Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby might be one of Will Ferrell’s and John C. Reilly’s best and funniest films. They are at peak camaraderie here, and it shows on-screen by their improvisational skills and their rapport with one another. While Anchorman might be Ferrell’s most quotable film, Talladega Nights is definitely one of his funniest (and quotable), and it also made a lot more at the domestic box office than Anchorman, which shows that is resonated with wide audiences.
Even though it makes fun of NASCAR and Southern culture, many NASCAR fans and Southerners love the film. Its stereotypes aren’t malicious. The movie may be 13-years-old, but it still resonates, perhaps more so nowadays with the “if you’re not first, you’re last” mentality that America seems to be stuck on.
Here are 20 revealing facts about Talladega Nights.
20 The Pitch Took Six Words To Be Green-Lit
When Adam McKay approached Columbia Pictures to make Talladega Nights, he said that it only took six words to pitch the movies to studios before it was green-lit. Those words were: “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver.”
Ferrell was so famous at the time, he could do no wrong, so this obviously seemed like a big moneymaker for the studio (and it was).
19 NASCAR Racers Added Jokes In The Movie
Producer Judd Apatow remembered that people at NASCAR actually helped by getting into the production and inputting their own jokes. They also helped with accuracy and gave the production crew access to real races. Apatow told About Entertainment, “Some guy at NASCAR would pitch us a better joke than we had, and then we were embarrassed that they could ride cars at 150 miles per hour and be funnier than us.”
18 John C. Reilly Dressed Like Drivers From The ‘60s And ‘70s
When John C. Reilly was trying to figure out his look for Cal Naughton Jr., he took a look at contemporary drivers and said they looked “clean cut,” but he liked the old school racers with big facial hair and personalities. “Big muttonchops, sideburns and crazy facial hair,” he said. “They look like they’re doing a bit of partying off the track, and a little paunchy.” So he based his look on the racers from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
17 Ferrell, Reilly, And Cohen Practiced Racing For Real
Ferrell, Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen (of Borat fame) learned the fundamentals of racing from instructors at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Baron Cohen said, “The first thing they do is have you ride shotgun with a real NASCAR driver at about 180 miles an hour around the track. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life” (via mentalfloss.com). All three actors insisted on getting off the track after just a single lap.
16 Reilly Wanted To Recreate A Scene From Days Of Thunder
This was the second racing film for John C. Reilly. He was in the Tom Cruise film Days of Thunder (1990), and he wanted to recreate a scene from the film. “The one scene from Days of Thunder that I wanted to create was when Robert Duvall is alone with the car and talking to it at night like it’s a person. It gets almost inappropriate. ‘I’m gonna buff you out and pump you full of high octane, baby…’”
The scene didn’t make the cut, to which Reilly said, “That was probably for the best.”
15 Sacha Baron Cohen’s Character Was Really Booed By 200,000 Fans
Ferrell, Reilly, and Baron Cohen were introduced in character at the 2005 UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in North Carolina. When Cohen’s character was introduced, 200,000 Southern fans instinctively booed, but it didn’t surprise the actor. “It reminded me of the last time I went to Alabama, when I was playing a gay Austrian character and was booed by 90,000 drunken men at the Alabama-Mississippi football game.” He added, “The only way I got out alive was by switching clothes with the sound man.”
14 The “Knife In The Leg” Scene Kept Getting Longer
This just goes to show the improvisational qualities of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Adam McKay said, “The knife in the leg bit that in no way serves the story, but we thought it was funny—we tried a small version of it and we got a big laugh. ‘Oh wait a minute, let’s add more of that.’” The end product was a slightly out-of-focus sequence that he thinks is the funniest set piece in the film.
Apparently it was Michael Clarke Duncan’s idea to put in the second knife (to get out the first one).
13 Michael Clarke Duncan Didn’t Think His Singing Was Good Enough
Michael Clarke Duncan was told to sing something by Donna Summer, and “Last Dance” was the only song he could think of. But he didn’t think it was good enough to be in the film—he thought it would only be in the DVD, and that “nobody will see it for at least a couple of months.” But it ended up making the final theatrical cut, during the closing credits.
12 McKay Didn’t Think The Film Was Crazy Enough
We’ve all seen Talladega Nights and love it for its outlandish, ridiculous craziness. Can you imagine that the director once thought it wasn’t crazy enough? His wife responded, “Are you frickin’ kidding me? Look what you have in this movie,” and she named like eight things: Cohen breaks Ferrell’s arm because he won’t say “I love crepes,” was just one example.
