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THE CAMPAIGN

About The Production
"War has rules, mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules." - Presidential candidate Ross Perot, 1988

The election process in this country can sometimes get so wild, you just have to laugh…especially if you're Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis or admitted political news junkie Jay Roach, director/producer of the irreverent new comedy "The Campaign."

Known for "Meet the Parents" and the Austin Powers send-ups, Roach also successfully addressed the American political system from a more serious perspective in HBO's acclaimed dramas "Recount" and "Game Change," and has come to believe that sometimes the best way to confront the subject is head-on, with humor. "I think comedy is the correct response to politics these days. At least it gives you something to laugh about and makes the reality of it easier to swallow, whereas if you just watch the news it can be pretty scary," he offers. "Looking at some of today's election campaigns, I don't know if this is what our founding fathers had in mind."

Luckily, Roach was able to exorcise his anxieties in a big way in "The Campaign," with Ferrell and Galifianakis, who also served as producers on the film, and whom he calls "two of the funniest, smartest guys on Earth. Will and Zach go all the way as rival candidates who have the resources to completely destroy each other by pulling out every form of shady campaign strategy you can imagine, every sleazy video and shameless dirty trick. And it quickly degenerates from there."

The filmmakers, anticipating an R-rating, knew they'd have free rein to take this story as far as it needed to go, in a way that audiences everywhere could relate to-whether Republican, Democrat, Independent or fill-in-the-blank.

Ferrell, who stars as entrenched incumbent Cam Brady, friend to all and faithful to none, says, "One of the things the story makes fun of is the amount of money that can be poured into elections and how much influence it can have. The district these guys are fighting over is a relatively small one, unimportant on the larger stage, but, for the powers that circle it, it's vital for their business interests and therefore worth a great deal to them."

Representing the competition, Galifianakis stars as clueless first-time candidate Marty Huggins, who may have started out with some good intentions but soon adapts to reveal a talent for treachery that just needed some focus-which his backers are happy to provide. "I've followed politics all my life and I'm still amazed by the amount of puppeteering that goes on behind the scenes in the making of a politician, and how the public can be duped by that," says Galifianakis. "We're just showing, in a fun and funny way, how the sausage is made."

Pitting them against each other, tooth and nail, over a hot Congressional seat was suggested by producer Adam McKay of "Saturday Night Live" renown, who has collaborated with Ferrell for years and revels in blasting both sides of the aisle. "I wrote many of the cold opens for Will as George Bush and for Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton on SNL, so political posturing in general has always been something I've been interested in," he says.

In the same vein, "The Campaign" is an equal-opportunity offender, taking aim not at the politics but the process, and how, for a growing number of campaigns being waged around the country, it doesn't seem to be so much about parties or issues or ideology anymore but about spending, fighting and winning… and spending some more. So why not take that to the next level and see what happens?

"As one insult leads to another, both characters eventually lose their minds," McKay continues. "They snap. What starts out as typical mud-slinging and crazy accusations turns into a coliseum death match."

"The Campaign" also lampoons one of Roach's favorite PR tools: the ubiquitous catch phrase. Says the director, "People are always reaching for catchy, meme ideas to carry the essence of who they are; loaded but largely meaningless phrases for the short-attention- span public, that we all seem to fall for, time and again. I'd love to be in the brainstorming meetings for some of these and see how they come up with a winner. For Cam Brady, we went with 'America, Jesus, Freedom.' Amplify and repeat. Because these are the words he believes people want to hear. It seems that candidates can't get anywhere now without talking about freedom as if they invented the notion, and they have to paint themselves as the most patriotic of Americans-certainly more patriotic than their opponents, who they'd like us to believe are in league with terrorists."

Notes Ferrell, "Cam's big slogan isn't really a slogan. It's not even a sentence. It's just words, like his other battle cry, 'Cam Brady in 0-12,' which doesn't even make sense, numerically, but sounds powerful and decisive."

Screenwriter Chris Henchy, also an executive producer on "The Campaign," explains, "It's not long before even the pretense of running a rational race between these two is cast aside and it's about burying the other guy at all costs. I think it's the natural evolution of the process, the absurdity of where campaigns like this could be going. It's all about, 'How can I take down my opponent?' Get him out of the picture, ruin his life and win. Afterwards, maybe you can think about good deeds and figure out your policies, but first you have to win. It doesn't matter how you get there, just get there!"

