

GROSS: Did you write it?

Mr. REILLY: I co-wrote it.

GROSS: OK. OK.

Mr. REILLY: With Brian Rafferty.

GROSS: Let's hear it. Let's hear it.

Mr. REILLY: Wow.

Mr. McKAY: Can you recall "South Side Boy"?

Mr. REILLY: Yeah. (Singing) He was a south side boy. He was a south side
boy. South side boy, soon to become a man. (Spoken) It was all about--had
these allusions to being a gambler at the table. And he knew he had the cards
in his hand, and when he laid them down, he's soon to become a man.

GROSS: Story of your life.

Mr. REILLY: It was kind of a rollicking, barrel-house blues number.

Mr. FERRELL: That's pretty good.

Mr. REILLY: It really isn't.

Mr. FERRELL: Shark Fighter. Shark Fighter. I would pay money to see Shark
Fighter.

Mr. McKAY: I definitely would.

Mr. REILLY: I think I'm going to have to resuscitate Shark Fighter.

GROSS: My guests are John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell and director/screenwriter
Adam McKay. We'll talk more about making their new film "Step Brothers" after
a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the new movie "Step
Brothers," with the film's two stars, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, and
the co-writer and director of the film, Adam McKay.

There's a lot of like times when the kids get punished in the film, when the
two stepbrothers get punished by their parents who have just married each
other. And so I guess I was wondering, what were the worst punishments from
parents that you faced as children or the worst or more controversial you've
administered as parents?

Mr. FERRELL: Well, I know the worst, most dramatic punishment I ever
received was--I was a huge "Partridge Family" fan. I loved the "Partridge
Family" show, and I stayed out a little too late in the summertime playing,
you know, baseball in the front yard or whatever, and I was supposed to be in
by a certain time. And my mom showed up and I knew I was busted. So we
walked back to our apartment, and she said, `Here's your choice: spanking or
you miss "The Partridge Family" show.' So I took the spanking, because I knew
I would not miss "The Partridge Family." So I watched "The Partridge Family"
with tears streaming down my face. And she's like, `Really, you want to take
the spanking over?' I'm like, `I'll take it. I'll take the spanking.' And
that was a monumental moment.

Mr. McKAY: I had a similar thing. I had, `Give up one or your G.I. Joes or
take a spanking.' And my dad said, `I'll give you time to decide.' And there
was like a good two, three hours with this kind of "Sophie's Choice"-type
situation happening. And I did the exact same thing. I said I'll take the
spanking. And I took it, and the same thing, too, went and played with the
G.I. Joes with tears in my eyes.

GROSS: Your parents hit hard, huh?

Mr. REILLY: Decisive moment.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: We used to have the specter of my dad coming home from work,
`Wait until your father gets home.'

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: Those were the dreaded words my mom would say. Then eventually
we realized if you just stay away from the house at the hour that my dad gets
home...

Mr. FERRELL: You're good.

Mr. REILLY: And you wait until he falls asleep in front of the TV while he's
eating his dinner, then you're kind of good.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: You miss the punishment hour, and then my mom caught wise to
that, and she--you remember those toys, giant tinker toys?

Mr. FERRELL: Oh, yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Sure.

Mr. REILLY: These enormous plastic tinker toys for building things?

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: My mom would wield the big green one, and you knew you were in
trouble when she came at you with the big green tinker toy. And, yeah, but I
was always faster than my mom, so I escaped most corporal punishment. But
kids, I just have to say, like having kids now, I can't imagine hitting them.
It just seems like completely insane to teach kids not to be violent by being
violent. So.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: It's crazy that it was so accepted when we were little. Like, my
mom had the hairbrush. Like spanking, I remember like a good friend of mine's
dad...

Mr. FERRELL: Spanking was pretty common, yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Spanking. I went to visit a friend, and his dad spanked me. And
then later my parents were like, `Thank you for doing that, Jim.'

Mr. FERRELL: Thank you. Yeah. No problem. And now you would never think
of that ever.

Mr. McKAY: Oh my God, you would literally go to jail...

