Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s first encounter took place in front of hundreds of millions of people. It was the evening of the 2007 Academy Awards, and Ferrell and Jack Black were on stage firing mock insults and threats at the current crop of nominees. Ferrell unloaded on Ryan Gosling: ”You’re all hip and now — well, I’m going to break your hip…right now!” Black lashed out at Peter O’Toole: ”I’m going to beat you down with my Nickelodeon award!” Then Ferrell turned to Wahlberg, a Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Departed, and lost his nerve. ”I won’t mess with you,” he said sheepishly. ”You’re actually kind of a badass…. I hope we’re cool. You are very talented.” Wahlberg smiled and nodded. The audience roared. Agents got ideas. And an unlikely comedy team was born.
”That little seed of a moment led to this whole thing,” says Adam McKay, director of the upcoming action comedy The Other Guys, which pairs Ferrell and Wahlberg as a couple of mismatched New York City cops. In the PG-13 film opening Aug. 6, Ferrell plays a pencil pusher who, among his other quirks, is totally oblivious to the beauty of his stunning wife (Eva Mendes; see sidebar). Wahlberg, meanwhile, is a wannabe supercop relegated to a desk job for mistakenly shooting Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. After languishing for years in the shadow of their precinct’s alpha cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne ”The Rock” Johnson), these two squabbling misfits set out to take down a shady billionaire financier (Steve Coogan). ”We wanted to give [the traditional buddy-cop movie] our own spin and provide a little bit of commentary on all the financial stuff we’re dealing with now,” Ferrell says.
McKay and Ferrell have long been one of Hollywood’s powerhouse comic teams, from their days on Saturday Night Live, through the films Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, and their work as co-creators of the Funny or Die website. Ultimately, though, whether or not The Other Guys succeeds rests on the chemistry between its wildly different stars, whose only real point in common is that they’re both famous for appearing stripped down to their underwear. ”The energy of Will and Mark is the oddest mix,” says McKay. ”Mark is someone you don’t want to f— with, and it’s always funny to watch Will with someone who really could kick his ass.”
Ferrell and McKay had actually been toying with the idea of working with Wahlberg for years, despite the fact that the former rapper and Calvin Klein model is best known for dramas like Boogie Nights and The Perfect Storm. (Wahlberg has flexed his comedy muscles in movies like 2004’s I Heart Huckabees, and more recently in his fake feud with SNL star Andy Samberg and his supporting role in this year’s Date Night.) ”We thought that intensity, that unblinking, menacing thing he has, put in the proper context, could be really funny,” says Ferrell, 42. ”We learned on Saturday Night Live that it’s fun to work with actors who aren’t necessarily known for comedy, and just throw them into the mix, because they commit to the character and the idea.” For his part, Wahlberg had been looking for a chance to star in a major comedy but hadn’t yet found the right project. ”I didn’t want to just do any comedy,” says the actor, 39. ”Obviously, if you do the wrong thing, it can be disastrous.”
In late 2008, Ferrell and McKay met with Wahlberg to see if they would click. ”We had this amazing dinner and drank a bunch of wine,” Wahlberg remembers. ”They were like, ‘What do you think about doing a comedy with us?’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was almost too good to be true.” Ferrell and Wahlberg had each flirted with the idea of doing a different buddy-cop film, Cop Out, which was released earlier this year with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan in the starring roles. But McKay felt they should go in what he considered a fresher direction. ”The buddy-cop movie is, for all intents and purposes, pretty much dead,” McKay says flatly. ”There hasn’t been a good one in, what, 20 years?” Rather than simply parody the conventions of Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, and the like, McKay wanted to inject the genre with some ripped-from-the-headlines relevance by making the villain a Bernie Madoff-style Wall Street crook. ”All those old movies had drug-smuggling story lines — if you did that now, it would be quaint,” says McKay. ”Who gives a s— about guys selling drugs at this point? Crime has taken on massive proportions: destroying the Gulf of Mexico, stealing $80 billion. Stealing a billion dollars is nothing now — that’s almost adorable.”
Early last year, McKay and Ferrell made the rounds at several studios to pitch the idea of Ferrell and Wahlberg playing a pair of incompatible second-string cops. Even though there was still no script, a bidding war broke out, with Sony Pictures eventually landing the project. ”It was a similar situation with Talladega Nights,” Ferrell remembers. ”With that one, we basically just had the idea of me as a NASCAR driver, and it became a crazy bidding war.”
