Anchorman 2: How McKay Made his Movie

Adam McKay and Will Ferrell wrote a working draft of their script, with McKay covering the first half and Ferrell the latter.

A table read was held in Los Angeles in November 2012, with most of the cast in attendance (except for Rudd and Carell, who were working on other projects, other comics subbing in their stead).

“I couldn’t believe the security on this,” Rudd laughs.  “I had to sign a form and read the script on a computer (before the table read), and then it just vanished after a couple of hours.  But when it did show up, I started reading it immediately and was just cracking up!”  The team was clearly excited by what they saw.  “In the first movie, every scene had a bunch of jokes,” says Koechner, “but this had a flurry of jokes in every scene and always ends with a knockout punch.  Even without Paul and Steve there, it was clear this was going to work – and be very, very funny.”

The film begins with Ron and Veronica, now weekend co-anchors on national network news, getting called into lead anchor Mack Tannen’s office, hopefully for some important news of their own.  “They’re doing well, but they’re not quite there yet,” comments McKay.  “So we decided to make them weekend network anchors.”

It is expected that Tannen – the Tom Brokaw of their world – is going to announce his retirement and, so the duo assumes, will name them as his replacement.  But when they meet with him, it’s quickly made clear what kind of job Burgundy has been doing:  Veronica is named Tannen’s replacement, and Ron is fired – immediately.

“Burgundy’s ego is touchy to begin with,” McKay explains.  “But when he gets fired and his wife gets the dream job of dream jobs, he’s not built to handle that.  He collapses immediately.”

As for Veronica, time and success have smoothed her feathers, to a large degree.  “In the first film, I was kind of the villain.  But she’s softened.  It’s seven years later, and she isn’t driven for success the way she was then.  She’s reached her success, and they’re parents now.  Having a kid has really grounded her – I think I like the new, softer, supportive, loving Veronica.”

Upon receiving Tannen’s job offer, Veronica finds herself in a difficult predicament, her husband forcing her to choose between him and her career.  “It’s an unfair ultimatum, and it’s very selfish of him,” she informs.  “I think, out of anger, she takes the job, just to punish him for being so ridiculous about it.”

Ron and Veronica separate, and within six months, we find Burgundy at his new job: an obnoxious, drunken host at Sea World, booed even by the smallest of children.  “That’s the thing about Burgundy,” McKay explains, “you give him bad news, and he bottoms out as he is wont to do.  You go in the other room, and he’s already dirty and drinking.”

It’s not long, though, before he is approached by Freddie Shapp, a mid-level producer at upstart cable news network, GNN, played by actor DYLAN BAKER.  “I saw something in Ron when I watched him in San Diego, and I knew, since no one else was available, that Ron was the guy to get” for the network, Baker says of his character.

Baker was an actor always on the radar for Ferrell and McKay, who had wanted him for a role in the original Anchorman, though Baker was unavailable due to a television commitment.  “We’ve just loved him forever,” McKay says.  “He’s one of those actors that every actor knows is good.  He’s super collaborative, game, funny and can play dramatic, comedy, anything he wants.  That was just a treat.”

Working with this group of comic actors was still a challenge, even for the veteran Baker.  “There were scenes when I’d just be sitting there crying, I was laughing so hard,” he says.  “There was one closeup on me, where we had to keep going, but behind these little glasses I wear, there were tears just rolling down my face.  This is the funniest thing I’ve ever been around, bar none.”

Shapp offers Burgundy the golden apple – an invitation to become an anchor at the network in the bigger apple, New York City.  He offers to provide a support team of reporters, but, of course. . . Burgundy already has one.

As if getting four busy actors together in one place isn’t hard enough – try getting Ron Burgundy’s news team back together.  Burgundy, committed to his new cable news pursuit, hits the road in his tricked out Winnebago to round up the gang, in a classic “getting the band back together” road trip.  “That’s one of those clichés in movies you see over and over again, be it The Dirty Dozen, The Blues Brothers or any other – and any time you do that in a movie, it’s enjoyable,” says McKay, particularly with these lunatics.  “We go looking to find out where each of the guys has been for the last five years, and, for the most part, they haven’t been doing so well.”

Champ is in the poorest state.  “We don’t know if he’s homeless, out murdering people, we’re not quite sure,” notes David Koechner.  One thing we do know is that he now has a chain of “Whammy Chicken” franchises.  Of course, that’s not actually chicken under all that batter.  “He’s secretly serving bats to save money,” McKay explains.  “And he’s so earnest about his absolute refusal to even try chicken.”  Besides, bats are “chicken of the cave,” as Champ calls them.

Not that Champ doesn’t thoroughly believe in the good fowl, as he touts in his Whammy TV commercials, Koechner points out.  “He believes in delicious chicken – and also that the census is a way for the UN to turn your children gay.  He believes in good chicken and the coming race war in ten years, for which he intends to be armed.”  That’s our Champ.  “He’s a borderline full-on psychopath,” says Paul Rudd.

