Zach Galifianakis and Will Ferrell are two of the most bankable—and funniest— comedy stars in the world right now, so the announcement of their first major project together, The Campaign, was cause for optimism. Another vote in their favor: Galifianakis is clearly doing a variation on a hilarious character he’s done for years—his twin brother Seth, a.k.a. “the effeminate racist.” The movie, about a Southern career politician (Ferrell) who’s challenged for his congressional seat by a rube (Galifianakis), sounds simple, but the two actors—who both also produced—aim a bit higher. It’s remarkably pointed and complex for a movie that features a baby being punched in the face. Galifianakis’ character, Marty Huggins, isn’t just a do-gooder looking to challenge the morally bankrupt Cam Brady; he’s a good man with serious daddy issues. Both actors get the chance to play hero and villain, with the real political evil represented by Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow, whose Motch brothers are barely disguised representations of real-life conservative campaign-funders the Koch brothers. The A.V. Club spoke with Ferrell and Galifianakis about the film at Chicago’s Wrigley Field during a whirlwind press tour, as they were getting ready to throw out the first pitch and eager to hit the bathroom.
The A.V. Club: You’re both in the position to be choosy about what movies you make. What draws you to the movies you make in general, and to The Campaign in particular?
Will Ferrell: This all came about from me personally wanting to work with Zach, and seeing a character he had done that became Marty Huggins, and thinking it was one of the funniest characters I had ever seen. And selfishly trying to think of a project where I could piggyback on that. That kind of morphed, after a couple discussions with people, into, “If you’re going to do Southern characters, why don’t you do something about the election process, like two dueling congressmen?”
AVC: So it’s no secret that this is really the Seth Galifianakis movie.
Zach Galifianakis: They’re similar characters. [Laughs.] One just got plucked from the Internet onto the silver screen, magically. It was a character I was doing in high school, called the effeminate racist. I did it for my dad and a couple people. I did it over the years here and there, then started developing it more and more, and I’d go onstage with it. As far as working on this movie, if Will wanted to do a movie about glove compartments, I’d go, “Okay!”
WF: That is in development. It’s almost a Waiting For Godot thing. It’s the inside of a glove compartment. Very dark.
ZG: It’s just black. You hear mumbling of people in a car, talking about how they can’t find their sunglasses or their map or their insurance card. It’s gonna be a Kenneth Branagh-type thing.
WF: We’ll start at five hours, see if the audience has the guts for it.
AVC: The movie is really funny, but the political message is bleak.
ZG: The landscape out there is bleak. If it weren’t, we might not have a movie.
WF: It’s interesting that you had that takeaway, because I saw a comment from a Spanish journalist who said, “I don’t know how this movie will play in Spain, because of the happy ending.” I was like, “Really?” But it’s true. Art is imitating life, in the sense… Obviously, our first goal was to make people laugh, but also to have a point of view that there is so much money being poured into politics, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it unless people choose elected officials who want to change it.
ZG: I think the one thing the movie may be able to do, for the 17-year-olds who don’t know about this stuff, is to show them the money—how it so affects the process, and how it’s just gross. We were just talking about the length, how long the campaigns are. It’s two years. The amount of money that the candidates and parties would save if we just said, “You’ve got 90 days.” Cut out the bullshit a little bit.
AVC: So is there a hope that you can actually educate people with this movie?
ZG: If those 17-year-olds or whoever talks about it after, I think that would be really great. If they chatted about that, about Citizens United…
AVC: You’re pretty on-the-nose in the movie with stuff like the Motch brothers.
ZG: But you and I and… What is your name again?
WF: It’s Will, with a W. It’s a common name!
ZG: You and I and Will know that stuff, because we’re older and we read about that stuff. But this maybe, in a funny way, puts that to the forefront a little bit.
AVC: The movie doesn’t lean one way or the other politically, though. Everybody is greedy.
WF: We really wanted it to be non-partisan, in a way, and show both the candidates equally tripping over each other, and just showing that regardless of the viewpoint of either side, both sides will do anything to get into power.
AVC: You both get to play hero and villain, which is nice.
ZG: The parts I like are the few times you actually see us talking one-on-one about the process. I think once the inflammatory stuff is stripped down, and the media stuff, people probably do call each other. Or it’d be nice if they did. But that kind of stuff is gone, from what I read and hear. The congressmen and senators used to go have a drink in D.C. They would disagree all day long, but they would find that time to sit down and learn about each other personally. I think that’s totally wiped out; I don’t think it really exists anymore. That’s how politics should work: You disagree with someone, but then you have a drink with them and try to see their side, and they try to see your side. I don’t know if that’s in the climate at all anymore.
AVC: Zach, your uncle was a politician, right?
ZG: I’ve heard a lot about his campaign. He actually gives his old campaign speeches, from the ’70s, at weddings now. It’s so great. [Laughs.] He’s eightysomething, and he’s doing it as a joke. It’s really funny.
AVC: Jay Roach did the Sarah Palin HBO movie, Game Change, right before he did The Campaign. Did he bring any of that knowledge to the table?
WF: He seemed like a great fit. He felt like it was a great palate-cleanser after doing a movie where you had to tell the story as factually as you can. This one, he could go the other way.
ZG: Jay is also so well-versed in politics, and the history of it, and government in general. Thanksgiving night, he came over to my house while we were shooting, and for three hours, he just talked about all this stuff—the Sarah Palin movie, all the inner workings of getting that research together. I like politics, and I know Will likes politics, so it was a good fit for sure. And he’s also the nicest man ever. Nicer than Will.
AVC: Is this sort of promotional stuff still exciting—throwing out the first pitch and everything that comes with promoting a big movie? Zach, you’ve been pretty publicity-shy in the past.
ZG: Will makes it easier for me, because I like hanging out with Will. I am not into publicity. I’m not good at it. I get anxiety about it. And at this point, I have to pee. It’s happening. You might smell some asparagus.
WF: I wish I was wearing lighter pants, so we could both do the first pitch with huge pee stains.