The filmmakers' biggest challenge lay in making an outrageous comedy that could outpace the outrageous reality of an increasingly out-of-control news cycle. Throughout the project's development and production, everyone involved was entertained, not to mention amazed, by the fact that so many of the scenarios they devised for laughs were touched upon, if not occasionally topped, by actual headlines: affairs, scandals, lies, hunting accidents, manufactured outrage over youthful indiscretions and chest-pounding displays of national pride. And haircuts. Big, fat expensive haircuts.

"The funniest thing about the movie is that so much of it rings true," says McKay. "You're going to see a lot of ridiculous accusations, a voicemail message gone horribly astray, a giant rally with fireworks and dancing cheerleaders, and a candidate for Congress flying down a wire like a rock star. It's going to look insane and over-the-top. Then, in the weeks afterward, you may notice things in the news that aren't so far removed and realize it's not all so crazy after all. Watch this movie, then look at what actually goes on and you might think, 'Holy crap!'"

Still, screenwriter Shawn Harwell points out, for all the mayhem on screen and improvisational input from the cast, "Jay made sure it all made sense and that we were getting the most emotional payoff for the journey, by telling a complete story and then finding ways to mine the comedy from that, rather than a lot of throwaway gags. And Will and Zach bring a lot of likeability to these characters that I think will make audiences root for them to succeed in their own way."

Considering the timing of the film's American debut, Ferrell says, "Releasing it before the next big presidential race might give people some relief from the election season and the fatigue of campaign ads, and bring them some laughs just when they need it most." "If there's a message here," suggests Galifianakis, "It's that we're all screwed."

"That little guy's a weirdo. I'm gonna smoke that clown." --Cam Brady, 2012

After four consecutive terms with no opposition, Cam Brady has embraced his lifestyle as a career Congressman with a great sense of ease and entitlement…and every expectation of sliding into a fifth. Says Ferrell, "Cam's a pretty lazy politician. He's been touted as a possible vice presidential candidate, which shows how high his aspirations go, but that's only because he imagines the job as a lot of ribbon-cutting, fancy balls, celebrity perks and kicking back. He's also morally corrupt."

Moreover, Ferrell adds, "He's an expert at saying nothing, with that super-polished way politicians have in responding to questions with statements like, 'Thank you very much for your concern,' or 'I appreciate your carving out 15 minutes of your day to come down here to speak about the problems we all face,' and then not actually providing an answer. It was so much fun to adopt those speech patterns."

When in doubt, Cam employs the guaranteed crowd-pleaser "Support our troops!," with the hope that the ensuing applause will drown out any inconvenient follow-ups. "He's not that bright, either," notes Galifianakis. "And Will plays that better than anybody. There were some takes where he had me laughing so hard I was in tears. Of course, that's always the goal when you're working on a scene-to make your fellow actors break up so that they look completely unprofessional."

But even with such an undistinguished record, Cam might have easily ridden the wave of public indifference into another term if he hadn't gotten sloppy. "He leaves a salacious message on what he thinks is his mistress's voicemail and it turns out to be the home of a very respectable family with young children," Roach reveals. "Suddenly it's a huge story. His poll numbers plummet."

It's not the first time Cam has been caught with his pants down, though, and he's sure he can put the incident behind him with an appropriately staged public apology, a wide smile and some fancy footwork from his faithful campaign manager, Mitch.

"You can't teach charisma and Cam Brady is charming as hell. He's been relying on that for years," says Jason Sudeikis, who stars as Mitch, not only Cam's campaign manager but closest friend, the guy who knows him better than anyone and is always there to cover his tracks and put out the fires he sets. "Mitch runs the gamut from enabler to straight man, to the voice of reason, to a cohort, depending upon what's needed. Mostly he protects Cam from himself and his own appetites and delusions and, at the same time, truly likes him and believes in him."

"Overall, I think if you threw Mitch into DC or a bigger arena he'd get chewed up, but for the 14th district of North Carolina, he's the man," says Chris Henchy. "It helps when there's no one running against your candidate."

Mitch's loyalty and creativity are perhaps most evident when Cam is pressed to recite The Lord's Prayer in public and must rely on his manager's elaborate back-of-the-room pantomimes to piece the words together, a hilarious performance that Sudeikis ad-libbed in rehearsal. "That was my improv instinct kicking in," he says. "While Cam is sweating it out on stage, he looks toward Mitch for support and I just wanted him to have something to respond to. From there it grew, with Jay adjusting the focus and the writers giving it more context. You never know if that sort of stuff will make it into the movie but it's a good sign when you see the director laughing."

