”By the white mane of Phil Donahue!… By the back acne of Brett Somers!… By the toe fungus of Nipsey Russell!”
On an unseasonably cold spring morning in a defunct health club in downtown Atlanta that’s been temporarily converted into a movie set, Will Ferrell is trying to come up with an absurd exclamation. Not just any ridiculous interjection will do — this one needs to be bizarre and preposterous enough to come out of the mouth of Ferrell’s blow-dried, self-mythologizing, mustachioed anchorman, Ron Burgundy, which is a high bar to clear as these things go. Ferrell and three of his costars from Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues — Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and David Koechner — are filming a scene in which their news team learns that its new broadcast on the 24-hour Global News Network has scored huge ratings, and Ferrell is ad-libbing some ”alts” for Burgundy’s exultant reaction.
Director and frequent Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay, who also directed the original 2004 Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, calls out a new idea: ”By the buck knuckle of Elliott Gould!” Ferrell picks it up: ”By the buck knuckle of Tony Danza!” Rudd chimes in: ”By the buck knuckle of Bert Convy!” A buck knuckle, in case you don’t know, is the male equivalent of camel toe. There’s a moment of silence while everyone thinks, and then McKay yells out another suggestion: ”By the bedpan of Gene Rayburn!” ”There’s the T-shirt,” Carell says, laughing.
This may sound like an inordinate amount of deliberation to put into a relatively inconsequential line, but in the world of Anchorman, these sorts of things are kind of a big deal. Though it grossed an unspectacular $85 million in its initial release, Anchorman — which introduced the world to Ferrell’s pompous, sexist, jazz-flute-playing ’70s San Diego TV newsman — went on to become one of the most beloved comedies of the past decade, and quite possibly the most quoted. All of the film’s cast members have heard lines they might have ad-libbed on the fly repeated back to them endlessly by fans or seen them emblazoned on a T-shirt or a coffee mug: ”Milk was a bad choice.” ”You are a smelly pirate hooker.” ”I love lamp.” ”I have a nickname for my penis: It’s called the Octagon.” Ferrell remembers seeing an Anchorman reference pop up in one particularly unlikely place: ”Someone sent me and Adam a photo of a troop transport carrier in Baghdad, in the days when the Iraq war was still pretty nasty. Ron Burgundy’s face was stenciled on the side and it said, ‘Stay classy, Baghdad,”’ he says. ”That was one of the craziest.”
Now, a full decade after the first film was shot, Burgundy and his on-air team — blustery sportscaster Champ Kind (Koechner), imbecilic weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell), and ladies’-man field reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd) — are finally back in action. The sequel is set a few years after the original, in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It finds Burgundy — who has lost everything and been reduced to announcing the dolphin show at SeaWorld — getting a shot at redemption when he and the gang are brought into the new world of 24-hour cable news. ”When you read about the early days of CNN and Fox, they actually were plucking local news guys from around the country,” says McKay, who co-wrote the script with Ferrell. ”The idea that Ron Burgundy would suddenly be on this national stage always seemed hilarious to us.”
Christina Applegate returns as pioneering female anchor Veronica Corningstone, whose stormy relationship with Burgundy has gone through some major ups and downs in the intervening years (no spoilers here). Kristen Wiig joins the cast as Brick’s love interest, and a host of celebrities have reportedly shot cameos, including Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Kanye West, Jim Carrey, and Harrison Ford (as a seasoned, Walter Cronkite-esque newsman). ”We actually attempted to get President Obama in the movie — that would have been the cameo of cameos,” Ferrell says. ”But he’s got a lot on his plate.”
Despite the long wait to get Anchorman 2 into production, everyone is trying to avoid overthinking things and just have fun. ”It felt a little strange at first,” says Rudd. ”There’s a weird kind of pressure. But there’s external stuff that makes it easy to throw you back into it. I have some of the jewelry that I wore in the first movie, and when I snap on the chunky gold bracelet, it’s like, ‘Oh, I remember this!”’
For his part, Ferrell, who has repeatedly said that Ron Burgundy is his favorite of all the characters he’s played, seems tickled that the cult of Anchorman has endured all these years. (Exhibit A: Just last month, a man was arrested for spray-painting pictures of Burgundy across the city of Bayonne, N.J.) ”Knock on wood, it has just grown in popularity and it seems like we have a sizable built-in audience that wants to watch a sequel,” he says. ”And we haven’t done a thing.”
Back in 2004, no one was thinking there’d ever be a sequel to Anchorman. Ferrell and McKay were just grateful they’d gotten to make the film in the first place. A broad, absurdist comedy set in the world of 1970s local TV news was not exactly a proven box office formula, and McKay was a first-time filmmaker. Even as they were in production, some executives at DreamWorks were confused about what the movie was. ”They kept thinking we were doing a Broadcast News-type comedy,” McKay says. ”I had to explain, ‘No, it’s like a living cartoon. It’s closer to Austin Powers.’ They couldn’t comprehend that.”