There was just one hitch: the title. McKay and Ferrell wanted to call the film The B-Team, but 20th Century Fox, which was developing The A-Team for release around the same time, took exception. ”Fox was not happy,” says McKay. ”We also hadn’t pitched the movie to them, so they were doubly mad.” The studio warned that it had a legal right to block a similar title being used within six months of its film’s release. ”It’s amazing that you can do that, but they could,” says McKay. ”I ended up liking The Other Guys better anyway.”
Initially, Ferrell, McKay, and writer Chris Henchy (Land of the Lost) envisioned Wahlberg’s character as a hard-charging, by-the-book cop who’s constantly exasperated by Ferrell’s bumbling, but after a first pass on the script, that approach felt too stale. ”The 48 HRS. model, where Nick Nolte is saying, ‘Let me show you how to do it right’ — that’s been done before,” says Ferrell, whose Allen Gamble, beneath his mild-mannered exterior, is hiding a dark past. ”We figured both characters had to be flawed. In a way, Mark’s character is an even bigger loser than mine, but at the same time, mine is such a weirdo, you almost feel sorry for him to have to put up with my eccentricities.” To flesh out Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz, a backstory was created in which he accidentally shoots Jeter during game 7 of the World Series, incurring the wrath of the entire city. ”I look forward to seeing the audience reaction to that in Boston,” says Wahlberg, a die-hard Red Sox fan. ”That’ll be classic.”
As on all his movies, McKay encouraged lots of improvisation, and Wahlberg quickly got into it. ”I really put myself out there,” he says. ”I just kept getting crazier and crazier and crazier. I was waiting for Adam to say, ‘Dude, will you chill the f— out?’ But it never happened. I wouldn’t have been able to do that years ago — I was too self-conscious.” During one of their many verbal sparring matches, Ferrell and Wahlberg’s ad-libbing yielded an increasingly bizarre (and hilarious) monologue about a lion fighting a tuna. ”That was so pleasing, because it was a long run, and it just kept working,” Ferrell says. ”A lot of comedy directors would have cut it after the first or second laugh. I think that’s one of the things people love — or hate — about our movies: We’ll stick with something for a really long time until it either becomes a source of enjoyment or torture.”
Wahlberg didn’t let up on his usual intensity for a moment. ”When Mark acts tough, he’s not like some poncy drama school actor trying to be tough — he’s the real deal,” says Coogan (Tropic Thunder), who found himself thrown around by both Ferrell and Wahlberg at one point in a good-cop/bad-cop scene gone awry. ”I made sure I gave him lots of respect. I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of him.” But beneath Wahlberg’s hard exterior, McKay says, he’s a much gentler person than one might expect. ”Here’s the thing about Wahlberg no one knows: Obviously his image is the tough hip-hop guy off the streets, which is true, but he’s become a hardcore family guy. He’s crazy about his wife, he’s crazy about his kids, he goes to church every Sunday. That out-with-girls-until-three-in-the-morning stuff is completely gone. He’s still a guy you know could drop you with one punch. But you also know he’s not going to do it.”
There’s one other thing he — and Ferrell — won’t do in The Other Guys: drop trou. The movie serves up all the car chases, helicopters, slow-motion shoot-outs, and explosions an action-comedy fan could want, but despite what their fans may expect, neither Ferrell nor Wahlberg appears at any point in the film wearing just his tighty-whities. ”There wasn’t ever a time that felt like we needed to do that,” Ferrell says. He laughs. ”Depending on who you talk to, that’s either a missed opportunity or…’Thank God.”’
The Other Gal: Why Eva Mendes was dying to work with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
The American Film Institute once asked Eva Mendes to name her favorite film of all time. ”In your head you go through, you know, The Bicycle Thief and all the things you should say,” the actress, 36, remembers. ”And I went with Anchorman. I quote it on a daily basis.” So naturally when director Adam McKay asked her to play the wife of Will Ferrell’s character in The Other Guys, Mendes couldn’t resist the chance to work with, as she puts it, ”my version of Scorsese.”
Mendes’ character, Sheila, is a surgeon who is utterly devoted to her husband, despite the fact that he’s totally oblivious to her stunning beauty. ”It’s a bizarre relationship,” says Mendes, ”and Sheila’s got major quirk.” That strangeness extends to the bedroom, says Ferrell: ”We had a scene that got cut from the movie where we keep coming in and out of the frame wearing different costumes during sex. While we were under the sheets Eva just couldn’t stop laughing. I didn’t know how to take it: Am I funny, or are you laughing at me sexually? It was kind of deflating.”