Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - Adam McKay and Judd Apatow interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
WRITER-director Adam McKay and producer Judd Apatow talk about some of the challenges of bringing Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues to the big screen after 10 years and why they love Will Ferrell.
They also talk about some of the film’s cameos, including being intimidated by Harrison Ford and asking Kirsten Dunst to play a trumpet. They also talk about filmmaking in the ’70s and ’80s.
Q. This film wasn’t always on the cards… How was it returning to it all these years? Was it easy to get back into the groove of it?
Adam McKay: It kind of was easy. All the guys snapped back into character, when we shot the teaser trailer before we’d even written the script. I remember just walking away thinking that it wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought because they’ve all dialled into the character immediately. It was kind of freaky actually. It was actually one of the hardest ones to make, though, because we didn’t have the biggest budget and for some reason Will and I decided to write an incredibly difficult script in terms of different locations and robot sharks and musicals.
Judd Apatow: In the first movie, almost nothing happens. There’s almost no story.
Adam McKay: There’s one story. He’s in love with the lady. The lady gets the promotion. He’s pissed off. And that’s it, that’s the entire movie. But in this one there’s the corrupt owner, the son, and the… usually you end up cutting a couple of them out but they all seemed to play. So, it was a tricky movie to shoot. It took a long time. It was tiring but fun.
Q. Obviously, in terms of cameos, how much of an effort was it to shoot that end battle? Were they all there?
Adam McKay: It was nuts. And most of them were there. I think scheduling, we had one or two days where almost all of them were there.
Judd Apatow: I remember what was really funny was Kanye West just waiting around, and he had his computer out. So, he’s playing beats that became his album on-set. And he’s clearly writing lyrics on-set, and rapping, and then he’s talking to people, and then he starts really rapping to the make-up people and trying a song out on them in the way that we’d try a joke out on someone. And one of the PA’s was a young kid had to walk over to him and say: “Stop, we’re about to roll!” He was like: “I’m terrified to say this but please stop rapping the coolest song I’ve ever heard in my life so we can…!”
Q. And did he behave himself?
Adam McKay: He did. At one point he was next to me and he was working on the songs, and he was like: “I can’t get this title right with this.” And I actually suggested some rhymes. I’m actually a big hip-hop fan. But there’s no way I should be suggesting rhymes to Kanye West! He humoured me. I’m sure they were horrible. But that was pretty cool.
Q. Is the soundtrack all your choices?
Adam McKay: Well, some of them are clearly…. Muskrat Love is not a song I’m driving around listening to in my car but it’s certainly funny to play it over a vicious car accident. But it was a very hard time period to find songs from. It’s really picked over. Our last screening that we did of the movie a week before we locked, Paul Thomas Anderson actually came with Maya Rudolph and I said to him: “You son of a bitch, you used every good song from ’79 and ’80 in Boogie Nights.” And he was like: “Ha ha ha!” And I was like: “No, I’m not kidding you. You really did!” So, we had 3 or 400 songs we were sifting through, that if you heard them on the radio you’d get a little excited because you’d forgotten about it. We were happy ultimately. We feel like we got a good bucket-full of songs that still have some life in them. So, it was fun to do.
Q. How was directing Harrison Ford?
Adam McKay: The second day was Harrison Ford and we were terrified. I had to come in and set up the shot and I was like: “Judd [Apatow] can you please go talk to Harrison Ford?”
Judd Apatow: And keep him busy for the next couple of hours while we light… [laughs] But he was very, very sweet and a hilarious guy. You forget that Star Wars was funny because of him. And I think he was very involved in a lot of the writing of what he did in Star Wars because once he wasn’t in Star Wars, Star Wars was not humorous. You know, Raiders of The Lost Ark was really funny, so he came in…
Adam McKay: With Harrison Ford you had the classic Star Wars, without him you had Jar-Jar Binks.
Q. Do you get intimidated by people like him?
Adam McKay: Just because we’re geeks and idiots, that’s all it is. The 11-year-old in me still views him as Indiana Jones. You would think a grown man with two kids would to have that reaction but instantly it comes out when you meet him. And he’s very kind of quiet and kind of slow, so it is kind of intimidating when he’s around you.
Q. Does he make you feel manic by comparison?
Judd Apatow: We like people who are much needier.
Adam McKay: We’re neurotic, needy people, so to have someone around you that’s not needy at all… it’s hard. It makes you kind of want to shake them and say: “Where’s your vulnerability?” But he doesn’t have any [laughs].
