While he’s made his living playing characters in comedies who have names like Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby, Brennan Huff, Jackie Moon, Chazz Michael Michaels and more recently on the small screen, Deangelo Vickers, Will Ferrell, like many comics before him, has dipped his toes into the dramatic world as well. He’s turned in fine performances in films like “Winter Passing” and “Stranger Than Fiction,” but perhaps nothing has challenged his non-comedic chops more to date than the upcoming indie “Everything Must Go.”
The first feature by Dan Rush, the film is based on a Raymond Carver short story and follows a recovering alcoholic (Ferrell) who holds a yard sale of his life belongings after he gets fired and comes home to find that his wife has thrown all his stuff on the lawn. It’s a darker role than usual for the funnyman but he steps up to the plate and delivers a fine, tender performance that leaves most of his comic arsenal at home. We recently spoke with director Dan Rush about how he brought the film together and he shared with us some unexpected influences that marked his debut feature outing.
The first question we had to ask was how on Earth the director landed a name like Will Ferrell for his first movie and Rush had a quip ready to go. “A lot of begging. Large bags of money delivered at night,” he joked. But while the real story wasn’t quite exciting as that, it revealed an actor and his team who aren’t afraid of a challenging role.
“It was interesting, when we first started talking with producers about casting the movie, we had a list, and we had kind of your usual suspects of really awesome actors of independent movies. And one of my producers said, ‘What about Will Ferrell?’ And I said, ‘Wow, do you really think he would do something like this?’ And he had done a movie with a friend of mine — ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ — so I knew that he was capable,” Rush explained about the process of casting Ferrell. “So they sent it to him, his manager and agents read it and to their credit they passed it along, and then Will read it and really responded. So we sat down and met and I could just tell very early on that he wanted to make the same kind of movie that I wanted to make. I had a fair amount of actor meetings, and our first meeting was fairly brief. [I thought] ‘I hope that went well.’ And a couple of days later they were like, ‘He wants to do it.’ And I was like, ‘Wow?! He does? Are you sure?'”
But once Rush got over the shock of Ferrell coming on board the film, he found a worthy collaborator. “I was lucky enough to spend a week or so going over the script with him and talking about our ideas and that was supervaluable, especially on a short shooting schedule,” Rush said about how he and Ferrell worked on the film prior to shooting. “And then as the character evolved as we shot the movie, there were definitely moments where the script didn’t seem like it was tracking the way it had tracked before and I think we were both pretty comfortable with changing that stuff and making it better. So that was kind of nice, getting a little bit of that evolution. But, we didn’t change a lot.”
“It was great. I feel so lucky that I got him. Not only because he made the process really easy, but I think he’s really good in the movie,” Rush enthused.
However, Ferrell is one of the few actors in town who can make his presence felt on the script if he really wanted to, but his reputation preceded him and Rush fully trusted the actor with his project. “I think there is always that fear [of a project getting taken over] because there are actors who have proven that to be true. And I’ve talked to directors who have worked in situations where their movie has not become their own,” Rush said. “But I knew enough about Will and the people around him to know that he was a good guy and he was really respectful. Apart from his job as an actor, I don’t think I could have a picked a better person to make the movie with. That being said, if he was a good person and didn’t deliver, I’d rather take the bad person. He allayed those fears pretty quickly. Like if something was going to happen, it was going to happen quickly, and none of those signs were ever there.”
And not only was Ferrell cooperative in spirit, he immediately took to the material, and Rush didn’t have to worry about managing his big personality. “He was really on point every day. There was not a lot of reigning in,” he said. “I think he really got the character — maybe it was all the work that we did — but he really kind of occupied this guy’s character. And there weren’t very many moments where he wasn’t true to that guy. And we played with stuff a lot. We pushed stuff and you’d very quickly see what felt real and what didn’t. He had a really amazing sense of that.”
Much of the film’s success comes from the lower key, subtle approach by the director who wisely and refreshingly doesn’t go for big scenes but lets the smaller moments develop into poignant, memorable snapshots as these characters evolve. So it’s not too surprising that some of his influences come from films that took a similar path. “There were a lot of different things we looked at for visuals and for tone,” Rush explained. “We looked at ‘Chungking Express‘ and ‘Being There‘…. and Alexander Payne‘s work. One of my favourite movies is this movie called ‘Barbarian Invasions.’ I really liked the tone of that movie and that script and that was one that informed the movie as well. It’s one of my favorites.”
Balancing moods of dark humor and drama, “Everything Must Go” is both witty and wise, warm and real. As a debut, Rush couldn’t have asked for a better cast — which also includes Rebecca Hall and Michael Pena — and he does a solid job bringing this story of a man at the end of his rope to life, finding the silver lining that outlines the cloud hanging over him. “Everything Must Go” opens Friday, May 13th in limited release.