"Testing, one two, one two," says Will Ferrell into my recorder as we sit in his trailer on the Universal Studios back lot. At the end of an exhausting day of publicity for "Kicking and Screaming," Ferrell's new movie about a father who takes over the training of his son's soccer team, he's still in his blue-tiger coach's suit from the film, which he has donned for television interviews.
But the star is more concerned with whether I can juggle all my reporter's tools and offers to help. "I'll hold it," says the surprisingly tall Mr. Ferrell (he's 6'3''), scrunched onto the tiny bench beside me with a smile.
Hollywood's biggest goofball is about to talk really seriously to a 14-year-old kid about the importance of family, anger management, and good parenting, and all I'm thinking is, "Wow, this guy's really nice."
When I first heard I was going to interview the actor, I didn't think it would actually happen. But the studio people were serious about having a "kid reporter" talk to Mr. Ferrell. The reason: He likes talking to kids, this movie is about kids, and he wants to have a kid's point of view on the theme: adults who get way too competitive about their children's sports.
Before the interview, I prepared by reading all the material about the new movie and thinking about his other films (I've seen most of them). Then I put together my list of questions, starting with why he wanted to talk to me.
"I think kids ask interesting questions," says Ferrell. He's just walked over from talking to a bunch of 9- and 10-year-old boys who were playing soccer on the back lot where "Kicking and Screaming" was filmed. He says he gets tired of talking to all the same reporters over and over. "I think kids help mix it up a little," he adds.
Most of the movies he's known for, such as "Anchorman" and "Old School," are aimed more at adults than is this film. But Ferrell says he's wanted to do a family-oriented film for a while, a desire that began with "Elf." This movie really deals with what it means to be a good parent and to be on your child's side, no matter what happens or how good he is at sports. Ferrell says it has extra meaning to him because his wife gave birth to their son, Magnus, during filming.
"Doing this movie definitely taught me about dealing with kids," says Ferrell, "and what that's going to be like when [Magnus] gets older."
The main issue this movie highlights is the problem of parents who go overboard with their children's activities, in this case, soccer. Ferrell plays a dad constantly overshadowed by his highly competitive father, a soccer coach who is played by Robert Duvall. (In one flashback, the pair are at a soccer game in the 1970s. Pelé, the soccer legend, kicks a ball out of the arena, into the young Ferrell's waiting hands, only to have his dad snatch it away and claim it.)
Grandpa (Duvall) trades his own grandson to a failing team and Ferrell steps in as coach for his son's new club. The rest of the movie is about two generations of sons and fathers trying to understand each other. Ferrell says the film is based on a "Saturday Night Live" skit in which he yells at kids. "It's so inappropriate on the one hand, but you also know my character is an idiot," says Ferrell. "The kids are the smart ones. So you never feel bad for the kids."
So I guess the interview did happen after all. And even though he had a lot of good things to say about the movie, the best part was just talking to Will Ferrell because, as it turns out, he really is a nice guy. And he's pretty good with kids.
• Danny Wood, the son of Monitor reporters Gloria Goodale and Daniel B. Wood, is 14 years old and considering a career in journalism - after his stint in the NBA, that is.