Q. So what makes Will Ferrell special?
Adam McKay: Well funny you should say that, I actually think one of the things that Will has is that he’s not a particularly needy guy. He’s a pretty healthy guy. He doesn’t try and make people laugh so they like him; he likes to make people laugh in more of a pranking kind of sense. He likes to laugh and that’s more where his comedy comes out of. I think he’s unique in that sense. He has no problem with as scene not working. When we were doing Saturday Night Live together, there’d be a scene bombing and he would actually slow down and make the audience have to deal with it more, whereas every other cats member would speed up to try and get out of the scene. But Ferrell was famous for slowing down.
Q. We asked Will about the dinner party scene. How did you go about achieving the right balance, so as not to come over offensive?
Adam McKay: Well, this was a case where Judd was super helpful because… and I think he’s pretty above board about it, but Judd’s a pretty well known racist. So, he was able to coach us on it [laughs]. No, that was a fun scene to shoot. All the actors are all from Atlanta. They have great actors down there and they all got the joke – that the joke is Ron Burgundy is a moron who doesn’t understand anything about race, so is going to say the wrongest stuff possible from his idiotic point of view. So, the actors kept laughing through the scene and, if anything that was one of the issues with it – that they all kept laughing.
Q. Is that a new thing, that you’re able to take that kind of material and make it funny?
Adam McKay: Is it a new thing? It might be. I hadn’t really thought about it. There certainly was a time where to even talk about the subject of race would be super touchy. I remember on Saturday Night Live there was a story where Texaco oil had this whole thing where they had brought out a water melon cake for her, because she was African American, and there was all these memos. So, we wrote a comedy sketch for Saturday Night Live where the CEO of Texaco said: “We’ve solved our problem with race. We’re going to fire all the black people at the company!” The audience was dead silent. They were afraid that if they laughed, they would be seen as racist. But we were like: “No, we’re making a joke about how racist they are!” That was a while ago, like 1996 or something. So, I think there’s been a little bit of a change too. Tarantino did it a little bit in Django Unchained, where you hate the racist guys and you laugh at how stupid they are. So, that was the game here. And we haven’t had any problem with it at all. People always get that the joke is on Ron Burgundy.
Judd Apatow: I think The Daily Show and Colbert have also done a lot to have young people understand that the most un-cool thing in the world is to be racist or homophobic. I think it’s changed people politically, especially when it comes to gay marriage and things like that, to just humiliate people who have that kind of prejudice.
Adam McKay: There is still a lot of racism, of course, but certainly no one’s mildly pretending even that it’s cool.
Q. Did you ever think about putting a call into Steven Spielberg for advice on how to work with a mechanical shark?
Adam McKay: I called him and I called him. He wouldn’t answer. Judd jumped over his back fence and ran through his patio and waved and someone stun gunned him.
Judd Apatow: He visited the editing bay when we were editing the first Anchorman because DreamWorks was opposite. We shot a lot of footage just for the trailers one day, such as “Scotch, Scotch, Scotch, I love my Scotch, down in my belly!” That was in the trailer and it wasn’t in the movie. But he came in and said: “You’ve got to find a way to jam that in the movie because that’s one of the funniest things!” And then we did, right?
Adam McKay: He was really nice, really gracious. He was cutting The Terminal across the hallway from us. So, you’d see all this film over there and it was really cool.
Q. The film touches down on the dumbing down on TV news. But how do you view comedy. Has that been dumbed down or is it a golden era?
Judd Apatow: I think it’s miraculous what’s happening in comedy right now. You know, when we were kids there was Saturday Night Live and that was kind of it. There were certainly good years where All In The Family was on at the same time as MASH. But it was always two or three things…
Adam McKay: And then occasionally, once a month, there would be a good comic on Johnny Carson. And that was really it. And then Monty Python was huge for us. When we first saw Monty Python, we were like “holy crap!”
Judd Apatow: But we got that years later. Owen Wilson’s dad is the man who brought Monty Python to America. He was a public broadcaster in Texas and he was the first person to say ‘let’s air this in America’. But now there’s so much comedy in the United States, between what happens on Funny Or Die or Cartoon Network or Internet videos. You can’t keep up with how much is out there.
Adam McKay: The amount of good comedy movies that come out. Like Judd said, when I was a kid there would be a good comedy every three years. You’d get Caddyshack and then two years would go by and you’d get Stripes or whatever. There weren’t that many good comedies and I feel like just this past year we had This Is The End, you had The Heat with Melissa McCarthy, where she’s screamingly funny, and four other comedies – We’re The Millers and a bunch of other ones. It’s very rare where you see this consistent… every year there are two or three comedies that actually make you laugh out loud. I also think that with the levels of corruption and fraud going on in the world, any time there’s that stuff going on, comedies tend to get funnier. I actually think it’s one of the greatest periods for comedy. You’d have to go back to the ‘30s or ‘40s for the sheer volume of comedies that we’re seeing and the quality mixed with them.
