Adam McKay Talks ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES, Directing 3,000 Extras, Getting the Cast Back Together, and Having Judd Apatow on Set

     November 12, 2013


In the world of filmmaking, there’s likely only one man who could inspire a crowd of 3,000 extras to chant “You are not classy!” at San Diego’s most famous newsman, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), and that man is director Adam McKay.  Taking full advantage of his access to a loudspeaker at SeaWorld San Diego’s dolphin show and the crowd’s willingness to participate, McKay ran them through a number of chants that ranged from the silly to the surreal, resulting in Burgundy being booed off stage.

In between takes of McKay using the crowd to shout down Ron Burgundy, the writer-director took time out to speak to a small group of journalists on set.  He spoke about the experience of directing 3,000 extras, getting the cast of the original film back together, landing new additions to the world of Anchorman, and how helpful it is to have Judd Apatow on set (and not just because that means they’ll be eating well that day).  Hit the jump for the interview.  Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens December 20th.

(*There’s a pretty big spoiler at the end, but it’s been whited out, so just highlight if you’re interested in finding out more.)

anchorman-will-ferrell-adam-mckayQuestion: What has been the biggest difference you’ve found between shooting the first movie and shooting this one?

Adam McKay: This one is definitely more ambitious. There’s more production value to it. I think we got greedy on this one. We had a certain amount of days and we were just like, “Let’s shoot everything,” and it’s made it kind of tiring, the whole process. Every day is just chock full of stuff, whereas the first one we had days where we’d be in the office, just talking.  So this is just every day is a big greedy gulp of comedy and production, but I’m glad we did it. In the edit room it’s going to be crazy the options we have.

It’s fun to watch, especially in this environment, through the loudspeaker and have the crowd be part of the process.

McKay: It helps. I can actually get a crowd response. It’s not often you have an actual crowd there, so…

The “Icarus” chant has got to be one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.

McKay: It was amazing! Can you believe they actually did that? I couldn’t believe it.

I noticed you stepped it up and had them say even more the next time around.

McKay: I know! “You have a severe drinking problem, Ron Burgundy!” Pearl did some good tongue-twisters, too. That crowd chanting, I could have done for hours. They were so enthusiastic that we could actually do it, so I was sorry when they cleaned out.

Getting the four principals back, they’re in such different places. Steve (Carell) had never done films before Anchorman.  Has it been a kick to slip back into that with them and do you feel the same experience to some degree?

McKay: I think so. The first day or two was kind of weird, it was like we were getting used to it. As soon as they slipped into the character, it was immediate.  He kept saying, “I don’t feel like I’m getting into Brick,” and I was like, “You seem instantly like Brick.”  So after a couple days of showing him the playbacks, he was like, “Alright. That’s Brick.”  They’ve all gotten so good, I feel like everyone’s gotten so experienced.  (David) Koechner has gotten really strong and (Paul) Rudd’s just easy peasy on the set.  The first time around, we were all just trying to figure out what we were doing and making each other laugh first and foremost; this time, we’re still making each other laugh but a lot of it’s going toward the scene as well.  It’s gotten more economical, knowing where the improve goes and how to use it; I think it helped the experience.

anchorman-2-legend-continues-rudd-carell-koechner-ferrellTalk about this scene. Is this the first scene of the script?

McKay: It’s one of the first scenes, yeah.  There’s kind of a prologue where you find out that where we left Ron Burgundy in the first movie with him and Applegate doing the network news together. So we start with that, and I won’t tell you how, but he has a big giant fall, and this is kind of the bottom that he’s dropped to.  We chose some of the lowest of the lows, and we thought being hammered and doing dolphin shows in 1979 was pretty bad. [laughs] The other scene we wrote, if we couldn’t get the dolphins, we were going to have him host like a “Joker’s Wild” game show. We’d actually written the whole scene, it was going to be a show called “Duck Duck Goose”. He was just hammered with like D-level celebrities. We were kinda torn, we really liked “Duck Duck Goose”.

