A few weeks ago we were filming a scene for the new Charlotte Gainsbourg video. In the last shot of the day I noticed a familiar face standing next to her. It appeared to be Will Ferrell, though it was unclear what he would be doing in a house in Canoga Park on a hot summer’s night standing in the back ground of a music video. The look-a-like turned out to be Shannon Thule, an extra working on the video. Coincidentally, I was planning to speak to Will in a few days time for the website. I took the opportunity to also speak with Shannon about his experiences living life as Will Ferrell’s doppelganger and growing up around the world. Here is the conversation.
Shannon Theule: Actually not until I first moved here about a year ago.
BH: Had you seen his movies?
ST: I had, but it really didn’t dawn on me who Will Ferrell was. Somebody said at Applebee’s, “There’s Will Ferrell.” I moved here about a year ago and now I can’t go through the mall without people following me.
BH: At first did you think they were following you for no reason?
ST: I didn’t understand at first. When I first moved here a friend of mine had told me, “You know what? Just go to central casting and just sign up, because I was looking for some work. So I’m sitting at central casting and I walk in there and sit down and everyone in there is looking at me, driving me nuts, making me feel really weird and eerie. I stand up and I look up and there’s this poster of Will Ferrell sitting right above me where I was sitting. And I look at it and am like “Oh my god.”
BH: When you saw one of his movies did you think, “He really looks like me.”
ST: Yeah, Semi-Pro. Talledega Nights was the first one I think. It just kind of hit me.
BH: Has he since then become a kind of unspoken, invisible presence in your life?
ST: Maybe a little bit. I’m not called Shannon anymore. I’m called Will.
BH: Do your friends call you Will now?
ST: Sometimes they do.
BH: I was reading about doppelgangers and it’s originally a German word. In some cultures it’s a harbinger of bad luck. They say that if doppelgangers meet face to face it will result in “immediate death.” I mean, how does that manifest? Does it involve some cataclysm of nature: lightning, avalanches, flooding or just some sort of metaphysical explosion?
ST: I guess we’ll have to meet and find out.
BH: You might want to use caution. Have you ever thought of changing your looks in some way?
ST: I tried one time cutting my hair because everyone seemed to place it with Semi-Pro.
BH: Right, because you have the curly hair.
ST: Yeah, the Afro-kind of shag. And sure enough that didn’t really work. My wife, she goes, “Man, you look just like Will Ferrell, even with short hair.” So, that doesn’t work either.
BH: I wonder what hairstyle could help you disassociate from the likeness.
ST: Maybe flat and greased back.
BH: I think he did that. He’s covered a lot of ground. He’s had a mullet. I think he’s had long hair. He’s had short hair.
ST: He’s done it all on Saturday Night Live. He’s done every character.
BH: A faux-hawk maybe? That might be a little too 2002 though.
ST: My wife would kill me.
BH: You could shave your head, grow a big moustache and shave your eyebrows.
ST: It’s really the nose and the eyes that kind of stand out. Overall, I’m pretty honored. Ever since all this started I’ve been thinking about sending in a script where Will Ferrell is the obnoxious father. Sassy and cocky. And I’ll be the good son. He will try to influence me and I’ll try to influence him.
BH: I guess part of the comedy would be hinged on the fact that you guys aren’t that much different in age. I think there’s something there though. An allegory about people’s relationships with themselves? The double goes back to Shakespeare, right? A Comedy of Errors? You and Will could do a remake.
ST: That’d be cool.
BH: Or you could just do a remake of Face/Off.
ST: (laughing) That’d be funny.
BH: Or you could just have a face off.
ST: Like a stare down?
BH: Whoever loses the staring contest has to abdicate ownership of the face.
BH: In a stare off who do you think would win?
ST: Oh, definitely me man.
BH: You’ve got an iron gaze?
BH: Is it like an ocular headlock?
ST: Exactly, it pins you down.
BH: What about an arm wrestling match?
ST: He would win on that one.
ST: He’s a little bigger than I am.
BH: How about interpretive dancing? Have you ever worn a unitard?
ST: I took ballet for 6 months.
BH: So you would probably do well in a full body unitard against Will in his full body unitard from Capezio because you have studied ballet and learned the art of graceful body language..
