Great Odin's Raven! Burgundy's Back
Following up one of the most-quoted comedies of the 21st Century was never going to be easy, but can Ron Burgundy and his news team survive the sequel curse? Vicki Notaro met Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd to find out
Sitting in a hotel room with a pyjama-bottom-clad Will Ferrell is surreal. Sipping from a fine china teacup and greying at the eyebrows like his Zoolander character Mugatu, he's much more softly spoken than one might imagine.
That is, until he slips seamlessly into Ron Burgundy, his voice booming just like that of the beloved fictional newscaster, recounting some of his best loved lines. "Milk was a bad choice -- that was improvised. It was really hot that day and (director and co-writer) Adam McKay had told the prop guy to hand me a carton of milk. So I literally just reacted, you know, as Ron. 'It's so damn hot, milk was a bad choice.' And that ended up in the film."
Having witnessed Ferrell and his co-star Paul Rudd on the red carpet at the Dublin premiere the night before, there was a slight concern that he'd be in piss-taking humour and it'd be impossible to get a decent interview. However, without the presence of cameras or an audience to play to, he's impeccably polite and actually, almost reserved.
He's a little tired after the festivities of the night before (the cast of Anchorman 2 ended up at the bar in the Merrion hotel post-premiere, with visiting comedian Bill Burr) but ever professional. "We've never really ever experienced anything like [the premiere]. We were a little slack-jawed. It was so loving and then to be inside the theatre and see a sea of happy faces. Sometimes at premieres and screenings, you'll catch the odd person ... [pretends to be asleep]. Not in Dublin, everyone was so fired up, it was great."
Irish people appear to have a particular fondness for Anchorman and indeed for Will who may as well be one of our very own. Famed for attending Longford house parties, donning the Irish football jersey and even being mates with Roy Keane, his Irish heritage is evident from his name and his appearance. Arriving at the premiere fresh from sipping Guinness in a city centre pub, Ferrell is as fond of the ceol, craic and Irish people as we are of him. "We said to each other, 'gosh, that would've been a crowd to sit and watch the film with'," he says of the hundreds gathered outside Dublin's Savoy to catch a glimpse of Ferrell, Steve Carrell, David Koechner and Rudd.
Ron Burgundy may be one of the best-loved comedy characters of recent years, but Anchorman's success came slowly, spreading by word of mouth. In contrast, the marketing campaign behind this sequel is enormous, from fake news bulletins featuring our own Love/Hate and Anne Doyle, to a worldwide promotional tour. Was it worrying to bring as iconic a character as Ron back to the big screen?
"I don't know how many times I've been asked this question and yet every single time it's still so funny to hear that Ron Burgundy is an iconic character. Here was this movie that we wrote on spec and it was so hard to convince Hollywood that this would be a funny movie. 'A '70s newsroom? Yeah right.' It was met with such resistance. To sit here now a decade later and hear that it's an iconic character, we still just giggle. But no, it wasn't hard at all to return to him. It's joyous for me to be Ron."
Co-star Paul Rudd is equally excited to reprise the role of Brian Fantana, Burgundy's news team colleague. "There's more of a story this time round. There's a real meaning in there. When I read the script I was so excited, I still kind of can't believe I'm in it." Boyishly enthusiastic and twinkly-eyed, even the morning after the night before, Rudd's love for the project is evident.
"Anchorman was a turning point for me as far as my career is concerned. It was a huge thing for me -- it's how I met Judd Apatow, who I've worked with several times since. I remember reading it and really hoping I could get an audition for it. It was totally my kind of humour. I didn't care what part. At the time though, it was just too weird for anybody who was dishing out money to consider."
"Paul was such an advocate of the first movie," remembers Ferrell. "He'd read the script and his agent called so many times they had to tell him to stop. Back then he was still Paul Rudd from Clueless, but he wasn't PAUL RUDD. He came and auditioned like everyone else."
Ferrell's own canon is chock full of memorable characters, but does he have a favourite? "They're all so different to me. Frank The Tank in Old School was great. At the time, we were trying to get Anchorman made, going back and forth. All of a sudden Old School came out, it's a hit and the studio calls and says 'We love Anchorman. Let's make it.' I owe a lot to that character and to Todd Phillips. But then it's hard not to always say Ron Burgundy is my favourite, because of what it's become. Frank, Buddy The Elf and Ron were my first three big characters out the gate after SNL, so I'm just glad they resonated with people so much."
One thing Rudd and Ferrell's Anchorman characters have in common is immaculate hair. I ask if once the wig is on, Ron comes out to play, but Ferrell is adamant it's all about the moustache. "I think four weeks is about long enough to get it nice and bushy but this time I had forgotten how long it took, so I started growing it way too early, in like November 2012. Then by the Golden Globes in February I had this massive moustache that people were afraid of."
Rudd agrees that a month's growth is enough time to physically embody Brian Fantana, but in this second outing his character has moved with the times. "I had complete control over how Fantana looked. The sideburns are shorter, the hair's a bit different. He has an earring, and the moustache is a little longer..." Still a sex symbol though? "In his own mind, sure."
Rudd is arguably as famous as Ferrell, anchoring his own string of comedy hits including I Love You Man, Knocked Up and Role Models. Unlike Ferrell though, he started his film career relatively young, appearing as Alicia Silverstone's love interest in Clueless and playing Romeo's romantic foil Paris in Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet. Most people, though, would have known him pre-Anchorman as the man who took Phoebe Buffay off the market in the final series of Friends.
"I knew how many people watched that show, but I didn't feel like part of it. I just didn't want to get in the way. It was something that just kind of happened. I was only supposed to be in two episodes as Mike, but they kept writing the storyline."
What was it like to witness the end of the sitcom that dominated television for ten seasons first hand? "That was a weird experience and very cool. But I was very aware that it was this behemoth show. A surreal experience where I thought 'I shouldn't be here'. I remember the week they were shooting the last episode and I knew people all over the world would love to see what I was seeing. I thought, 'this is like watching somebody bathe, it's really none of my business'."
Ferrell trained at the famed Second City theatre company before graduating to infamous skit show Saturday Night Live that boasts an alumni including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig, all of whom appear in Anchorman 2. Rudd was more classically trained. "I studied theatre. Anchorman was the first film I'd worked on improvising on that scale. Like, I couldn't believe I was working on a studio movie with an actual budget and that we were improvising. Since then, almost everything I do is improvised."
So just how many of Ron's famous lines were scripted? Ferrell laughs. "Well, you'd have to throw some at me." Unfazed, we hit him with the hilarious 'Baxter, you know I don't speak Spanish' bit from the first movie. "Oh yeah, improv. Anything with Baxter is pretty much me just talking to the dog. 'I love lamp' was improv from Steve."
Is there pressure bouncing off experienced improv artists like Will, Steve Carrell and co? Rudd is honest. "You always hope that you'll lock in to something. I always feel pressure, they're not all going to be winners. But you just hope they don't use those ones. I have a lot of trust for Adam McKay, he's the best comedy writer ever. He and Will share a brain."
Anchorman 2 is out now.