As Cam brazens through this latest scandal with his usual flair, the seasoned politico prepares to segue unopposed into his fifth term in office. But this time, to his astonishment, a challenger appears out of nowhere: local tour operator Marty Huggins-a dumpy, soft-spoken, cardigan-wrapped, fanny-pack-wearing oddball with zero political experience. "Marty is a bit of a simpleton," says Galifianakis. "He runs a tourist office in a town that gets maybe four visitors a year. But he's very happy with his life, and he's proud of his town. He's a little weird, too, in ways that are probably better left unexamined, but you sense that he has a good heart."

The Marty character shares some DNA with another deceptively genial bumpkin born out of Galifianakis's rich imagination-a mannered, lisping southern high school coach and youth minister named Seth, which the comic sometimes portrays as his supposed twin brother. Ferrell, a big fan of the act, says, "That bit is so ridiculously funny that we wanted to bring some of those characteristics into the story somehow, even before we had the details worked out."

Roach, who directed Galifianakis in 2010's "Dinner for Schmucks," agrees that "Marty is a little off-center. He loves his community, his pugs, and then his wife and kids, probably in that order. What immediately sets him apart from Cam, besides his total lack of polish, is that he genuinely cares. For reasons that have nothing to do with his qualifications, he is suddenly tapped to run for Congress and, because he really wants to make a difference, he accepts. But he clearly has no idea what that involves and, seeing that, you kind of start rooting for him to figure it out and make the most of this great, unexpected opportunity."

Naturally, Cam can't take this upstart seriously, and plans to make short work of him at their first official meeting, the traditional Civility Brunch-which is anything but. "It's Marty's eye-opener into what this campaign is going to be," Ferrell hints.

"It's a mess!" --Marty Huggins, 2012

The Civility Brunch, in which Cam ambushes his opponent with a video montage of the most humiliating moments of his life, should have marked not only the debut but the ignoble end of Marty Huggins's brief political career if not for one thing…one diabolically powerful force that no one was expecting. Tim Wattley. The Terminator. The baddest, toughest, meanest and winning-est campaign manager who ever whipped a candidate into shape for success.

To Roach, "Wattley represents the dark arts operatives, those guys who work below the surface and get passed down from one administration to another for whoever needs them, left or right, and is willing to pay for their services. They're essentially hired guns, but instead of people, they assassinate character."

Dylan McDermott, who stars as the laser-focused Machiavellian developed an even more severe take on the character than was originally conceived. "Wattley arrives on the scene like a commando and assesses the situation, sees what needs to be fixed and fixes it," the actor outlines. "He's not afraid to get his hands dirty, which is good because he's dealing with a guy who looks like a gnome. He gets Marty botox'd, gets his eyebrows trimmed, his teeth whitened, his hair styled and his entire wardrobe overhauled. He gets Marty to the gym, teaches him how to walk, how to talk, and what to say. He cleans out the house and puts the whole family on notice. He even replaces their dogs."

Under Wattley's tutelage, Marty also adopts a catch-phrase of his own, "It's a Mess," aimed at anything and everything his opponent has supposedly mishandled-without, of course, detailing any actual solutions.

Costume designer Daniel Orlandi contributed to Marty's startling before-and-after, as he ditches the pleated jeans and soft, colorful sweaters for his fresh, poll-tested battle gear. "You need a nicely tailored suit but not too nice," Orlandi cautions. "You don't want it to seem inaccessible to the masses they're trying to identify with."

American flag lapel pins for both candidates were de rigueur, of course, and grow larger as the rivalry heats up. Color was also a big factor, with navy blue leading the charge. Says Orlandi, "There's a whole thing about navy blue and surveys that suggest people don't trust black suits, so navy is the way to go. Sometimes they change it up a little with taupe, but these two are so insecure about not being perceived as patriotic that they'll add a red or blue tie, for that red, white and blue look."

Appropriately, the designer reserved a coal-black palette for Wattley. "We're pretty sure Tim Wattley has been inside the chambers of power and has seen and done some unsavory things," McKay drily suggests. "Mitch may have given half his soul for Cam, but Wattley has sold his soul and then taken a second mortgage on it. He is stone cold."

"Wattley takes over Marty's life and Marty trusts him because he believes that if he does as instructed, he can win this election and make his town a better place," says Galifianakis.

At least that's part of the plan. But what Marty doesn't realize is that, for all his keen attention, Wattley doesn't have the slightest interest in him or his potential constituents. McDermott acknowledges, "Wattley is maybe the craziest person in the movie, in his own way. His job is to get someone elected, period. He couldn't care less about this candidate or the one on the other side, or the communities they serve or what they stand for, or any of that."

