With the US election entering its final stages, a satirical swipe at the business of political campaigning could not feel more timely. And who better to deliver it than Will Ferrell, a self-professed political animal renowned for an infamously astute send-up of the former US leader George W Bush?
Today, the Saturday Night Live alumnus still delights in poking fun at the absurdities of political life. His new movie, The Campaign, sees him cast as the incumbent senator Cam Brady, whose safe seat is suddenly challenged by the unknown outsider Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis. A series of increasingly disastrous mishaps suddenly turn the senator's no-contest campaign on its head, with the brash leader increasingly powerless to prevent the catastrophic consequences that follow.
"I don't think the Republican primaries and debates had started yet," says the 45-year-old, when asked if the barbed US campaign trail had influenced the writing, or the performances, for either star. "Zach follows politics: his uncle was a congressman in North Carolina and ran for office, ran for senate. And I've always followed politics, so it was definitely of interest. I wish we were coming at it right now."
Ferrell has no plans to satirise the incumbent president Barack Obama, or his bitter opponent, Mitt Romney ("Some cycles, the characters are better for making fun of than others," he says) but he is the first to bemoan Capitol Hill for "strangling", as he puts it, Obama's strategies for social welfare and economic growth.
"It's really become about staying in office, rather than being effective while you're there," the lifelong Democrat says, of the so-called leader of the free world who's been increasingly hampered by "a congress that won't pass anything". Obama has "definitely" tried to "fight the good fight", Ferrell adds, but with mixed results.
Indeed, the likeable comic star - whose deadpan quips are even funnier in person, believe it or not - rejects any notion of him ever running for office. Nothing, he says, could be further from his mind.
"I can't imagine wanting to do it. I can't imagine the level of scrutiny," he says, of what's been acknowledged as the world's hardest job. "Even though I do fantasise that if someone forced me to run for office, it would be really refreshing to see a candidate go: 'Here's what I believe in, here's what I'd try to change, here's all the crazy things I've done in my life - vote for me or not. I think I've covered everything, so there's really nothing you can bring up about me that I haven't already told you.' To see a politician step up and have that sort of approach, as opposed to: 'Hold on here, I did that once in the fourth grade, but that's it.' I don't know if they'd get elected, but it would be kind of exciting to see that."
Although he spends as much time producing these days - notably including the forthcoming Bachelorette - as he does writing and acting, Ferrell is currently busily developing the long-awaited sequel to his 2004 hit, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, one of the most popular comedies from his extensive body of work. "We're still in the process of figuring that out," he says, laughing, of the evolution of the politically incorrect newsreader, who became a surprise hit. "We're still working on the script, writing. It's looking like we'll start filming in February. That's kind of the latest."
Not averse to reviving his most notable characters when the spirit moves him - he took his Bush caricature on a limited stage-run in 2009 to coincide with the deeply unpopular president's last day in office - Ferrell still retains a keen interest in the comedic landscape today. He helped set up a website - FunnyorDie.com - to help champion young talent, in the vein of his own extended tenure on Saturday Night Live. Although, funnily enough, as a young man, he intended to do something entirely different. Comedy, he says, was not top of the agenda.
"My Plan A was something sports-related, to be honest," he recalls, of his youth, growing up in Orange County, California. "I was always really athletic as a kid. I used to do a lot of high-school sports. My degree is in sports journalism, from college, which I quickly got bored of doing. [For people starting out now] there are more avenues for you to cut your teeth and go through that trial and error process that's necessary to succeed in comedy," he adds. "I don't know if it's any easier to get paid to do it, though."
The Campaign opens across the UAE today