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Will Ferrell transcends language barriers but not an absent plot in Casa de mi Padre

By Johanna Ohm     3/29/12 7:00pm

Spanish telenovela meets slapstick comedy in Will Ferrell's (The Other Guys) latest film, Casa de mi Padre. The movie, which debuted in theaters March 16, is Ferrell's first Spanish and first subtitled film.

Ferrell plays the role of Armando Alvarez, the son of an aging Mexican rancher. Armando is constantly degraded by his father and his family for the way he speaks and his less-than-average intelligence. When Armando's older brother Raul (Diego Luna, Contraband) returns home to the ranch, he is welcomed with open arms. His father sees Raul's return as a hopeful promise to save the homestead from financial difficulties and drug lords.

Armando soon proves that he is smarter than his family believes. He quickly ascertains that Raul is involved in drug trafficking and is contributing to the ranch's current troubles. Armando, however, falls in love with Raul's attractive fiancee, Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez, Man on a Ledge). When Sonia turns out to be the niece of one of the most feared drug lords in Mexico, Armando finds himself cornered by the American border patrol to try to track down both his brother Raul and other agents in drug trafficking.

With overdramatic violence, the sappy histories of each character's past unravel in every scene. The film is a parody of the Latin telenovela genre with its blatantly fake scenery and over-the-top drama. The film should appeal to fans of Ferrell, as he maintains his reputation as a star in the "stupid-funny" genre.

As expected, the film lacks in depth and is enjoyed more for its extreme terribleness than its content or plot. The punch lines of the constant stream of jokes provide more small smiles than they do belly-deep laughs, and the trivialization of violence is done in a way that may make some audience members uncomfortable. However, the film does succeed in its ability to provide self-deprecating humor and its knowledge that the special effects and scenery are intentionally and successfully awful.

The Rice Thresher was granted the opportunity to participate in a conference call with Ferrell. The following contains parts of a conversation between Ferrell (F) and the student interviewers (I).

I: You are the "King of Improv." Were you able to use improv as much in this movie, being that it was in Spanish?

F: Not so much; it was a little difficult. The main challenge for me since I'm not fluent in Spanish was that I didn't want the joke of this movie to be that I spoke Spanish poorly. I was really focused on having as good of pronunciation as I possibly could. And then, of course, memorizing in a foreign language is another aspect as well. It drastically reduces moments for verbal improvisation.

I: Is it harder to come across as funny when you are speaking a completely different language? How did you [become more aware of your acting tendencies or change your approach to role-playing] when you were reading lines from the script?

F: We wrote the script in English first, and then it was translated. So I always had an exact understanding of what I was saying. The whole telenovela style and genre is so over-the-top that it's easy to mimic and put yourself in that kind of zone. As different as it was to begin, I just knew that the more dramatic that I could be and the more serious I could be, the more funny it would be, the fact that I was speaking in Spanish.

I: I know that you thought that a Spanish-language comedy would be funny, but I have to know, are you a fan and constant viewer of telenovelas?

F: I wouldn't say I'm a huge fan. I only watch it every weekday from 11 in the morning until four in the afternoon. So I'm not like a crazy person about it. I keep getting asked "What are your favorite telenovelas?" and sheepishly I have to say that I really don't know any of them.

 I actually got the idea from doing something we all do - just flipping through the channels, and you stop for a second and say "What's going on here? What is this show? Oh, it's a Spanish soap opera, and that's pretty intriguing." That's where I got the idea from.

I: What's your thought process when you try to choose a movie?

F: If you are able to have a choice in movies, I think that the question is asked very loosely of actors, "Why do you choose this role?" For most actors, their answer is, "Well, because I had to pay my car payment," you know? But I think if you have some flexibility - I always try to keep people guessing and mix things up a bit.

I: With this being your first Spanish film, do you see this as an experience that you would want to repeat? Would you want to do another movie that has more international or broader cultural appeal?

F: It would be hysterical to me if this movie became a little cult hit and we could make a sequel or even a series of them. That would be really fun, but you know, there are a billion Chinese; maybe I got to do something Chinese.

I: There were a lot of ridiculous [overdramatic] scenes in the movies. What was your favorite scene to shoot?

F: One that makes me laugh so hard is when we go to the Pond of the Seven Tears, and we're on that ridiculous set that looks terrible and Genesis' line is that it's the most beautiful lake she's ever seen. I just love that scene - that we're having this romantic talk - and the pond is just this little pond. That scene was definitely one of the more [enjoyable scenes to shoot], and then, of course, any time you can talk to a gigantic white panther, that is also always a plus.

I: This movie is obviously very different - for instance, the language - from other films you've done. How do you think your fans, the hard-core Will Ferrell fans, are going to react to this?

F: I think it will be a pleasant surprise because you really don't know where the movie is going at any one point in time. And you really have to pay attention. And it's subtitled, so you're forced to really lock into the story. I'm really proud of it in the sense of its absurdist quality in the same way that we did Anchorman.

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