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Roles Will Ferrell Refused To Play

Will Ferrell is one of Hollywood's most recognizable stars. He started out on the long-running sketch comedy show "Saturday Night Live," where he quickly established himself as one of its most reliable — and funniest — players. But where he's really excelled is his post-"SNL" career. There, he's played everything from Frank the Tank, a way-past-his-school-days fraternity brother in "Old School," to Buddy, the naive human raised by elves in the Christmas comedy "Elf," to the dim-witted, self-absorbed '70s newsreader of the title in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." He's also done his share of voice roles, including the power-hungry, sort-of-evil "Megamind," President Business in "The Lego Movie," and a profane dog in "Strays." In 2021, he even starred in his first limited TV series, "The Shrink Next Door."

Ferrell is a true king of comedy, and it seems like there's nothing he can't do. But there are some roles Ferrell refused to play. Whether it was sequels to some of his most popular characters, parts he refused because they just didn't work for him, or roles that seemed funny but actually encountered a lot of backlash, Ferrell has had his fair share of parts he turned down for one reason or another. Here are the roles that Will Ferrell refused to take on.

Old School Dos (2006)

"Old School" is remembered with affection as the movie about three guys who are way past college age but start a fraternity anyway. In fact, they start a fraternity for anyone at any age, including the elderly, like Blue (Patrick Cranshaw). But when the college tries to shut them down, they suddenly have to defend their frat from the callous dean (Jeremy Piven) who wants them gone. It was a funny movie, but both Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, two of the three main actors from "Old School," passed on the script for the sequel, "Old School Dos."

Screenwriter Scot Armstrong and director Todd Phillips worked up an initial idea for the sequel and showed an early draft of the script to the actors in 2006, who ultimately decided not to take it on. "I read [the script]," Ferrell explained. "Some super funny set pieces, but I don't know. I think Vince [Vaughn] had the same reaction. We're just kind of doing the same thing again. It was like us going to Spring Break, but we've got to find this guy who's the head of a fraternity. Once again, funny things but it's just us once again back in a fraternity setting. It just felt like it was repeating." One way or another, the pair were both super busy at the time, and decided "Old School Dos" wasn't the film they wanted to make.

Elf 2 (2006)

The beloved holiday classic "Elf" centers around Buddy, a man who is raised by Christmas elves at the North Pole, then takes off to the iron jungle of New York City when he learns that's where his biological father lives. People love Buddy for his naive optimism and Christmas spirit, but when asked to do a sequel to the movie in 2006, Will Ferrell turned it down.

Despite being offered $29 million for the movie, a lack of new ideas for the story made the sequel unattractive to him. "I would have had to promote the movie from an honest place, which would've been like, 'Oh no, it's not good. I just couldn't turn down that much money,'" Ferrell explained to The Hollywood Reporter. "And I thought, 'Can I actually say those words? I don't think I can, so I guess I can't do the movie."

Even though Ferrell turned down the sequel, he's been asked since if he'd ever consider becoming a live-action Buddy again. But Ferrell is even more determined not to repeat the role. "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf," Ferrell told Andy Cohen in 2013. He has a point. After all, who wants to see an aged elf in yellow tights?

Hot Rod (2007)

"Hot Rod" centers around Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg), a man-child who believes himself to be a stuntman. But as he prepares to jump 15 school buses to pay for his stepfather's heart operation, the question must be asked: is he up for the massive stunt? While Samberg and his comedy group, the Lonely Island, were part of the movie, the script, by Pam Brady, was originally written for Will Ferrell. Ferrell was actually cast in the role before he had to drop out due to scheduling issues, but he stayed on as an executive producer.

Still, Brady's script was crafted so specifically for Ferrell that it had to be extensively rewritten by the Lonely Island boys when they came on at the behest of producer Lorne Michaels. Lonely Island includes Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Toccone, and they tried to make a script that was truer to Samberg, explaining, "When you read it, you couldn't picture anyone else in the movie but Will Ferrell ... So if [Samberg] had just done those lines, it would have been like an impression of Will Ferrell. So we had to go through ... and tweak it a lot just to get it to feel like it was ours and [Samberg's]." Still the film comes off as a bit of a Lonely Island/Ferrell hybrid.

Get Smart (2008)

"Get Smart" was a remake of one of the most acclaimed TV comedies of the 1960s. A spoof of the James Bond films, the series starred Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, a bumbling secret agent, and was created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, so the franchise had big shoes to fill. Jim Carrey was on board to star when the project was first proposed in the late '90s, but he soon jumped ship and Will Ferrell stepped in to replace him in 2003. Ferrell was the only talent on board for a while, however, and quickly moved on with other projects.

