Not your ordinary Thanksgiving dinner guest
"Is Uncle Will going to be there?" I asked my good friend from home (our hometown being Cary, N.C.) on the phone the day before Thanksgiving. "No," he replied. I was unaware at the time that he was lying through his grinning teeth. My good friend is Michael Portanova, and his uncle is Will Ferrell.
Michael and I went to high school together in our hometown, which lies right outside the state capital. If you've ever seen the HBO television show "Eastbound and Down" (produced by Ferrell), you may already know it is filmed right on the coast of North Carolina.
This Thanksgiving, however, I spent right here in New England with Michael and his very Swedish family- in Needham, Mass.
When I finally found my clumsy way to the doorsteps of Michael's grandparents' home, I was yawning, trying to go over in my head how I would greet those of Michael's family visiting from Stockholm ("TrÃ©vligt att rÃ¥´kas" means nice to meet you).
I walked into the unlocked home to be greeted by a few very tall Swedes, who instantly assumed I speak Swedish, because I must be some niece that they never knew about or something. I needed to find Michael. This was far too much Europe this early in the morning.
Meandering my way into the kitchen, my eyeballs nearly explode. A man I have grown to idolize, adore and laugh with was standing in the kitchen- comedian Will Ferrell, with a fully-grown mustache he has been taming for Anchorman 2.
I still barely believe I broke bread with this guy- so if you don't believe me, I'm almost right there with you.
"Hi, I'm Will," he said shyly, hand out. We shook hands- and although when I first saw him, I wanted to tear out my vocal chords, as soon as he spoke, I felt comfortable. The reality is he's one of the most down-to-Earth people I have ever met- there might even be a couple Saturday Night Live gigs where you can pick up on this particularly aura. But I don't think one film character he has played will ever give you a taste of the real Ferrell.
We had an incredible dinner- Michael, who attends culinary school in Austin, Texas, made an awesome Thanksgiving dinner to feed 30 adults and many kids. Ferrell's two oldest sons, Magnus and Mattias, serenaded our ears with some music on the piano. Shortly after, black smoke began filling the house- a towel and candle merged forces and there was a fire.
Outside, Michael, Will and I were humming along to the Talking Heads' 80's hit, "Burning Down the House." Thankfully, the fire was put out quickly, and we were able to finish pigging out, believe it or not.
The Needham firemen were very pleased to meet the comedian, take pictures with him and ask questions about his upcoming film, the sequel to Anchorman. He signed one autograph: "I need a friend. Will you be my friend? Milk was a bad choice -WF."
Now, although Ferrell is seemingly quite a shy and observant guy, he opened up after he was filled with some good red wine. We spoke about what comedian celebrities he has minimal respect for (Seth MacFarlane being one) and which ones he has a decent relationship with (Adam Sandler, Mark Walberg and for example). We spoke about his unforgettable mustache, and he gave us a couple teasers on his upcoming film. Not to give away too much, but Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2 must get used to the change in journalism to 24-hour news coverage, and it's a little too much for him.
The thing I really liked about Ferrell is how much of a family guy he is. He made a toast at dinner to Michael and his accomplishments at culinary school and to his beautiful Swedish actress wife, Viveca Paulin. As I briefly mentioned before, he's quite observant. He preferred asking questions to answering them.
He hung out with us for the majority of the weekend, and left on Saturday morning to return to Los Angeles to make it to the University of Southern California-Notre Dame football game (Ferrell is a USC Trojan alum). I have an open invitation to visit him if I'm ever in the area- so I will need to take him and Viveca up on that offer, won't I?
And I will sign off with a quote from the man of the hour: "Here's the deal, I'm the best there is. Plain and simple. I wake up in the morning and I piss excellence."
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