Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell Talk ‘Downhill’, Raising Nice Kids

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell hadn't met before they started filming their new movie, but they've been taking the same approach to raising kids in Hollywood.

by Donna Freydkin
Leonardo Santamaria for Fatherly

It’s not like they hadn’t heard of each other. Before they met for the first time while shooting their movie Downhill, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell became their generation’s two most beloved, reliable deliverers of the laugh (after Seinfeld got car-obsessed and Carrey got weird). She gave us Elaine Benes and Selina Meyer. He told San Diego to fuck off. Neither of them ever got caught dressing down an intern or harassing a gofer. They spent decades being funny and nice before joining forces to make a funny and deeply un-nice movie.

Downhill, a black comedy based on the Swedish masterpiece Force Majeure, is about what happens after a father abandons his family (phone in hand) in the face of an avalanche. Everyone survives, but it still gets plenty cold. The movie is a portrait of marital malaise and cowardice that isn’t above a redemption arc, but takes far more joy in rubbing the audience’s face in the horror that is familial obligation. Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell soak in mutual resentment after long days on the slopes, really selling it despite the fact that they seem to really like each other — and not in the Hollywood way people adore one another from afar. Perhaps because they’re both parents and have spent the two decades clowning and juggling at the same time, they make each other laugh. They share the spotlight. They feel like family.

Fatherly spoke to Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell about privacy, parenting, and why it’s great to be a peacock, sometimes.

You two play one of the most believable married couples I’ve seen in years. And yet you’d never met before shooting. How can this be?

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: It took great skill.

Will Ferrell: It really did. It’s called acting. The first moment of sitting down and having coffee and talking about the script, we hit it off. We approached the work similarly. We have a shared sense of humor.

You two have raised, or are in the process of raising, five kids. Julia, your sons are grown. Will, yours are 15, 13, and 10. Rumor is that your kids aren’t awful. How did you manage that?

JLD: Let’s make that assumption, yeah. First of all, it’s never over. My kids are both in their twenties now. I’m still parenting to a certain extent. They’re not infantilized, but I still feel like their parent.

WF: We’re more in the thick of it. There are many times that we think we made a decision and it was a good call. Or we’re lying in bed at night wondering if we did the right thing. You’re in a constant state of analysis.

I would imagine your kids live fairly privileged lives. There’s presumably some nervousness that comes with that.

JLD: That’s tricky, isn’t it. It’s a challenge for any parent. We could punish them all the time. That would do the trick — that’s a joke. You have to do it by example. As a parent, making sure they witness you being grateful for whatever good fortune or good luck are foisted upon you.

WF: And talking about it as a family and addressing growing up in Los Angeles and in show business in context. Yes, we have a lot of privileges and advantages., but being famous is also a job. Just to normalize it in a healthy way. It’s a pretty special problem.

Will, this is more a question for you since you’re raising young kids in the age of social media. How do you handle the requests for selfies?

WF: I’m really strict. If I’m by myself, I will take pictures with anyone. When I’m with the family, I always say no as an example to them. Sometimes it backfires. One of my kids will be like, ‘Oh, they seemed nice.’ I’m thinking… I’m doing this for you. Our time is ours. Nine out of 10 people totally understand. And the rest….

Julia, if your husband pulled Will’s move in real life and abandoned you during what he thought was an avalanche, how would you handle it?

JLD: I’d like to think I would not be married to such a person. If it did happen, I’d nip it in the bud. We’d be having that conversation as soon as he returned to the table. That’s how I operate.

WF: I’d like to think I operate the same way.

It goes without saying, you both have the gift of observation, which then plays into your comedy. What’s the weirdest thing you learned about each other?

WF: Julia has a had habit of eating with her mouth open.

JLD: He’s telling the truth. Will Ferrell has an affinity for full-length fur coats.

WF: I love them. Oddly enough, I prefer ostrich.

JLD: I love the feathers. You’re a tall guy. You’re a peacock. It’s great on the ski slope.