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Everything Must Go – Why Will Ferrell gets emotional

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Everything Must Go - Will Ferrell
Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) returns home to find he is looked out and his belongings scattered © 2011 Roadside Attractions

Will Ferrell in a drama? It doesn’t happen often, but his new movie, Everything Must Go, is no laughing matter. In it he portrays Nick Halsey, an alcoholic and career salesman whose days of being on top are long gone. The same day Nick gets fired, for falling off the wagon one last time, he returns home to find the locks on his house have been changed, his wife gone, and all of his possessions strewn across the front yard.

With a hold on his credit cards, Nick is faced with the dilemma of literally living on the lawn and getting rid of his stuff by holding a yard sale in order to survive. Christopher Jordan ‘CJ’ Wallace plays Kenny, a young kid who passes by and ends up helping Nick with the sale.

I spoke with Will Ferrell about this unusually serious role.

What was it about this script that captivated you?

Everything Must Go - Will Ferrell
Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) and his yard sale © 2011 Roadside Attractions

It constantly ebbs and flows between these extreme sad, serious moments and these situations that are really humorous. It’s not afraid to be emotional, it’s not afraid to be touching, but what I loved most about it is that it’s ambiguous at times – it gives the audience the opportunity to work things out for themselves.

What was it about the role of Nick that you liked?

I jumped at the chance [to play Nick Halsey]. You just don’t get that many opportunities to wok with great material. I’ve gotten to do a couple of movies outside of the box of what I usually do, but nothing as emotionally driven as this.

I loved the touches of darkness in this character, and I think we see a little of those in the character in The Office as well. Are we witnessing a dark period in your career?

Everything Must Go - Will Ferrell
Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) gets use to cycling © 2011 Roadside Attractions

My blue period? Yes, officially. That’s just a happy coincidence. Deangelo is pretend dark though, and Nick is real life dark.

Are you looking for characters in general who are more serious?

No, with The Office I just left it up to that writing staff to create whatever they wanted to create and that’s kind of what they chose.

This whole process happened probably two years ago when I first met Dan (Rush, the movie’s director) and read the script. Regardless of whether it was darker it was just such a unique project and a new challenge for me and something I really wanted to try.

There are scenes where you could have been comical but chose not to.

I’m getting asked the question, were there moments where you were tempted to make them funny? I don’t think you can sit down and begin to read a piece of material like this and start earmarking it with, ‘Ah, this would be funny. I could barf on myself here.  I know how to spice that up.’

It’s evident from the beginning what the tone’s going to be and that’s where you put your mind, and so you think of it as a serious piece. And playing the drunk we were very cognizant of avoiding having any false moments and we didn’t want the comedy to come, we wanted it just to happen organically and never feel forced or pushed.

You and Christopher had a natural chemistry throughout this movie. Did you two get together prior to filming this to get to know each other a little bit?

Everything Must Go - Will Ferrell and Christopher Jordan Wallace
Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) and Kenny Loftus (Christopher Jordan Wallace) © 2011 Roadside Attractions

Thank you. Christopher and I spent three weeks together in the Grand Canyon, we took a mule trip down to the bottom, no guides, and at one point I left him there for a week. I said I would come back, it turns out I was gone longer. So that’s where most of our bonding took place. (he laughs)

No, I think that’s really a credit to how good CJ is, because we didn’t have a ton of time together before we started filming. What we saw in auditioning with Christopher was that it seemed like he was already so grounded and mature in a way that would help us, because a lot of the scenes that you see in the film were maybe three, four, five takes at the most.

We didn’t have the luxury of time or film stock and all these forces going against us that we just had to make sure we had someone that felt like they could start at level ten on take one, and he could do that.

In between the takes, when we were setting up for the next scene, we hung out in front of this house that we shot at, while they rearranged the furniture for a different part of the movie. And that’s where we spent the most time getting to know each other.

Have you had any real world experience going to garage sales?

Everything Must Go - Laura Dern and Will Ferrell
Delilah (Laura Dern) and Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) © 2011 Roadside Attractions, Photo by John Estes

I remember going with my mom to a random garage sale as a kid and thinking what a cool treasure hunt that whole world was, only to transition as an adult to think what a gross place a yard sale really is if you think about it.

What’s next for you?

What’s next for me specifically is I’m going to shoot a movie in the fall with Zack Galifianakis where we’re rival southern politicians in a small congressional district in South Carolina, that we’ll release for the election season next year that comments on the circus that is now modern day politics.

Will you do Anchorman 2?

With Anchorman 2 you really have to assert some sort of e mail hate campaign to Paramount Pictures because they have told us, they’ve run the numbers and it’s not a good fit. Our idea was to make it a musical. We were going to do a Broadway musical and then have a film come out after the stage show.

Everyone that we tell the idea to loves it except for the studio that owns the rights. The ball’s in their court, but they’re being idiots.