Inquirer.net/Asia News Network
A still from 'Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.' (Netflix/File)
When I was watching Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, I was reminded of the Metro Manila Popular Music Festival that I got to watch in person in the early ‘80s.
Metro Pop was exciting, but it had nothing on the over-the-top pomp and pageantry of Eurovision, which has grown into a very popular song competition since its simple beginning in 1956.
At least 50 countries are now eligible to participate in Eurovision, the longest-running annual international TV contest, with its attention-grabbing performances, including Ukraine’s Mariya Yaremchuk climbing on top of a hamster wheel while singing.
That’s why the kitsch-filled song contest was ripe for Will Ferrell to mine. In director David Dobkin’s Netflix movie comedy with the kilometric title (a joke in itself), the actor stars and writes an entertaining send-up of Eurovision.
Will and Rachel McAdams portray aspiring musicians Lars and Sigrit, respectively, who somehow end up representing Iceland in the world’s biggest song competition.
Despite their lack of physical resemblance and an age difference of only 15 years, Pierce and Will play father and son. Why not—after all, this is a comedy.
We interviewed the three stars in separate video calls.
To the delight of Will, who is also one of the film’s producers, Eurovision’s organizers readily agreed to his movie project. He first watched “Eurovision” in 1999 with his Swedish wife Viveca Paulin’s family when they were in Sweden and immediately saw the campy song festival’s comedic potential.
“We sat down with them and I believe this was either 2015 or 2016 when we went to Copenhagen,” the comedian recalled his meeting with Eurovision executives. “They were happy to have us as guests. We sat down with them, had an initial meeting and I asked the question, ‘What do you guys think of a film being done? Obviously, it’s going to be a comedy and we want to have some fun with it. But at the same time, we also want it to be a love letter to the contest itself.’
He added, “I have to give a lot of credit to everyone at Eurovision. They totally get every aspect of what they’re doing. They embrace the kitsch factor, along with the earnest artistry of what everyone is trying to do. So they were like, ‘Of course, you need to have some fun with it.’
“They basically said, ‘As long as you adhere to the rules of what we do, go ahead.’ They were remarkably hands-off. Then they watched the movie and were like, ‘This is great, you guys did a great job.’ So, it was one of the easier experiences dealing with an entity that you’re doing the film about.”
In the film’s “Volcano Man” music video scene, Will, wearing a Viking costume with a large codpiece, and Rachel, her lips smeared in silver lipstick, go all out singing in an Icelandic landscape worthy of a Game of Thrones shoot.
“We knew there was a lot of fun to be had with costume design,” Will said. “Anna Sheppard, our costume designer, knocked it out of the park.”
Dan Stevens goes to town in his kitschy costumes as the contestant from Russia, complete with shirtless male dancers in gold lame pants. Dan was quoted as saying that his costumes were inspired by Russian megastar Philipp Kirkolov’s stage wardrobe.
On the climactic competition night scene, Rachel’s “Frozen”-look gown gets caught in the giant hamster wheel that Will is inside of.
“Yes, when you attend Eurovision or watch at home, the staging is so much,” Will said, chuckling. “When we visited in Lisbon (2018 host country), we went behind the scenes and saw these teams of people that worked with each country and figured out how they were going to stage it, right down to what camera shots they want to use at what point in the songs.
“It’s always a debate every year as to what is more of a winning song, something more theatrical or something that’s just like a simple ballad where the artist stands in one place and sings from the heart.”
Will is actually the one singing as Lars in the movie. Is he coming out with an album someday? “In other words, do my Eddie Murphy turn?” he answered with a laugh. “No, there are no plans in the works. Getting to sing in the kind of comedy lane gives you a lot of leeway because there is a greater margin for error that if you can’t quite hit a note, it’s funny and if you can hit a note, it turns into wait, you are really good. So, it’s like a perfect place to be.”
As we can imagine, it was tough for Rachel to keep a straight face in front of Will. “I failed at that task,” Rachel admitted, even laughing at the memory of shooting her scenes with the star behind Elf and Anchorman.
“I was not able to keep a straight face very often. He’s good at it. So I eventually reined it in and got my act together. But we had a blast. He’s such a fun guy, so kind and lovely.”
The actress learned about Eurovision only in 2014. “I, unfortunately as a Canadian girl, didn’t know anything about Eurovision until Conchita Wurst won for Austria,” she said. “That hit the radar around the world because it was such a special moment. I did a much deeper dive when I got to go on a research trip with Netflix for this film and go to last year’s Eurovision in Tel Aviv. I have to say I became a fan.
“Something about being there in person and just feeling the electricity in that arena, the support and the pride each country has and the incredible work each performer has done to get to that global stage—I just have to admire and respect it. And it’s super fun, especially if you’re there, you can’t not get caught up in it all. It’s so over the top and there’s so much to appreciate aesthetically with the costumes [laughs].
“The lighting itself—I have a theater background—was pretty impressive. I don’t know quite how they pulled that off. We had the same lighting director on Eurovision the film, as well. He did some pretty magical things with half the lighting that he had at the actual Eurovision. I love the competitive nature of it—that each country gets to vote, but you can’t vote for you own country. That’s a nice twist.”
In Rachel’s case, it was mostly Swedish singer Molly Sanden’s singing voice that was used. “David wanted me to sing all of the songs, then he could lift bits and pieces and blend them with Molly’s voice,” she explained. “Then, he had me do that whole song that Sigrit is composing in the hotel room. He wanted me to do the singing so that I didn’t look like I was lip synching. It was a collaborative experience with all of that.”
Pierce shared his earliest memory of watching the song competition extravaganza. “I knew about it because in my young years as an actor in London, I was at drama school in 1974 when Abba won with ‘Waterloo', so I was very aware of it. Everyone watched it and it was gloriously grand, silly and passionate. People wore their hearts on their sleeve for their country.”
He grabbed the chance to be in the Eurovision parody. “My agent, Mr. Rick Kurtzman, sent the script to me,” the former James Bond actor said. “I’m a big fan of Will Ferrell’s. Tonally, I thought the script was rather pitch-perfect for the world of Will Ferrell. We went to Iceland and made the movie. It was a lovely jaunt for us as a couple in the company of Will and Rachel.
“It’s a charming film. It celebrates artists. It’s a celebration of living your dreams, keeping your dream alive and being who you are.”
“I did suggest that I sing a verse or two here and there, but it fell on deaf ears,” quipped Pierce who memorably sang “The Winner Takes It All” with Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia!. “I was quite happy not to sing. I was more than happy to play the part of Erick and to just do what was asked of me.”
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