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: ...if like a friend of yours' kid was over.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: And you spanked them.

GROSS: So how do you punish your kids now?

Mr. FERRELL: I'm not good. I just give them candy. I pay them less money
when they do something wrong. No, I mean, the power of the, `You got to go to
your room and hang out alone and calm down.'

Mr. McKAY: No cartoons is a big one.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: No cartoons works a lot. I have a three-year-old and an
eight-year-old, and the three-year-old, forget it, it's all about the
cartoons. She'll do anything if I say no cartoons. Because, you know, she's
at that age. She's running around naked, you know, eating weird foods. I'm
like, you know, `Pearl, you have to stop.' `I want to, daddy.' `No cartoons.'
Instantly puts the clothes on and sits down.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: And Lily Rose, dessert is another big one. No cartoons, no
dessert works a lot. And then time-out's very effective.

GROSS: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Adam McKay will be back in the
second half of the show. Adam McKay directed Reilly and Ferrell in the new
film "Step Brothers." It opens Friday. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH
AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Will Ferrell and John C.
Reilly, the stars of the new film "Step Brothers," and Adam McKay, the film's
director and co-writer. They also collaborated on the 2006 film "Talladega
Nights." McKay and Ferrell first worked together on "Saturday Night Live" and
went on to make the film "Anchorman."

In "Step Brothers" Ferrell and Reilly play two unemployed guys who still
behave like children and live at home, Reilly with his father, Ferrell with
his mother. When their parents marry, Reilly and Ferrell become stepbrothers
and have to share a bedroom.

For anyone who's seen the poster, the ad for the film, then you will have seen
John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell in character in a classic pose. This is like
a classic pose of the kids, of the two brothers to put, you know, on the wall
in the living room.

Mr. REILLY: Right.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

GROSS: And the pose--do you want to describe the pose, one of you?

Mr. FERRELL: It's basically your Sears family style portrait...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. FERRELL: ...which is where we got the idea when we were--when we had the
day we were going to shoot the poster, we said, you know, let's get--can we
get some of those backings you would find at any sort of, you know,
photography studio and some of those carpeted boxes where you put your hands
on, platforms...

Mr. REILLY: Yeah. The fake log.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, an autumnal backdrop and things like that. And so, yeah,
it's John and I looking very angelic in sweater vests.

Mr. REILLY: In matching, but not identical outfits.

Mr. FERRELL: Right.

GROSS: And it's--just to describe it a little more, John C. Reilly, you're
seated, right?

Mr. REILLY: Right.

GROSS: And Will Ferrell is standing behind you, his hands are on your
shoulder.

Mr. REILLY: Right.

GROSS: And you're both kind of like gazing upwards with this like posed smile
on your face.

Mr. REILLY: Staring off into some wonderful future, yeah.

Mr. FERRELL: Yes.

GROSS: And there's one of those like blue swirl backdrops that you have in
like photography studios.

Mr. FERRELL: I remember, that was a huge--every year my brother and I would
go to Ellen Bach Photography for our portraits together.

GROSS: Yeah. Right.

Mr. FERRELL: And one year we gave--without my mom knowing we gave her a
Mother's Day gift where we went by ourselves and wore our matching jean
jackets with the collars turned up.

Mr. McKAY: Aw, that's fantastic.

Mr. FERRELL: And we did a tough guy pose. We did a tough guy photo.

Mr. McKAY: Oh my God.

Mr. FERRELL: And gave it to her.

Mr. McKAY: Wow.

Mr. FERRELL: Where we stared right at the camera really mean looking.

GROSS: Can I put you on the spot a little bit and ask you each to choose a
favorite moment from a film that one of the other guys has made? So if you
can each choose a favorite moment from a film that one of your partners on
this film is in.

Mr. FERRELL: Hm. Well, for me, Will Ferrell, one of my favorite moments of
John is his rendition of "Cellophane Man" in "Chicago," which I think that's
one of those moments in film where you're like `Oh, wow, this guy can do that
too? That's incredible.' And that's a very, very touching emotional
performance, as well as the guy's got pipes. Let's just face it. And I think
I literally stood up in the theater and said to my fellow, you know,
theater-goers, `This guy's got pipes.' And everyone said, `Be quiet, sit back
down.'

