Also Credited As:John William Ferrell
|Actor, Producer, Writer, Music|
|John William Ferrell on July 16, 1967 in Irvine, California, USA|
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Born July 16, 1967 in Irvine, CA, Ferrell was raised by his father, Lee, a keyboardist and touring musician with the Righteous Brothers, and his mother, Kay, a teacher. Despite having a musician father, Ferrell's upbringing was anything but bohemian - the good student enjoyed a suburban life complete with a spot as a kicker on the school football team. He later maintained that he was not the class clown, though he did enjoy concocting fake voices when he had the opportunity to make announcements over the school P.A. system. After graduating University High School in Irvine, Ferrell was accepted to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he studied for his bachelor's in journalism with an eye toward a career as a sportscaster. But the funniest guy at Delta Tau fraternity soon began to realize he really liked making people laugh. While interning at a local news show, Ferrell understood why he really wanted to be on-camera and promptly quit the station to take acting lessons, perform at open mic comedy showcases and study comedy at the Groundlings theater.
With the Groundlings, Ferrell finally had the freedom to explore the limits of his uninhibited personality, quickly proving that he had a deep well of talent, as well as a love for the collaborative process of improv. His usually calm demeanor and middle-class looks made his outrageous outbursts and physical comedy all the funnier. Ferrell first met future "SNL" chums Chris Kattan, Cheri Oteri and Maya Rudolph at Groundlings and within a short period of time he was asked to join the theater's touring company. In 1995, Ferrell had begun to make a dent in television with small guest spots on sitcoms like "Living Single" (Fox, 1993-98) and "Grace Under Fire" (ABC, 1993-98) when he scored the ultimate career launching pad with a slot on "Saturday Night Live." Two of the pieces he used during his audition - an impersonation of geriatric Chicago Cubs sportscaster Harry Caray and a sketch where he played an exasperated father trying to talk his kid down from on top of the shed - made it onto the show that season, helping to establish Ferrell's versatility and likability.
Some critics were dismissive of his talents that first season, but soon audiences were cheering for such spirited characterizations as male Spartan Spirit cheerleader Craig and hopelessly unhip middle school music teacher Marty Culp. His roster of popular impersonations included a confidently inept George W. Bush, a short-tempered Alex Trebek from "Jeopardy" (NBC; syndicated, 1964- ), and hilariously pompous take on "Inside the Actors Studio" (Bravo, 1994-) host James Lipton. Ferrell's fast-rising reputation earned him a supporting role as a fez-wearing villain in the hit comedy "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" (1997). The following year, he and Kattan took center stage in "A Night at the Roxbury" (1998), a weak outing based on the pair's "SNL" sketch about club-hopping brothers from Los Angeles. He maintained his position as one of the highest-profile members of the late night comedy cast while lending his unique edge to "Dick" (1999), and ill-advised "SNL" adaptations "Superstar" (1999) and "The Ladies Man" (2000).
In addition to earning an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Performance on a Variety, Musical or Comedy Program in 2001, Ferrell upped his reputation on the big screen with a supporting role as a loopy state trooper in Kevin Smith's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" (2001), then was a memorable blond villain in Ben Stiller's ensemble comedy "Zoolander" (2001). With a budding big screen career and a pile of movie ideas in development with "SNL" writer Adam McKay, Ferrell bid farewell to New York and headed to Los Angeles in 2002. He kicked off the era of the true Will Ferrell movie with "Old School" (2003), which was a perfect fit for Ferrell's gung ho, not-too-bright, man-child, playing one of a trio of middle-aged men who retreat from the pressures of adult life by starting their own frat house. Once again, Ferrell displayed an unflinching lack of vanity and had the confidence to go to sublimely funny extremes to sell a joke. From that hit, Ferrell went on to enjoy true blockbuster status as well as critical kudos as the star of Jon Favreau's holiday comedy "Elf" (2003). The film cast 6'3" Ferrell as a human raised as a North Pole elf, until he finds out that he was adopted and heads to New York to find his real father. Ferrell's wide-eyed guilelessness charmed audiences and - combined with Favreau's deft incorporation of understated sentiment and pop culture references - made the film an instant Christmastime classic.