Ultimately Ferrell's "Anchorman" co-star, Steve Carell, took the part of Agent Smart in 2004, and it was Carell who cracked the code to actually get the project made. Director Peter Segal explained to EW, "Steve had the idea, what if we do a comedic 'Bourne Identity'?" That led to the movie viewers saw, in which Smart, a pencil pusher, rises to become a field agent when the agency he works for, CONTROL, is attacked by the evil KAOS. He even has Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 by his side. The movie did well, although in 2008, Ferrell had the one-two punch of "Semi-Pro" and "Step Brothers," so it's unlikely he spent too much time worrying about not starring in "Get Smart."

Rock of Ages (2012)

While Will Ferrell and Steve Carell both were interested in making "Get Smart," neither of them were excited about making "Rock of Ages," the hair metal musical that starred Julianne Hough and Tom Cruise. Both men turned down the role of ex-rock star turned rock 'n' roll nightclub owner Dennis Dupree, which ultimately went to Alec Baldwin. The movie, which was based on a hit Broadway musical, went for big stars in major roles, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamatti, and Bryan Cranston. Baldwin however, had trouble getting into his role, reportedly because of a last minute health issue that even led him to ask if they could find another actor to take the part.

Baldwin ultimately honored his commitment to the movie, but apparently wasn't happy about it: he became known during the shoot as "Hurricane Baldwin" due to his attitude. Besides, Baldwin (and Ferrell and Carell) may have been onto something, because the musical was panned by critics and disappointed at the box office. Given that the movie required a substantial amount of singing, which was more essential to the role than comedy chops, Ferrell did the right thing by rejecting the role. Sure, Ferrell can sort of sing, but we're not so sure about hair metal.

The Watch (2012)

"The Watch" was originally called "Neighborhood Watch." That unfortunately changed following the tragic death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. When Ferrell came on in May 2009, however, that tragedy was still several years away. Ferrell and "Wedding Crashers"' David Dobkin signed on as star and director, respectively, and tinkered with the script before moving on to other projects after a few months. So star Ben Stiller and director Akiva Shaffer slipped into their positions and made the movie for a 2012 release.

"The Watch" didn't live up to Stiller's reputation for great comedic work though. While Ferrell's version would have been a lighter PG-13 movie, a la "Ghostbusters," Stiller's version was a R-rated alien invasion comedy that co-starred Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade. The ensemble doesn't really click, though, with the heavy comedic lifting left to Hill and Ayoade while Stiller and Vaughn play it straight. It's another movie that Ferrell shouldn't be too sad he missed out on, although his summer movie that year, "The Campaign," didn't fare significantly better at the box office.

Reagan (2016)

Will Ferrell signed on to both produce the comedy "Reagan" and play the former president in his waning years. The movie was reportedly an "alternate take" on history, set at the beginning of Reagan's second term when he was struck by Alzheimer's. The script was popular in Hollywood, even drawing several famous actors — including James Brolin and John Cho — to a reading in March 2016. However, Reagan's family was infuriated by the comedy and criticized Ferrell publicly for taking on the role.

"There's nothing funny about Alzheimer's. It is terrifying for the families of those who suffer from it," Reagan's daughter Patti Davis told Page Six. "This movie is cruel, not just to my father, but to the millions of people who have the disease, and the millions more who care for them and watch them suffer every day." Her brother, Michael Reagan, concurred, posting, "Alzheimer's is not a comedy to the 5 million people who are suffering with the disease."

While it's not clear if it was the outcry or something else that did it, Ferrell dropped out of the movie shortly after his involvement was announced. "We are grateful to Mr. Ferrell for choosing not to pursue this film," Charles Fuschillo, Jr., president of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, stated to Page Six. Davis added, "I am so relieved that Will has decided against this film. I can't imagine that anybody else would sign onto it." Given that no one has heard anything else about this movie since, her statement seems correct.

Tag (2018)

Pretty much everyone plays tag when they're young, but as they grow up, the urge to pronounce someone "it" and run away tends to recede. Not for the real-life Tag Brothers, though. These 40-year-old friends and former classmates from Spokane, Washington continue their game of tag for one month every year, traveling across the country to tag someone while at the same time trying to manage their personal lives. Thanks to the popularity of the story, Hollywood came knocking, and Will Ferrell and Jack Black soon signed on to the movie "Tag" in 2013. After all, how could the two comedians resist such dumb fun?

However the movie wasn't meant to happen with them, and by March 2016, a whole new group of people, including Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress, were attached to star. Ultimately, with that mix of people instead of a group of pure comedians, the movie wasn't as funny as it might have been had Ferrell and Black been on board. Nonetheless, the movie did all right at the box office and got mixed reviews — but we're guessing that Ferrell didn't lose any sleep over not playing.