Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are giving Americans a full-throated introduction to the campy Eurovision Song Contest.
The two portray Lars and Sigrit, the Icelandic pop duo Fire Saga who – against all odds and music judgment – stumble into the European pop competition in Netflix’s “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (streaming June 26).
The underdogs come up against a host of serious competitors in the comedy, including Dan Stevens’ big-cat-loving Russian singer, Alexander Lemtov.
“His performance is insane,” Ferrell says. “It’s very real in a way, yet so over-the-top. He’s kind of the Russian George Michael. It’s a far cry from ‘Downton Abbey.’ ”
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Yet it’s right in step with the flamboyant real-life song contest, which pits singers from mostly European nations in a televised multinight pop contest that has launched the careers of Celine Dion (representing Switzerland in 1988) and ABBA (representing Sweden in 1974).
Ferrell was introduced to the madness when his Swedish wife, Viveca Paulin, switched on the finale during the couple’s 1998 visit. “It was just like, ‘Wait, what is going on? This is insanity. This is the craziest, most fun thing I’ve ever seen,’ ” Ferrell says.
Four years ago, he decided the time was right for a film version (“I just woke up one day and said, ‘This needs to happen’ “), co-writing the screenplay and luring “Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin into the new music universe.
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“It’s so crazy that there is something this big in the world like Eurovision that, basically, America has never heard of,” says Dobkin. “It’s bigger than the Super Bowl, 180 million viewers, a full-on rock concert and TV show. There’s nothing else really like it.”
For the Icelandic rock dreamer Lars, Ferrell felt the need for a full mane, fighting for the right to wig out. “We started looking at hairstyles featured in Viking historical dramas,” he says. “We landed on that.”
Ferrell, who has crooned various degrees of bad since his “Saturday Night Live” days, had to bring his pop game to Fire Saga’s out-there performances, featuring legitimately catchy original songs by music producers such as Savan Kotecha – infectious numbers like “Volcano Man,” “Jaja, Ding Dong” and “Double Trouble.”
“It’s like, ‘Wait, is this a good song? Oh, my gosh, I can’t get it out of my head,’ ” Ferrell says. Bonus: Kotecha brought his frequent collaborator Demi Lovato on board for a wild cameo.
The songs live up to the real Eurovision, with Viking-attired Lars and Sigrit singing a fantasy number shot on an actual Icelandic lava field and Lars performing onstage in a giant hamster wheel (that goes very wrong). Stevens bares his chest through his frisky numbers, including “Lion of Love.”
“When Dan finally saw the movie, he texted me saying, ” ‘I can’t believe we succeeded, I never actually wore a shirt the entire film,’ ” Dobkin says.
McAdams shows her comedic chops while revealing power vocal training and the ability to play both her guitar and piano. “She just became Sigrit, Lars’ partner in crime,” Ferrell says.
While the Eurovision 2020 contest in Rotterdam, Netherlands, was canceled (along with the movie’s gala premiere) because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ferrell believes the comedy can shine a light into the world.
“We had fun with the characters, and we capture the scope,” he says. “But it’s still a love letter to the Eurovision contest, surprisingly written by mostly Americans.”