Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell will likely always be pushing the comedy envelope, but with A Deadly Adoption–his 2015 Lifetime movie–he really took the cake. As Ferrell himself said during a post-screening panel discussion at the ATX Television Festival, “If you’re sitting in this audience thinking, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen,’ I can’t argue with you.”
Making a Lifetime movie had been a dream for the actor. “I kept thinking it would be fun to star in a Lifetime movie,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh that would be great to put myself in the middle of one and play it totally straight, maybe put another comedian in it.” That other comedian turned out to be Kristen Wiig.
In the made-for-TV thriller, Wiig and Ferrell are couple Sarah and Robert Benson. They decide to welcome a sweet and innocent pregnant woman Bridgette (Jessica Lowndes) into their home, since following an accident years before, Sarah has been unable to conceive, although the couple already had one young daughter. They hope to adopt Bridgette’s baby. Bridgette is secretly insane. Chaos ensues. The film was directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg and exec produced by Ferrell, with a budget of just $700,000, shooting in only 15 days in Southern California.
Although the parts are all played as straight drama, the project is a glaringly-clear pastiche on Lifetime’s typical film offerings, so how did Ferrell get Lifetime to agree to this? “We said, ‘We expect you to say no,’ and they kept saying yes.” Ferrell said, adding, “they’re in on it now, at the time they had no idea what was going on.”
Andrew Steele, screenwriter and another SNL alum, said, “They were very gracious to have it on their network, but they kept out of the joke of it.” Steele said of his work on the film, “The writing is bad, but it was the very best I could do, and I think for Will and Kristen that was the best they could do with that writing.”
Ferrell’s agent was also very much against the idea. “He was very disappointed that we got to make it,” Ferrell said. But getting the cast on board wasn’t as difficult as it might have been. Ferrell said he told Wiig and Lowndes, “You know we won’t get paid at all. Maybe breakfast will be served and you’ll be dressing in your car. That’s why Kristen Wiig is a genius. She’ll do something like that and not even think twice.”
Not all the cast members were in on the joke though, Ferrell said. “The gentleman playing the Sheriff (Erik Palladino) pulled me to one side and said, ‘Hey can I ask you a question? What’s going on here?…Is this supposed to be funny? It’s not good.’”
Ferrell also recalled a New York Times review of the film, in which the critic wrote, “I don’t know what I just watched.” But for his part, Ferrell clearly has much affection for the project, calling it, “My little tribute to Andy Kaufman,” and “one of my favorite things I’ve ever made, partly because it completely baffles maybe 80 per cent of the audience.” He also expressed gratitude to Lifetime for tolerating him, saying they were “very generous in putting it out there.”
Perhaps one of the best details was Ferrell’s appearance. “Every summer I grow my beard out,” he said, “and I went to a salon on Melrose, a kind of fancy one, and said, ‘Can you dye my beard and I don’t want it to match my hair.’” Calling the look, a “tribute to chuck Norris,” Ferrell said, “You can imagine showing up on a set and seeing the way I looked and thinking, ‘What is this movie, what is going on?’” Judging by the constant laughter from the ATX audience, people have definitely got the joke now.