Mr. McKAY: Yeah, I remember that. Yeah, yeah. You said, `It's called
chops, folks.'

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: `And he's got them.'

Mr. FERRELL: But that's one for me.

Mr. REILLY: I was actually going to choose the same one. We're just
supposed to pick our favorite characters from movies, was that it?

Mr. McKAY: No, it's supposed to be about each other.

Mr. REILLY: Oh, OK.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, about each other.

Mr. REILLY: About each other? This is going to sound totally random,
because there are so many things in "Anchorman" that I love, but for some
reason--and this speaks to Will's ability to make the simplest thing funny by
putting just that certain stank on it--which is, in "Anchorman" when they're
walking through the park and they're having snacks, like having hot dogs and
sodas and stuff and then they just, without blinking, just throw the garbage
on the ground and keep walking. I know that sounds random, but for some
reason that sticks in my mind. I mean, Will, there's just so much.

GROSS: And Adam McKay, you choose a favorite moment.

Mr. McKAY: Why don't I do, I'll do it from another director and then you can
later get the director to say something about my films. So I'll do Martin
Scorsese and I'll say in "Mean Streets," "In the End," "The Opposites"
playing.

GROSS: No, no. That's not in the rules. You've got to do somebody in the
room.

Mr. McKAY: Oh, oh, oh, OK. I thought you could get Martin Scorsese to say
`well, I loved in "Talladega Nights..."'

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, that will never happen.

Mr. McKAY: I would say--I was going to say, Reilly, your moment in "Boogie
Nights" where you're arguing with the sound studio guy about the tapes that
you've made.

Mr. REILLY: Right.

Mr. McKAY: And he's trying to tell you you owe him $20,000 and you're trying
to explain if you don't have the tapes you can't go to the record company and
get the money to pay him.

Mr. REILLY: That was improvised, yeah.

Mr. McKAY: So one of the funniest moments I've ever seen in film. And I
would say, for Mr. Ferrell, I would have to go, you know, it's not really a
scene, but I would say I enjoyed quite a bit the "Stranger Than Fiction"
performance. For me, having done many silly comedies with Mr. Ferrell, I
was--I really enjoyed that. I was kind of blown away by it. So I'm not
saying a specific moment on that.

GROSS: Now, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, you first met on "Saturday Night Live,"
right?

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, exactly. We were hired for the '95, '96 season with
pretty much an entire, a brand-new writing staff and, you know, eight new cast
members. And we--I don't know, we didn't really connect right away.

Mr. REILLY: Was there a singular moment when you both went like, `Wait, he's
a weird-o like me?'

Mr. FERRELL: No. I was really shy when we were first all getting together
so they all thought I was like kind of a semi-good looking straight man? I
don't know.

Mr. McKAY: We thought he was the straight man. We literally were like,
`What's that guys deal? He must be the straight man.' And we thought well, I
guess they probably think casts need that, all right, he seems like a nice
enough guy. And then the first read through every sketch Will did was like
just high heat, strange, twisted, specific characters and we all walked out
with our like jaws dropping. But that wasn't even the moment we connected.
It was from hanging out in the office and doing bits was really it.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. McKAY: We were all from Second City and we would improvise like crazy in
a really obnoxious way, always doing bits. And Ferrell was right with it.

GROSS: What's the first sketch you did together that got on the air?

Mr. McKAY: God, was it Neil Diamond?

Mr. FERRELL: I don't...

Mr. McKAY: No, no. That was our second season.

Mr. FERRELL: I don't know what the first thing we wrote. I mean, the
first--one of the first sketches that Adam wrote that was kind of a big
impressionable one was this sketch called "Wake Up and Smile," which was like
a morning talk show, like a regional, you know, Regis and Kelly type of thing
where the teleprompter stops and the two anchors basically don't know how to
communicate, and the entire show just melts down and turns into kind of a
"Lord of the Flies" situation.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. McKAY: You end up, I think, tearing the head off of your co-host.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. No, David Alan Grier was the host. He was the
weatherman and then we get in a fight and I rip his head off.

