The Truth Behind the McKay-Ferrell Split

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
December 5, 2021

“What an asshole!” I’m pretty sure that text I received this week, from a young writer-producer, was at least somewhat representative of the response around Hollywood to Adam McKay’s profile in Vanity Fair, where he finally explained the real reason for the 2019 demise of his 25-year creative partnership with comedy legend and universally-recognized nice guy Will Ferrell.   

If you didn’t see it, writer Joe Hagan lays out an explosive timeline of the end of the duo’s friendship and their Gary Sanchez Productions, purveyor of everything from Step Brothers to Succession: McKay and Ferrell had been drifting apart creatively, but “the final straw,” according to the story, was when McKay cast Ferrell as L.A. Lakers owner Jerry Buss in the upcoming HBO series about the 1980s team—and then abruptly recast the role with John C. Reilly, Ferrell’s best friend, failing to let Ferrell know before Reilly did. “I should have called him and I didn’t,” McKay says. “And Reilly did, of course, because Reilly, he’s a stand-up guy.” Ferrell and McKay then released a pleasant divorce statement to the media, but “it wasn’t true,” Hagan writes, with McKay saying, “I’m like, ‘Fuck, Ferrell’s never going to talk to me again. So it ended not well.’”

Pretty dramatic. I—like many others, I suspect—cringed when I read the story, and not just because Ferrell is probably my favorite comedic actor. (My Elf Halloween costume is still a reliable crowd-pleaser.) The Ferrell-McKay partnership, via Gary Sanchez and Funny or Die, had always struck me as one of the rare drama-free meldings of huge and complementary talents, dating back to their SNL days. But here, even as McKay was ostensibly issuing a mea culpa for mistreating his friend, he was also revealing that friend’s embarrassing rejection, while simultaneously claiming that said friend had such a thin skin that he cut personal and professional ties over a measly casting decision—all in the service of promoting McKay’s latest movie, Don’t Look Up.