- Associated Press - Monday, August 6, 2012

“The Campaign” is a broad comedy made from broad intentions: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis simply wanted to make a movie together.

In the film, which opens Friday, they play two North Carolina politicians competing in an increasingly nasty congressional race. Mr. Galifianakis‘ character shoots Mr. Ferrell’s point blank, and his poll numbers go up.

It’s a ready-made concept that pits two of the best comedians in movies against each other for the first time in a major project. In comedy, a Ferrell-Galifianakis ticket is a winner in a landslide.

The two first crossed paths at “Saturday Night Live,” where Mr. Ferrell was a veteran standout and Mr. Galifianakis‘ short-lived stint didn’t last three weeks.

“Hey, Zach, have they told you what you’re doing?” Mr. Ferrell recalls saying to a confused Mr. Galifianakis at the time.

They hadn’t told him — not an uncommon consequence of “SNL” boss Lorne Michaels’ sometimes inscrutable ways. To make matters worse, Mr. Galifianakis had come to the show under the mistaken impression he was to be a cast member — the big break of his career — when he actually had been hired as a writer.

His term at “SNL” was remarkable only for an attempt to convince guest host Britney Spears to do a sketch in which, during an “Entertainment Tonight”-style interview, she inexplicably begins bleeding from the mouth.

Mr. Ferrell eventually would exit “SNL” and launch a very successful movie career, while Mr. Galifianakis continued with stand-up and various projects before “The Hangover” made him, also, one of the most sought-after comics in Hollywood.

Mr. Ferrell, 45, approached Mr. Galifianakis, 42, about teaming up, and the two quickly took to brainstorming. Their initial idea was to do a male-centered version of “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the TLC show about child pageants.

“We were going to play two dads, which would have really been hard to pull off because of the creep factor,” Mr. Galifianakis said in a recent joint interview with Mr. Ferrell. Both recoiled at the thought of shooting such a comedy while the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State was playing out.

“If we were in the middle of shooting the boy pageant movie?” said a wide-eyed Mr. Ferrell. “Aye Toledo!”

It fell to director Adam McKay, a frequent collaborator of Mr. Ferrell’s and a producer on “The Campaign,” to nix the boy pageant idea. Instead, he suggested a political comedy. For a short time, they planned to make a movie based on the campaign documentary “The War Room,” with Mr. Ferrell as a candidate and Mr. Galifianakis as a Karl Rove-like adviser.

Then it was suggested, “Why not be two competing guys, do a broader, more commercial comedy where we can still have a point of view,” Mr. Ferrell recalled.

They turned to filmmaker Jay Roach, whose schizophrenic career as a director of farcical comedies (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents”) and acclaimed HBO based-on-real-life political dramas (“Recount,” “Game Change”) made him a natural choice.

With little more than the outline of a promising concept that would match the two comedians mano-a-mano, the movie was green-lighted with a production schedule and a release date that would lend the obvious tie-in to the 2012 presidential election. The script by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell came later.

“Their chemistry is amazing, but it’s almost unlikely,” Mr. Roach said. “They couldn’t be more different in their physicality, their attitudes.”

From the start, it was conceived as a platform for Seth Galifianakis, the comedian’s fictional brother character, a sometimes racist Southern effeminate with a mustache (as opposed to Mr. Galifianakis‘ usual beard). In the film, Mr. Galifianakis plays a version of the character named Marty Huggins.

Knowing the setting was North Carolina, Mr. Ferrell found inspiration in former Sen. John Edwards, albeit with shades of his President George W. Bush impression from “SNL.”

Part of the thrill of seeing Mr. Galifianakis and Mr. Ferrell square off is that they seem to have an offbeat rhythm set to the same metronome. Though they come from different sides of the comedy spectrum (Mr. Galifianakis from stand-up, Mr. Ferrell from improv) they share an uncommon ability for stretching awkwardness beyond the threshold of most.

“I have learned as a stand-up it’s much better for acting to go the way of someone that has improv training and pay attention to that,” Mr. Galifianakis said. “It is much better if it’s a group effort. I always say less is more, for me. I don’t need to say a lot of things. I don’t want to say a lot of things. (In a whisper) I don’t want to work.”

The two have worked together a few other times, including a memorable video for Mr. Galifianakis‘ beloved Web series “Between Two Ferns” and a tour for Funny or Die (the website Mr. Ferrell co-founded) in 2008 that played for college audiences of thousands. In Mr. Ferrell’s opening, Mr. Galifianakis and other comics on the tour played ninjas attacking him.

“It was like a rock show,” Mr. Galifianakis recalled. “It was like being in Toto.”

“Or DeBarge,” chimed in Mr. Ferrell.

“DeBarge,” Mr. Galifianakis said, nodding solemnly in agreement.



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