Will Ferrell’s transgender best friend inspired his latest project

Will Ferrell is turning friendship with his Saturday Night Live bestie into an opportunity for cisgender people to learn about the transgender community.

Sundance is in full swing with the next set of high-profile films and indie darlings seeking critical acclaim and studio support. Ferrell is one of the many stars searching for a studio home for his latest film, but contrary to what fans might assume, it’s not a comedy.

The Barbie actor is turning them lens on himself and his best friend Harper Steele in the documentary Will & Harper. The documentary, which premieres at Sundance, focuses on Ferrell and Steele’s road trip and evolution of their friendship when Steele comes out as transgender.

“It was three summers ago in which Harper emailed a lot of her close friends with the headline: ‘Here’s a Weird One,’” Ferrell told VarietyStudio. “She went on to explain she was going to transition and we were all of course excited to hear the news and surprised to hear the news. All of us were extremely supportive and expressed love…but that sort of opened the questions like, how can we help you? What do you need us to do?”

Ferrell and Steele’s friendship dates back to their times working for SNL. Steele wrote for the famous late-night sketch show from 1995 to 2008, while Ferrell starred on the show from 1995 to 2002.

While they’ve known each other for almost three decades, Ferrell admitted to his lack of knowledge on Harper’s trans identity and the trans community.

“I had met trans people, but I didn’t have anyone personally in my life. So this was all new territory for me, which is why I think this film is so exciting for us to kind of put out there in the world,” Ferrell said. “It’s a chance [for] all of us in the cis community to be able to ask questions and also just to listen and be there as a friend to discuss this journey.”

Which is why Ferrell thought the best way to showcase learning was within a documentary.

“The conception of the whole discussion, for some reason in my head, was a documentary,” Ferrell said in another interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “Of course, I made it clear to Harper, ‘I don’t want to exploit our friendship,’ but this could be just a wonderful way to explore this topic, obviously for me to learn and ask all the questions that I have about what you’re going through, and who you are, and how you’ve changed. And I think we eventually landed on the same square that if we actually could convince someone to film it, that maybe it would be something that people would watch and it would just give them a different perspective or just show off the fact that two people can have a conversation about this.”

Steele sees it as a story about “a cis friend of a trans person who has to transition himself,” but she also had her own reasons for committing to the documentary.

“I had two reasons for doing it. One was kind of selfish,” Steele said for THR. “It was only my second year of my transition and I thought this would help me dissipate some of the nervousness around it. Walking around with a big shot, like Will, was going to be helpful to me.”

The two besties admitted to making lists of questions to ask each other in preparation for their conversations for the film, ultimately leading to 250 hours worth of footage for the documentary. While those at Sundance will check out their conversations and roadtrip, the rest of the world won’t get to experience them until the film hits the big screen after being picked up for distribution by a studio.

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