Adam McKay Says Casting John C Reilly in HBO Lakers Drama Instead of Will Ferrell Led to Split

“I f—ed up on how I handled that,” director tells Vanity Fair

adam mckay will ferrell john c reilly
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Adam McKay says that his longtime friendship and partnership with Will Ferrell came to an end after he decided to cast mutual friend and collaborator John C. Reilly in his HBO drama about the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers, instead of Ferrell.

In September 2019, news broke that McKay had cast Reilly in his currently untitled HBO Lakers drama, when the series was still in the pilot stage, in the role of former Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Reilly was a replacement for Michael Shannon, who left the project over creative differences.

The “Don’t Look Up” director revealed Ferrell had wanted the role and McKay made the choice to pick Reilly behind Ferrell’s back, in an interview with Vanity Fair published Monday.

“I should have called him and I didn’t,” McKay told Vanity Fair. “And Reilly did, of course, because Reilly, he’s a stand-up guy.

According to McKay’s interview with Vanity Fair, the choice to cast Reilly instead of Ferrell is what caused McKay and Ferrell to publicly end their longtime partnership in April 2019, months before it was announced that Reilly had joined the HBO pilot.

“The truth is, the way the show was always going to be done, it’s hyperrealistic,” McKay told Vanity Fair. “And Ferrell just doesn’t look like Jerry Buss, and he’s not that vibe of a Jerry Buss. And there were some people involved who were like, ‘We love Ferrell, he’s a genius, but we can’t see him doing it.’ It was a bit of a hard discussion.”

McKay added: “Maybe there was a little shadow in there where I wasn’t able to confront a harsher, darker side of myself, that would ultimately err on the side of making the right casting choice over a lifelong friendship.” 

Ferrell hasn’t returned his emails since their split that came after that decision, McKay says.

“I f—ed up on how I handled that. It’s the old thing of keep your side of the street clean,” McKay said. “I should have just done everything by the book.”

McKay and Ferrell spent more than a decade producing together, making projects like “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Step Brothers,” “The Other Guys,” and “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The pair made most of these projects through their Gary Sanchez Productions banner, which was launched in 2006, and tons of content for Funny or Die, their web-shorts site.

“The last 13 years could not have been more enjoyable and satisfying for the two of us at Sanchez Productions. We give massive thanks to our incredible staff and executives and all the writers, directors and actors we worked with through the years,” McKay and Ferrell’s statement at the time of their split in April 2019 read. “The two of us will always work together creatively and always be friends. And we recognize we are lucky as hell to end this venture as such.”

Per Vanity Fair, the portion about maintaining their friendship didn’t end up being true and the two haven’t spoken since the phone call where they agreed to end the partnership, though McKay says he has emailed Ferrell several times since.

“I said, ‘Well, I mean, we’re splitting up the company,’” McKay told Vanity Fair. “And he basically was like, ‘Yeah, we are,’ and basically was like, ‘Have a good life.’ And I’m like, ‘F–k, Ferrell’s never going to talk to me again.’ So it ended not well.” 

Up until last month, little was known about what exactly caused their split, which led McKay to found Hyperobject Industries and Ferrell to shift his focus to a reorganized Gloria Sanchez Productions. But in an October interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Ferrell blamed “bandwidth” as the reason for the professional breakup.

“Adam was like, ‘I want to do this, and this, and this’; he wanted growth and a sphere of influence, and I was just like, ‘I don’t know, that sounds like a lot that I have to keep track of,’ ” Ferrell told THR. “To me, the potential of seeing a billboard, and being like: ‘Oh, we’re producing that?’ I don’t know. … At the end of the day, we just have different amounts of bandwidth.”

McKay’s comments to Vanity Fair mark his first time publicly discussing what he says led to the dissolution of his professional relationship with McKay.

Representatives for HBO and Ferrell did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment Monday.