ST: (laughs) Yeah, maybe. How about swimming?
BH: Pole vault. Who would win?
ST: I don’t know! I did some of that in track in high school.
BH: I’m going to give that one to you. Hundred yard dash?
ST: The discus. I’ll take him on that one.
BH: You think you could take him?
ST: I actually don’t know.
BH: He’s got that wild arm.
BH: So have you been cast in things?
ST: I’ve been doing a lot of extra work. Bar customers. Angry, psycho, real goofy. I get a lot of goofy calls.
BH: Where are you from?
ST: Me? I was born in Nigeria. I grew up with a habit of chasing baboons. And then Liberia. Then Japan. Then Costa Rica. Now here.
BH: Were you a military kid?
ST: Missionary kid. My parents were missionaries.
BH: When did you end up in America?
ST: I graduated high school in Costa Rica and then I came over here to the States. I’ve been going throughout the States. I’ve only been in California for about a year now.
BH: So you’ve been all over the world already.
ST: Like I said before, I grew up chasing baboons. That was my habit– chasing baboons.
BH: So you actually had baboons in your yard?
ST: Oh yeah, they would come sit on our windows. I mean, we lived in a hut with no windows. It was just open. When we’d take showers earthworms would fall through the faucets. So, I was chasing baboons for a while until they started chasing me one day. And then Dad said no more of that (laughing).
BH: They can be dangerous, huh?
ST: They can kill you. They can rip you apart.
BH: Meanwhile, your doppelganger was…
ST: (laughing) Drinking a smoothie.
BH: Watching Love Boat.
ST: And I’m being run down by baboons. I’ve been to 56 countries. That’s just normal to me. Cultures and people and all sorts of foods. When I was born in Nigeria, midwives birthed me. When my mother woke up she couldn’t find me. So she’s going around and she found me just leaning against the fridge on the floor in the corner, collecting cobwebs.
BH: You were by the fridge?
ST: Yes, a newborn! Because I wouldn’t shut up! I was crying and the hum of the fridge put me to sleep so they put me there.
BH: When a child is born they do that bonding thing with the mother where they put them on the mother’s chest. But your bonding moment was with a refrigerator.
BH: Did you have any brothers or sisters?
ST: There were five of us actually. 3 boys and 2 girls.
BH: And do the boys or girls look anything like Will Ferrell?
ST: No, I do have a younger brother who might. He looks pretty much like me. He might have a resemblance also.
BH: So you guys could do a triple doppelganger. Or if you get the drummer from the Chili Peppers you can have a Quadrupleganger. I don’t know if that’s a word though…
ST: You gotta ask the Germans.
BH: You spent a big part of your childhood in Japan?
ST: Yeah, a lot of time there.
BH: I’ve been to Japan a few times.
ST: Where in Japan did you go?
BH: I’ve been all over. Mainly the major cities. Kyoto is one of my favorites.
ST: I love Kyoto, yup.
BH: It has many temples, it’s a very calming place. Also, there are geishas who walk around on the streets.
BH: I was there this year and I noticed a new phenomenon where normal young girls have themselves made up like geishas to be able to walk around and get attention from tourists who want to have their picture taken with them. I guess they were sort of like doppelgangers in a way. They were impostor geishas. The way you know is that the make-up is little bit off. You know how precise the geisha make-up is? I mean, it’s almost inhumanly precise. And usually geishas won’t talk to tourists because they’re busy. But these geishas were just standing around. What ultimately gave them away though was when we took a picture they started flashing the peace sign.
ST: No, they won’t do that.
BH: And where did you end up after that? Costa Rica?
ST: Yeah, I graduated high school there. We went to a little school on an active volcano.
BH: So, the school was on a volcano?
ST: Yeah. A few years ago actually it blew up!
BH: So, around the time you were under threat of having a volcano erupt on your school, I think your doppelganger was working as a security guard at a Bon Jovi concert. But I guess that’s sort of a different threat of eruption, more in a symbolic way. It’s interesting to track the parallel trajectories of your lives. Not a lot in your life mirrors Will’s life?
ST: Just the looks.
BH: It’s interesting what different lives you’ve lived in such different cultures, with different influences and yet you end up looking so similar.
ST: I know.
BH: It was inevitable then?