Why Will Ferrell Thought ‘Old School’ + ‘Elf’ Would End His Career

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Photo Source: Courtesy New Line Cinema

Whether he’s requesting “more cowbell” on “Saturday Night Live” or sitting behind Ron Burgundy’s “Anchorman” desk, there’s no question that Will Ferrell has been a crowd-pleaser for decades now. So it’s surprising that when he was gearing up for the back-to-back releases of two of his most beloved staples—2003’s “Old School” and “Elf”—he thought both had the potential to ruin his career. 

In a recent sit-down with the Hollywood Reporter, Ferrell recalled thinking, “Boy, this could be the end” while filming “Elf.” When the movie was being screen tested, he was relieved that audiences seemed to love it. But in advance of “Old School,” his manager told him, “We could really get eviscerated in this next one. I’m looking at a bunch of what look like USC frat boys about to go in.” 

“Old School” went on to make $87 million at the box office. So, safe to say, neither film ended Ferrell’s career; but they may have contributed to a problem that the actor still faces today: “People come up to me all the time,” the actor says, “like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s you! Do something funny!’ Every time it happens, he admits, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

Ferrell isn’t complaining about being a one-man comedy institution, mind you. He recognizes what an incredible career he’s had and is still having; he’ll next be seen on the new Apple TV+ series “The Shrink Next Door.” Whenever he does feel unmoored, though, he recalls advice from his father, Righteous Brothers keyboardist Roy Lee Ferrell.

“If it doesn’t work out, it’s not you, and don’t ever be afraid to just hang it all up and do something else,” Ferrell remembers his dad saying. The mantra allowed him to lift a weight off his shoulders and reminded him to always keep a plan B tucked in his back pocket. “Literally, [my wife] Viv and I would drive around, like, ‘Gosh, if it all goes away, maybe we can have a dog grooming thing?’ ” 

Luckily for audiences everywhere, Ferrell has so far stuck to his day job.