11 Will Ferrell’s Dad Wrote And Performed A Song
Roy Lee Ferrell, Will’s father, played saxophone, piano, and keyboards for the Righteous Brothers for almost 20 years. He wrote the song “Goodbye Cowboy” for the film. It was actually Adam McKay and other creatives who wanted to include the song, to which Ferrell said to About Entertainment, “Having my dad’s song in the movie is neat because it’s not like I said, ‘Hey, put my dad’s song in the movie.’”
10 Ricky Bobby Was Written To Be George W. Bush
The film came out in 2006, shortly after George W. Bush was reelected for a second term. So, it makes sense that Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell’s character, was based on a caricature of George W. Bush. Ricky embodied the “if you’re not first you’re last” mentality of Bush.
9 The Film Exploits NASCAR’s Individuality And Corporate Culture
One of the things that the film does best is exploit the corporate culture of NASCAR and American institutions, even though the sport is supposed to be about individuality. It shows the contrast of that individuality with the exploitation of ordinary people, and shows it in the same way NASCAR does: by the countless sponsors, endorsements, and stickers that the racers wear and are forced to talk about (such as Ricky Bobby’s hilarious take on Big Red in the bloopers).
8 It’s A Metaphor For America Being The Losers For Once
Adam McKay told the Washington Post 10 years after the film that it’s similar to his Oscar-winning The Big Short, in a way. They both have the “if you’re not a winner, you’re a big loser” mentality.
He said that Ricky Bobby experiencing the losing side of things is “the story of America over the last 30 or 40 years. We thought we were setting up this cool game where everyone would go head to head… Then it becomes Monopoly, and it was supposed to be a warning against monopolies, that when you set up monopolies you end up with one winner and a lot of losers.”
7 The Film Came Out Before A Tipping Point On Gay Rights
One of McKay’s favorite elements of the movie was Sacha Baron Cohen’s character, Jean Girard, being stereotypically and inherently anti-NASCAR: European, gay, sophisticated, comfortable, in a loving relationship. But the racing fans ended up embracing him because he was a winner. “The kiss [between Ricky and Jean] really played shocking in the Deep South. I heard stories from the Deep South about people walking out of the movie theater… Today, I don’t think it would play with that same edge. Things have changed.”
6 Molly Shannon Introduced Will Ferrell To John C. Reilly
Molly Shannon made a name for herself on Saturday Night Live, often alongside her co-star Will Ferrell.
In an interview with About Entertainment, John C. Reilly revealed that he was introduced to Will, “through my friend Molly Shannon, and we just hit it off right away.” Since Talladega Nights, they’ve co-starred in Step Brothers, Anchorman 2 (Reilly was going to star in the first one, but had scheduling conflicts), Holmes & Watson, and others.
5 Ferrell And McKay Wanted To Make A NASCAR Film For Years
Will Ferrell has admitted that he wasn’t a big NASCAR fan before deciding he wanted to help make the film. Director Adam McKay told About Entertainment, “We weren’t even huge NASCAR fans at the time, but after we started going to the track, we got swept up in the phenomenon.” The Big Short (2015) was the first film of McKay’s that didn’t star Will Ferrell.
4 It’s A Parody Of Southern Culture, But Southerners Embraced It
McKay would like Talladega Night’s legacy to be a contrast of Southern culture: it has fun with it and parodies stereotypes, but it also celebrates Southern culture.
He told the Washington Post, “We thought at the time that there was what I call this tunnel vision block of America, of the South and Midwest, that was full of pride and certainty about the decisions they were making, i.e. electing George W. Bush… They embraced it [the movie].”
3 The Movie Helped Resurface A Legendary Film Forgotten For Years
Highlander was an iconic fantasy adventure film released in 1986, in case you weren’t aware. Many people might not have seen the film before Talladega Nights, but you can be sure that everyone went and checked it out after John C. Reilly’s hilarious explanation of the film. Talladega Nights helped resurface this legendary film that had been forgotten about for years.
2 The Movie’s Sponsors Were Not Charged For Product Placement
Wonder Bread, Old Spice, and Perrier were all sponsors of the film, but none of them were charged for their product placement. Old Spice and Wonder Bread promoted the film through back-end deals, and Perrier was not required to take any action despite its huge presence in the film (Jean Girard’s character).
Also, Ferrell showed up to public appearances dressed in his Wonder Bread uniform, and the company wasn’t charged for that, either.
1 NASCAR Objected To The Original Name Of The Film
Originally, NASCAR objected to the original title of Talladega Nights, because it struck too close to home. They wanted to go with the name of the production company, “High, Wide, and Handsome.” (Ouch.) “Loud and Proud” was also considered. In the end, after a brief period of time, when the film didn’t have a name, producers eventually reverted back to its original—and we’re all thankful for that!
References: washingtonpost.com, about-entertainment.com, mentalfloss.com, imdb.com