Interview: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis & Jay Roach Talk Their Political Comedy "The Campaign"

Interview: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis & Jay Roach Talk Their Political Comedy "The Campaign"

Just in time for election season, Jay Roach, the director behind HBO's hit political drama Game Change, is premiering his next, albeit more intentionally satirical, project on American politics: The Campaign. The film, out this Friday, stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis (among a cast that also includes Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, and Dan Aykroyd) as two competing idiot savant-like politicians gunning for Congress in the purple state of North Carolina. And given they're two of the funniest men in Hollywood, you're guaranteed to leave the film with at least a few one-liners to repeat to your friends over and over again. 

Complex got a chance to sit down for a roundtable discussion with Ferrell, Galifianakis, and Roach to talk about the politicians that influenced their characters, the most ridiculous aspects of American politics, and their own experiences with campaigning. 

As told to Tara Aquino (@t_akino)

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On the inspiration behind their characters:

Will Ferrell: Well, I didn’t really want this to have anything to do with George Bush. I think Cam Brady’s more of a polished politician in the sense that he knows how to give a great stump speech. I really kind of stole from politicians more like John Edwards. That having been said, he’s a character who doesn’t think he’s ever wrong, so I think you can draw that parallel with Bush.

Zach Galifianakis: I have been doing this character since high school, but in high school he was called "The Effeminate Racist." It was a character I would perform for my dad and at clubs here and there, and then it got to be in a movie with Will Ferrell, so that’s pretty exciting.

As far as drawing from political figures, [I didn't] really because he didn’t need to draw from any political figures. He didn’t know what he was doing in the first place, so the more naive he was, the better.

My uncle [Nick Galifianakis], who was a Congressman, ran for Senate against Jesse Helms in North Carolina. That race was actually studied in law classes because it was the first of the really heavy modern mud-slinging and race baiting. Jesse Helms was losing to my uncle, who had the same last name as me and dark skin. But the last two weeks of the election, Jesse Helms came up with a slogan that said, “Vote for Jesse. He’s one of us,” and it changed it. I grew up listening to all this stuff, so yeah, I drew a little bit from my uncle's stories and about the dirty politics of it all.

On the benefit of the film being an R-rated comedy: 

Ferrell: We wanted to make the point that as far as the movie goes, we’re not that far off from that happening in real life.

Jay Roach: It was the right tone for this movie because the behind-the-scenes of politics, as far as I’ve experienced, is pretty out there. As we’ve learned from various tweets of body parts that’ve gone around in politics or the sexual activities that politicians seem to be engaged in, it just seemed funnier to us to not whitewash that. Also, we all thought that Will and Zach going up against each other in the most intense and funny way possible would be no-holds-barred. It can’t be a polite fight.

On their previous political campaign experiences:

Ferrell: In high school, I was president of the Ross Perot fan club. It was just a fan club. It wasn’t really helping him run for office, so I have been active. 

Galifianakis: I was a volunteer for the Michael Dukakis campaign with my brother and we cold called people from North Carolina and I would say, “My name is Zach Galifianakis and I’m calling about Michael Dukakis.” It sounded like a sentence about two dinosaurs.

On what the film says about the state of American politics:  

Ferrell: I think comedy is a great tool to point things out satirically. I think one of the things, too, that we’re trying to point out is, the system is getting so insane, is it attracting the best people to run for office? You have to go through so many hoops, your life has to be exposed on such a level, and you have to participate in such tactics—is it attractive for people who can actually help us govern? I think a lot of talented people say, “That’s OK. It’s not for me.” 

Galifianakis: I think if the people are laughing at the movie and they kind of feel what we were going through, they'll see the heightened reality we’ve come up with is not that heightened. As far as what we could do about it, I mean, the money in politics is just the problem. That’s not a left or right thing to me. I think that money pollutes the process and I think we’re trying to say that a bit.

On their favorite part of American politics to ridicule: 

Ferrell: I enjoyed making fun of the attack ads that are out there. In terms of the character I got to play, it was really fun debating and giving speeches that literally, when you have walked away after listening to them, mean nothing. That game was so much fun.

Galifianakis: I like watching debates and I like when the debates get a little dumb and the crowd gets a little dumb. I like that the crowd would get as ridiculous as the candidates during the debates in this movie. I’ve always felt that that kind of en masse thinking is really funny. It’s funny how we as a society can be so manipulated by the media and get behind things without giving it a ton of thought.

Roach: There’s a scene where Zach’s character pulls out an essay that Will’s character wrote in second grade and convinces people that it’s a communist manifesto. It's funny watching the crowd believe that and watching Will’s character say, “It doesn’t exist! You don’t have to go to Rainbow Land.” When the great actor Bobby Tisdale loses his mind and starts screaming at everybody, that to me captured some of the essence of those town hall debates from 2008. Now, that’s seen as a strategy in some of the campaigns—to just shout down each other and shout away the truth. To me, that was the funniest and most satirical part of the film.

On which government job they would want:

Ferrell: If it wasn’t for comedy, I would’ve worked a government job. It’s really hard to decide but probably payroll services because of the excitement.

Galifianakis: For me, it’s really important for people to like me, so probably the DMV.

Roach: I would probably be a teacher because I enjoy messing with kids’ heads.

As told to Tara Aquino (@t_akino)

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Tags: the-campaign, will-ferrell, zach-galifianakis
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