What motivates Wattley is money. In that regard, he has much in common with the two men who have surreptitiously hired him and placed his substantial services at the disposal of this nincompoop. Billionaire brothers Glenn and Wade Motch, wickedly portrayed by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, have long been in Cam's camp, backing him and tolerating his shenanigans, but they were not pleased when their man in Congress recently became a tabloid punch-line. Now, on the threshold of a crucial and deliciously profitable deal that's dependent on bending a few laws, they can't afford to risk it all on a man who is too hard to control. It was time to exercise their options.

"Their only identity and allegiance is wealth," McKay remarks. "Even though they're making obscene amounts of money, they want to make pornographic amounts of money." Switching sides, politically, means nothing to the Motches. "They're equal opportunity corruptors," says Lithgow. "If one party doesn't work they revert to the other, which is another of the film's satiric points: 'A plague on both your houses,' a blanket condemnation at how money is really influencing everything."

The duo plucks Marty Huggins from obscurity because, says Aykroyd, "They think they can manipulate him. The Motches are people who believe they can arrange elections to be won or lost based upon their support and dirty tricks. They recruit candidates who may want to do good things but who are also ambitious and vulnerable."

From Marty's perspective, the Motches' support means not only an opportunity to do some good for his community but, perhaps far more important, the chance to accomplish the one goal he's always pursued in vain: his father's acknowledgement.

Raymond Huggins, played by Brian Cox, is a taciturn, hard-drinking, former political power broker from the good old days when men brandished cigars instead of blackberries. He has the utmost respect for the Motches but cannot imagine what they see in Marty. The boy's been nothing but a disappointment to him, since childhood.

But with Wattley and the Motches at his back, Marty is a changed man. Says Galifianakis, "I think anybody who had that kind of machine behind him would fall for it and start believing their own hype, and Marty does that to some extent. Even though he doesn't know what he's doing, his ego-what little he has of it-kind of starts taking over."

Falling in behind their men as battle lines are drawn are Marty and Cam's wives, Mitzi Huggins and Rose Brady, about whom Shawn Harwell observes, "Political spouses can have it tougher than the politicians themselves at times, because they're expected to stand there and smile, regardless of how idiotic their loved one is being in front of millions of people."

In Mitzi's case, she also has to put up with upheaval at home, as Wattley's extreme makeover extends to her house, her marriage and her children, as well as her clothes, makeup and hair, until she hardly recognizes herself in the mirror. A sweet, unpretentious homebody, "She's always been Marty's cheerleader and they've been happy in their little world, but suddenly it's all blown apart," says Sarah Baker, who takes on the role. "Tim Wattley is running everything and she's not sure it's necessarily in Marty's best interests."

In contrast, Rose Brady, played by Katherine LaNasa, is a professional political wife; coiffed and tailored to perfection, palpably acquisitive and always poised for the next photo op. "We all know women like Rose, who just want what they want and keep pushing," the actress states. "If Cam wasn't a politician, if he was selling cars, she'd want him to have a bigger and bigger car, and then own his own dealership, so she could get a bigger diamond ring and rise higher in the junior league. Whatever it is, Rose will work it to the nth degree. Honestly, she's a really horrible person, but I found her terribly fun."

Says McKay, "Rose wants to be Second Lady more than anything in the world. Her relationship with Cam has long since expired and she knows he fools around, but her only concern is that he keep his indiscretions off-camera and his career on track until she gets there." And right now, she knows the biggest obstacle in his way is Marty Huggins. The next time Marty meets his nemesis Cam Brady, it's gonna be a whole new fight. That ol' reprobate will have to bring out every trick he knows and come up with some new ones if he wants to walk away with the 14th District of the Great State of North Carolina. Let the games begin!

Cam: "How's my hair?

Mitch: "Strong."

While Marty is transformed from schlub to shark, his home gets a similar treatment. Production designer Michael Corenblith, working closely with set decorator Susan Benjamin, created the pre- and post-campaign look of the Huggins homestead, the interior of which was built on a soundstage in Algiers, Louisiana. "When we first see the Huggins happy home, it's decorated with Mitzi's arts and crafts, her owl collection, sewing and needlework. It's a very warm, slightly quirky, family environment," says Corenblith. "When Wattley arrives to reshape Marty's image for what will resonate with the electorate, that homey, dog-and-child-centric environment gets replaced with overt symbols of masculinity, like taxidermy, guns and antlers."

He even brings in a pair of prop dogs, a Chocolate Lab and a Golden Retriever-the two highest-polling American breeds-while Marty's beloved pugs are quarantined in disgrace and can only gaze forlornly at him from an attic window.

"We got a lot of mileage off those pugs," Galifianakis declares. "There are some pug jokes in the movie but, really, all you have to do it cut to them breathing and it's pretty funny."

