Updated: September 10, 2012 1:27PM
NEW YORK — “The Campaign” is a broad comedy made from broad intentions: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis simply wanted to make a movie together.
In the film, which opens Friday, they play North Carolina politicians competing in an increasingly nasty Congressional race. It’s a ready-made concept that pits two of the biggest comedians in movies against each other for the first time in a major project.
The two first crossed paths at “Saturday Night Live,” where Ferrell was a veteran standout and Galifianakis was briefly employed.
After his “SNL” exit, Ferrell launched a successful movie career, while Galifianakis continued with stand-up before “The Hangover,” too, made him a sought-after Hollywood comic.
Ferrell, 45, approached Galifianakis, 42, about teaming up, and the two quickly took to brainstorming. Their initial idea was to do a male-centered version of “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the TLC show about child pageants.
“We were going to play two dads, which would have really been hard to pull off because of the creep factor,” Galifianakis said. Both recoil at the thought of shooting such a comedy while the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State was playing out: “If we were in the middle of shooting the boy pageant movie?” says a wide-eyed Ferrell. “Ay, Toledo!”
It fell to filmmaker Adam McKay, a frequent Ferrell collaborator, to nix the boy pageant idea. Instead, he suggested a political comedy.
They turned to filmmaker Jay Roach, whose schizophrenic career as a director of farcical comedies (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents”) and acclaimed HBO based-on-real-life political dramas (“Recount,” “Game Change”) made him a natural choice.
Ferrell and Galifianakis have worked together a few other times, including a tour for Funny Or Die (the website Ferrell co-founded) in 2008 that played for college audiences of thousands. In Ferrell’s opening, Galifianakis and other comics on the tour played ninjas attacking him.
“It was like a rock show,” Galifianakis recalls. “It was like being in Toto.”
“Or DeBarge,” chimes Ferrell.
“DeBarge,” Galifianakis solemnly nods in agreement.