Loose cannons come in all sizes. You’ve got your prima donnas, your incendiary shit-talkers, your endlessly calculating zag-ziggers who create a reputation based on unpredictability. But then there’s the one no one thinks about—the one who does his own thing not to piss people off, not to create uproar, but because no one else has the balls to do it. Enter Will Ferrell and Andre “3000” Benjamin. After seven years as the loose cannon on Saturday Night Live, where he created enough memorable characters to put Clinton Portis to shame, big Will bounced west to put Hollywood in the yoke with a legendary series of outsized roles: Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby, and now Semi-Pro’s Jackie Moon, an ABA player and coach hell-bent on keeping his roundball dreams alive. No one in recent memory has imbued comedy with such a sense of surreal spontaneity.
Coincidentally enough, his costar, Mr. Benjamin, is nothing if not the Will Ferrell of hip-hop; he’s managed to repeatedly shed his skin throughout OutKast’s storied career like a king cobra with punch lines. People got mad when he started singing, but they still dissect every new verse with nerdy fervor. Not to mention that dude can actually act. And hang with the big dog. (Literally. Not the dog part, but have you met Will? He’s like eight feet tall!) And he’s back in the studio. That’s two prodigal talents with a seemingly unlimited arsenal. And yeah, they’re down with us. You mad? Tell it to the motherfuckin’ cannons.
Will Ferrell: This is my first interview with Mr. Andre Benjamin! Very exciting.
This is my first interview, period! It’s cool if I just make up a bunch of stuff, right? [Laughter.]
Andre Benjamin: Ah, this gon’ be fun!
So to start off with the obvious point of commonality here, the movie. How did you get involved with this project, Andre?
Andre Benjamin: It was really Kent Alterman, the director. He called, he said, “We have this script,” I read it, and I thought it was funny. So many rappers make that move, but there seems to be like a comfort zone a lot of people don’t want to break out of. Going with full-fledged comedy, that’s a totally different look. Andre Benjamin: I never really think, “I can’t do this role, ’cause I’m a rapper.” You’re doing a job, and whatever that job requires, you jump into it. To be honest, I never thought that I was funny—when I did Be Cool, the director had to convince me to be in the movie. But I met with Kent, we talked about the role a bit, and I said, “How can you turn down a chance to be in a movie with this guy?” Will Ferrell: [In Ron Burgundy voice] With Big Time. [Laughter.]
Was Andre’s name out there early for you?
Will Ferrell: It was actually one of the first names Kent mentioned, and we were like, “That’s a great idea!” Obviously, in casting comedy, you think comedy names first, but we thought it’d be great to think outside the box a little bit. So Andre came and read. Andre Benjamin: I had to audition for the role.
You?
Andre Benjamin: A lot of people think that you easily get these roles because you do music. I mean, you could knock on the door faster than anybody, but it doesn’t necessarily get you in… Will Ferrell: And you always feel like it’s a delicate thing. You don’t want someone to take offense, asking them to come in and read, and yet you still want to see if they’re fit for the part.
You’ve also got to demand some flexibility, especially with the improv feel that permeates your projects.
Will Ferrell: Yeah, just to see if people are loose enough to go that way.
When you went in, did you know you were going to read with Will at that first meeting?
Andre Benjamin: Oh, I knew it. Will Ferrell: [Laughs.] Andre Benjamin: I was real nervous. I have to try out for movies all the time, and I hate the audition process. Will Ferrell: It’s awful. Andre Benjamin: But when I went in for this one, I honestly took the idea of the role like, “Well, shit, if I don’t get it, then fuck it.” So I went in and I just had fun.
In Will’s movies, during the closing credits when they show alternate takes, there’s always people losing composure, falling out laughing. What kind of moments were there for you?
Andre Benjamin: I don’t remember a lot of those—I could hold it until we got done. Will Ferrell: [Laughs.] The thing with this movie was there was a little less improv, in a way. We had so much to get done with all the basketball plays that there needed to be more structure. We had to get all these different angles, which you normally just get in a scene—but this was on the court, trying to cover 10 different guys and a bench and a crowd and everything. Andre Benjamin: Don’t let him fool you, I still remember laughing. [Laughter.]
So much of hip-hop is about improv skills. Did it make ad-libbing come naturally?
Andre Benjamin: As a rapper, I don’t freestyle. I used to freestyle when I used to get drunk, and it didn’t matter. Will Ferrell: [Laughs.] Andre Benjamin: See, I’m a thinker; I think too much. So for me to freestyle rap, it’s like I’m thinking three, four time steps ahead, and I hate it.  Will Ferrell: There are times when you roll the camera and divine inspiration hits you, and you’re coming up with all this stuff. But a lot of times, you’ll cut, and in that moment when you’re waiting, that’s when you know the thing you want to throw in the next take. Andre Benjamin: And the opposite effect of that, too, was after we finished the reshoots, I got home and was laying in bed one night, and I was like, “Shit, I should’ve done this!” Will Ferrell: That’s the torturous part. Andre Benjamin: Something you wish you could have done. Will Ferrell: You think about it as you drive home, too. Andre Benjamin: Sometimes the improv works because you’re just in it. Like, I don’t freestyle, but when I’m writing and thinking, sometimes things pop up—that’s basically a freestyle.
