GateHouse News ServiceIf you put two goofball comedic actors together in a film, and that film has a smart script and a sharp director, chances are you’ll end up with something pretty good.
That’s exactly the case with “The Campaign,” opening Friday. It’s a timely piece of satire that focuses on a small-time battle for a congressional seat in North Carolina, and the antics played out by the two guys running, as well as the ruthless money men behind them.
The actors are Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and the director is Jay Roach, whose most recent film, “Game Change,” was a look at what went on behind the scenes on the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket.
When you put Ferrell and Galifianakis in a room together, then fire questions at them about the film and real-life politics, it’s sometimes hard to figure out if they’re telling the truth or maybe just playing around with it.
Kind of like politicians.
In the film, Ferrell stars as Cam Brady, a full-of-himself, long-term North Carolina congressman who has always run unopposed. Well, until he suffers yet another in a string of sexual scandals and his backers decide to get rid of him. The plan is to replace him with an inexperienced, utterly nonpolitical fellow who will do as he’s told. That would be Galifianakis’ gentle, squeaky-clean Marty Huggins.
Their characters borrow from characters they’ve played before.
Cam Brady definitely has a few George W. Bushisms, whom Ferrell impersonated regularly during his “Saturday Night Live” run and the one-man Broadway show “You’re Welcome America, A Final Night with George W. Bush.”
Marty Huggins is reminiscent of Galifianakis’ “twin brother Seth.”
“I really didn’t want this to have anything to do with George Bush,” said Ferrell. “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 more from politicians like John Edwards. That having been said, yeah, Cam’s a character who doesn’t think he’s ever wrong, so I guess you could draw that parallel (to Bush).”
Galifianakis has been playing his non-existent brother since he was in high school.
“Back then he was called The Effeminate Racist,” he said. “I would perform it for my dad, and through the years I did it at clubs here and there. And now it got to be in a movie with Will Ferrell, so that’s pretty exciting. But Marty didn’t need to draw on any political figures, because he didn’t know what he was doing in the first place. So the more naďve he was, the better.”
The story goes for the guffaws by showing how the race starts off with a hint of normalcy, then escalates out of control as far as nasty (but funny) debates and absurdly mean (but very funny) campaign ads on TV.
Page 2 of 2 - “We wanted to make the point that as far as the movie goes – and it really gets insane – at the same time we’re showing that we’re not that far off from it happening in real life,” said Ferrell.
But do these two actors know much about politics? That’s where the answers get a little dicey, at least concerning one of them.
Galifianakis said many of today’s politicians aren’t doing the jobs they were elected to do, and that they deserve to be beaten up, via satire. But he’s been involved in the real thing.
“I was a volunteer for the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign with my brother,” he said. “We cold-called people in North Carolina. I would say, ‘My name is Zach Galifianakis, and I’m calling about Michael Dukakis.’”
He stopped, then laughed about how ridiculous that sounds, but went on to talk about his uncle Nick Galifianakis.
“He was a congressman in North Carolina, who eventually ran for the Senate against Jesse Helms. That race is actually studied in political science classes, because there was a lot of really heavy modern mudslinging. Jesse Helms was losing in 1972 in the race against my uncle, who had the same last name, and dark skin. So in 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 that changed it. My uncle lost. So I grew up listening to all this kind of stuff, and I kind of drew on that a little bit for the film.”
What about Ferrell’s experience with real politics?
“In high school I was president of the Ross Perot Fan Club,” he said. “It was just a fan club. It wasn’t really helping him run for office. So yes, I have been active.”
Hold on, is he telling the truth? No way to know, because he answered in a straightforward manner, then clammed up, waiting for another question.
That question would be about the hair styles both men wear in the film, each guy attempting to out-slick the other. Were they trying to look like any specific politicians?
Ferrell went right back to John Edwards.
“I literally wanted his hair,” he said. “When he was running for office there was the YouTube video of him combing his hair incessantly to the song ‘I Feel Pretty.’ Just the image of the politician with the perfect hair and the $900 haircuts was kind of inspirational to me.”
Galifianakis took about two seconds before he revealed his hair inspiration: “Al Sharpton.”