We chat to the director of ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES

When it was released in 2004, it seems no-one really expected ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY to be half as popular as it was. Nine years later, it has grown into a pop culture phenomenon, with fans still applying quotes from the film to every day life. By the Hammer of Thor! When he was in town last week, we sat down with Adam McKay, the director and co-writer behind ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES to find out why we had to wait so long for a sequel, and whether ANCHORMAN will every become a trilogy.

The film had been in the works for some time in various different forms – there was even rumour of a musical at one point – how did you feel when you got the call that it was actually happening?
Adam McKay: It was such a surprise when it happened because we had really given up. Will and I were talking about doing STEP BROTHERS 2, because then we got the idea of doing a sequel. We were about to go and do STEP BROTHERS 2, and everyone I told that we were doing it would say the same thing; ‘Oh, ‘cos you couldn’t do ANCHORMAN 2?’ and I called Will and said ‘This is a bit of a drag, everyone that I tell we’re doing STEP BROTHERS 2 says the same thing. God bless Ferrell, he said ‘I don’t care, if the movie’s good the movie’s good’ and I said ‘I hate to break it to you, but I care a little bit, let me try Paramount one more time’ and he was like ‘Yeah!’; he wanted to do ANCHORMAN 2. It was just pure chance that they’d had a movie fall out, and this one last Hail Mary attempt panned out for us. I was stunned and in disbelief when they were negotiating and it was happening. When they finally closed it I just couldn’t believe it. Then we got to go to work, which was the funnest thing.

Were you surprised by the response to the first film?
AMcK: I was completely surprised. I never saw it coming. We thought we had done quite well; we made a nice profit, we got decent reviews. Really for me it was two years afterwards, on Hallowe’en in Los Angeles and my wife kept pointing out people dressed as Ron Burgundy; it was weird, we saw like nine Ron Burgundys in this one little area… That was the moment where I was like ‘Something’s going on here’.

When you were approaching making ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES, did you feel a certain amount of responsibility toward ANCHORMAN fans?
AMcK: The only thing we were really conscious of was not to do the old thing of repeating the first movie. Sometimes it’s such a bummer when you go to see a sequel and it’s just the same as the first. We really made an effort to put new stuff in there; there are new characters, there’s a new storyline, there is a new world. Other than that you can’t make ANCHORMAN while feeling pressure, it’s kind of like saying you feel pressure when you’re blowing bubbles or being tickled! [laughs] It’s such a visceral experience. You go and make it, you laugh, you do purposely wrong things and idiotic things, then you put it all together in the edit room, sort it out and cut it together as a movie. We know that the very nature of ANCHORMAN is it’s supposed to be flawed; it’s not supposed to be perfect, so we didn’t want to make the perfect masterpiece. It’s supposed to be raggedy and loose like the first one. In that sense, it was nothing but fun to make, even though it was a lot of hard work.

How did you come up with the story for ANCHORMAN 2?
AMcK: That was the big thing; if we didn’t have a decent story, we weren’t going to do it. The single idea of 24-hour news was meaty enough that when we started researching it we couldn’t believe how perfect it was; the actual first CNN had gone to local markets and recruited local anchormen, like Ron Burgundy and all the stories of when CNN launched and how people said it was a joke, it was a gimmick. The subsequent change that it had for broadcast media everywhere; it completely changed the news – I think a lot of people would say for the worse, certainly in the US that was the case – so that also seemed really fun. Will and I had the idea of blaming it all on Ron Burgundy and that made us laugh. That was the key; you always have that one idea behind something you’re doing that you can keep going back to.

Did that then allow you to make a comment on the way that the news media is evolving?
AMcK: it just seemed so natural to the idea. The first thought was 24-hour news, then we dug a little deeper and found they did recruit local anchormen, then we dug a little deeper and went ‘Wait a minute, this is when everything changed!’, then we dug a little deeper and discovered everything changed at this time. Then at that point you can make a comment on this. The trick is it has to be funny, because you never want ANCHORMAN becoming a dry polemic, so the fact that we were then able to come up with the ridiculous news – it’s such a fun subject to make fun of – that we were able to think of some pretty silly things for it, so it all lined up quite well.

