What is your meet-cute story?
Ferrell: We were opposing each other in the NBA Entertainment League basketball game. There used to be this NBA Entertainment League that took place at Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica, California. If you played for the Lakers, you would be in a full, regulation uniform.
Hart: That was the only reason to play in this game. You got the best shit ever.
Ferrell: I was like, I want to play in that. Thinking it’s truly going to be a mix of actors who know how to play. It’s not going to be that serious. Sure enough, you’re like, Who is that guy dunking over there during warmups? “Oh, he did a 5-and-under part on ‘CSI: Miami.’ He also played college ball at Vanderbilt.” So he’s not really an actor. People would get ringers on their team. Kevin and I met during one of the games. He was the nicest guy. He drove by me in two seconds. I couldn’t not guard him. He was the fastest guy I had ever seen on the court.
Hart: We were just cool. We had seen each other in the past, but this movie came at the right time. It was an idea Will and Adam McKay had. I jumped at it and said let’s do it.
Ferrell: We talked about it as a general premise for a long time. It was from the genius mind of Adam McKay: it would be funny to see me as a guy who finds out he’s going to prison. That’s one of those daydream moments: What would I do? I’d try to flee the country. I’d try to workout or learn how to fight. What would you do to survive? McKay and I thought it was a funny premise. The more we started talking about it, we realized the guy who would train me would be Kevin Hart. Luckily for us, Kevin loved the idea.
Hart: Normally I’m not like that. Normally, I’m like, “Fuck that.”
Ferrell: “Fuck that and fuck you. Don’t ever call me again.”
Hart: They caught me on a good day. If that had been a bad day …
But would you say you’re picky?
Hart: Of course. With anything, you want to continue to get better. I get things offered to me all the time. You want to make sure you’re picking right. I’m big on relationships. Director Tim Story, producer Will Packer, those are my go-to filmmakers. Will Packer and I have done six movies together, Tim directed four of those. Stepping out of that comfort zone was big for me. Because I know I’m protected and these are people who care about me and make sure I’m in a good light. Getting a call from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, you go and look at the body of work. The one thing I can say about Adam is Will’s in good hands. They have such a good relationship. Will’s going to take his risks and play some characters, but they do a great job of giving each other information. He’s protected. So I felt comfortable stepping into that realm with these guys. McKay, producer Chris Henchy, whom I met when the production started. Will’s surrounded by good people. It’s a great relationship to have and someone I want to work with. But more important, these are people I can learn from. I can get information and see how they work, and how they do it on their side. It was a great experience.
Will, are there any initiation rituals you guys do when bringing on a new collaborator?
Ferrell: When we work with an actor for the first time — and this has been Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, Kevin — we drive them out to the desert. When past Banning, past Palm Springs. We just go on a nature hike. We give him a backpack full of Slim Jims, a flashlight and a little bit of water. But it’s filled with tobacco juice. We go, “Hey, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
Hart: I thought we were doing it together.
Ferrell: I pretend to take a call and then I get in a car and speed away.
Hart: I said, “You want me to help you get the backpack?” He said, “It’s in the trunk.” I go back there and the car took off fast.
Kevin, you joked about your “SNL” audition when you hosted.
Hart: Jesus Christ, it was so bad. Avery Johnson.
Ferrell: That’s right!
Hart: Avery Johnson.
Ferrell: The most obscure NBA reference ever.
Hart: This was my Avery Johnson [begins Avery Johnson impression]: When David Robinson pass me the ball.
It’s actually a pretty good Avery Johnson.
Ferrell: It’s really good.
Hart: It’s a fucking spot-on Avery Johnson. Nobody knows who the fuck Avery Johnson is.
Ferrell: Canadian Lorne Michaels watching you do that. [Lorne Michaels voice] Does he do a good Avery?
Hart: [Lorne Michaels voice] Is that Avery?
Ferrell: [Lorne Michaels voice] No, I know who Avery is.
Hart: I did Avery Johnson and I did a Robert De Niro face. I didn’t talk like De Niro, I just did the face. That’s it. I know why I didn’t get it.
Ferrell: When I had to audition, I had no idea that Darrell Hammond was simultaneously auditioning. One of the most talented impressionists who will go down in history of that show. I thought they had to have someone do Bill Clinton. So I did Bill Clinton doing an ad for a Snickers bar. It was, “Hi, I’m Bill Clinton!” It was just a gravely voice. Awful. It was terrible.
Hart: Mine was a mixture of stand-up comedy with Avery Johnson. The segue to Avery Johnson was the worst the ever. It was like, “Then I get on the bus, and I’m like, ‘Pass me the ball!’ That’s Avery Johnson.”