While on set for Paramount’s Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues at SeaWorld San Diego, we had a chance to talk to Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) himself in between his turns hosting the afternoon dolphin show. The newscaster appears to have fallen quite far since his high point at the end of the first film, but the chance to reteam with Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), Champion Kind (David Koechner), Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) in tackling the 24-hour news cycle may just be his path to return to the top.
During a break on set, Ferrell talked to a small group of journalists about Burgundy’s state at the outset of the film, avoiding the curse of the sequel, collaborating with writer-director Adam McKay and his unique style, reuniting with his co-stars from the first film and getting to work alongside new additions to the world of Ron Burgundy. Hit the jump for the interview. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens December 20th.
Will Ferrell: He has. What details can I give you? He got fired, I’m sure you heard that. And he’s working at SeaWorld. And that’s what’s happening.
So is this a “putting the band back together movie”?
Ferrell: In what regard?
In terms of the team from the first movie. Is there a sense of putting you guys back together as a team or checking in with where they’ve landed as well?
Ferrell: Could be. [laughs] These interviews are going to be terrible by the way. [laughs]
What can you tell us about the sequel?
Ferrell: I can tell you that it is basically Ron Burgundy and his integration into the world of 24-hour news and that’s what I can tell you.
So if this is 1980, do we go decades in this film?
Ferrell: We never really said what year the first one was so, yes, it’s definitely later.
There were a lot of different versions of this sequel over the years; there was the musical at one point. How did you guys decide on the final form of what you wanted to do? How did those other versions inform where you ended up?
Ferrell: In terms of other different versions, there really wasn’t any kind of exploration outside of just spitballing a general idea. It’s not like we ever went down the road and started writing a script in one way or the other. So, it always was just a very surface … we talked about the idea of a musical, the idea of just going to a different genre altogether, all these things. The one that made sense to us and felt like a fun thing to explore was inserting these guys into 1979 and 1980 into something that’s so commonplace to us now, but at that time was a revolutionary thing, the idea that news was going to be 24-hours and it was also the first year for ESPN and it was the beginning of this explosion of channels, and now we have food networks and everything. CNN was the beginning of all of that and we just thought that would be funny to see that with these guys in the same way that introducing a woman to the newscast was an interesting arena that this would be the same sort of juxtaposition.
What lesson about Ron Burgundy dealing with change of having a female anchor, how does he adjust to adapting to the 24-hour news cycle?
Ferrell: I think the beauty of Ron Burgundy is that he’s not very good at change, so once again, it’s difficult for him. And yet it’s justified because, what we found was they literally just needed warm bodies. They had to hire a massive group of people at one time to be on around the clock. That’s why he and his news team are on at two in the morning. Of course, they take it … they’re horribly upset by that. Really, his ego is really bruised.
When you guys made the first one, to some extent, it was under the radar. Ron was not a character that you had done before. This time, everybody knows Ron and everybody has an opinion on him. Has it been harder for you guys to keep things under wraps? And harder for you to work under that kind of microscope this time?
Ferrell: I think it’s been a little harder and there’s been various photos of people in the movie, all of which I’ll deny … and yet somehow we’ve been able to keep 80% of what’s going to happen under wraps. That was one of the advantages of shooting in Atlanta. We were originally just going to shoot the whole thing in New York, but for budget reasons it made more sense. The four days we shot in New York, crazy crowds turned out. We realized it was a blessing to shoot down there without anyone knowing what we were doing. Adam and I put pressure on ourselves at the same time. If you’re going to make a sequel, it should be equally as crazy as the first one and hopefully surprising. That’s been the goal.
Ferrell: Not really, because in a weird way … we’ve never made a sequel to films we’ve done because we’ve just been anti-sequel. We thought why not explore a brand new idea as opposed to revisiting something we already made. So that kept us from thinking about it. I don’t know what chipped away at it, but I think we just started saying casually, “Well, if there’s one we would make a sequel to, it would probably be Anchorman, but we’re still never going to make that sequel.” And then I think something just clicked where, “Why not?” Those guys get to make six Ocean’s Eleven and no one seems to beat them up for it, so c’mon! We can make a sequel!