Mr. McKAY: You form the Order of the Hand.

Mr. FERRELL: Order of the Hand.

Mr. REILLY: It goes downhill fast.

Mr. FERRELL: It went downhill really fast.

Mr. McKAY: Civilization melted away within minutes.

Mr. FERRELL: And then the teleprompter comes back up and we're like, `Oh,
we'll be back in a minute.' We just snap back into being newscasters. But
that was one of the ones, you know, where a lot of people kind of saw Adam's
style. And I think I was like suited to delivering that.

GROSS: My guests are Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and director/screenwriter
Adam McKay. Their new film "Step Brothers" opens Friday. We'll talk more
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guests are Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, the stars of the new
film "Step Brothers," and Adam McKay, who directed and co-wrote the film.
They previously collaborated on the 2006 film "Talladega Nights." Here's a
scene from "Talladega Nights." Ferrell plays a champion race car driver. He's
just been fired from his racing team. When he gets home he finds his wife
with his best friend, played by Reilly.

(Soundbite from "Talladega Nights")

Mr. REILLY: (As Cal Naughton Jr.) We're getting married, Ricky. And we're
getting matching leprechaun tattoos.

Ms. LESLIE BIBB: (As Carley Bobby) Isn't that cute? With a little pot of
gold.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky Bobby) Is this some kind of joke? You guys putting
me on?

Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) We just came up with a new nickname.

Ms. BIBB: (As Carley) I love it. It's so good. It's so good.

Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) I got a new nickname, "The Magic Man." Now you see
me...

Mr. REILLY and Ms. BIBB: (As Cal and Carley, in unison) ...now you don't.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) That is the stupidest nickname I've ever heard.

Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) Is it, Ricky? Because I think you wish you thought of
it.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) All right, you got me. That's an awesome nickname.

Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) Watch the mail for that invitation to the wedding
because I want you there.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) What?

Ms. BIBB: (As Carley) Baby, he's not going to come to the wedding.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Ricky) God, do you realize the implications of your actions
right now?

Mr. REILLY: (As Cal) What's implication mean?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: John C. Reilly, how did you meet Adam McKay and Will Ferrell? Was it
through "Talladega Nights" or before that?

Mr. REILLY: I met Will through Molly Shannon. She and I had done a movie
together and I was visiting in New York and she was on the show still. And we
hit it off right away, I have to say.

And then, like I said, I had noticed Adam's material before I'd met him. And
I think you invited me to do a short film once on the show, but I couldn't
come to New York.

Mr. McKAY: That's right, yeah.

Mr. REILLY: And then these guys were hoping to have me do "Anchorman," which
I had done a table reading for, but then I got another job and couldn't make
the schedule work. So I was heartbroken. I thought, well, that's that, you
know, who knows if they'll let those weirdos make another movie. Because,
really, "Anchorman" when you read the script, was like insane. I was like,
you know, either everyone's going to love it or it's going...

Mr. FERRELL: Or it's, yeah...

Mr. REILLY: ...to be this amazing thing that they got away with.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: And then luckily it was embraced by like minds all over the
world. And then they came back when they had written "Talladega Nights" and
said, you know, `Do you want to do it this time?' And it's funny, at the time
I was just starting to get away from dramatic stuff. And actually I'd just
finished doing "Streetcar Named Desire" on Broadway, playing Stanley. And it
was a really brutal, brutal play to go through for a lot of reasons. But just
feeling like, I just needed a change from that. And then these guys just
magically called. I think I did "Prairie Home Companion" first and then went
and did "Talladega" with these guys in the fall.

But I don't know, people--this wasn't your question, but people ask me a lot
about, you know, `Well, you were this serious actor and now you're doing
comedy, like what's that all about, like why are you doing that?' And for the
most part it's really just fielding opportunities and just taking the chances
that you're given as an actor and always just trying to change it up. But on
another, deeper level I honestly think it has to do with my perception of the
world, like the world seems to be going crazy right now. And comedy just
seems like to make sense somehow.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. REILLY: To me, anyway, like well, the world has gone mad so I want to do
some material that reflects madness, you know.