There’s something special about Will yelling at a dolphin.

McKay: You have to go for that, once it’s on the table. The dolphin was pretty good, too. Initially we were going to do a composite shot and put him in, but we were like, “Let’s see if you can actually yell at the dolphin in the scene.” I think we got some good ones in there.

Has the level of scrutiny this time, with paparazzi, and the level of awareness of the characters, does that change the pressure on you or is that something that you just leave at the beginning of the process and just focus on the film while you work?

McKay: I was a little surprised by the level of scrutiny. I knew people were excited, I certainly knew people like you and us were excited, because we’re all fans and comedy fans in general, but I was so surprised in New York when there were like 1,000 people by the side of the shot, 70 photographers and the second that we’d have people in wardrobe there were like a hundred pictures on Twitter. It doesn’t really increase the pressure, it’s kind of fun actually that people care that much, because no one cared on the first one except a couple of you guys on your websites. 

It makes it fun, it’s a bigger stage. It makes the difference in yelling out lines with 10 extras and having 3,000; it just makes it more fun. The only thing I wish they would do when they put the photos of the characters, I wish they would say “spoiler alert”. A lot of them just get it as the lead, and you’re like, “At least give us the chance not to know,” but ultimately I don’t think it matters.

What’s the editing process like on a film like this where there’s so many different lines?

anchorman-2-legend-continues-will-ferrell-christina-applegateMcKay: It’s gonna be nuts. Not only do we get so many different lines – we shot north of a million feet of film on Step Brothers, so we always get a ton of lines – it was that we were so greedy every day that there’s so much stuff, too.  There are so many different sets and looks and angles on this movie, totally different locations and actors; that’s gonna be the tricky part for me. I’m just dreading the day when they tell me what the rough assembly time is, I’m like, “Please be less than three-and-a-half hours.” If it’s less than three-and-a-half hours, I can make it work. If it’s more, we’re going to be in trouble.

And on a lark, a couple times, we went, “Do we do Kill Bill 1 and 2? Do you actually …” I think we really could do it, but I don’t think we will. I just want to make 95 minutes of great comedy and … maybe 1:40 if we get really lucky.

You’re the only person I’ve ever seen really do a second movie of nothing but outtakes on the DVD where you took full advantage of the ability to do that where you didn’t have to open it in a theater. Is that something you’d be able to play with on Blu-ray, the fact that you can store even more stuff?

McKay: Actually, Will and I discussed the idea of doing Ron Burgundy 2.5 after this.  We had a whole idea for a movie where, in the middle of this movie he was going to get stuck in an elevator, so you would see a scene where he leaves, and they said, “What did you do this weekend?” And he says, “Don’t ask me about it.” And then we were going to do a half-sequel of what happened to him that weekend when he got stuck in an elevator. And we really were going to write it and shoot it, when we realized that this one was such a bear. We were like, “We’re crazy.” It would take us two weeks to write that script, minimum. We’ll definitely have two hours of extra material in this. I don’t know if it will string together as a story … maybe through the magic of Bill Curtis narrating, we could.  One of these days, we’ve gotta do a Lord of the Rings and just go shoot like three of these at once. It would be really fun to do.

Was there anything from the first film that didn’t make the cut that you were able to carry into this, or an idea that wasn’t a deleted scene or something we already knew about?

McKay: No. [laughs]

Everything’s fresh?

McKay: We shot every single idea we had on the first one, as you can tell from the outtakes, so, no, I think every single joke … the only thing we did was we semi-called some stuff back. We wanted to stride that line between doing too many callbacks and not enough callbacks. You don’t want to repeat yourself too much, but you do want to see some things again. That was like the big discussion with Will and I, like, what do you callback? How much do you call back? So it doesn’t get boring and repetitive.  We really tried to do new stuff as much as possible.

anchorman-2-cast-imageWe’ve talked over the years about some of the ideas you guys had for the sequel. There was a point where you were talking about it as a musical, there were a number of approaches. When you stumbled onto the idea of a 24-hour news cycle, did you know immediately that that was the hook that would get you through the entire film?

