Q&A: Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Challenge Metallica’s Lars Ulrich to Drum-Off
Dueling doppelgängers discuss 'Tonight Show,' Chili Peppers, charities, and EDM
Will Ferrell may have gotten the best of Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith in their The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon drum-off last month, but the friendly rivalry between these two lookalikes hasn’t faded. For the first time, exclusively in SPIN, they’re challenging Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich to a second epic drum battle. According to Ferrell, Ulrich gets mixed up with both him and Smith. Which raises the question: Does the metal god dare to ride the lightning?
Meanwhile, Smith said the Chili Peppers are working on a new album, and they’ll play at the U.K. Isle of Wight Festival this weekend. The full band made a surprise appearance on Tonight at the end of Ferrell’s Golden Cowbell-winning performance (which, it should be noted, took place with the Roots drummer and house bandleader Questlove suspiciously near his side).
The actor and the beatkeeper caught up with SPIN over the phone from opposite coasts. After the two compared notes on the Stanley Cup battle between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings, they talked about how the “traditional drum-off” came to be, the charities it supports (Cancer for College and Little Kids Rock), Ulrich’s supposed doppelgänger status, and drumming tricks Ferrell has pulled that would put Weezer Frisbee catcher Patrick Wilson to shame.
Just don’t ask them about Questlove. UPDATE: Ulrich accepted the drum-off challenge.
Will: It was during that Reddit AMA, and someone had made a comment. The question was, “Is this Will Ferrell or is this Chad Smith?” And then I made some comment like, “There actually isn’t a real Will Ferrell. Chad Smith just plays the part of Will Ferrell.” But then all the sudden Chad chimed in and said, “Enough of this. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of being mistaken for Will Ferrell. Let’s have a drum-off.” And then I think Snoop Dogg jumped in there?
Chad: Oh yeah, I think Snoop Dogg wanted to be the referee, or the judge, or something.
Will: Meanwhile, this was all in conjunction — it was a contest on Prizeo to raise money for this charity I’m involved with called Cancer for College. And then all of the sudden I think it was Chad’s idea that if we hit a certain mark, $300,000, we’d do this drum-off. Which, I was like, “Sure, I don’t know what that means, exactly…”
Chad: Yeah, we’ll have a drum-off! Sure!
Will: Lo and behold, we hit the number, and that led to figuring out where and how and when we would do it.
It’s crazy that it all happened that spontaneously. Chad, there was a picture of you at a Grammy event honoring Neil Young shortly before that Reddit thing where you were holding up a sign with your name on it. Do you have to convince people you’re you often?
Chad: Daily. If not hourly. I was literally just getting coffee and this woman came up to me and said, “Oh, you’re so funny. I just love all your films.” And I just went, “Get away from me!”
Will: But then Chad, after we did the thing on The Tonight Show, the next day a lot of people came up and recognized you for who you are. Right?
Will: You had a bunch of people coming up.
Chad: I did, I did. Thank you, Will.
Will: They were very nice.
Chad: Yep. They were pissed. They were like, “Oh, it’s the drummer.”
You guys had only met, what, once before all this stuff?
Chad: We had never met. Will, I don’t know if you remember this — I’m sure you don’t, because we maybe would have spoke of it, other than you telling me about seeing us shopping in the same shopping place once — but a long, long time ago, you were in the film Ladies Man. There was a screening of the film at Paramount in Hollywood. At the time I was dating a girl who worked there. I went to the screening, and you were there and all the actors were there, and after the film there was a little reception thing and cocktails and little, you know, table with food and chicken skewers and shrimp whatevers. And you were over there getting your food, and I was like, “I’m not going to go over. I’m not going to be that guy, like, heyyyy, [untranscribable gurgling noise].”
But I’m over there, filling my plate with food, and there was a gentleman standing between us. And sure enough, he walks away, and we both turned at the same time to each other with our plates of food. And you just looked me up and down really quick and said, “You’re very handsome.” Do you remember that at all?
Chad: And I was like, “God, he’s funny.”
So you guys barely knew each other, you got this all going. How did you get Questlove involved?
Chad: I don’t know what you mean. We didn’t have Questlove involved. He’s the drummer on The Tonight Show, yeah? The Roots.
Didn’t he kind of help out a little bit?
Will: I mean, I find that question insulting. I worked so hard to prepare for the drum battle.
Okay, so Will, you have the Golden Cowbell. Where do you display that?
Will: I don’t, actually.
Chad: Is it under lock and key somewhere?
Will: I wish. It’s being gifted to the Smithsonian as we speak. No, I think we signed and they were selling it for charity.
What happened on The Tonight Show that the viewers at home didn’t see?
Chad: I know what they didn’t see. They cut out a little bit at the end of our on-the-couch interview. Remember when they brought out the cowbell to show off the prize, and Jimmy said, “You can’t touch it till you win it.” And you said, “Yes, I have that tattooed above my crotch.” I think they felt that was a little too risqué.
