Director Adam McKay ‘Anchorman 2′ Set Interview: Sequel Pressures, Harrison Ford, Baxter And Editing
Posted on Thursday, November 14th, 2013 by Germain Lussier
Back in May, a group of journalists hopped in a van and were driven to Sea World in San Diego, CA to visit the final day of shooting Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. It was a day for the ages, filled with some of the biggest laughs I’ve ever had, and you can read about it here. During the quieter moments, we spoke with co-writer and director Adam McKay as well as star and co-writer Will Ferrell.
Below, you can read the full transcript of the on-set discussion with McKay, which reads like a master class in staying cool under pressure when directing one of the biggest comedies of the year.
What has been the biggest difference you’ve found from shooting first one to shooting to shooting this one?
This one is definitely more ambitious. There is more production value to it and likewise, we got greedy on this one. There’s a certain amount of days and it’s like “Let’s shoot everything” and it’s made it kind of tiring, the whole process. Like every day is just chock full of stuff, whereas on the first one you would have days were you would be in an office and he’d just be talking. With this, every day is a big gulp of comedy and production. But I’m glad we did it. In the edit room it’s going to be crazy with the options we are going to have, like “Oh my god, yeah.”
Well it’s fun to watch, especially in this environment in areas with a loud speaker and have people get into that process.
Well 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 sweetest things I’ve ever seen.
That was amazing. Can you believe they actually did that? We couldn’t believe it.
You should have them step it up and say even more the next time around.
I know, yeah. Pearl did some good tongue twisters, too. They were really good.
Who’s idea was it for her [Pearl, McKay's daughter] to be in the movie?
[She] wanted to be in it, though. She likes it. She likes screaming at Uncle Will, but yeah the crowd chanting I could have done for hours and I mean they were so enthusiastic, so I was sorry when they cleared out.
The four principals are in such different places now. Steve had really never done films before Anchorman; now he’s “Steve Carell.” Has that been a kick to be able to slide right back into it with them?
I think so. The first day or two was kind of weird. It was like “Oh my god, we’re all getting used to it again.” As soon as they slipped into the character it was immediate, like [Steve] kept saying “I don’t think I’m getting into Brick” and it was like “You seem instantly like Brick.” So after a couple of days I kept showing him the playbacks and he was like “Oh my god, you’re right. It’s Brick.” But they’ve all gotten so good. I feel like everyone’s gotten some experience, like Koechner’s gotten really strong and Rudd’s just easy-peasy on set. I think the first time around we were all trying to figure out what we were doing and kind of making each other laugh first and foremost. This time we’re still making each other laugh, and a lot of it is going towards the scene as well. I think we’ve just gotten more economical with knowing where the improv goes and how to use it. I think it helped the experience.
Can you talk about this scene [at Sea World]? Was this the first scene in the script?
It’s one of the first scenes. There’s kind of a prologue where you find out from where we left Ron Burgandy in the first movie, which was him and Applegate doing Network news together. So you sort of start with that and, I won’t tell you how, but he has a big giant fall and this is… you guys have seen it, this is kind of the bottom. We tried to think of the lowest of the lows, like being hammered doing dolphin shows in nineteen seventy-nine. If we couldn’t get the dolphins, we were going to have him host a Joker’s Wild game show. We had actually written the whole scene. It was going to be a show called Duck Duck Goose and he was just hammered with D level celebrities and so we were kind of torn. We really liked Duck Duck Goose.
But there’s something special about Will yelling at a dolphin.
You have to go for that. If it’s on the table… The dolphin was pretty good, too. Initially we were going to do a composite shot and put it in and then we were like “Let’s see if you can actually yell at the dolphin in the scene.” We got some good rolls in there.
Has the level of scrutiny this time added pressure on you?
I was amazed by the level of scrutiny. I knew people were excited. I certainly knew people like you and us were excited, because we are all fans and kind of comedy fans in general, but I was so surprised in New York when it was like a thousand people by the sets and like seventy photographers and the second we would put people in wardrobe there’d be 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 going into the first one except for a couple of you guys on your websites. So it makes it fun. It’s a bigger stage. It’s the difference between yelling out a line with ten extras and having three thousand, it just kind of makes it more fun. The only thing I wish they would do is when they put the photos of the characters up, I wish they would say “Spoiler Alert,” like a lot of them just did it as the lead and you’re like “At least give us the chance not to know.” Hopefully I don’t think it matters.
What’s the editing process like with a film like this where there’s so many different lines?