McKay: We did, yeah. The second we had that thought, we knew. It was either “Rise of the New Media” so we were going to maybe include computers in there and try to go maybe as far as 24-hour news, to internet news. Then we realized it was too ambitious, that was too much of a long time frame since that really didn’t start happening until the mid-90s, right? So that would have been too much to even try to condense it, but 24-hour news, we knew that was the hallmark change. And once we saw it all really landed around 79-80, that was when all this stuff hit like a barrage, and we realized that’s when a lot of things changed in America. That was when Reagan came to office, that was when they started loosening up the Fairness Act and regulations on the media. That was the changing point in so many ways, so we were like, “This is it.” And then when I read about CNN, I saw that they did actually go find these local guys and bring them on CNN, like Lou Dobbs was out of Seattle and a bunch of these guys who were just local regulars they brought back, so it was so perfect once we started looking into it. The only thing we had to do was, it had to be in New York.  That was our only cheat, it just felt like the holy grail.

What’s the time frame of this movie?

McKay: It’s about two years, I think. Roughly two years, but it’s loose the way we play it.

By far, my favorite thought of this movie is the notion of Harrison Ford stepping in to the way you guys work. Was there anybody you brought in for cameos who just isn’t used to this process?

McKay: I think Harrison was a little confused by it the first time. [laughs] He was like, “What?” when I would yell lines out. Then he kinda dug it, then he was like, “This is crazy,” but he had fun with it, and then he started liking it and started adding his own. In the beginning, he was like, “What the hell are you guys doing?” and by the end he kinda loved it. Sam Jackson was like that on The Other Guys, too. He was like, “What’re you sayin’?” and by the end, he was like, “I got another line!” I think all actors end up loving it; it’s just an unrestricted kind of freedom you have that you can’t not love it. Harrison Ford was the diciest for about ten minutes.

anchorman-2-legend-continues-movie-posterHow much fun was that for you to see him acting?

McKay: Oh my God, it was crazy. It was like the inner 12-year-old in all of us came out like, I’m throwing lines out to Han Solo [laughs] and I think he knows you’re thinking that. I think he’s like, “I was also in Witness and in Frantic,” and you’re like, “No, no, no. The whole fun of this, especially in our universe, is that you’re Han Solo and Indiana Jones.” But he was super gracious. He showed us pictures of his planes and told us crazy stories about … he’s just into flying his planes, that’s his big thing. He didn’t care, he was totally cool with it.

What’s it like in the tent? We heard you on the loudspeaker, we saw Judd [Apatow] walking around … are you guys talking a little bit behind the scenes or just screaming out the first thing that comes into your head?

McKay: It’s a mixture of both. Sometimes I know what joke I’m going to yell out ahead of the time, but most of the time it’s stream of consciousness. You never really know it until you’ve got everyone dressed up, the set is built, all the extras are here … there’s something about seeing the faces of the crew, when they’re so serious and professional that makes it funnier when you yell out jackass things and having a crowd of 3,000 people here yelling out, “I’m covered in urine making out with a Filipino guy.” [laughs] They had to drive all the way here today and sit in the hot sun to hear that line.  You know it’s not the line they want to hear either. They want to hear him say, “Stay classy!” they want to hear him say, “I’m a big deal,” but they got to hear that.

That’s the best element of it, in the moment, it’s like, nothing beats having that mic going and just saying anything you want and having Pearl there and knowing she’s going to just say whatever I say to her, and my wife is going to yell the line after Pearl. Sometimes we think of it. Occasionally Judd will walk by and give me a chip of an idea; it’ll be like, “What if he’s a jealous co-stage person with the dolphin?” And that’ll start something and we’ll just run with it.

Was Judd on set a lot?