You mentioned that it got signed and went to charity. I have a bit of a personal connection to Cancer for College, because I’ve known [founder] Craig Pollard my whole life. He taught me how to moonwalk. So what got you involved?
Will: I’ve known Craig since we were in college together, and he’s a two-time cancer survivor. He came up with the idea while we were in school of a charity for families to give scholarships to kids — to cancer survivors. He had done work at the Ronald McDonald House, and he was talking to families, and he realized that if you have a child who’s sick, your main focus is obviously on getting them better. And so many families, depending on their health-care situation, blow through their savings. The idea of having any money leftover for college is an afterthought.
Craig thought that would be a great idea for a charity. He got it together later, when he was established in the business world, and I was on my first or second year on Saturday Night Live, and he was telling me about it. I think I wrote him a check for 50 bucks, which he teases me about. My explanation was I didn’t know if I was going to make it on the show, so I still had to save my money. I was able to go to one of the events they had and meet the kids and listen to the scholarship winners give speeches. After that, I was like, “Oh, Craig, this is an amazing thing. I’ll help out any way I can.”
Chad, on The Tonight Show, Will — or Will posing as you — joked that Little Kids Rock takes instruments away from kids. But it seems like it’s a good charity, too. Can you tell me about that?
Chad: I’ve been involved with them for probably 10 years now. The first thing that goes in public schools these days is the arts and music, which is really sad. I think it’s so important and I think that every kid deserves and should have the right to music and arts in school. I’m a real proponent for that. And Little Kids Rock, they have instruments, they have a place to play, and they have place for kids to feel inspired and have hope. It’s really great, and anything I can do to shine a light on that I’m happy to do.
Because that’s what I did. I went to school and I played music. Music saved my life. If it wasn’t for that, I don’t know if I’d be dead or in jail, or in jail first and then dead, or however it goes. But I’m a real dedicated musician and we can joke about a lot of stuff, which is really fun, but I think it really helped with both these charities. They’re both really great and I’m just proud to be a part of that.
Will: A lot of credit has to be given to Chad and his team to actually get the Chili Peppers to do that whole thing. That was incredible, to actually pull all that off, and I had very little do with it.
Chad: No, see, now, Will’s being very modest. He’s not telling the whole story, because I was so sure — I’m a little bit of a competitive person and he doesn’t really know this, and I was like, “I want to win.” So I’m thinking I bring my guys, you know, even if he pulls out the cowbell, which I thought he might —
Will: It would hedge your bets.
Chad: I’m thinking I bring my guys and we do one of our tunes, boom, done. But you know what? Will got to ‘em first. They played that creepy Blue Öyster Cult song, and —
Will: And it was over.
Will, you told Rolling Stone that you thought this could be “a rivalry that will go on until the end of time.” Do you have any other plans together?
Will: I mean, we did talk about another drum-off. With a third person that looks eerily similar to Chad and I. A third drummer out there.
Chad: I think it’s — did we talk about Lars?
Will: We talked about Lars [Ulrich], from Metallica. So, I don’t know.
Have you heard anything back from him?
Will: Your article will be the first mentioning of it.
Chad: This is a scoop!
Will: Lars gets pissed because he gets mistaken for both me and Chad Smith. He can settle that score now, too.
Chad: There it is. The gauntlet is down.
Will, I understand you’re producing a movie about the electronic dance music scene, I’m in Love With the DJ. Can you tell me anything about that?
Will: That’s a script that’s being written right now by Lauryn Kahn, who’s someone who used to work for our company. In fact, she was [Ferrell’s Funny or Die partner] Adam McKay’s longtime assistant. She sold a script two years ago to Universal, and this is her second script. It’s still in the works, but it’s her take on the whole DJ world.
Dave Chappelle was recently seen crowd-surfing to Skrillex. Do you follow that world at all?
Will: Not one bit. I see the billboards in L.A. for those guys that play in Vegas. I gotta give them credit for guys who can make hundreds of thousands of dollars for literally pushing a button.
Chad: That’s a good gig, you know? There’s not a lot of overhead. There’s no checked luggage. Just carry on your computer, turn it on, push a button, good to go.
Now, you guys are both great drummers. The drummer from Weezer has been getting a lot of press attention this week because he caught a Frisbee in mid-song and kept drumming, transferred it to his mouth and didn’t miss a beat. You guys can do that, right?
Chad: Frisbees? I’ve seen Will catch ninja stars.
Will: I once caught a marlin while I was drumming. We once had a drum-off on the deck of a boat. And I snagged a marlin right out of the air.
Chad: Down in Cabo, that’s right. Non-traditional drum-off.
Will: Non-traditional drum-off, exactly. As opposed to the traditional drum-off.