The Adam McKay and Will Ferrell partnership was a healthy one for many years, resulting in a series of successful films that paired them together as director and actor (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers), as well as a number of films and television shows they produced together (Eastbound and Down, Drunk History). Even in its third season, it’s still sometimes strange to see McKay and Ferrell’s names in the credits of HBO’s Succession.
The business partnership, however, began to falter a few years ago, in part because they were moving in different directions. McKay aspired to make more serious and/or political movies like The Big Short and Vice, movies that were also a major departure for McKay in that they did not star Ferrell. McKay also quit Funny or Die, which he started with Ferrell, after it took sponsorship money from Shell Oil, which McKay called “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”
After nearly breaking up their production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, on several occasions, they finally pulled the plug in April of 2019 and created their own separate production companies (Ferrell’s is now Gloria Sanchez Productions, a reorganized iteration of Gary Sanchez). Ferrell hasn’t said much about their split beyond the fact that McKay had bigger ambitions, and Ferrell didn’t have the bandwidth for all of those projects.
According to McKay, however, there were hurt feelings, and the partnership ultimately ended with a brief phone call. “I said, ‘Well, I mean, we’re splitting up the company,’” McKay told Vanity Fair of their last phone conversation. “And he basically was like, ‘Yeah, we are,’ and basically was like, ‘Have a good life.’ And I’m like, ‘F—-, Ferrell’s never going to talk to me again.’ So it ended not well.”
That was the end of their business partnership, but their friendship fell apart soon thereafter over a casting decision McKay made. When McKay and Ferrell were running Gary Sanchez together, McKay had cast Ferrell — a huge Los Angeles Lakers fan — in his still-untitled L.A. Lakers series as Lakers’ owner, Jerry Buss. Ferrell, though, was not his first choice. After they dissolved their production company, McKay recast the role with Ferrell’s best friend, John C. Reilly, because Ferrell “just doesn’t look like Jerry Buss, and he’s not that vibe of a Jerry Buss.” McKay not only cast Ferrell’s best friend, but he did so without telling Ferrell first. From Vanity Fair:
Ferrell was infuriated. “I should have called him and I didn’t,” says McKay. “And Reilly did, of course, because Reilly, he’s a stand-up guy.” (Will Ferrell declined to comment for the story.)
Back at McKay’s house, he points to a Step Brothers poster in his living room and shows me his bathroom lined with pictures and posters from Anchorman and other Ferrell productions. McKay says he’s written emails to Ferrell, attempting a rapprochement, but has never heard back. “I f—-ed up on how I handled that,” McKay laments. “It’s the old thing of keep your side of the street clean. I should have just done everything by the book.”
“In my head, I was like, ‘We’ll let all this blow over. Six months to a year, we’ll sit down, we’ll laugh about it and go, It’s all business junk, who gives a shit? We worked together for 25 years. Are we really going to let this go away?’” But Ferrell, he continues, “took it as a way deeper hurt than I ever imagined and I tried to reach out to him, and I reminded him of some slights that were thrown my way that were never apologized for.”
Due respect to McKay, but that’s bad friending. Not only did McKay put a casting decision over his friendship with Ferrell, but he didn’t have the decency to let Ferrell know. He had to hear it first from John C. Reilly. And listen, if there’s anything I’ve learned in my marriage, it is impossible to get past an argument by reminding the other of what they also did wrong, so I don’t blame Ferrell for not responding to his emails. Whataboutism doesn’t win on Twitter, so it’s certainly not going to save a friendship.
It’s too bad, too, because McKay and Ferrell were good together, and while I’m sure they will continue to make decent projects separately, it’s a shame we’ll never get another movie like Talladega Nights or The Other Guys that so successfully combined the scatological with the absurd.
Source: Vanity Fair
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