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Will Ferrell: Oscar Contender? He's In Talks To Play John Madden With David O. Russell On As Director

Cindy Ord. Getty Images.

[Deadline]

"EXCLUSIVE: Four-time Emmy winner (and major sports fan) Will Ferrell (Spirited) is in early talks to star as the NFL's John Madden in Madden, a new film to be directed for Amazon/MGM by five-time Oscar nominee David O. Russell (American Hustle), multiple sources tell Deadline. Amazon had no comment.

"Based on a script by Cambron Clark, which was named to The Black List last year, Madden picks up with the legendarily fiery coach after his exit from the NFL, as he teams with Electronic Arts to become the unlikely co-creator of a pioneering video game franchise."

Well this is awesome. Will Ferrell's brand of humor hasn't always been my absolute favorite — don't freak out, I adore Elf, Step Brothers and some of his other comedies — but I've always gravitated more toward his less mainstream roles. Not because I'm some elitist film snob who can only drink in the cinema of Ingmar Bergman and his ilk of auteurs, but because I think Will Ferrell is a full-blown acting genius whose versatility is underrated. 

In particular, 2006's Stranger Than Fiction was a whacky, high-concept fantasy movie where there were still comedic elements, but Ferrell played more of a straightforward protagonist. Netted himself a Golden Globe nom for that.

Among all his accomplishments and myriad accolades on his resume, though, Ferrell has never been in the Oscar conversation. Nope. Never a single Academy Award nomination. Part of it is obviously the projects he's chosen and been the creative force behind. In this instance, I really think we could see an Adam Sandler-esque pivot (Punch Drunk Love, Uncut Gems, etc.) — albeit a less aggressive one — where Ferrell dives into more dramatic, character-driven territory and nails the shit out of playing John Madden.

You can kinda see some similarities in likeness between Ferrell and Madden if you squint a bit. Never know what they can do with prosthetics as well. IDK. I have a feeling about this one. In case, to clarify something from Deadline's blurb: The Black List is essentially a collection of the best unproduced screenplays as voted on by a big panel of movie executives. Obviously, Cambron Clark's Madden script has gained steam of late. 

Focusing on Madden's influence in the gaming world is such a fascinating angle to explore. Even though the recently-released Air didn't feature Michael Jordan per se, I get similar vibes about this Madden movie in terms of how its story will be executed. It really is crazy how far the video game franchise has come. Not to mention how long it's lasted.

Now to the David O. Russell of it all — a major reason why I put "Oscar" in the headline. He's developed quite the cantankerous reputation over the years, yet continues to work. When he's involved in a project, there's at least a puncher's chance it'll be awards-season material. Russell's run of three movies from The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle all drew immense critical acclaim and many Oscar nominations. As of late, Russell has had a couple less well-received efforts in Joy and especially box office bomb Amsterdam. Again, say what you will about the man he is, but Russell is due for another big hit.

The current writers' strike complicates a lot of projects that are in the pipeline. Russell is also lined up to direct a script he wrote titled Super Toys, with Keke Palmer and Sacha Baron Cohen as the leads. Seems like the filmmaker is eager to put the Amsterdam flop behind him. So I assume since that was first announced in February, that'll be his top priority. However, Madden should be next up with Ferrell in talks. 

My hunch is that Madden will ultimately release around awards season next year, so November-December-ish 2024. Won't be an effects-heavy CGI fest of a film, which should mean a pretty quick shoot and an expeditious postproduction period.

Gonna play you out with a Stranger Than Fiction throwback trailer. Haven't seen it in years but may revisit now. When you find out what the premise of the movie is, it sounds so stupid. And yet…it most definitely does. Thanks to, yup, a committed and grounded Will Ferrell performance!

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