It seems like listening to Adam on set, the way you work has not changed over time and you’re still able to be inventive. Is that something that you look forward to in working with him, that special connection you guys have?
Ferrell: Yeah, we obviously have the same thing when we write and then on the set. I keep trying to tell him, he gets frustrated on other movies that we produce, or other movies where he’s like, “Why doesn’t everybody work in this style?” And I tell him, “Adam, you’re literally one in a generation of someone who can just sit on a microphone and write in your head as the film.” He says, “It’s easy! Just throw lines out!” “No, not the way … directors like control. And you’re just the opposite; you want everybody to just chip in and you’ll sort it out later.”
But it’s unlike any other experience when we get together and get to do a movie, and the entire cast felt that way too, especially for Paul and Steve and David and I, “This is the best!” It creates this healthy little competition where you know Adam’s going to come with a line, so then you’re thinking of lines and there’s this taut string that’s all between the four of us in a scene and it makes for some great comedy.
It seems like the teaser trailer is a great example of the way you guys are able to riff. Getting two totally different teasers out of the same basic setup.
Ferrell: Yeah, we just stick with those setups and just roll the camera and came up with a bunch of different alts.
Ferrell: It was obviously, after a couple of weeks, it was like we were back to the first one. It was just as much fun. Those three guys especially are a unique blend, that they really love to just have fun with the crew and keep things light and then are very good in the moment of just coming up with stuff on their feet. We’re pretty comfortable. That first two weeks though, it’s a little different for me because I wrote the script and I’ve done Ron Burgundy occasionally here and there and I’ve still walked in his shoes every now and then. The guys haven’t done it that much, so their first couple days of filming, they felt like they were walking on the moon and they’re like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or say. This feels off.” We kept saying, “Trust me, it’s great! It looks good to us.” Once we crossed that threshold, we were right back into that same rhythm that we were on the first one.”
It’s amazing how on cue those dolphins are with you every time.
Ferrell: Yeah, they’re definitely an intelligent creature. It’s a good thing we workshopped with them for two-and-a-half minutes [laughs] through basic improv classes, Second City.
Do you like having the stache back?
Ferrell: I like that I don’t have to worry about it falling off in the middle of a take. In terms of lifestyle? No. It’s been a burden on my family. Everyone hates it. It’s like the texture of horse hair so it’s very itchy. My children are very ready for it to be gone.
When can you shave it off? Is today your last day of shooting?
Ferrell: No, I’ve got some more photoshoots and stuff so another week.
You mentioned you had a spirit of competition amongst you guys. Who’s the biggest diva on the set? Now that it’s been 10 years and a lot’s happened.
Ferrell: If I had to pick one person, it wouldn’t be a human. I’d say it’s Baxter. Horribly demanding. Three separate trailers. Could never get him to come out. It was a certain type of dog food. Filet-shaped pieces of filet mignon, batter-dipped … extravagant demands. Almost cost us the entire shoot.
Why do you think other comedy sequels have failed?
Ferrell: I haven’t really thought about that. We just wanted to write something that would hopefully stand on its own even if you hadn’t seen the first movie. Just to still be interesting and original and have that mix of part of the audience laughing to the other part of the audience sitting there going, “Why are they doing this?” I think the goal is to get 20% of the audience to not get this movie.
Horror films and comedy depend in some extent on involuntary reactions, which makes sequels harder. So you had to take characters and put them in a different setting, just to do something new with them?
Ferrell: I think it was our natural impulse just to do that anyway. I don’t think we put too much weight on … I think it just naturally happens if you’re interested in creating a new story, it’ll stamp out the curse of the sequel. It’s not like we’re sitting there going, “Oh, we gotta make sure!” It’s just about what’s amusing to us. The one thing that was hard was juggling the old characters with a bunch of new characters we wanted to introduce and that’s going to be a challenge in the editing room, finding enough screentime for everybody.