Casa de mi Padre: How Matt Piedmont took Will Ferrell’s crazy idea to the big screen
From the current issue of Clash.
Will Ferrell had a brainwave: wouldn’t it be funny for him to star in a Spanish-language comedy? He developed the idea with Saturday Night Live writer Andrew Steele and presented the results to another SNL creative, director Matt Piedmont.
“When I read the script, it had everything,” says Piedmont, acknowledging how crazy the concept is. “Peckinpah-style shoot-outs, drama, a trip-out scene. It was right up my alley.”
Ferrell plays Armando, a Mexican rancher and the loser among his siblings. The return of his wealthy younger brother Raul (Diego Luna) and his fiancée Sonia (Genesis Rodriguez) suggests that the ranch’s financial troubles are over. But the feeling that Raul’s empire has been earned in less than legitimate circumstances is confirmed when they find themselves embroiled in a deadly drugs war with the feared Onza (Gael García Bernal).
Written in deliberately hackneyed English and adapted into Spanish by a very confused translator (“People don’t say this in Spanish?”, “They don’t say it in English either!”), one of the film’s main key challenges was that Ferrell didn’t speak any Spanish at all, so his improvisational skills had to take a backseat.
“When he finished for the day he’d breathe a sigh of relief, and then start panicking because he had to do it again the next day,” laughs Piedmont. “It was like taking Muhammad Ali and tying one hand behind his back. We took away Will’s major skill and pushed him out into the spotlight.”
The performances in the film are played relatively straight. As Luna explains, rather than playing Raul, he’s playing a bad actor that has made a bad decision by playing Raul. By contrast, the presentation is played entirely for laughs with painted backdrops, continuity errors, stuffed animals and a bizarre scene with what could be considered a coyote. “I love classic cinema and cult films like Alejandro Jodorowsky, so it was really fun to be able to use the old Cinemascope lenses and create a visual presentation that was as important as the actual performances.”
The end result references Mexican telenovelas, Luna and Bernal boldly embrace their Scarface fantasies, while Ferrell’s lead role is recognisable but bizarre. “It’s a faux-spaghetti-western-comedy masterpiece through the lens of Mexican narco-cinema,” summarises Piedmont. I hope that’s not how you pitched it to investors? “We took everything on the checklist that’s been known to be marketable and to make money, and we did the exact opposite.”