Over at Team Brady, there's no image enhancement Cam hasn't already exploited, the crown jewel of which might be The Cam Car, his ride of choice. A rolling advertisement, it features a likeness of the candidate that matches so perfectly with the man in the driver's seat that, when he rolls down the window, his mug exactly replaces the one that just disappeared. Says McKay, "It's a promotional idea run amok, to the point where, if you pull up next to it, it's literally Cam right there, head to toe, smiling at you. It's the most elaborate wrap you've ever seen on a car, incredibly tacky and self-serving and Cam loves it. Will also loves it. He's still driving it."

Filming was accomplished in and around New Orleans, where locations were selected to represent the fictional small town of Hammond, North Carolina-a locale invented by Ferrell and Galifianakis in homage to their shared North Carolina roots. Galifianakis was born in Wilkesboro and Ferrell's parents hail from Roanoke Rapids.

Gretna, Louisiana, a city on the left bank of the Mississippi River facing New Orleans, was cast as Hammond's Downtown district, where Marty operates his tour office. "It's a beautiful city with a fabulous courthouse we used as an anchor. Their Jefferson Arch was also a wonderful piece of architecture, and along one side of the green was a good set of store fronts," Corenblith recounts. "But if you imagine a shoebox, there were three great sides and one completely empty side, so we decided to hide the municipal parking lot with a line of small-town-America facades: a fire station, a jewelry store, a hardware store, a diner, a newsstand, and Marty's office. As it turns out, we had unknowingly almost replicated what had been torn down in the 1950s and '60s."

Other practical locations included the Loop Linen Services building, which Corenblith and his team transformed into a doll factory, supposedly in China, the hub of the Motch brothers' manufacturing empire; and the Magnolia Baptist Church, located in a wooded area of Madisonville, Louisiana, that doubled for the movie's Pentecostal Church of God. It's here that Cam reaches the apex of his "holy war" with Marty.

"We try to out-religious each other," says Ferrell. "Mitch has an idea for Cam to visit an old-school revival church that involves dancing with snakes. It's supposed to be a quick photo op, but Cam wants to prove he's the real deal, so he gets into it, and gets a lot more than he bargained for."

Among the numerous faux snakes that populate the scene were a few live caged rattlers that remained in the care of professional snake wranglers and more than a dozen live, non-venomous serpents that the actors could hold. While shooting the sequence, Roach learned a herpetological fun-fact: "Snakes have a tendency to relieve themselves in a very foul way, which was not something I had anticipated. It never occurred to me that one of our on-set hazards would be dealing with snake poop. That wasn't in the manual. But, well, that's just the glamour of shooting a movie with live snakes."

Roach and Corenblith recently collaborated on "Game Change," for which, the designer says, "We studied a lot of campaign footage and more MSNBC and Fox News that anyone should be watching, to gain an understanding of the way that conventions, campaigns and press events are staged. The broader a comedy is, the more it needs a strong realistic foundation, so the debates and other press events you see depicted in 'The Campaign' should look convincing."

For Cam's big rally, however, the only possible direction to take was up. Way up. The filmmakers used New Orleans' venerated State Palace Theater for its stage. Built in 1926 on the celebrated corner of Canal and Rampart Streets, the theater was flooded during Hurricane Katrina and has yet to be renovated. Still stately, it became the perfect venue for Cam's self-aggrandizing display, complete with fireworks, musicians and dancing girls in front of a giant video screen, and a wire from which Cam gloriously descends onto the stage-a stunt that Ferrell performed himself.

"There was so much going on and so many layers," Roach recalls. "Everything had to be triple-checked for safety. We had hundreds of extras."

The rally marks a fitting crescendo for the film's motifs of big-budget excess and pointless posturing that have been escalating throughout. It's exactly that kind of spectacle, and the strategies behind it, that "The Campaign" and its filmmakers set out to gleefully mock.

"When we first started pitching ideas we had a list of what we thought were fairly outlandish items," Ferrell admits. "But it was an especially fertile primary season, so some of the attitudes and examples in the movie fit in pretty well with how far things can actually go. Whereas initially we'd say, 'That would never happen,' now we're thinking more, well, 'Who knows?'"

"You see what's going on in the political arena now, watch the ads, listen to the rhetoric, and it's a wonder that we could even keep up," says Galifianakis.

Timed to open in theaters nationwide as the 2012 election race is powering into the home stretch, "The Campaign" casts a vote for comedy. "By the time it's released, I imagine the 2012 campaigns will have amplified and accelerated in very interesting ways," Roach predicts. "People will either be on the edge of their seats over what's going to happen next, or more than a little burnt out, and looking for something that lets them laugh about it."

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