Mr. McKAY: It's funny, people always say like oh, you're doing a movie about
two guys who won't grow up, like, oh, that's so silly and crazy. And it's
like, literally, our president wears a cowboy hat, like born in Connecticut,
you know, he has a fake Texas accident and pretends to be a cowboy. Like what
is more insane than that?

GROSS: Back in the "Saturday Night Live" era, the era when Will Ferrell and
Adam McKay were on "Saturday Night Live" is specifically what I'm saying, Will
Ferrell, you did a lot of impressions of Bush the candidate...

Mr. FERRELL: Right.

GROSS: ...in 2000, and Adam, did you write those sketches?

Mr. McKAY: You know, we had several writers writing a lot of the political
stuff. But yeah, I had written a couple pretty big ones with Will, and we had
another guy Andrew Steele wrote some great ones, Dennis
McNicholas...(unintelligible)...Shannon.

Mr. FERRELL: Jim Downey.

Mr. McKAY: Jim Downey. We actually wrote a sketch right after he was
elected...

Mr. FERRELL: That's true.

Mr. McKAY: ...where Dick Cheney came out and said, you know, `Now a message
from the president of the United States' and it was Dick Cheney. And he was
telling everyone, `If you make less than $250,000, turn the channel right now
because this doesn't apply to you.' And then he would go on and then he would
say, `If you make less than $10 million turn the channel, what I'm about to
say doesn't apply to you,' until finally it was a billion dollars. And he
literally said, `Put all your money in defense stocks, we're going to start a
lot of wars. Oh my God, we're going to make a fortune off oil.' We wrote the
most absurd things for him. And I looked at the sketch about a year ago, and
it's all completely accurate. And Will comes in as George Bush and he's found
a stray dog in the parking lot and he's asking Cheney if he can keep him. And
then he leaves and Cheney goes on to talk about how, you know, `at this point
if you make less than a million dollars a year, turn the channel. Let's talk
about how we're going to rip this country off.' And sadly it had...

Mr. FERRELL: All came true, yeah.

Mr. McKAY: ...it plays completely dry now, the piece.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah.

Mr. McKAY: Whereas at the time, it was slightly absurd.

GROSS: So do the three of you have another project you're going to work on
together?

Mr. FERRELL: Not...

Mr. REILLY: Not apparently.

Mr. FERRELL: ...as of yet. But we do have a good time and share the same
comedic tastes, so, Terry, if you have any ideas, throw them our way.

GROSS: Oh, you know I'll have a lot of funny ideas for you. That's my thing.

Mr. McKAY: I personally think these guys should do like nine more movies
together, like I miss comedy teams. And it's like, for some reason people
look at it as like, ah, they're just doing the same stuff together. I'm like,
yeah, why is that bad?

Mr. REILLY: We were talking about a sequel for "Step Brothers" the other day
where the two guys, Dale and Brennan, adopt childrens and they attempt to
raise them as two fathers.

GROSS: Very funny.

Mr. FERRELL: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: It's been great to talk with you all. Thank you so much for doing
this interview.

Mr. REILLY: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

Mr. McKAY: It's a pleasure, Terry. Thank you.

Mr. FERRELL: Thanks so much, Terry.

GROSS: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly star in the new film "Step Brothers."
Adam McKay directed and co-wrote the film. It opens Friday.

You can download podcasts of our interviews on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ken Tucker on the new CD "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea"
by Silver Jews
TERRY GROSS, host:

Our rock music critic, Ken Tucker, has a review of the new CD by the band
Silver Jews, led by singer/songwriter and poet David Berman. It's been around
with varying members since 1990, when it was formed in Hoboken, New Jersey.
The sole constant has been Berman. Ken says the band's new album "Lookout
Mountain, Lookout Sea," which was recorded in Nashville, is sort of country
rock, sort of art rock and sort of terrific.