Though the film turned a profit, it fell short of the $100 million blockbuster benchmark and grossed a paltry $5 million overseas. So that seemed to be the end of the road for Ron Burgundy. Then a funny thing happened: Anchorman found a second life on home video. A cult steadily started to grow around the movie, to the extent that McKay put together a straight-to-DVD follow-up at the end of 2004, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie, composed entirely of outtakes and discarded subplots. ”When Anchorman first opened, I think everyone kind of went, like, ‘Oh, that’s a bummer,”’ Applegate says. ”But all of a sudden it just started to pick up steam. I remember watching from afar, going, ‘Wow!”’
With the Anchorman fandom snowballing, McKay and Ferrell began exploring the idea of a sequel around 2008. ”For the longest time we were very anti-sequel,” Ferrell says. ”But the more we talked about it, the more we started getting excited.” Despite their enthusiasm, the two couldn’t get a green light from executives at Paramount, which had taken control of the property after the studio’s 2005 acquisition of DreamWorks.
Then, in 2009, following Ferrell’s successful run as President George W. Bush in the Broadway show You’re Welcome America, McKay got one of those so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas: What if they did the second Anchorman as a Broadway musical? ”We thought we could kind of do the old Marx Brothers model where we perfected it on stage for six months, got all the jokes tight, and then we shot it,” McKay says. The studio seemed open to the notion, and all the other cast members were game. ”We were ready to go,” says Koechner. ”We were going to rehearse in the spring and run all summer, and that fall we were going to shoot the new movie.”
Ferrell and McKay started spitballing ideas. ”We had our story arc, we were kicking around song ideas,” McKay says. ”We even had a discussion about what we’d do at the end of the six months: Would we have a replacement cast? Would people come see it if it was, for instance, Alec Baldwin doing Ron Burgundy instead of Will?” But the more they talked about the idea, the more daunting it became. ”We had dinner with Josh Gad once, and I was asking him about The Book of Mormon,” Ferrell remembers. ”I said, ‘I’m just curious: How long did it take for you guys to put that together?’ And he was like, ‘Well, we workshopped it for four years….”’ He laughs. ”We had no real idea how much work it takes to mount a musical.”
In the end, the issue was moot. The studio nixed the budget for the movie, which scotched the musical idea. Ferrell and McKay came back with a lower budget, but again Paramount balked. Losing hope, the two went on to make the 2010 action comedy The Other Guys. ”We all resigned ourselves to the fact that it was never going to happen,” Carell says. ”It just didn’t seem to get any traction.”
Two years later, Ferrell and McKay decided to make a last-ditch plea to Paramount. Their timing was fortuitous: The studio found itself with a hole in its production schedule, and Ferrell and McKay got their long-awaited green light. ”We were shocked,” McKay says. ”Budgetwise, it was still probably 60 percent of what we needed. Everyone had to cut their salaries quite a bit. But we were like, ‘Screw it — let’s dive in.’ That’s kind of the spirit of the first one anyway.”
On the Anchorman set, improv reigns supreme. This morning’s scene is no exception, spinning out in weird and unpredictable directions. One take ends with the ecstatic news team collapsing together in a giant group hug. (”Is your face okay?” Ferrell asks Koechner as the four untangle themselves from the pileup.) Another concludes with an impromptu conga line around a coffee table. The next, with an overexcited Ron Burgundy saying he has chest pains and Champ trying to administer CPR. In the final take, the entire news team breaks into maniacal laughter that goes on for an unnervingly long time at an alarmingly loud volume. ”What the hell was that?” McKay asks once the cackling subsides.
Whether there will be similar celebrations when Anchorman 2 hits theaters remains to be seen. Fans seem enthusiastic, but it has been nine long years since these characters appeared on screen. ”We’ve seen it before where they wait too long for the sequel and then it comes out and you’re like, ‘Well, who cares at this point?”’ McKay acknowledges. ”If we had waited one more year, it would have expired. It was right on that edge. Somehow we got away with it.” He pauses. ”Hopefully. We’ll see.”
As for a potential third Anchorman, there are no plans at this point. But never say never. ”The good news is that these characters can age,” McKay says. ”They’re not young characters who have to be action-hero types. All these actors can be in their 50s and it’s not a problem.”
Judd Apatow, who produced both films, goes one step further: ”We could easily make a version of this movie where they’re all 75 years old, and it would be equally funny.” This much is safe to say: Whatever his age, Ron Burgundy won’t have a hair out of place.
Keeping It Classy: Meet the Anchor-newbies
Kristen Wiig, Chani
Steve Carell calls Wiig’s Chani the ”female counterpart” to his daft weatherman, Brick. But the SNL alum wasn’t picky about her role. ”Anchorman is one of my favorite movies,” she says. ”I said I’d do anything — even if they just wanted me to brush their wigs in the morning.”
James Marsden, Jack Lime
Ron Burgundy has a formidable new nemesis in the form of Marsden’s slick, polished anchor. ”I represent the global hotshot news anchor that Ron Burgundy has always wanted to be,” says Marsden. ”I’m a new face for him to make an ass of himself in front of.”
Meagan Good, Linda Jackson
Good, who starred on NBC’s Deception, plays Burgundy’s boss at Global News Network (and his eventual love interest). ”We get off on the wrong foot because I just think they’re all idiots,” Good says. ”But it ends up being an opposites-attract thing.”