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In conversation with Adam McKay

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A MOUSTACHED, pressed-and-permed Will Ferrell is the frontand- centre brand of Anchorman Ron Burgundy. But much of the power behind Burgundy’s blank gaze belongs to Adam McKay, the writer-director who, partnered with Ferrell, gave us films such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Other Guys, and now Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

The two men have a common bond. Like Ferrell, McKay , 45, climbed through the ranks of Saturday Night Live, starting as a writer in 1995 and ending up a head writer for three seasons.

The Free Press’s Randall King spoke to McKay on the phone from San Francisco during an Anchorman 2 publicity jaunt through that city.


Free Press: As you may know, Will, as Ron Burgundy, just came to Winnipeg to be the guest sportscaster on a curling bonspiel. Given your creative investment in the character, one imagines a Bob Hope scenario where the performer runs into the writers’ room and says, ‘Give me five minutes on Winnipeg!’ But presumably, that was not the case.

Adam McKay: No, that was not the case. They told me he was going to the curling competition and I laughed. That was pretty much my involvement.

FP: Why did it take nine years to make a sequel to Anchorman?

AM: The first five or six years, we didn’t want to make a sequel. There were some original movies we wanted to do. And then finally, enough people said to us: ‘Why aren’t you doing a second?’ It just kept coming up. You kind of hear it with every movie you do initially. But with this one, it just never stopped. So about five or six years after the first one, Will and I finally said: ‘Could we do a sequel?’ And then realized we had an idea. And suddenly the challenge of trying to do a decent sequel seemed interesting to us.

FP: Instead of the ’70s, this movie takes place on the cusp of the ’80s. As you’re a 45-year-old man, is this decade more in your comfort zone? And are the ’80s inherently funnier than the ’70s?

AM: I don’t know, the ’70s are pretty great. This actually takes place in ’79-’80 when CNN’s 24-hour news launched. That was when MTV came around and ESPN, as well as Ronald Reagan becoming president. It was a pretty big change point in America’s cultural history. And the key thing for Ron Burgundy and the news team is change. They never deal with it well. So it had to be that time period.

FP: Coincidentally, it’s set in the exact same epoch as Boogie Nights, as the ’70s turned into the ’80s.

AM: It’s funny because (Boogie Nights director) Paul Thomas Anderson came to one of the last screenings of the movie. We know him from way back. And I told him: ‘You S.O.B.

You used every cool song in Boogie Nights.’ I’ve seen Boogie Nights 10 times. But there are songs you forget are in there and he really did pick clean that entire era so he made our job very hard. We had to keep looking for music.

FP: Like the first movie, the sequel has some surprising cameo appearances. That is something that must be handled gingerly. What are your feelings about them?

AM: Cameos are similar to absurdist comedy in the sense that, when you do a really absurd joke, you kind of shatter the reality for a bit. And it’s the same with a cameo. When you have an actor walk into the movie, the impact of having him or her walking in, that actor, you’re kind of shattering the reality, so you have to do it sparingly. It’s a tricky thing. You don’t want to do too many because it starts to feel cheap. It takes you too much out of the movie, so hopefully we balanced it well.

FP: Does everybody know in advance that there’s a large improvisational component. And does anyone in particular surprise you with improv ability, such as Harrison Ford?

AM: I have to give the speech to everyone Will casts in the movie, and I had to do that with Harrison Ford.

I say, ‘Look, here’s the way we work. We’re going to do a couple of takes as written and then I’m going to be yelling stuff from behind the monitor. The actors are going to be playing with it, you’re able to try stuff, and I want to make sure you’re comfortable.’ It’s like this in all our movies. I have to talk to the person beforehand. If an actor is not prepared for that, it can be pretty jarring. So in Harrison Ford’s case, he actually hadn’t seen the first movie and he came in not entirely knowing what we do, but then after about three minutes, you could kind of see the smile on his face and he just loved it and he was completely game.

He’s definitely got a sense of humour, no doubt about it.


Anchorman 2 is currently playing at Grant Park, Kildonan Place, McGillivray, McGillivray VIP, Polo Park, St. Vital, and Towne cinemas.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2013 D3

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