(Soundbite of "My Pillow Is the Threshold")

Mr. DAVID BERMAN: (Singing) I take decaf coffee
Two sugars and one cream
I don't see the use in staying up just to watch TV

I unplug all the neon
Turn the ringer off the phone
Throw my thoughts like tomahawks
Into this world which I disown

Because the pillow that I dream on
Is the threshold of a kingdom
Is the threshold of a world where I'm with you

It's a dark and snowy secret

(End of soundbite)

Mr. KEN TUCKER: David Berman is a singer in the same sense that Kris
Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen or Allen Ginsberg is a singer, vocalizing in a
flat, nasal monotone, speaking his lyrics as much as singing them. Berman
isn't "American Idol"'s idea of a star, and all the more reason to like him
for that. But a flat voice and poetic imagery can get you either neglected or
as overrated as Kristofferson or Nick Cave. Berman navigates a sort of cozy
middle ground.

(Soundbite of "Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer")

Mr. BERMAN: (Singing) Aloysius was a bluegrass drummer
He was just a normal kid
Blooming, tripping, flowing under
Just as I once did

At a 24-hour restaurant
Open to the end of time
He was washing dishes there
When he met Brick Butterfly

She was a no age singer for a country act
Working at a region ten
She was all strung out on hard street fat
But he didn't know it then

First a look then a spark
Sound of Velcro in the dark
His heart is spinning like a bicycle wheel
She and he laid the stems down flat
In the middle of a field

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: A number of compositions on "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea" are
big, detailed story songs, such as that one, called "Aloysius, Bluegrass
Drummer," about the title character's raucous involvement with a tough
customer of a woman named Brick Butterfly.

David Berman carries both his poetic and country music influences lightly,
quoting a phrase from Emily Dickinson in that song as casually as he does one
from Roger Miller, the great songwriter of "King of the Road." On other songs
Berman, a published poet whose 1999 collection "Actual Air" I recommend,
deploys his wordplay with poignant sincerity.

(Soundbite of "Suffering Jukebox")

Mr. BERMAN: (Singing) Cranes on the downtown skyline
Is a sight to see for some
It ought to make a few reputation
In the cult of number one

While these seconds turn these minutes
Into hours of the day
While these doubles drive the dollars
And the light of day away

Ms. CASSIE BERMAN: (Singing) Suffering jukebox
Such a sad machine
You're all filled up with what other people mean
And they never seem to turn you up loud
Got a lot of chatterboxes in this crowd

Suffering jukebox

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: Berman's wife, Cassie, who also plays bass, provides the right
vocal notes of plaintiveness on "Suffering Jukebox," a deceptively simple
song. It has the brilliant notion of assigning human feelings to an old
jukebox filled with sad country songs. Rarely has this use of the pathetic
fallacy in pop music been more precisely pleasurable. And I like the way
Berman turns a neat pun about the jukebox, quote, "breaking down."

By contrast, Berman also has a fondness for the most elemental simplicity.

(Soundbite of "Open Field")

Mr. BERMAN: (Singing) Open field with a window
Open field with a window
Open field with no child
Open field with no child

Open field

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Open field

Mr. BERMAN: (Singing) Open field

Woman: (Singing) Open field

Mr. BERMAN: (Singing) Open field with a window
Open field with no child

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: No, poetry fans, that song, called "Open Field," is not, as I
first assumed, some sort of Berman-esque homage to the poet Charles Olson's
so-called open field composition methods. It's an adaptation of some lyrics
by an obscure to me Japanese musician and artist. But one thing "Open Field"
and Berman's own songs on this album suggest is the elusive notion that anyone
could make music as simple and forthright as this. Berman emphasizes this
idea by including drawings of the chords he used to create this music, adding
the note, `anyone can play these songs.' No, David, not anyone, only some
Silver Jews.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
Silver Jews' new CD "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea."

