With a decade of hindsight, it’s now evident that 2008 was an excellent year for an assortment of different genres. However, in the realm of comedies, there’s one specific movie that has managed to stand the test of time: Adam McKay’s Step Brothers. The hard-R, crude comedy has become one of the most re-watchable flicks of the last decade, and McKay recently joined CinemaBlend for an interview to dive into anything and everything that makes the story of Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) and Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) so beloved.
From the spark of the idea for this bizarre premise to the iconography of some of its best scenes to the future of comedy and the Step Brothers brand itself, we’re going to run through anything and everything that you want to know. On that note, let’s kick things off by talking about Adam McKay’s idea for where Step Brothers came from in the first place.
Apparently, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, and John C. Reilly went through a ton of movie ideas before deciding to make Step Brothers. Step Brothers may seem like a no-brainer for guys like Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, but it wasn’t the only idea that Adam McKay and his actors toyed around with. During his chat with CinemaBlend, McKay explained that several premises (albeit most of which weren’t entirely formed) were thrown out, including the possibility of making Ferrell and Reilly portray guys who saw a UFO and couldn’t convince anyone of it, as well as a story involving two LAPD cops. Per McKay:
There was an idea that John C. Reilly had that was kind of cool. Will and I had kicked around the idea of two guys who actually encountered a UFO, but then no one believes them, and their lives kind of fell apart. It was a little more dramatic. There was one idea we had. Yeah, there were a lot. A lot of them are just pieces of ideas really. Like ‘I picture you guys, you know, on a horse carriage. I picture if there’s something with you guys doing this.’ We had a couple ideas about cops. I think we had the idea that one of them is like a veteran police officer, LA, California, state police. That kind of vibe was kind of fun. Ferrell used to do a character on SNL that was kind of a cop character. I think we kicked that around.
As noted by McKay in that comment, some of these ideas were eventually used in later projects. In fact, the Step Brothers idea had particular significance to them after completing Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
This is why Adam McKay made Step Brothers right after Talladega Nights. Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have collaborated several times over the years, and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby brought John C. Reilly into the equation and turned the creative duo into a trio. With the team assembled for a new project, Adam McKay went into Step Brothers with a desire to make something a little weirder that would also rely more heavily on a small scale and improv. As McKay put it:
We realized it was kind of absurd. We realized it was a little crazy, but we kind of liked that coming off Talladega Nights, which Talladega Nights was a little bit more like a ‘movie’ movie. Even though there’s certainly crazy stuff in it, like a cougar in the car and stuff, but for the most part, it felt like a movie movie, and we liked the idea of doing something that all took place basically in one house. No race cars, no explosions, characters, tons of improv, have fun with people you love, and you know, shoot it kind of in one place. So the combination of that idea, and a desire to do something that was more a place, in one house.
And that’s ultimately how the film turned out. Step Brothers mainly plays out within the confines of one location, but it also took Adam McKay and Will Ferrell to new territory for their partnership by moving from PG-13 to an R-rating.
There’s a reason why Step Brothers intentionally aimed for an R rating. Step Brothers ultimately became a hit and earned a commendable 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good for a broad comedy like this. However, McKay and Will Ferrell weren’t sure how the film would perform in the earliest stages of its development, so they eventually opted to go all out and aim for an R-rating instead of the PG-13 label that they had for Anchorman and Talladega Nights. McKay told us:
We realized how absurd it was getting. I actually looked at Will and I said, ‘You know, this could be a really crazy movie. I can’t imagine critics are gonna like it.’ And I was like, ‘And I’m not sure it’s as commercially sound as Talladega Nights and Anchorman.’ I go, ‘Are you okay with that? If we make a movie that doesn’t get the best reviews, for me to do that, Will?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’m totally fine with that.’ And I said, ‘Good, because so am I.’ And so we actually went into this movie with no pressure.
In the end, because Step Brothers was so unrestricted in its approach to comedy, Adam McKay ultimately walked away feeling incredibly satisfied on a creative level. In fact, the director continued and explained that he feels like it’s the collaboration with Will Ferrell that’s the most faithful to his own sense of humor. McKay explained:
In fact, of all the movies we’ve done together, Will and I, would say that Step Brothers is kind of the purest to what we really love about comedy. Not to say the other ones don’t make us laugh really hard, but I think this was the one where we were like the most unfettered where it was just raw sort of absurdity and things that made us laugh and anything we liked we did.
However, despite the fact that Step Brothers has such a pure feeling to it, it also has some previously unknown connections to other films directed by Adam McKay — which is the next topic discussed in our interview with the director.
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