THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Ferrell speaks for evil Megamind with good intentions

By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / October 31, 2010

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Whether it’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,’’ “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,’’ or some other exercise in blustery tomfoolery, Will Ferrell has said that he likes to play characters who are “in the same mold of unearned confidence, just really brash and cocky with kind of an undercurrent of complete insecurity.’’ He delivers a cartoonier-than-usual variation on this theme in “Megamind,’’ his new animated feature (opening Friday) about a blue-skinned, chrome-domed supervillain grandiosely obsessed with defeating beloved superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt) — in popularity contests as well as in battle. Ferrell recently spoke to the Globe by phone from Los Angeles about playing bad to the bone.

Q. Where does Megamind rank on the cocky-but-insecure scale, compared with Ron Burgundy, or Ricky Bobby, or Chazz Michael Michaels from “Blades of Glory’’?

A. He does need affirmation from Minion [David Cross’s sidekick character]. He needs to know that he’s good at what he does. So he’s a similar character in that regard. But I don’t know that I’ve ever played anyone who’s purposely trying to be “evil,’’ which was the fun hook. And yet it’s not so much that he relishes being bad; he’s just found that it’s a good way of getting attention. He just wants to be liked.

Q. At a couple of points in the movie, we get to hear you do a mwa-ha-ha-ha right out of the Vincent Price school. Is there an acting secret to doing a good maniacal laugh?

A. Great lung capacity, and a lot of control from the diaphragm. Those are the keys.

Q. The character has a habit of obliviously stumbling over certain words — everything from sighing that he’s “mel-ON-cully’’ to mispronouncing “hello.’’ Is that because he’s an alien? An unteachable know-it-all?

A. He was so ostracized growing up, he was just kind of left alone devising ways to defeat Metro Man, and that lack of contact with the world reveals itself in his vocabulary. Mostly it just made us laugh to imagine that someone who’s a self-proclaimed evil genius can’t pronounce certain words.

Q. What others might trip him up?

A. Car names. He would definitely call a Chevy a “Chevy’’ [as in Chase], or a Subaru a “Su-BAR-oo.’’

Q. One of Megamind’s evil inventions is a self-morphing device that gives you and the animators a chance to do a Marlon Brando spoof — but not the sort you usually see.

A. Probably not [laughs]. When we were recording those scenes, the director said, “The space dad [disguise] is drawn like Brando’s “Superman’’ character. Do you want to try a Brando voice?’’ And I thought, why not? When you listen to it, I’m legitimately trying to do the best Brando that I can. And I knew it would come out poorly, but it really is like a cross between Brando and Garry Marshall, like this [scratchy-lispy] “Hello, how ahhh you?’’ It’s so not Brando.

Q. You’ve done animation work before, as the Man With the Yellow Hat, for one. How did this experience compare?

A. There were some confusing creative battles [on “Curious George’’] about whether it was supposed to be just a sweet movie for kids or if it should try to be funny. And because of that, I went into this zone of, “Oh, I don’t want to do animated movies.’’ But when Jeffrey [Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation] came along and pitched this story, I thought, “Well, maybe I should give it one more shot — it’s DreamWorks.’’ And I just felt this was a story that hadn’t been told before: a villain who finally realizes that he can’t really function without a good guy, and in his effort to re-create one, he learns how to be good.

Q. We caught the reports earlier this month that “Zoolander’’ might be spun off into an online animated series. Any word on the return of Mugatu?

A. I don’t know much about it — that was news to me, too.

Q. Your next live-action feature, “Everything Must Go,’’ is adapted from a Raymond Carver short story, and deals with a downward-spiraling hard drinker who decides to hold a cathartic yard sale after his wife dumps all his possessions on the lawn. Is that choice having an impact yet on the scripts you’re being sent?

A. I don’t know how many people in Hollywood have seen it — it was just purchased at the Toronto Film Festival and it looks like it’s going to be released in the springtime. So, no impact yet. But my goal is to finally get a Hallmark Channel movie.

Tom Russo can be reached at trusso2222@gmail.com.

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