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Will's Ferrell ways
6:00am Saturday 28th December 2013 in Celebrity Interview
Ron Burgundy is back, and he's as inappropriate and cringe-inducing as ever. Anchorman star Will Ferrell talks improv and inspiration with Susan Griffin.
[When Christina Applegate was asked to describe her Anchorman co-stars, she said: "They are the most fay-like men I've ever come across."
What does the film's co-creator and star, Will Ferrell, make of that?
"Fay?" he asks, widening those close-set eyes and pretending to be incredulous. Perhaps she meant that he, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner aren't what one might call a testosterone club?
"Yes, we're almost foppish. We wore silk undergarments. Every week was powdered wig Monday. We were perfumed," says the funny man, who is sporting jeans, a green T-shirt and a retro blue tracksuit top when we meet.
"Today's more casual wear. Yesterday I was wearing a beautiful suit - you would've been awestruck," he says.
Ferrell, 46, might've made a name for himself playing the misguided and moustachioed news anchor Ron Burgundy in the first Anchorman film (The Legend Of Ron Burgundy), a grown man who thinks he's one of Santa's little helpers in Elf, and one of two aimless middle-aged blokes forced to become room-mates when their parents marry in Step Brothers - but don't let the on-screen buffoonery fool you.
Ferrell has razor sharp wit, which saw him quickly rise through the ranks from stand-up comedy workshops to esteemed LA improv group The Groundlings, where he was plucked for Saturday Night Live.
"Will's so good at throwing something out there that's unexpected and so far out of left-field," notes Rudd, who reprises his role of 'man on the street' Brian Fanatana in the Anchorman sequel.
New boy James Marsden, who plays Ron's chiselled nemesis Jack Lime, agrees: "When you're able to bust Will Ferrell up, then you know you're doing something good. That's the Holy Grail."
The original Anchorman wasn't a major hit when it was released in 2004, but since, Ferrell says, "it's kind of grown into cult status".
The idea came about after the actor saw a state news anchor paired with a woman for the first time. Soon he and his Saturday Night Live colleague Adam McKay got talking.
"I said, 'What about basing a story in the Seventies news world, about the first time a woman comes into that world and how these men are just petulant, and she's smarter and more capable?'" recalls Californian-born Ferrell.
The men agreed it had potential and roped in producer Judd Apatow, with McKay becoming director, creating one of the most successful creative partnerships in Hollywood.
While the trio re-teamed for comedy hits Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby and Step Brothers, Anchorman continued to quietly grow into a phenomenon.
By 2010, Ferrell and McKay began considering a follow-up and thought of a number of ideas, including a musical version. "The studio weren't reticent, but [they were] scratching their heads," says Ferrell. "I think their comment was, 'Oh, that's not what we expected at all when you said you want to do a sequel...'"
On reflection, the married father-of-three adds: "I think we were happy to get rid of that and be a regular comedy."
Eventually, they found themselves talking about the introduction of cable television and the media explosion that began to happen in 1980 - a "crucial year", the actor points out.
Rolling 24-hour news also made its appearance, as well as the first 'trash' news stories, prompting a moral conundrum - chase ratings or cover 'real' news?
"We kept talking about it and realised that's what Ron should deal with," explains Ferrell. "There's a lot of conflict with the 24-hour news cycle. It's hard to fill that time, so the goal was to make a movie that made you laugh really hard - but also stop you in your tracks and make you think, which is something you don't find in a lot of studio comedies."
They set about writing. McKay's since joked the process amounts to him dictating while Ferrell types. The image of Barbara Cartland on a chaise longue, while her PA busies herself with the typewriter, springs to mind.
"Yes, I type, get his coffee, make sure his laundered shirts are pressed. I'm somewhat of a valet. That's how we work," jokes Ferrell in response.
"Actually, I do usually do a lot of the typing and we'll just ping-pong ideas. He'll throw lines out and that triggers thoughts in my head and we'll just feed off each other, back and forth.
"We think the same things are funny, and that's half the battle."
The sequel begins with Ron and Veronica (Christina Applegate), who are now parents to a six-year-old and weekend co-anchors on national network news, being called to the office of lead anchor Mark Tannen (Harrison Ford).
"The fact Harrison Ford's inches away from your face is both thrilling and frightening. If I stopped to consciously think what was happening, I probably would've left the room," reveals Ferrell, who credits the legendary actor for his willingness "to go along with our crazy ways".
"We can't reiterate enough to people, 'Don't worry, you literally don't have to be funny - just say whatever comes naturally and it'll usually land on its feet.' Once you get used to the process, it's really freeing," he adds.
When Veronica's promoted and Ron's sacked, the anchor seeks solace in San Diego (or San-de-ahh-go, as Ron calls it). Drunk and obnoxious in his new job at Sea World, salvation comes in the form of a producer who offers him the chance of a lifetime - to be on the world's first 24-hour global news network.
Ron quickly rounds up his classic news team - Fantana, sports-caster Champ Kid (Koechner) and weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell), and together they head to the Big Apple.
"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," says Ferrell. "But at the same time, we all support the act of listening, which a lot of people in comedy don't."
In the first film, Ron had to come to terms with a female co-anchor (shock horror!), but in this one, not only does he have a female boss, Linda Jackson (Meagan Good), she's African-American.
Ron's taken aback by this and needs to figure out how he's feeling. As time goes on, Linda feels she's underestimated this news anchor with the perfect hair and starts to fall for him. When she decides to invite Ron to meet her family, the ensuing scene is excruciating.
"I think its OK to laugh, because Ron gets beat up - as he should," says Ferrell. "But he's innocent. He thinks he's taking the extra step to really get the jargon down, but he's so misguided.
"But as a human being that day, I did start the scene by saying to that table of talented actors, 'Please forgive me for everything that's about to come out of Ron's mouth'."
Like the original, the comedy might be near the mark, but Ferrell couldn't be happier with the final edit.
"I think we're all very excited and thrilled and we feel very good about the movie. We think it's funny, poignant, satirical, all those good things."
And plans for a third outing? "We just want to see how it sits with the audience and go from there," is Ferrell's final word. "But I'm always searching for something fun to do."
Extra time - Behind the scenes
:: Kirsten Dunst said she'd be willing to do anything to be part of the movie. Ferrell's response was, 'Will you play a trumpet and stand on top of a 15-storey building?' She agreed.
:: Once again, there's a news team gang fight, but this time on an epic scale with countless cameos.
:: Bridesmaids star Kristen Wiig appears as Brick's love interest Chani.
:: The ocean scenes were filmed off Georgia. Despite the sea being full of jellyfish and sharks being spotted shortly before the shoot, Ferrell still got in the water.
:: As with the first film, so much footage was shot that an alternate cut is set to be released on DVD.
:: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is released on Wednesday, December 18
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