Movie Alter-Egos

With Ron Burgundy proving to be Will Ferrell

For an artist, there’s something hugely liberating about creating an alter-ego. The freedom to freak-out and, hey, franchise to feck. Would David Bowie have made it without being Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke or, eh, Nathan Adler? More to the point, would David Jones have made it without being David Bowie?

Ditto Barry Humphries and his currently retiring but never shy Dame Edna Everage, Steve Coogan and his babbling buffoon, Alan Partridge, Ricky Gervais and his babbling buffoon, David Brent.

Creating an avatar is particularly effective if, in real life, you’re just a little too damn normal to be noticed. I’m thinking Mike Myers, as dull as a Canadian when he’s not Austin Powers or Wayne Campbell. I’m thinking Sacha Baron Cohen, as quiet and polite off-screen as his creations as Ali G and Borat Sagdiyev are loud and outrageous on-screen.

There are other major advantages in creating an alter-ego other than overcoming crippling shyness. Like the simple fact that you can put the bugger back in his box whenever you – or the public – tire of him. You also get to say and do the kind of things that would normally get you a slap in the face, a knee to the groin or a spell in the clink.

Oh, and as your alter-ego, you can indulge in the kind of shameless self-promotion that otherwise could come across as crass and shamelessly commercial.
You only have to look at Ron Burgundy to see the latter in action.
Is there any aspect of the media that the 1970s news anchor throwback hasn’t sold his soul to in the last few months?
From recording a series of short TV high-fives for, it seems, just about every country with a TV – including little old Ireland, where ‘Love/Hate’ got the nod – to selling trucks for Dodge, being an ice-cream flavour (Scotchy Scotch Scotch, no less) and having Emmerson College’s School Of Communication in Boston renamed in your honour just for one day, Ron Burgundy will happily endorse any event or product. Especially if it means getting more bums on seats for his long-time-coming sequel to ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’.

That 2004 film may not have revved the box-office’s engines to boiling point – although a $90.5m gross on a $26m budget meant everyone walked away happier and richer – but, thanks largely to DVD (ask your parents), the Ron Burgundy legend grew and grew. To Derek Zoolander proportions. Then Austin Powers. Right now, we’re talking Jeffrey Lebowski. Who wouldn’t want to go to a RonFest? We could hold it on TV3’s front lawn. And Martin King could be the MC. Great Odin’s raven, or wha’?

When ‘Anchorman: The Legend Continues’ opens this month – right dab in the middle of Christmas – it’s likely to prove more popular than turkey. Or running away from your relatives.

This is the silly season, after all, and they don’t come much sillier than Ron Burgundy. And, in the case of Will Ferrell, comic creators don’t come much smarter. Or funnier.

The man knows how – to quote Bill Hicks – to look like a dog who’s just been shown a card trick. And he’s used it to wonderful effect in such damn fine movies as ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby’, ‘Old School’, ‘Step Brothers’, ‘The Other Guys’ and ‘The Campaign’.
Oh, and let’s not forget ‘Elf’ – The Greatest Christmas Movie Of All Time. Fact.

For someone as plain-clothes-and-clean-nosed as Ferrell – a happily married father of three with a Hollywood home that’s positively middle-class, and visible from the road! – playing the blissful idiot seems to come easy. There’s no childhood neglect being worked out here, no revenge, Ferrell having, he claims, enjoyed a happy upbringing, mum Betty Kay an elementary teacher and pops Roy Lee a musician with the likes of The Righteous Brothers and Supertramp. Even his parents separation when Ferrell was 8 didn’t derail his Disney childhood, mum and dad divorcing being largely viewed as, hey, “We’ll have two Christmases!”.

The desire for an ordinary life would have been sparked by the financial uncertainty his often-touring father faced, and it was ultimately the dullness of suburban living in the California outpost Irvine that finally drove Ferrell to comedy. When he hit third grade – “a pivotal year,” according to Ferrell – the future comic giant realised that he could make his classmates laugh if he pretended to smash his head against the wall, or if he tripped and fell on purpose.
And it’s a skill he’s been developing ever since. A quick visit to ‘Funny Or Die’, the streaming website founded by Ferrell and his regular collaborator Andy McKay, is as good a place as any to check his progress. Or you could always go to the movies.
The original Ron Burgundy big-screen outing may be Eva Mendes’ favourite movie of all time (hence her keenness to co-star in ‘The Other Guys’ as, ahem, the ugly wife), but, truth be told, it’s a film that’s more than a little rough around the edges. Just like ‘Zoolander’, and even ‘The Big Lebowski’, there’s a ramshackle charm to that first Burgundy feature that has proven to be part of its charm. It’s the ‘Father Ted’ effect.

This means that the Burgundy sequel has a good chance of actually being the better movie, everyone coming back bouyed by a set of loved characters, a loyal fanbase, and a little more motivation, moxie and money.
It also means that Ferrell and co. – including his returning TV crew, played by Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner – are free to be as silly as they want to be. And with the likes of Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Tina Fey and Mr. Chuckles himself, Kanye West, joining in on the fun, this might just be the bestest Christmas ever. Hurrah!

Words : Paul Byrne

ANCHORMAN 2 is at Irish cinemas from December 20th