Will Ferrell and Julia-Louis Dreyfus Talk Skiing and Sudoku

“WE HAD NEVER met before,” said Julia Louis-Dreyfus of

Will Ferrell,

her co-star in the movie “Downhill,” which opens on Feb. 14. “It’s so bizarre, given the fact that we know so many of the same people, and our lives have had these sort of parallel tracks.” The key parallel—that both are “Saturday Night Live” alumni—is known to any nerd with a funny bone. While she went on to make her biggest marks in TV as Elaine Benes in “Seinfeld,” and Selina Meyer in “Veep,” he took to film, as the lead in “Anchorman” and “Elf,” among others. In “Downhill,” a remake of the 2014 Swedish black comedy “Force Majeure,” Mr. Ferrell and Ms. Louis-Dreyfus go a shade darker, playing a married couple engulfed in strife on a family ski vacation in the Austrian Alps. Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, who was also a producer of the film, said she was drawn to the project because of the enormous conflict at the heart of the narrative. “When emotions are unspoken and things unsaid, I think the comedy and the drama both get pretty juicy,” she said. We talked with the co-stars about filming in the Austrian Alps, where they travel off-camera and the items they keep stashed in their carry-ons.

Clockwise from top left: A kangaroo-leather coin purse; Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; Hepp’s salt; Sudoku puzzles; Mr. Ferrell counts Marfa, Texas as one of his favorite vacation spots; the Swedish flag.


Alamy, (purse, Sodoku book); Getty Images (Wilderness, Marfa, flag)

In Austria, we ate a lot of:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: sauerkraut. And if you think I’m kidding, I’m not. I loved it.

Will Ferrell: very good stews. I found that I ate half as much. Partly because I think in Europe they do eat half as much. But the stew was so filling that I was not even hungry until dinner. I was skiing. I was losing weight. It was fantastic.

Skiing the Alps on camera made me:

WF: a better skier. I’m very much a solidly intermediate skier. We did a day where we skied as a family, that’s all in the movie. We were going much faster than I ever normally would. Any sort of fear was kind of driven out of your head because there was a camera over on the right and you wanted it to look like a happy family. I finally saw it. I’m not too good. I’m not too bad. I’m right in the pocket.

Most underrated destination in America:

WF: I don’t know if it fits under underrated or just still being discovered, but I would put Marfa, Texas, on that list. We’ve been there four or five times now and just love that place.

JLD: The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. I went canoeing and I loved it. It is just unfathomably beautiful.

My role when I’m traveling with my family is:

JLD: I can tell you what I’m not, I am not a navigator. I’m useless with a map. What I’m affectionately called in my family is the naviguesser.

WF: I’m kind of the quiet, “We should probably go if we want to make our flight” person. I am keeping the schedule, but in no way am I the one who’s like, “Everyone shut up! We need to get going!”

In my bag, I always have:

JLD: salt. I’m looking at my purse right now to see what I’ve got. I have a Hepp’s salt, and I have a lemon zest salt by Jacobsen, and one of my dearest friends gave me some homemade mushroom, rosemary and shallot salt. Anyway, I’ve got a lot of salt. And I don’t have high blood pressure, in case you’re interested.

WF: I’m never without floss. And I always have a Sudoku book in my backpack. Not electronic, but old-fashioned paper.

A place I keep going back to is:

JLD: I’ve been going to Jackson Hole since I was 14 years old. The place has grown bigger, and in a lot of ways better. It’s got lots of lovely restaurants, while maintaining its original sort of true essence, but climate change is quite evident there.

WF: Sweden. My wife’s family is there, and our boys’ cousins. We’re outside of Stockholm off this dirt road on a big, working farm. It is a real chunk of time where we shut down. We’re fully relaxed to the point where I have the most insane dreams when I’m there.

The best (or worst) souvenir I ever got:

WF: was from John C. Reilly. We were doing press for either “Step Brothers” or “Talladega Nights” in Australia, and he bought me a change purse crafted from a kangaroo’s scrotum. So that’s either best or worst, or best and worst together.

A movie I’ll always watch on a plane is:

WF: something that I haven’t seen, whether it’s contemporary or whether it’s a classic. But I would say regardless of the season, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” And always cry.

The best hotel bed I’ve ever slept in was:

JLD: at Le Bristol, in Paris. [A room] will cost you an arm and a leg, but if you’re on an expense account, it’s ideal.

This summer I’m planning to go to:

WF: Japan. A dad at our school, Adrián González, used to play for the Dodgers. He is kind of retired, except he goes, “Guess what? I’m going to play for Mexico in the Olympics in Japan.” And my buddy Matt and I were like, “Don’t we have to go to Japan to watch Mexico play in the Olympics?” I feel like that has to happen. I like the thought of just going to the Olympics and only watching baseball. No other sports. Being super tunnel vision, because people will be like, “Did you see anything else?” “Nope. But we saw Mexico play all four of their games.”

The trick to getting your kids to travel with you when they’re adults:

JLD: I think if you pick really interesting places to go and you’re willing to pay for everybody’s airfare, they’re usually game to come with.

My favorite museum is:

WF: the Vasa Museum in the heart of Stockholm. [The Vasa] is a 17th-century tall ship that they dredged up from the bottom of the harbor in the 1950s. It’s perfectly preserved. It sunk within five minutes of its launch because it was built too tall, and not wide enough. The king at that time was so enamored with the Spanish galleons that he wanted one that was even taller. It’s this fascinating story of absolute hubris.

Right now, I’m reading:

JLD: a book called “The Fate of Food” by Amanda Little, which I highly recommend. I’m also reading this novel called “Hotel Silence.” I also have the new Elizabeth Strout, “Olive, Again,” but I haven’t started it.

When I travel by myself, I bring:

JLD: a lot of mementos from home. Photographs of my kids and my husband, or just little things that remind me of home.

I still haven’t been to:

WF: the French Open. We need to check that off our list. We don’t have imminent plans, but that’s something we are always like, “Argh, the French!” We keep forgetting.

My ideal hotel room has:

JLD: to be different than the first one I saw, my husband [actor Brad Hall] says. Invariably I will change hotel rooms. [Brad] always just sort of stands by the door and waits with the bag in his hand for me to give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. I would say the vast majority of the time it’s a thumbs down. I don’t know why this is exactly, except that I need to make sure I’ve got a room that I’m really comfortable in. It has to have a good vibe, and it needs to have a good area for spreading out beyond the bedroom-y area.

—Edited from an interview by Matthew Kronsberg

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