McKay: Judd was kind of in and out, I begged him to be on more. Judd’s one of the funnest set hangs ever. We sit around, we’re both addicted to documentaries so we just talk about documentaries all day, we talk about politics. He then tells me something about comedy history I didn’t know about, because no one’s more knowledgeable about comedy history.  Sometimes we’ll do the whole take and we’ll be like, “That was funny,” sometimes he’ll have a line for me. So I’m always begging him … and also, he always eats really well, so if he’s on set, you know you’re having a good lunch. I tell him, he’s the greatest set hang of all time. He was in and out three or four times. He’s here today, obviously. He was in New York for one day, he kinda pops in and out. He’s great for macro stuff, he’ll always keep me on train, like, “Be aware of when I’m seeing the dailies, you gotta make sure you get Will more sympathetic in this part or this part.” He’ll kinda gently jog me in macro ideas. But yeah, he’s the best. There’s no one better at it.

Do you guys feel like you have permission to go further this time because it has become iconic over the last decade and is so beloved, do you feel like you can do whatever you like with Ron?

anchorman-2-poster-will-ferrell-ron-burgundyMcKay: We’re hoping we do, that’s what we’re hoping. We definitely wrote it and shot it like we do have that permission, and we feel obligated to … once the movie aged, everyone drifted toward the most insane elements in it and the more obscure stuff, so we treated it like we got permission. We’ll see. Does someone in Indianapolis paying their $12 want to walk in and see Ron Burgundy telling a dolphin that he invented a flip-flop and the Duraflame? [laughs] I knew you guys would like that. It’s the 52-year-old golfer who shows up with his friends saying, “You’re gonna love this comedy!” Does that guy go with it? We shall see.  But we’re praying that we have that permission.

Can you talk about the other actors that you brought on board?

McKay: Yeah, Dylan Baker, that’s a big one. That’s a guy we wanted to work with for years. He auditioned for the first one, we almost cast him but I think he got a sitcom or had something going. James Marsden, same thing, both those guys were guys we auditioned the first go-round. Those guys are funny! They’re both guys I just love in everything they do, like Sex Drive. He’s unbelievable in that. So funny and also an underrated movie. So we always wanted to work with him and we had this idea for this competitive rival for Ferrell based on Terminator 2 thing, Mercury Guy. We wanted to have the scariest sort of guy that could make Burgundy look like Schwarzenegger in T2, so he was perfect for that. And then we needed a grizzled news veteran producer and Dylan Baker was perfect for that. The great thing was that neither one of them were disgruntled at all, they were awesome. Every line I would throw out, they were cool with it, they would twist it and make it better, they came up with their own stuff. The key word was “game”. Meagan Good was the same way, they were just game for whatever we did, they would try it. Sometimes they would even mishear me on lines, and they were so trusting they would yell out a misheard line and I’d say, “No, that actually doesn’t make sense, what you just said,” and then, “I dunno! Just give it to me, just give it to me.” We got really lucky in the sense that all the new cast was awesome. I’m trying to think of who else we have … who am I forgetting, oh, Greg Kinnear. That was another guy that we were dying to work with. He hosted SNL when Will and I were there, and he’s just amazing, so cool and funny.  Ferrell couldn’t look at him without laughing. We gave him this little ponytail and the most pleasant smile you’ve ever seen. Ferrell was like, “I can’t look at him, I have to look away.” Yeah, one thing I’ll brag about is casting and I think we knocked it out of the park on this one. I think everyone was game and fantastic and funny.

Do we learn more about Baxter?

McKay: That’s so funny! We talked about that. I want to know more about what he’s doing when he’s not around them. I want to shoot a whole adventure. Maybe you guys can help with this, we actually talked about the idea of doing The Adventures … I guess it’s out of the bag that SPOILER Ron has a son? I mean, I guess it’s kinda out of the bag that Ron has a son? Or did I just let it out of the bag? … I just let it out of the bag. So we wanted to do the adventures of his son, Walter Burgundy, and Baxter.  And I actually pitched it to Adam Goodman at Paramount and he said, “That’s not a bad idea.” So there’s a chance we might be doing a Milo and Otis, G-rated, PG, Adventures of Walter and Baxter, which would be amazing. 

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