It’s going to be nuts. Not only do we get so many different lines, I mean we shot more than a million feet of film on Step Brothers, so we always get a ton of lines, it’s that we were so greedy with every day and we got so much stuff. There’s so many different sets and looks and angles on this movie and totally different locations and actors. That’s going to be the tricky part. I’m just dreading the day where they tell me what the rough assembly time is and I’m like “Please be less than three and a half hours.” If it’s less than three and a half, I can make it work. If it’s more, we are going to be in trouble. And on a lark, a couple of times we will be like “Do you do Kill Bill one and two?” I think we really could do it, but I don’t think we will. I think we want to make like ninety-five minutes of great comedy, maybe one forty if you guys are really lucky.
Last time you took advantage of DVD to assemble a second movie from outtakes. Is that something you will be able to play with in Blu-Ray?
Will and I actually discussed the idea of doing Ron Burgundy 2.5 after this. We’ve got a whole idea for a movie where in the middle of this movie he’s going to get stuck in an elevator. You’re going to see that scene where he leaves and they say “What did you do this weekend?” He goes “Don’t ask me about it.” Then we were going to do a half sequel to this “What happened to him on that weekend?” He’s going to get stuck in an elevator and we really were going to write it and shoot it and then we realized this one was such a bear that we were crazy. It would take us two weeks to write that script minimum. We will definitely have two hours of extra material out of 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 though we’ve got to do a Lord of the Rings and just go shoot like three of these in one go. That would be really fun to do.
Is there anything [in this film] that didn’t make the cut from the first film? Like an idea that was at script level that you carried into this?
No. We shot every single idea we had on the first one as you can tell from the outtakes. But no I think every single joke… I think the only thing we did is we semi-pulled some stuff back. We wanted to ride that line between doing too many callbacks and not enough call backs and you know, 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. “What do you call back? How much do you call back? Does it get boring and repetitive?” So we really tried to do new stuff as much as possible, yeah.
We’ve talked over the years about some of the ideas you guys had for the sequel. There was the point where you guys thought it would be a musical. There were a number of approaches. When you stumbled on the idea of the twenty four hour news station, did you know immediately that that was the hook that would get you through the entire film?
It did, yeah. The second we had that thought we knew… It was the rise of the new media, so we would maybe include computers in there and try to maybe even go as far as twenty four hour news to internet news. Then we realized it was too ambitious. It was too much of a long time, and that didn’t really start happening until the mid-nineties, right? So that would have been too much. We were going to try and condense it, but we knew twenty four hour news was a hallmark change once we really saw it all landed around ’79 or ’80. I mean that’s when all of this stuff hit like a barrage. I think 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 all the regulations. That was kind of the changing point in so many ways, like “All right, this is it.” Then when I read about CNN I saw they actually did go find some of these local guys and bring them on CNN. I think Lou Dobbs was in Seattle. It was a bunch of these local guys that they just brought back, so it was so perfect once we started looking into it. The only thing we had to do was go “It’s got to be in New York.” It just felt like that’s the holy grail.
How far does this take place? A couple of years? A couple of days?
It’s about two years, I think. Yeah, roughly two years but it’s loose the way we play it.
I love the notion of Harrison Ford stepping into the way you guys work. Was there anybody that you brought in for cameos who didn’t acclimate?
Ford was a little confused by it. He was like “What?” when I would yell [lines] out and then he kind of dug it. I think he was like “This is crazy” and he kind of had fun with it, and then he started liking it and adding his own. So in the beginning it was like “what the hell are you guys doing?” and then by the end he kind of loved it. Sam Jackson was like that too on The Other Guys. He was like “What are you saying?” Then by the end he’s like “I got another line.” I think all actors end up loving it, it’s just such an unrestricted kind of freedom that you have that you can’t not love it. So Harrison Ford was sort of dicey for about ten minutes.
What was that like for you to see him acting with that like?
Oh it was crazy. It was like the inner twelve year old in all of us came out and it’s like “I’m throwing lines out to Han Solo.” I think he knows you’re thinking that, he’s also like “I was also in Witness…” and you’re like “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 was great. He showed us pictures of his planes and told us crazy stories about… He’s just into flying his planes. I mean that’s kind of his big thing. He didn’t care. He was totally cool with it, yeah.
So what is it like in the tent? We hear you on the loud speaker screaming. We saw Judd [Apatow] today. Are you guys talking a little bit behind the scenes or are you just screaming the first thing that comes into your head?