"Elf" proved Ferrell was a box office draw, which put the actor in a better position to call his own shots. He and McKay co-wrote his next vehicle, "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004), about a pompous, but popular 1970s newscaster resistant to the addition of a female anchor (Christina Applegate) to his staff. While less of a critical hit than "Elf," the film's hilarious lampoon of 1970s culture and outdated sexism spelled another multiplex smash. Ferrell delivered a less clownish, but no less humorous performance in the comedic half of writer-director Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda" (2004), playing a struggling actor who becomes besotted with the neurotic Melinda (Radha Mitchell), then becomes thrilled when his wife (Amanda Peet) leaves him, giving him opportunity to pursue her. Ferrell's role would likely have been played by Allen in earlier days, but Ferrell smartly chose not to emulate Allen's distinctive style and instead earned respect for bringing his own comic sensibility to the part. He also lent a dose of originality to his bizarre role as a Nazi composer in Susan Stroman's adaptation of the Broadway musical (in turn based on Mel Brooks' 1968 film), "The Producers" (2005), earning his first Golden Globe nomination.
Ferrell enjoyed a lesser reception as an overzealous soccer dad whose coaching technique is exacerbated by his relationship with his win-at-all-costs father (Robert Duvall) in "Kicking & Screaming" (2005). That signature "Will Ferrell" style movie was followed by a starring role in an atypically broad comedy, the critically-panned remake of the 1960s sitcom "Bewitched" (2005). From his starring role in one of the year's least loved comedies, he went on to score a terrific cameo in the year's best, the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson vehicle "Wedding Crashers" (2005). He voiced "the Man with the Yellow Hat" in the CGI adaptation of the children's classic "Curious George" (2006) and unleashed his next project as writer, star and producer - the summer box office smash "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" (2006). As a good-old-boy stock car racer so hell-bent on winning that he alienates his family and best friend (John C. Reilly), Ferrell's chronicle of an egomaniac and his comeuppance was full of great comic moments, even if it overstayed its screen welcome by 30 minutes.
The $20 million dollar lead man took a pay cut and a big leap the following year in "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006), where he gave a subdued, but unexpectedly affecting performance as a methodical, joyless tax accountant whose life transforms after he begins hearing an omniscient voice narrating his every move. Detractors called the metaphysical comedy a mass-appeal version of Charlie Kaufman, but Ferrell's believable portrayal of the everyman office drone experiencing an awakening was a score and earned the actor a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. The following year he and McKay took a step back from the world of big budget movies and launched the comedy video website "Funny or Die," which earned an instant following - and 30 million page views - of the pair's inaugural low-budget short film "Landlord" (2007), which starred Ferrell as a deadbeat tenant cursed out and kicked out by a drunken landlord, Pearl, played by McKay's two-year-old daughter. A follow-up video featured McKay's daughter as a baby cop.
Ferrell returned to theaters in "Blades of Glory" (2007), another box office hit that paired him and Jon Heder as a pair of rival figure skaters who form a doubles routine after both are banned from solo competition. The film earned over $100 million at the box office, and despite its one-joke premise, also earned the respect of critics for delivering the laughs. Unfortunately the same could not be said for Ferrell's follow-up, "Semi-Pro" (2007), which augmented the standard "ragtag sports team makes good" plot with the added appeal of taking place during the 1970s merger of the American Basketball Association and the NBA. Despite meticulous historical research, the film missed the mark with both critics and audiences alike. Ferrell took another break from the sports arena, teaming up with McKay and Judd Apatow to write and produce the summer comedy "Step Brothers" (2008). His man-child persona was in full effect for this tale of two live-at-home adults (Ferrell and John C. Reilly) forced to live at home together when their single parents marry. Ferrell was slated to take another stab at classic TV film adaptations with a role as park ranger dad Will in "Land of the Lost," but the CGI-heavy film came and went without much fanfare in 2009.