But his team nonetheless can see past all that.  “In another context,” McKay points out, “he’d be a horrible guy.  But these guys are able to see his best side.”  In fact, that’s always the case with this news team.  “They’re all buffoons in their own way,” Rudd says.  “And yet there’s still something about these guys that is innocent.  We love the other guys on this news team.  We would never judge them or call them out for what they clearly are.”

Rudd’s Brian Fantana is clearly on the other end of the scale:  a successful kitty photographer.  As in Cat Fancy kitties.  “Brian is the preeminent cat photographer,” Rudd describes.  “You know, like all those ‘I Hate Mondays’ posters you see in dentist offices.  And I make a ton of cash.”  He’s got the mansion and he’s got the girls– they all hang out with Brian.

The guys show up to gauge Brian’s interest in rejoining the team.  “The second they show up, I lose it all – I’m getting sued for using the word ‘pussy’ inappropriately.  So I’m onboard right away,” says Rudd. Not that he actually has anything to offer the good folks at GNN.  “He has no understanding of journalism and no idea what he’s doing,” McKay notes.

The team continues their quest to round out the pack, but end up, unfortunately, at Brick Tamland’s funeral – at which Brick is delivering his own eulogy.  “Brick has gone away for a little while, and we’re not sure where Brick has been,” Carell explains.  “I don’t think Brick knows where he has gone.”  Brick has certainly not evolved in any way.  “He hasn’t come a long way since ‘I love lamp,’” his classic observation from the first film.  “Brick has not evolved.  And I’m committed to keeping Brick from ever evolving in any way, shape or form.”

Apparently, though, he has drowned at sea.  His compadres inform him at the funeral that the dead person being spoken so fondly about – by Brick, actually – is Brick.  “He’s relieved,” comments Carell, “as I think anyone would be, but who wouldn’t want to go to their own funeral and give their own eulogy?”

The boys take a rather eventful trip together to The Big Apple in Ron’s tricked-out RV.  The sequence represented the first time all four actors worked together on the new film, save for a short teaser trailer shot even before the script was completed.  “It’s a rare chemistry, with these four guys,” Koechner observes.  “Adam and Will are always able to put all these pieces together that fit just perfectly.  But the cast just meshes.  When we’re working together, doing it, you really don’t over think it, it just happens.”

Ferrell notes, “We all have the same comedy mindset, which is just fantastic.  We’re all very creative in how we do stupid.  When we’re all four in the same scene, everyone’s excited to hear what the other guy’s gonna say, and then you’re trying to think of a joke that’ll top it.  But at the same time, we all support the act of listening, which a lot of people in comedy don’t.  If someone comes up with a winning idea, we all naturally just go with it.”

That work ethic spilled over into cast members outside the news team, as well.  “It was a little daunting, at first, joining this group, seeing how close they are,” says JAMES MARSDEN.  “But they all want everyone else to be funny.  I figured it would be everyone trying to win the ‘funny race.’  But they’re incredibly generous.  They’ll set you up for a line.  They’re in the game to help you.”  Adds Koechner, “Everyone’s pulling for everyone else here.  Everybody gets to score.”

The team are also all skilled improvisers – Ferrell chief among them.  “Will is so good at throwing something out there that’s unexpected and so far out of left field,” Rudd informs, “it’ll just bust me up, even when I know what he’s going to say.”  Marsden concurs.  “Even if you know what line is coming, he still does it different than anyone expects,” often causing fellow cast members to lose it.  But are the tables ever turned?  “When you’re able to bust Will Ferrell up, then you know you’re doing something good,” Marsden notes.  “That’s the Holy Grail.”

Improv is all part of the show when making an Adam McKay film.  The director, in fact, sits at the monitors in his “video village” tent, regularly spouting out hilarious suggestions to his cast over a mic and P.A. system set up for just that purpose.  “They’re all very collaborative,” the director notes.  “They basically let me jump into the scene with them – and they like it.  I used to have to run to the set or yell, but this is much easier.  You put yourself in the scene, ride it, feel it out, and just feel where there’s an opportunity where you can help them, or if they get a great improv idea, to help them sharpen it.”

The cast do indeed enjoy the process.  “You try to come pretty prepared with a few ideas, so that in case a scene gets off track, you can toss something out there to keep it alive,” Marsden explains.  “And as soon as you think there’s nothing more for your character to say, McKay pulls stuff out that’s just so backwards and full of his own brand of humor, he’s brilliant.  And it’s never-ending.”  Adds Koechner, “I think Adam must have had three or four lines for each character in every scene when he was doing the script, he just didn’t write them down.  So we get to benefit from his genius.”

“He sits in his little tent with a microphone and watches a scene,” Carell says.  “And he’s so adept at throwing out the most perfect suggestions at the most ideal times.  When McKay is on the microphone, you feel like your brain has been multiplied by four, because you’ve got your stuff you can improvise, but then you also have his brain working for you as well, at your disposal.”