Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis try to avoid political gaffes while stumping for ‘Campaign'

IF MAKING "The Campaign" didn't engender sympathy in Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis for political candidates, their promotional tour surely did.

The two comics jetted to 11 cities in a week, stopping for photo-ops and fake news conferences, on the stump for their new comedy about warring candidates for a North Carolina Senate seat.

A small taste of what presidential candidates are required to do — dozens of counties, hundreds of cities, followed by bee-swarms of journos looking for the next malapropism.

"I'm absolutely more sympathetic, 100 percent," said a straight-faced Ferrell, who'd just appeared with Galifianakis at the National Constitution Center, midway through a tour that had taken them to Fort Worth, Texas; Seattle; Toronto and Boston and had several more cities to go.

Galifianakis believes the process makes the candidates cautious, probably way too cautious.

"It makes you much more guarded. Even as comics, because so many things you say can be taken out of context. And obviously with modern politics, the other side is just waiting for that, so they can try to make something of it."

We talked about recent examples — President Obama's "you didn't build that" gaffe, GOP candidate Mitt Romney dissing the London Olympics.

"Most of the time it's minor, a sort of easy thing to do that substitutes for talking about important issues. It's sensationalized in a big way, but as soon as there's a new gaffe, it goes away," Galifianakis said.

With a few exceptions.

"The dog thing, that was a strange choice," Ferrell said of Romney.

"Yeah," his co-star added, "putting his dog on top of his car, he probably should not have talked about that."

In "The Campaign," Ferrell plays an incumbent senator whose gaffes are more deed than word, more sexual than political, very loosely modeled on South Carolina politician John Edwards.

"We originally talked about just doing a comedy about two southern characters. That evolved into a political comedy about candidates, and the setting became North Carolina. That's when I started thinking about John Edwards. I've always been kind of fascinated by him, the tragic tale of this guy being groomed as this cross between Kennedy and Clinton, the perfect hair, the eloquence, and then he just makes these really horrible choices."

Galifianakis was interested in the way modern political movements have started to bring citizens from nonpolitical walks of life into the process.

"[My character] is completely plucked from obscurity. And I think it's part of the climate out there, especially with the tea party, they find these grass-roots people, and sometimes they catch on."

Both men said the movie tries to be as broad and as slapstick as possible, and though their characters are Republican, their ideas were drawn from different parts of the political spectrum.

One thing everybody involved in "The Campaign," seemed to agree on: too much money in politics. It's a theme that's very pronounced in the movie.

"I don't think that's a partisan issue," Ferrell said. "There's just this crazy amount of money in politics. We spend a lot of time talking to foreign journalists, where countries have strict limits on financing, even the amount of time people spend campaigning, and those systems seem to work just fine."

Ferrell is starting work on "Anchorman 2," a project he and producer Adam McKay have been trying to jump-start for years.

I asked Galifianakis if he's got something he's passionate about. Both men laughed wearily.

Ferrell chimed in: "There's a little movie called ‘Hangover 3.' Does that fall into the passion category?"

Galifianakis checked his gaffe-meter, then said, "I'm really excited about working with those guys again."

Spoken like a true politician.


Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.