Born John W. Ferrell on July 16, 1967, in Irvine, California, Will Ferrell graduated from the cast of SNL and found huge success in Hollywood, starring in numerous box office hits, such as Old School, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory.
Actor, comedian. Born John W. Ferrell on July 16, 1967, in Irvine, California. The oldest son of Righteous Brothers keyboard player Lee Ferrell and teacher Kay Ferrell, Will was—by his own admission—hardly the class clown as a student at University High School. Studious and, at times, a bit quiet, Ferrell chose to make his mark on the football field, where he set a school record for most field goals made. Even at the more comfortable confines of his suburban home, Ferrell displayed little of the outrageous, funny outbursts that would later help define his career.
"Very even tempered, very easygoing," his mother told Esquire. "His father and I kinda went, 'How'd he get like that?' You know those little Matchbox cars? Will would line up his Matchbox cars, by himself, and be totally happy. You'd say, 'You wanna go to Disneyland today or line up your cars?' and he'd have to think about it."
That's not to say Ferrell was a total straight man. A glimpse of his comedic skills showed up each morning at high school, when he disguised his voice to make the daily announcements over the P.A. system. Upon graduation in 1986, Ferrell stayed close to home, choosing to attend the University of Southern California at Los Angeles to pursue a degree in sports journalism. At USC, Ferrell joined Delta Tau fraternity, and finished with a near-3.0 GPA.
Introduction to Comedy
After his graduation in 1989, Ferrell got his first taste of the NBC television world, not at Saturday Night Live (SNL), but as an intern for the network's sports department. As the story goes, Ferrell had an epiphany of sorts about where his true talents lay after ad-libbing an on-air joke that drew laughs from a crowd. Shortly afterwards, Ferrell moved back home with his parents and began his pursuit of a career in comedy, taking acting classes and landing parts in regional theater.
Soon, Ferrell landed a regular spot with The Groundlings, a popular Los Angeles improv troupe that has, over the years, produced SNL cast members such as Maya Rudolph and Chris Kattan (both future SNL colleagues of Ferrell's), as well as Laraine Newman, Jon Lovitz, and Phil Hartman. Here, Ferrell honed his impersonation skills and caught a few TV breaks, earning occasional guest spots on sitcoms like Fox's Living Single and ABC's Grace Under Fire.
"What I recognized when I started doing comedy was that I'm probably not the wittiest, not the fastest on my feet, but the one thing I can guarantee is that I won't hold anything back," Ferrell explained to Esquire. "It was just funnier to me, and it played funnier, when instead of just yelling at someone in a scene, you're yelling to the point where you're losing your voice—that one extra step. If that's what's called for within the context, isn't that our job as comedians?"
It was while performing with The Groundlings in the early 1990s that Ferrell first caught the attention of SNL founder and producer, Lorne Michaels, who'd come to Los Angeles looking for new talent for his show. Ferrell was invited to an initial audition, and then asked to come back for another round.
Saturday Night Live
"I had read how Adam Sandler, in his meeting with Lorne, had humped a chair and had him laughing so hard, he signed him on the spot," Ferrell said. "So I thought, I'm gonna go in there and be funny. I had a briefcase full of fake money, and as Lorne starts talking, I was gonna open it and start stacking piles of money on his desk. 'Lorne, you can say whatever you want, but we all know what really talks. And that's cold, hard cash. Now, I'm gonna walk outta here. You can take the cash if you want. Or not.' And then just leave and not come back." Impersonations, however, and not payola were what eventually landed Ferrell on the SNL cast. The comedian used the audition time to showcase two of his favorite characters—Chicago Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray, and an overzealous father who screams at his son to get off the shed roof—that would later help make him a star of the show.
Ferrell's arrival at the New York City-based sketch comedy show in the fall of 1995 came at a tumultuous time for SNL. On the heels of a rough ratings stretch the year before, Michaels had chosen to clean house, retaining just a handful of veteran performers as he welcomed 14 new ones, including not only Ferrell but Jim Breuer, Darrell Hammond, and Cheri Oteri.
After what proved to be an underwhelming first season, Ferrell's talent began to blossom. Within a few short years, he had helped lead a ratings renaissance for SNL, prompting television audiences to return each week to his unique mix of new characters, including Steve Butabi, Marty Culp, Professor Roger Klarvin and impersonations of figures such as President George W. Bush, Janet Reno, and Neil Diamond. "Will is the glue that holds the show together," Michaels told People magazine in 1998. "He's the first choice of the writers for almost every sketch."
Transition to the Big Screen
In 1998, Ferrell, who'd made a short, but funny appearance in the first Austin Powers movie, expanded his film work with a starring role in the SNL spinoff A Night at the Roxbury. The film, while a flop, signaled the start of his expansive movie credits.
As Ferrell was flooded with more and more movie offers, SNL producers became desperate to keep their franchise star. In 2001, Ferrell was offered and accepted an unprecedented $350,000-plus salary from the program. A year later, though, Ferrell made the decision to leave the show for good.
Unlike other former cast members who've departed SNL with grand illusions of Hollywood success, Ferrell has proven to be one of the industry's more bankable comedic stars. In late 2007, it was reported that for Ferrell movies averaged $8 of gross income for every dollar he is paid.
Following a signature role in the 2003 box office hit Old School (2003), Ferrell turned in a memorable, funny, and money-making performance as Buddy in the film, Elf. Other hits followed in the form of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), Blades of Glory (2007), and Step Brothers (2008). It's a body of work that has lumped Ferrell into what the media describes as the "Frat Pack," a name derived from the movie Old School that refers to a group of comedic actors including Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Steve Carell, Owen Wilson, and Luke Wilson.
Ferrell's likable, popular personality was on display at the 2003 Boston Marathon, when the actor ran and successfully completed the race in a time of just over four hours. It might have been better had he not been deluged with fans and fellow runners. "Kids were running next to me, snapping pictures," Ferrell said. "Runners were running up ahead and then having their buddies stand next to me, snapping. It was insane."
While generally regarded as quiet and unassuming offset, the intensely private Ferrell hasn't been afraid to put his politics out on the frontlines a bit. His portrayal of Bush was far from flattering, and his refusal to meet with the President while he was still in office, despite overtures from his staff, spoke volumes about his feelings about the politician. Ferrell chalked it up in part to "comedic purposes" out of fear of being influenced by him. But politics did play a role. "The other side of it is, from a political standpoint, I don't want to meet that guy," he said.
In early 2009, Ferrell gave President Bush a going-away present to some degree when he reprised his impersonation of the outgoing president for a one-man Broadway show called You're Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush. Ferrell's longtime comedic collaborator, Adam McKay, a former SNL writer, directed the show.
Not long after, Ferrell branched out into something entirely different: his own sunscreen lotions. The product, which features a scantily clad Ferrell, comes in three types: Sun Stroke, Sexy Hot Tan, and Forbidden Fruit. All of the sales proceeds will benefit the charity Cancer for College's College Willpowered Scholarship Fund, which hands out scholarships to cancer survivors and amputees. "I've always dreamed of owning a lotion company," Ferrell told reporters when the product debuted. "And I've always hated cancer."
As Ferrell's career has taken off, so has his personal life. In August 2000, Ferrell married his longtime girlfriend, Viveca Paulin, a Swedish-born art auctioneer. Both big dog fans, the couple was the proud owners of three dogs when they became parents in 2004. Their son, Magnus Paulin Ferrell, was born March 7th of that year. A second son, Mattias, arrived in December 2006. The family currently resides in Los Angeles, California.
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