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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Will Ferrell Comes to Boston

The first thing I noticed when I saw Will Ferrell in person was his size. Yes, he’s very tall, taller even than he seems on television and in movies, but what really got me were his hands. Despite his height, Will Ferrell does not have inhuman proportions. Like any kindhearted soul, he has small hands. He also has incredibly tiny eyes. In this way he is much like a garden gnome seen at a distance, or a snowman with holes for eyes made by the skinny fingers of a frail, old farmer.

Will Ferrell is the type of guy you’d love to hang out with. He’s funny, he makes $20 million a movie and he can reach things on really high shelves. What’s not to like?

In a little over ten years, Will Ferrell has gone from an often overlooked player on “Saturday Night Live,” to bit parts in movies, to one of the biggest names in comedy.

Now Ferrell keeps busy between starring in roles in major films and his comedy website “Funny or Die.” On Feb. 29, Ferrell will star in his newest movie, “Semi-Pro,” a comedy about an eccentric owner/coach/player of a struggling basketball team during the final days of the American Basketball Association.

Will Ferrell is a master of these two, very different, realms of comedy. “The stuff for Funny or Die is just so disposable,” Ferrell says. “You don’t think about it too much, you just kind of film it. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t you pull it off the site.”

With movies on the other hand, “you have to sustain people’s interest, hopefully, for 90 minutes.” Ferrell’s strategy for countering this obstacle is to shoot “as many options [as possible], improving a lot, so that when you’re in the edit room you’re not just nailed down to the actual script.”

But he doesn’t do it alone. “You try to take advantage of the cast. That’s why we try to have a great ensemble that’s good at improvising.” With “Semi-Pro,” Ferrell surrounds himself with a talented comedic cast that includes TV veterans Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Rob Corddry (The Daily Show), Andy Richter (Late Night With Conan O’Brien), as well as veteran actor and hemp advocate Woody Harrelson.

The sports comedy is hardly the experimental ground that Ferrell treads on funnyordie.com, but keeping the underdog story fresh presents its own challenges. Co-star Will Arnett has his own feelings. “The first day I walked on the set it stunk. I said, ‘it smells like Major League in here,'” Arnett says, unable to suppress a smile.

Ferrell has a different perspective on the sports comedy genre: “Everybody loves the come-from-behind story, the underdog story. And sports is full of that.” What sets “Semi-Pro” apart from other sports comedies is that “it’s a game for fourth place. It’s not to win it all. It’s literally fourth place.”

The film, set in Flint, Mich., tells the tale of a last-place ABA franchise struggling to make fourth place and earn a spot in an impending merger with the NBA.

So why the choice of Flint? Does Flint possess some inherent comedic value? “Unfortunately, for the people of Flint,” says Ferrell, “yes. It’s characteristic of the markets they had in the ABA. They had teams like the Kentucky Colonels and the Virginia Squires.”

Flint, as you may know, is the hometown of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Who, Arnett says, Ferrell pushed to be included in the film. “I think he gets unfairly criticized for his acting,” deadpans Ferrell.

Perhaps Ferrell’s defining characteristic in the film his large afro, which he claims he grew himself, despite facing numerous doubters. It took “six months of just, focusing. And I did it. A lot of people said it couldn’t be done.”

Arnett remembers matters differently. “I don’t think anybody really had an opinion on it.”

But Ferrell insists, “there was a lot of blogging going on. ‘Can her grow it out?’ ‘I don’t know.’ A lot of chatter.”

Granted, Ferrell admits, “I would start a lot of it. I have over one hundred email surnames. I constitute a lot of my own chatter. I affect a lot of internet polls.”

As Ferrell’s career continues to progress, he continues to branch out and try new things. Including more serious roles in films such as “Stranger than Fiction” and Woody Allen’s “Melinda Melinda.” This is a career path that Ferrell hopes to continue on. “I haven’t really had any more offers, so apparently that’s what they think of me. That stuff is fun to do, and I’d love to do more of it. But there are no imminent plans.”

In “Semi-Pro,” Ferrell shows off yet another area of his multifaceted talent-his singing ability. In the movie Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder who topped the charts with a song called “Love Me Sexy.” Ferrell sings the song in the film and is optimistic about its chances on the charts. “What information I’m getting,” Ferrell says, “it’s looking like it’s going to break all records. It’s probably going to go double platinum.

“A lot of those orders are from my one hundred email addresses, so I’m in the hole right now, but I’ve got to get the ball rolling. Everyone loves a frontrunner. That will spur more business to pay off the money I initially paid.”

A sound plan by a giant of a man, with those tender hands and hypnotic, tiny eyes. Be sure to check back next week for a full review of “Semi-Pro.”