Keith Staskiewicz
September 11, 2010 AT 02:22 PM EDT

Image Credit: John Estes Will Ferrell isn’t exactly known for playing scenes small or using a raised eyebrow when flailing arms would do just as well. But the funnyman took another stab at serious last night at the world premiere of his sweet and affecting new film Everything Must Go, with a performance more akin to his turn in Stranger Than Fiction than Talladega Nights or Anchorman. In the film, Ferrell plays a sad-sack alcoholic who starts living on his front lawn after his wife turns him out of the house and throws all his possessions outside. The film is adapted from a Raymond Carver short story, but adapted pretty freely considering the source material is less than ten pages long. (At a Q&A following the premiere, Ferrell joked that even that was too long for him and he only made it through a page and a half.)

The film co-stars Rebecca Hall (who also attended the premiere) as a new neighbor Ferrell befriends, and Laura Dern as an old high school acquaintance he revisits. The Toronto audience seemed to be into the more subdued Ferrell, praising his performance and asking if he planned on doing more films of this kind. “I don’t really get presented scripts like this very often,” he responded. “I don’t have a conscious plan to become more serious. It’s just project by project, case by case.” First-time director Dan Rush spoke about the experience of directing “the funniest guy in America” in a film as dramatically heavy as this, saying, “We made the decision early on to address each scene as, ‘Okay, this is going to be a funny scene,’ or ‘this is going to be a sad scene.'”

2006’s Stranger Than Fiction struck a more muted, not to mention existential, tone than most of his other films, and the little-seen Winter Passing was a straight-up dramatic role. This latest foray away from his typical shirtless boisterousness met with approval up here, as the audience gave him a prolonged ovation when he stepped out onto the stage following the premiere. Then he started cracking jokes and the claps turned back to laughs.

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