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews two books about China, where the Olympics
will soon be under way. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Maureen Corrigan on two new books about China: "The Last
Days of Old Beijing" by Michael Meyer and "Serve the People" by
Jen Lin-Liu
TERRY GROSS, host:

The Summer Olympics in Beijing begin soon, and book critic Maureen Corrigan
says she's been deluged lately with new books about China. She's picked out
two debut books by young writers that mix personal history and social
commentary. They are "The Last Days of Old Beijing" by Michael Meyer and
"Serve the People" by Jen Lin-Liu. Here's her review.

Ms. MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Nine years ago I was standing outside an airport
terminal in Beijing, holding my new baby daughter and saying a tearful goodbye
to the Chinese woman who worked as a liaison for our adoption agency in China.
In the midst of our farewells, this woman pointed over my shoulder and said,
`look.' There on the green verge of the busy airport roadway, an old man was
herding sheep. She smiled at the sight and said, `That is China.'

If I'd been less preoccupied with my own seismic life changes back then, I
might have paid more attention to how China's speedy efforts to modernize were
pushing relics of traditional life to the sidelines, like that shepherd at the
airport. As Michael Meyer tells us in his just-published substantive and
smart book "The Last Days of Old Beijing," the slogan Chinese officials
conjured up to headline their winning bid to host the Olympics was New
Beijing, New Olympics.

It's a slogan that's boded well for Wal-Marts and high-rise developments with
wacky, Westernized names like Merlin Champagne Town and Dating Bright
California. But China's massive makeover urge has spelled curtains for local
food stalls, sidewalk barbers and the historic courtyard neighborhoods in
Beijing known as hutongs. Hutongs, Meyer tells readers, are single-story
homes built out of wood and earthen brick around an open courtyard. Narrow
lanes run outside the walls of the crowded hutongs, which for centuries
composed most of the housing in Beijing.

Meyer knows the ins and outs of hutong history because he's one of the few
Westerners to have ever lived in one. A resident of China for over 10 years,
Meyer moved into one of the last remaining hutong neighborhoods in Beijing
when he began teaching English at a local grammar school. As Meyer describes
it, hutong living is not for loners. He recalls being greeted by male
neighbors and students as he performed his morning squat at the community
toilet. Nor during his residency was hutong living suited for those with a
low panic threshold. Many mornings Meyer's neighbors awakened to see the
Chinese character for the word `raze' or `destroy' painted on their houses,
regarded by the government as eyesores. As one architect Meyer interviews
tells him, China doesn't harbor a fondness for ancient buildings because
they're seen as reminders of one pre-liberation period, feudalism.

If Meyer uses the shaky perch of his hutong home to widely survey all manner
of rapid-fire transformation in Beijing, Jen Lin-Liu uses a cleaver and
chopsticks to probe China's changing character. In her entertaining and
offbeat book "Serve the People," Lin-Liu, a young Chinese-American food writer
living in Beijing, decides to enroll in a vocational cooking school in order
to extend her reach beyond her closed friendship circle of Western expats and
cosmopolitan Chinese. Lin-Liu's upper-middle-class parents back in the states
are dismayed, but her odd move turns out to yield not only a rich
inside-the-wok knowledge of Chinese cuisine, but also of the lives of
everyone, from the migrant kitchen workers to the new generation of celebrity
chefs, who make it. Through persistence and her newfound knife-wielding
skills, Lin-Liu goes on to get jobs at a local noodle stall and in the kitchen
of a new, chichi restaurant.

Gradually, in the culinary atmosphere of steam and sweat, some of her fellow
cooks open up to her. Lin-Liu recalls how, during a private session of
dumpling making, a teacher at the cooking school described her life during the
cultural revolution as well as the current inequities of China's health care.
As Lin-Liu says of these unusually forthright conversations, "They brought out
the mild paranoia that always floated just under the surface of life in
authoritarian China, even if it was an authoritarian state in reform. It kept
you from talking about anything sensitive. It kept you in your place."

But both of these insider books about China, as seen from home and cooking
hearth, suggest that the sense of being kept in one's place seems, for better
and worse, to be disappearing, almost as rapidly as the dumplings and smoked
duck that Lin-Liu makes with friends to welcome in the new year.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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