There is a lot of improv in the ANCHORMAN movies, is it difficult to control things or do you just give the actors free reign?
AMcK: The big thing I try to do is make things so that they are out of control because if it’s too in control, that’s when I get worried. If it’s too by the script and we’re too straight then I am like ‘Uh oh, something’s wrong’. I am always trying to get these guys to start playing with each other and instigate them. The one thing I will do is try and keep them within the scene; if the improv starts going so far afield then you’re never going to use that It’s got to at least be about what the scene’s about. That’s the one thing; I’ll try and keep them in the circle of the idea.

Did the improv get out of hand much on this film?
AMcK: Not as much on this one, I think we’ve all got a lot better at staying in the same key. Early on, in our first couple of movies, you would do improv and it would go way off into left field and not be useable. Through the years I have got better at going ‘Take it back here…’ without saying ‘No’; you don’t want to be shutting anyone down but you want to be steering.

There is so much to quote in both ANCHORMAN, and ANCHORMAN 2, is there any particular line that you hope fans will latch on to?
AMcK: The quotes are weird, they’re never what you think they’re going to be. It’s never the biggest laugh line, so there are some lines in there I like. I like ‘I’m a big Kench Allenby guy’. We have been saying that one a lot. It doesn’t get any laughs at all, but for some reason it’s very quotable. I just like saying I’m a big anyone guy, that just makes me laugh. I’m a big Paul Rudd guy… [laughs] I do like ‘By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!’ That’s a fun one!

‘Afternoon Delight’ is so synonymous with the first movie, did you want to try and capture that musical madness again?
AMcK: We shot two musical numbers for this movie, one of them did get cut though – it was a big one, a big choreographed one that will be released later on DVD. The funny thing is it worked, it’s not like it didn’t work. The movie is already a big, epic movie; there’s a lot of stuff going on, and it was just one thing too many. It was very hard to cut, but we had to. The love song to the shark is still in there though, which I love that they submitted to the Academy Awards! [laughs] What are they possibly going to make of that!? I want a rejection letter from the Academy Awards; ‘Dear sirs. No.’ [laughs]

Or you might win!
AMcK: I think that’s very unlikely!

Maybe you should get Will to sing it at the Oscars!
AMcK: Just that, I would be happy with!

Did you end up cutting a lot from ANCHORMAN 2 in the end?
AMcK: Oh god yeah! The first cut of the movie was four and a half hours long!

So are we going to get WAKE UP RON BURGUNDY 2?
AMcK: You’re gonna get a version of that, in the sense that it’s going to be the same movie, but with all new jokes. So there is not a new storyline – we didn’t cut enough storylines to make a new movie – but it’s the exact same movie except every single joke is replaced with a new joke. 400 new jokes, cut scenes, riffs, runs, faults… So you can watch the movie and there are no repeated jokes in it, unless they are physical jokes.

There are some great new characters in the film, and some fantastic cameos; did you go searching those out, or did people come to you when they heard the film was in the works?
AMcK: We got some of those, then we drew up a wish list of what we would want our exact dream list of cameos to be, and this was one of those weird cases where we actually got all the people I couldn’t believe it. To me, the craziest was Liam Neeson. When he showed up I was like ‘Holy sh*t, Liam Neeson is here!’ He’s the coolest man on planet Earth to me, so when he was showed up things got real.

Will we ever see an ANCHORMAN 3?
AMcK: I think we should wait. I think we should let what happened with the first one happen with this. If two or three years from now people are going ‘Where’s three, where’s three?’ we’ll sit down and talk about it. It feels like it would be a shame to jam a third one in too fast, because it’s possible that’s enough. I don’t think you ever know until about a year after it comes out, then you can feel it in your gut. This one happened because of a grassroots fan response so we’ll do the same for the third one; we’ll see how people feel. There were a couple of reviews I saw, and one of them ended with ‘Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another nine years to see a third one’ and the next one ended with ‘I don’t think we’ll ever need to see a third one’ [laughs]

What’s next for you?
AMcK: We’re working on a movie for Will and Kevin Hart to do together, called GET HARD, which could be really cool. I’m developing a movie Will Smith and Denzel Washington called UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT, which is a remake of an old ‘70s movie. With Will and my production company, we have a Kristen Wiig movie we are producing, we have a show from NBC, we have another movie that starts shooting in about 5 months, we have another one at Universal… Our company is doing really well.

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES is in Irish cinemas on December 18th

Words: Brogen Hayes