Will Ferrell is about to make his Broadway debut, but he’s not worried about the physical demands of doing a one-man show eight times a week. Or maybe he just didn’t know that’s what’s in store for him.
“I was never under the impression I was doing eight shows a week,” Ferrell said Friday during HBO’s press tour sessions. “Where did you hear that? I thought I was only doing three, if I wanted to.”
“Yeah. Because basically he tapes it, and then they just play it to the audience every week,” adds his creative partner Adam McKay.
“It” is You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush, in which Ferrell will break out his impression of the outgoing president for the last time and take audiences through his two terms. The Broadway run begins previews on Jan. 20, and HBO will do a live broadcast of one of his performances live in March.
The show will be the longest sustained performance of the character that Ferrell has ever done, but he and McKay — who helped develop Ferrell’s Dubya as a Saturday Night Live writer and went on to direct him in Anchorman and Talladega Nights — think they have a framework to make You’re Welcome more than just a sketch that goes on too long.
“We just tried to create a piece that, you know, goes through the two terms of his presidency … I mean, unfortunately, there’s so much material that we had to kind of figure out where we were going to go with it,” Ferrell says. “But it goes in and out of obviously real events, real actions, real quotes of his too [and] we kind of take little tangents that are fictional. But there’s kind of a narrative that connects the whole thing to make it one piece.”
Ferrell — sporting an earflap hat and a pair of “2009” glasses he insists are prescription — says the idea for the Bush farewell grew out of another one-man show that fell through a couple years ago.
“We had come out [to New York] and looked at theaters and started the process going, but it didn’t happen,” he says. “Adam and I share the same manager, Jimmy Miller, and we were talking about that. And I was kind of lamenting the fact that we couldn’t do that, but it really would have been fun. It was actually Jimmy who said, ‘Why don’t we do Bush in January for the last time?’ … It just seemed apropos to the times we’re in right now and also a great challenge comedically to kind of send this character off.”
The idea behind the show is “before you close the book of history, let the man have a say,” McKay says. Ferrell adds, “Let this guy explain to you — let him kind of set the record straight.” And whether people find that “funny or horrifying,” as McKay puts it, will probably depend on their point of view.
“From our experience at SNL, we would often find that the Bush sketches that we would do, Republicans would like it as much as Democrats,” McKay says. “Because I think if you do it right, there’s always a center of truth to it, and then it’s a matter of how you view that truth. Is it funny or horrifying? We’re hoping it’s the same kind of thing with this.”
You’re Welcome, America begins previews at Broadway’s Cort Theater on Tuesday, Jan. 20 and officially opens Feb. 5. The HBO special is scheduled for March 14.