Will Ferrell Biography: The Unfiltered Will Ferrell Biography You Never Knew

Will Ferrell was born on July 16, 1967 in Irvine, California. His father, Roy Lee Ferrell Jr., was a musician and his mother, Betty Kay Ferrell, was a teacher.

Ferrell attended University High School in Irvine where he was active in sports and joined the school’s football and soccer teams. He was also involved in comedy and performed in the school’s talent shows.

After high school, Ferrell attended the University of Southern California where he studied Sports Broadcasting. He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity.

In college, Ferrell continued to pursue comedy and performance. He joined the comedy group The Groundlings and began taking classes at its school. This training would prove invaluable for his later career.

What was Will Ferrell’s major in college?

Will Ferrell majored in Sports Broadcasting during his time at the University of Southern California. Though he was active in comedy and performance groups in college, his original area of study was sports broadcasting.

Early Comedy Career

After graduating from USC in 1990, Ferrell began working odd jobs while simultaneously pursuing his comedy career. He continued performing and taking classes at The Groundlings.

In 1994, Ferrell began landing small roles on popular sitcoms like Grace Under Fire, Living Single, and JAG. The following year, he became a regular cast member of the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live.

How did Will Ferrell get his start in comedy?

Ferrell got his start in comedy by joining the Los Angeles-based improv and sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings after college. He took classes at their training school and credits the group with teaching him skills that proved invaluable later as a performer on Saturday Night Live.

Saturday Night Live Career Highlights

During his seven year run on SNL from 1995-2002, Will Ferrell became known for portraying outlandish characters in hilarious sketches. Some highlights include:

  • Popular impersonations of figures like President George W. Bush, Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, singer Robert Goulet and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek
  • Memorable original sketches like the Spartan Cheerleaders, the cowbell sketch with Christopher Walken, and Night at the Roxbury with Chris Kattan
  • Playing the role of Craig the cheerleader in numerous sketches and co-anchoring Weekend Update with friend Tina Fey
  • Earning two Emmy nominations in 2001 and 2002 and winning as part of SNL’s writing staff in 2001

Ferrell brought his offbeat style of humor to SNL and quickly became an integral part of the cast during one of the show’s more popular eras. By the time he departed in 2002, he had cemented his status as one of SNL’s best known performers.

Table 1. Will Ferrell’s Major SNL Characters and Impressions

George W. BushFrequently appeared as the exaggerated, bumbling version of the former President
Alex TrebekParodied the serious Jeopardy! host as rude and sarcastic
Robert GouletImpersonated Goulet’s smooth singing voice in absurd situations
Harry CarayPortrayed the eccentric baseball announcer known for his devotion to the Cubs
James LiptonPlayed the Inside the Actors Studio host as overly grandiose

Transition to Film Career

Boosted by his SNL popularity, Will Ferrell smoothly transitioned from television sketch comedy into a successful film career. Immediately after leaving SNL in 2002, Ferrell starred in the surprise breakout comedy Old School helping launch his burgeoning status as a comedic movie star.

He went on to star in numerous high grossing comedies over the next decade including Elf, Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory and Step Brothers. Several of these films paired Ferrell with collaborators like writer/director Adam McKay and co-star John C. Reilly helping create a recognizable and consistent comedic style. The tandem of Ferrell and McKay proved especially successful with Anchorman considered one of the seminal comedies of its era.

In total, Ferrell’s unique brand of loud, often improvised humor led to over $2 billion in worldwide box office gross with 29 films surpassing $100 million according to Forbes. Though mainly known for pure comedies, Ferrell also earned acclaim for starring in the 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction which blended his humor with a more serious, dramatic performance.

His financial and critical success has made Will Ferrell one of the most popular comedic actors of the 21st century.

What was Will Ferrell’s first big movie role after leaving Saturday Night Live?

Ferrell’s first major film role after departing SNL was 2003’s Old School, a breakout comedy hit that launched his hugely successful movie career.

Dramatic Acting Pursuits

In addition to his trademark over-the-top comedy performances, Ferrell has proven capable in more understated, dramatic roles over the years. He earned strong reviews for his work in films like Melinda and Melinda (2004), Winter Passing (2005) and his Golden Globe nominated performance in Stranger Than Fiction (2006).

Ferrell has continued balancing comedies with well-received turns in movies like the 2010 drama Everything Must Go and portraying a serious role in the true story The LEGO Movie. He has spoken frequently about his desire to avoid being typecast solely in farcical humor and stretch his acting range into new territory.

Critics have praised his ability to modulate between the broad, high-energy comedy that made him famous and dialing back the humor into more subtle, melancholic performances. These occasional dramatic parts have added depth and complexity to Ferrell’s acting repertoire over an eclectic career.

What was the first drama that Will Ferrell had a lead role in?

The first lead dramatic role that Will Ferrell took on was in the 2006 fantasy comedy-drama film Stranger Than Fiction. His performance was praised by critics and earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.

