The creative split between Adam McKay and Will Ferrell two years ago was one of the more surprising developments in Hollywood culture, and a loss for movie comedy.
With their Gary Sanchez Productions company, the duo collaborated on movies including Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman 2, and Get Hard, TV series such as Eastbound & Down and Drunk History, and the Funny or Die website of short sketches and films.
Yet when news of McKay and Ferrell separating and shuttering Gary Sanchez Productions became public, it appeared to be the natural step for two creators going in contrasting creative directions. Ferrell recently told The Hollywood Reporter that the two had different ambitions for future projects, with McKay wanting to grow “a sphere of influence.”
McKay was moving into more serious material, directing films like The Big Short, Vice, and the upcoming Don’t Look Up, producing TV series including Succession, and documentaries such as HBO’s Q: Into the Storm. Ferrell continued to act in comedies like Downhill, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Holmes & Watson, and most recently, the Apple TV+ series The Shrink Next Door. McKay created a new production company, Hyperobject Industries, while Ferrell launched Gloria Sanchez Productions.
But according to a Vanity Fair feature on McKay, what truly broke up the friendship with Ferrell was his upcoming Los Angeles Lakers limited series for HBO. Based on Jeff Pearlman’s 2014 book Showtime about the Lakers’ 1980s championship dynasty, Ferrell — a huge fan of the team — wanted to play team owner Jerry Buss in the series. But McKay, who moved the production to his company, wanted John C. Reilly to play Buss.
As McKay explained to Vanity Fair‘s Joe Hagan:
“‘The truth is, the way the show was always going to be done, it’s hyperrealistic,’ [McKay] says. ‘And Ferrell just doesn’t look like Jerry Buss, and he’s not that vibe of a Jerry Buss. And there were some people involved who were like, ‘We love Ferrell, he’s a genius, but we can’t see him doing it.’ It was a bit of a hard discussion.'”
Perhaps making the matter even more awkward is that Ferrell and Reilly are best friends. McKay tells Hagan that he didn’t want to hurt Ferrell’s feelings by casting Reilly. Yet he ended up doing so without telling Ferrell, who found out about the casting choice from Reilly himself. There were already tensions between Ferrell and McKay going back to the end of Gary Sanchez Productions, but getting passed over for the Buss role angered the actor so much that he and McKay haven’t corresponded since.
“I fucked up on how I handled that,” McKay laments. “It’s the old thing of keep your side of the street clean. I should have just done everything by the book.”
Any friendship turning sour seems particularly sad. Perhaps it seems even more surprising from a creative partnership that resulted in memorable comedies as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The many fans of those movies will surely be disappointed to see that two aren’t likely to make more of them.
But as both McKay and Ferrell have now explained, this is also a familiar story of people naturally drifting apart, creatively and personally, and realizing they want different things. Yet the final blow apparently being McKay’s upcoming Lakers series, and who plays Dr. Jerry Buss, certainly puts that project in a new, curious light. At least we know John C. Reilly is likely to do very well in that role.