In The Spoils of Babylon, Will Ferrell plays a "nonexistent author of a nonexistent best-seller." His book, written in the 1970s, was supposedly made into a television miniseries that never saw the light of day — until now.
The story begins in the 1930s, and spans about 50 years, following the powerful Morehouse family.
The series is a parody of the big, bloated miniseries of the 1970s and '80s (like The Thorn Birds or The Winds of War), filled with family drama in a changing America.
It begins Thursday on IFC, starring Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig and Ferrell. Former Saturday Night Live writer Matt Piedmont directs the series. In an interview with NPR's Arun Rath, Piedmont says he worked with Ferrell's Funny or Die production team to bring this tale to the small screen.
Actor Tim Robbins plays the patriarch, bringing his family to Texas to become an oil wildcatter. Along the way, the family adopts a guy off the side of the road (Devon, played by Maguire). The family strikes it rich, but the adopted son and his new sister, played by Wiig, fall in love.
Devon goes off to war — where he's held as a prisoner of war — then comes back and becomes a beat poet. Wiig's character takes over the company.
"They're trying to avoid their love for each other, which is very difficult," Piedmont says.
On how Will Ferrell's character is like Orson Welles
It made us laugh, the kind of '70s Orson Welles who had kind of fallen from grace [and did some memorable commercials] ... If you see Orson Welles in the '70s, he still likes to hear himself talk. He may be bitter, that may come through pretty obviously, but you can tell ... once he starts getting warmed up, he likes the tales he's spinning, and so we kind of wanted to combine that in the character that we created for Will and have him have some fun. ... There's no one better than Will Ferrell at doing that kind of stuff.
A parody of cinema and history itself
We shot some of this in black and white — it was kind of an excuse to slip in a lot of different styles and get away with it. ... I think we're kind of playing loose and fast with the facts ... we make up a lot of stuff. It's not accurate. I don't think any history lessons are going to be learned from watching The Spoils of Babylon, as far as WWII is concerned, but we had a good time.
On his reputation of being "out there"
The problem is, I think this is all normal, so maybe that says more about me when people say it's out there. To me, I'm pitching a normal idea. I never really think about boundaries or, "Is this too much?" It's almost like, if it's too much, let's go even further. And it seems to have worked out OK so far.