It’s a mixture of both. Sometimes I know a joke I’m going to yell out ahead of time, but most of the time it’s stream of conscious. 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 a scene, the faces of the crew when they are so serious and professional that makes it funnier when you yell out jackass things. Having a crowd of three thousand people here yelling out “I’m covered in urine, making out with a Pilipino guy” … they had to drive all the way here today, sit in the hot sun and hear that line and 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 kind of a big deal,” but they got to hear that. So that’s the best element of it in the moment. Nothing beats having that mic going and you can just say anything you want. Having Pearl there and knowing she’s going to yell whatever I say to her, then my wife is going to yell the line after Pearl. So sometimes we think of… Occasionally Judd will just walk by and give me a chip of an idea. He’ll be like “What if he’s a jealous co-stage person with the dolphin?” and that will spawn something and then I’ll just run with it.
Is Judd on set a lot?
Judd was kind of in and out. I begged him to be more… Judd’s like one of the funnest set hangs ever, like 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 is more knowledgeable about comedy history. Sometimes we will do the whole take and he’ll be like “that was funny” and wont say anything and then some times he’ll have a great line for me. He always eats really well, so if he’s on set you know you’re having a good lunch. He was kind of in and out like three or four times, like he’s here today obviously and he was in New York for one day. He pops in and out and he’s great for macro stuff. He’ll always keep you on track with “be aware of… when I’m seeing the dailies, you’ve got to make sure you get Will more sympathetic in this part.” So he will kind of gently jog me in with macro ideas. But yeah, he’s the best. There’s no one better to have around.
Do you feel like you guys have permission to go further this time, because Anchorman has become iconic over the last decade and is so beloved that you are able to do whatever you like with Ron?
We are hoping we do. That’s what we are hoping. We definitely wrote it and shot it like we do have that permission and we felt obligated to… Once that movie aged, everyone drifted towards the crazier elements and the more insane obscure stuff, so we sort of treated it like we got permission. We will see. Will someone in Indianapolis paying their twelve dollars want to walk and see Ron Burgundy telling a dolphin that he invented the flip flop? I don’t know. I know some people who would be happy with that.
We were all happy.
You guys liked that? We knew you guys would like that. It’s the fifty-two year old golfer who shows up when his friends told him “You’re going to love this comedy,” like does that guy go with it?” We shall see, but we are praying that we have that permission, yeah.
You talked about Harrison, but can you talk about the other newcomers that you brought on board and are working with?
Yeah, I mean Dylan Baker was a big one. That’s a guy we’ve wanted to work with for years. He auditioned for the first one and we almost cast him. I think he had done a sitcom or had something going. James Marsden, same thing. Both those guys were guys we auditioned the first go around and were like “Those guys are funny.” They’re both guys I just love them in everything they do, like Sex Drive… He’s unbelievable in that, so funny… It’s also a really underrated movie. So we always wanted to work with him and always had this idea for this competitive rival for Ferrell based on Terminator 2 with the living mercury guy. We wanted to have the scariest sort of guy that could make Burgandy look old like Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2, so he was perfect for that. Then we needed a grizzled news veteran producer and Dylan Baker was perfect for that. And the great thing was neither one of them were disappointing at all. They were awesome. Every line I would throw out they were cool with. They would twist it and make it better. They came up with their own stuff.
The key word was “game” and Meagan Good was the same way, they were just game for whatever we did. They would try it. Sometimes even they would mishear me on lines and they were so trusting they would yell out the misheard line and I’d be like “No, that actually doesn’t make sense what you just said.” We got really lucky in the sense that all the new cast was awesome. I’m trying to think of who else we had. 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 was just amazing, so cool and funny. Ferrell couldn’t look at him without laughing. We gave him this little pony tail and he had the most pleasant smile you could ever see. Ferrell would be like “I can’t look at him.” He had to look away. So yeah, the one thing I’ll brag about is casting and I think we kind of knocked it out of the park on this one. I think everyone was game and fantastic and funny.
Do we learn more about Baxter?
It’s so funny. We talked about that. I wanted to. I want to know more about what he’s doing when he’s not around them. I wanted to shoot the whole adventure.
This is the Anchorman 2.5.
Yeah! All right, well maybe you guys can help with this. We actually talked about the idea of doing The Adventures of… I guess it kind of adds the value that Ron has a [SPOILER REMOVED]… I just let it out of the bag… Well we wanted to do the adventures of his [SPOILER REMOVED] and Baxter. I actually pitched it to Adam Goodman at Paramount and he’s like “That’s not a bad idea.” So there’s a chance we might be doing a Milo and Otis PG “Adventures of [SPOILER REMOVED] and Baxter” which would be amazing.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens December 20.