Table 2. Will Ferrell Dramatic Movie Roles

Stranger Than Fiction2006Golden Globe-nominated performance as IRS agent who hears narration of his life
Winter Passing2006Plays realist author reconnecting with old flame
Melinda and Melinda2004Supporting part split between two stories, one comedic and one dramatic
Everything Must Go2010Leads as alcoholic who loses wife and job, praised by critics
Casa de Mi Padre2012Stars in rare Spanish-language role as Mexican rancher embroiled in drama

Recent Projects

More recently, Will Ferrell has expanded his creative output beyond just acting roles. He has taken on increasing work as a producer including helping adapt the Broadway show Oh, Hello for Netflix and television shows like Eastbound & Down and Succession.

In 2022, Ferrell returned to Saturday Night Live for the fifth time to reprise his celebrated George W. Bush impression. He also made a surprise cameo reprising the role in Armando Iannucci’s 2022 comedy series The White Lotus.

On the film side, 2021 marked one of Ferrell’s few sequel appearances when he starred in the Christmas comedy Elf 2 reprising his beloved role as Buddy the Elf from the original 2003 hit.

Upcoming projects include starring roles in new comedies from longtime collaborators like the 2024 movie Fruit Loops and the rumored Anchorman sequel currently in development.

Now aged 56 years old, Will Ferrell remains one of comedy’s most popular stars. He continues balancing his trademark manic film characters with selective dramatic roles and increased off-screen work as a producer.

What upcoming project will see Will Ferrell reprise his most famous film role?

The upcoming 2024 sequel movie Fruit Loops will see Ferrell step back into the elf shoes of his iconic role as Buddy from the original 2003 Christmas hit Elf. The project reunites him with director Jon Favreau and writer David Berenbaum from the first film that helped cement Ferrell’s comedy stardom.

Personal Life

In 2000, Will Ferrell married Swedish actress Viveca Paulin whom he met in 1995. Together they live in New York City and Orange County, California and have three sons together: Magnus, Mattias, and Axel.

Though often playing the fool, Ferrell has also shown himself to be surprisingly athletic over the years. He’s proved skillful at events like basketball, soccer, and endurance events. He even showcased his soccer talents in his amusing cameo in the 2005 comedy Kicking & Screaming.

Politically, Will Ferrell has been a longtime supporter of liberal causes and candidates. He’s appeared at fundraisers for candidates like Barack Obama and taken on the Bush administration in his Saturday Night Live impersonation.

Ferrell has stated he manages his work schedule carefully these days in order to spend ample time with his family.

Charity Work

In addition to acting, Will Ferrell makes time to give back to the community through charity work and activism. He has long supported organizations like Cancer for College which provides scholarships to cancer patients/survivors and has donated generously over the years.

Some other causes Ferrell champions includeautocatalyst,

  • Autism Speaks
  • St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
  • Stand Up to Cancer

In 2022, Ferrell and his wife Viveca founded the Gloria Sanchez Productions Unscripted Development Fund to help promote unscripted/documentary TV projects from women and people of color.

What charitable cause for cancer patients has Will Ferrell strongly supported over the years?

Will Ferrell has been an active supporter of Cancer for College, an organization that awards college scholarships to cancer patients and survivors. He frequently participates in and hosts events for the charity.

Legacy and Impact

As one of comedy’s current giants, it’s likely the laughs provided by Will Ferrell will persist for generations. Through a chaotic array of eccentric characters, impersonations and fearless improv, Ferrell came to define modern farcical humor on film.

His more absurd SNL sketches or manic turns in movies like Old School and Step Brothers encapsulate a specific, madcap era in comedy during the early 2000s. Yet Ferrell balanced these outrageous performances with underrated dramatic acting chops in films like Stranger Than Fiction that subverted his comedic typecasting.

Ultimately, Will Ferrell crafted one of Hollywood’s most consistently funny, popular and lucrative comedy brands for over two decades. While still evolving new facets as a producer and activist, the imprint of his comedy style promises to leave an indelible, hilarious mark on 21st century pop culture.


Tracing his early days in improv theater to legendary run on Saturday Night Live then a spectacularly successful film career, Will Ferrell cultivated a singular comedic talent across television and movies.

His loud, intense physical comedy and improvisation made him one of Hollywood’s most bankable comedy stars with over $2 billion in worldwide box office sales. Yet Ferrell also proved capable of restraint in well-reviewed dramatic roles that defied being strictly typecast as a farcical clown.

Now entering his third decade in show business, Ferrell continues fortifying his comedy empire through new projects while allocating time towards activism, charity initiatives and family life away from cameras. With an enduringly popular catalog of work buoyed by his comedy brand, Will Ferrell’s impact on 21st century pop culture promises enduring laughs for generations ahead.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where was Will Ferrell born?

Will Ferrell was born on July 16, 1967 in Irvine, California. He grew up nearby in Orange County.

How many seasons was Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live?

Will Ferrell had a seven season run on Saturday Night Live from 1995 to 2002. He became one of the show’s most famous cast members during that era.

What was Will Ferrell’s breakout movie role?

2003’s Old School served as Will Ferrell’s breakout film role that helped launch his massively successful comedy movie career after leaving Saturday Night Live.

Has Will Ferrell won any major acting awards?

While renowned for comedy, Will Ferrell’s only major acting award win came for Outstanding Writing as part of the Saturday Night Live Emmy award in 2001. He holds two Golden Globe nominations for acting in TV and film.

Who is Will Ferrell married to?

Since 2000, Will Ferrell has been married to Swedish actress Viveca Paulin who he met in 1995. They live together in New York City and Orange County and have three sons together.