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Ferrell, Hoffman ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ debuts at Toronto fest

TORONTO (CP) _ When Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman gathered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday to chat about their inventive comedy "Stranger Than Fiction," it was tough to get a straight answer. One reporter asked the actors what it was like to work together.

"First of all, we all cheated on our spouses," said Hoffman.

"It was crazy. I slept with Dustin right away," added Ferrell.

Then again, perhaps the comic banter was a calculated tactic. "Stranger Than Fiction," which also stars Queen Latifah and Maggie Gyllenhaal, is difficult to put into words.

Directed by Marc Forster ("Finding Neverland," "Monster’s Ball") the film tells the whimsical tale of Harold Crick (Ferrell), a straitlaced IRS agent who suddenly discovers his life is being narrated by a voice only he can hear.

Thompson plays the chain-smoking novelist who is penning Crick’s story while Hoffman is an eccentric literature professor enlisted to unravel the situation. Somehow, the bizarre premise works. The film is by turns funny, hopeful and bittersweet. It’s also a stark departure for Ferrell _ better known to audiences for lightweight comedies like "Elf" and the recent "Talladega Nights."

But the actor, dressed casually in a T-shirt and red-and-white sweatjacket, conceded Saturday that it was daunting to act with such a cast of heavyweights.

"I really did feel like (working) with Emma and Dustin and Maggie and Queen Latifah, I really did feel like I was placed on an all-star game but I was just hired to play defence and not throw the ball out of bounds," he said.

"I just wanted to kind of learn from them and try to hold my own in the best way that I could. Getting to do something like this . . . I found it really freeing."

And the film festival experience, he joked, is a new one.

"I started out at the, uh, Winnipeg film festival then I went to the Hamilton, then I just got back from the Yellowknife film festival. So I’m hitting all the big Canadian ones," he said.

"And then kicking it off with the grandaddy of them all."