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Triumph of the Will

Perpetual class clown Will Ferrell dons his dunce cap once again in Old School

Saturday Night Live lost its big, burly heart when Will Ferrell departed from the show after his seventh season. But the frenetic actor had dreams of making it big in Hollywood, where SNL vets like Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, and Tim Kazurinsky all found fame and fortune. This month, Ferrell finally gets his close-up alongside Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn in Old School, in which the three actors play middle-aged pals taking one last grope at their glorious college years. In the spirit of the film, we gave Ferrell a little exam of our own.

Given the opportunity, would you want to go back to college?
I have a recurring dream that I’m one class short of graduating. There’s a highschool version of this dream, where I’m explaining to people why I’m still there, and they say, “But you’re on Saturday Night Live!” But I’mon the basketball team, and I’m bigger and stronger than everybody else, so they make an exception for me so I can play on the team.

Like any good campus comedy, Old School gives you the opportunity to streak before an audience of millions. Tell us aboutfilming your big nude scene.
We shot the scene on a city street, and one of the storefronts was a 24-hour gym with rows of StairMasters and treadmills in thewindow. I was rehearsing in a robe, and all these people are in the gym, watching me. I asked one of the production assistants, “Shouldn’twe tell them I’m going to be naked?” Sure enough, I dropped my robe and there were shrieks of pure horror. After the first take, nobody wasat the window anymore. I took that as a sign of approval.

Has your status as a college graduate helped you in the entertainment industry?
I don’t think my college degree has helped me at all. It waskind of a waste of four years. I guess a lot of people in Hollywood never went. I mean, I’m happy to have a degree in sports information–theydon’t offer that anymore, by the way.

Is it difficult for you to watch Saturday Night Live now and see someone else playing George W. Bush?
When I watch SNL now I like certainthings, and I don’t like others, just like any other viewer. It was great fun playing W., but it was just one of many things I got to do. Allmy characters were annoying–that’s their unifying characteristic. So if I miss playing W., I miss it all. But I started feeling that thewriters were getting a little tired. We started out with such a bang after the Bush-Gore debates. Then 9/11 threw the whole comedy worldfor a loss, but we passed through that point. They do political sketches now, but they’re not critical anymore. If there’s a show that’ssupposed to do that, it’s Saturday Night Live. It could stand to be a little more rock’n’roll.

In your next movie, Elf, you play a man who was raised by Santa’s elves. Do you have any real-life holiday horror storiesto rival that?
When we were still struggling actors, I was Santa Claus and Chris Kattan was my elf–for four weekends in a row at an open-air mall inPasadena [California]. We were free to roam in and out of stores and pass out candy canes. We got so bored we’d stick our heads into thesame stores over and over. We’d be in J. Crew nine times a day. “Hi! It’s us! Merry Christmas!” And they’d be like, “Oh, it’s Santa again.”I grew up in Southern California, so I didn’t know any differently than Christmastime at 80 degrees. But walking around in your Santa suit,sweating your ass off–there’s something not right about that.