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Putting The Fun In Dysfunctional
Will Ferrell, the star of Columbia Pictures' comedy Step Brothers, sums up the central characters by describing two grown men in a state of arrested development. "Dale and Brennan never outgrew their adolescent ideas about what's cool, how they'd spend their time when they grew up, what they found entertaining. It was a lot of fun to explore that, thinking, ‘What if you actually became, at 40, the guy you thought you'd be when you were 13?'”

Step Brothers re-teams Ferrell with John C. Reilly and writer-director Adam McKay after the trio's successful collaboration on the hit comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Immediately after wrapping photography on that film, Ferrell, McKay, and Reilly decided that the experience was so creatively satisfying that they wanted to repeat it. "We sat down, had dinner, and spit-balled all these ideas,” Ferrell remembers. 

"When we worked on Talladega, the funniest scenes were the ones that were loose – like the ‘Baby Jesus grace' at the dinner table,” says McKay. "That scene didn't have a lot of story directive – it was just about meeting the characters and establishing the tone. It was important to us to find an idea that, like Talladega, was loose enough but also had enough of an engine to drive the story along.”

At the dinner, Ferrell, McKay, and Reilly came up with "pages and pages of ideas, all pretty solid, but all a little restrictive,” says McKay. Then, the next day, as he was trying to come up with the perfect idea, inspiration struck. "Someone mentioned bunk beds for their kids and I thought, ‘I got it.' Two grown guys, still living at home, their single parents get married, and now they have to share a room.”

"As soon as we heard the idea, we immediately went for it,” Reilly adds. "Imagine if your kids just never really matured and never left the house. I mean, I love my kids, but I really hope they grow up and move out eventually.”

"What do you do if your kids are a mess?” asks producer Judd Apatow. "Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen play the parents, and what's funny about their fights in the movie is that they really just don't know what to do. Interestingly, it's a pretty common problem: how do you get your kids out of the house?”

"Brennan and Dale are very leery of each other. Neither of them likes the new situation at all,” Ferrell says. "All that changes when Dale meets Brennan's younger brother Derek, who comes to dinner one night with his family. Derek is the complete opposite of Brennan. He's successful, handsome, and has everything going for him. He's also tormented Brennan his entire life. Dale comes to Brennan's defense by sucker-punching Derek, and from that moment on, Dale and Brennan are best friends.”

Reilly explains his character's unique brand of self-centeredness: "Dale is an extreme case of arrested development. His dad's a doctor, so he's never really had to work for anything. He's just into the things that he likes and everything else doesn't interest him at all. He's into the drums, sling shots, karate, and fireworks. He's a guy who already feels like he's got the greatest life ever and he doesn't have to really work.”

Still, although they'd be playing the "kids,” Ferrell found that the movie's central conflict was in two other characters. "When we started writing, we came up with crazy scenarios from every kind of brotherly fight we could think of and any adolescent scenario that made us laugh,” Ferrell says. "But as we continued, we really started identifying with the parents.”

McKay says that when he and Ferrell sit down to write together, the first step is often improvisation. "It's like we're on stage doing it – he's a character, and I'm a character, and we're flipping back and forth who plays each part,” says the writer-director. "The entire goal is to come up with something that makes the other person laugh.

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