Q. Still, this is a very critique on the dumbing down of the news. Was that an important part of the story for you?
Adam McKay: Oh yeah, that was part of the idea of the 24-hour news angle. When we thought about that we thought there would be a lot to dig into there. You guys don’t have it quite so bad over here as we do in the States. We essentially have no functioning broadcast news. There’s no consistent news whatsoever. It’s all for ratings and all for entertainment. There’s still half of our country that thinks Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. It’s actually crazy in our country – 35% of our country thinks our president is from Kenya. No one knows anything in our country anymore. At least you guys still have the BBC and The Guardian and some real news sources over here. But also, when we realised we could blame the whole thing on Ron Burgundy – that just made us laugh!
Q. I gather Will Ferrell was a trooper when it came to shooting the scene in the sea, going in with jellyfish?
Adam McKay: There were some tough currents that day. And when we were done shooting the scene, he came up on the dock and I asked someone: “Why wasn’t the dog in the water?” And they said: “Oh, you can’t put the dog in the water, there are sharks in that water.” But I was like: “Will was just in that water, what are you talking about?” And they said: “Well, they just told us you can’t put the dog in it!” [Laughs] And they told us that about a month before they had pulled a 13-foot Hammerhead shark right out of the area that we were swimming in. They claimed that it wasn’t mating season at that point! That’s what they said. But Will’s a champion.
Q. A lot of people think of the ‘70s as a golden era for film and the ‘80s as a bit of a wasteland. Do you agree?
Adam McKay: Well, there were good comedies in the early ‘80s.
Judd Apatow: All the John Hughes movies were in the ‘80s. Risky Business…
Adam McKay: I think The Blues Brothers was ‘80s. I think that’s finally when Saturday Night Live started to sort of bear fruit with movies, because then also Eddie Murphy… didn’t he do 48 Hours and Trading Places. There were a lot of good comedies in the ‘80s. But I think the ‘70s were definitely better for dramas and thrillers… like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, there were some amazing movies from the ‘70s, kind of like those Altman movies, the Cassavettes’ movies. But as far as really funny comedies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… there were a lot of good comedies.
Q. Is it true that you’re potentially doing to do a Step Brothers sequel?
Adam McKay: I think we were talking about it but now that we’ve done Anchorman 2 I don’t think we would. We don’t like doing too many sequels. It starts to feel a little sweaty at a certain point. For sure, we definitely want to see John C Reilly and Will Ferrell back together, because whether it’s Step Brothers or Talladega Nights, those two guys are just a great comedy team. So, we are developing some ideas and will hopefully get them going.
Q. Is there a lot of pressure to do sequels?
Judd Apatow: Well, I like sequels because… I liked the first episode of The Sopranos and I’m glad there’s another 85. You might never top it. But when you work on TV, you have to keep going. When we do Girls, we just have to do the next one and we know a lot of them have been good and that’s just what it is. I like to see where characters wind up. There’s a financial pressure because they [the studios] just think it’s an easier sell, because now everyone knows who it is. Sometimes you just have a great idea, but if you don’t have a great idea then you shouldn’t do it. That’s the basic rule: if you get inspired, then do it; but you shouldn’t do it just because they’re offering you money.
Q. So, when can we expect Anchorman 3 then?
Adam McKay: [Laughs] We’ll let you guys demand that. I like the way this one went down, that it was years of people saying, “where is it, where is it?” And then we actually happened to have a decent idea. I think we’ll do the same thing for this. We’ll kind of let it marinate for a couple of years and see if it feels desperate or if it actually feels exciting.
Q. It would be good to see them in the ‘90s…
Adam McKay: Honestly, that could happen.
Q. Why do you think people wanted to see these characters again? Is it because they’re non-PC?
Judd Apatow: It’s like The Marx Brothers, every once in a while you get some characters you love and it’s hard to describe why. But something magical has happened. We’ve made a lot of movies and there are times when you feel like, “oh, it’s happening!” When we did Superbad, we saw Michael Cera and Jonah Hill together and we instantly felt that something amazing was going to happen. I think you feel that with these four guys and you just want to spend more time with them.
Adam McKay: There’s some of the non-PC thing. I think you’re laughing at how awful they are. But also with how complicated the world is, there’s that kind of misguided nostalgia we all have, so it’s mixture of both – oh my God, they’re such idiots but at the same time it was fun when you didn’t have to care about anything. So, I think it’s this odd hybrid of nostalgia and cautionary sort of joy that people have when they watch it. I also think it’s rare that you get an ensemble of people that come together so well – Ghostbusters had it too, where it was like four really funny guys. You don’t see that a lot in comedy. It’s usually one funny guy, or two. Bridesmaids had that too, it had a really strong ensemble, and that’s what I loved about that movie.