Will Ferrell: And a lot of times, that’s when it happens.
That’s when you become Ron Burgundy, or Ricky Bobby, or whoever. It’s almost like it’s not a function of the script.
Will Ferrell: Right. I try to make it a person.
You flip that switch, and then all of a sudden you built the Eiffel Tower out of iron and brawn.
Will Ferrell: [Laughs.]
So there was this SNL sketch, and now it’s being replayed on your “Best of” episode: You’re a verbally abusive doctor who left a baby at a BoDeans concert. It feels like the writers got hold of some peyote.
Andre Benjamin: [Laughs.] Will Ferrell: [Laughs.] I would write those with my friend Adam McKay. We did the craziest scenes ever, but somehow Lorne Michaels would put them on like it was a new hit character. It would always strike us that we’re on national television right now, on live TV, saying the craziest stuff. Sometimes that would get in my head, and I’d just start laughing. And people online the next day were like, “They went off script!” They just thought that we were making stuff up.
Those people online are analyzing everything both of you do. Andre, every new song you’re on gets scrutinized.
Will Ferrell: Do you check that stuff out? Andre Benjamin: I did when our last album came out, see, because Big Boi told me to check it out. But I’ve learned that’s not a good thing. Will Ferrell: Same here. Andre Benjamin: I don’t mind opinions, because you like something or you don’t like something, but to say things about your personal life? I’m like, “Man, let me quit reading this. ’Cause I’ll stab everybody.” Will Ferrell: [Laughs.] When I was on the show, occasionally I would go [online] and I’d read one nice comment, read another nice comment, and then the fourth comment would be, like, “I’d like to DRAG HIM BEHIND A CAR!”
[Laughter.] Will Ferrell: But it’s nice that people are talking about you! [Laughter.] Andre Benjamin: But sometimes they just think too deeply about stuff. Sometimes your fans are way deeper than you are. They think you meant something like this big power-of-the-world thing that you said, but really you were just trying to find a word to rhyme with another word. You know? Will Ferrell: But I love when the opposite happens, too. When I’ve been somewhere and people are dancing to “Bombs Over Baghdad,” just like, “This is a crazy song!” But not even catching on to what it’s about at all.
So you’ve got the fans that endlessly dissect everything you do and want to talk your ear off about it. But then you’ve got the people who are like, “I don’t really know anything about your work, but I’m just gonna yell your name.”
[Laughter.] Andre Benjamin: But you appreciate them, too. There’s something that touched them and made them say, “Hey, I like them,” or “I like that.” I guess it’s their responsibility to go back and see what movies he was in and other albums I made. But they might not even like those other albums, maybe they just liked that movie and that’s it, or that song, that’s it. That’s fine, too.
So there are folks who only like Night at the Roxbury? “You fell off after that one, Ferrell!”
Will Ferrell: [Laughs.] I remember meeting a guy on the subway, and he brought up Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, like, “What was up with that?” And usually stuff just rolls off my back, but for some reason, it just struck a chord, and I was like [solemnly], “You know what? It’s HARD to make a movie.”
[Laughter.] Will Ferrell: That was the one time I ever spoke up about anything.
Will, you’re married, so this doesn’t apply as much to you anymore, but is there a difference between hip-hop groupies and Hollywood groupies?
Andre Benjamin: It’s all the same. I don’t go out that much, so I’m not in a position to meet a lot of them. But I remember me and a famous actor were in the club, and he’s like, the man, and he’s like, “Man, I wish I was y’all, ’cause I know y’all get all the bitches.” And I was like, “But you’re…”
[Cough] Jamie Foxx! [Cough]
[Laughter.]
Andre Benjamin: Nah, nah. But he explained that it’s different. People see you on screen and they like you, but they never really get a chance to meet you. When you’re doing music, you know you have to go sit at in-stores, and you’re actually in the street, so there’s more of a hands-on kind of thing.
And as a rapper, your verses are like a window in to who you are. They feel like they know you.
Andre Benjamin: But it could be the opposite. With music, you can portray a certain thing, but in film, sometimes you have to let yourself go to a point where that can be attractive to a person, that you’re willing to let yourself go that much. It works both ways.
So with music, are you back in the game? People kinda thought that you had stopped permanently, and then stuff would sneak out.
Andre Benjamin: Honestly, I just float. I planned to drop an album next year, but I haven’t even recorded one song yet.
You’ve got Will for skits, if you need any. 
Will Ferrell: I’ll be in the video…do we even make videos anymore? [Laughter.]
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