Q&A: Director Adam McKay Talks ‘Anchorman 2’, Casting Memories & Kanye

By Zac Shull  |  12/10/2013

Adam McKay and Will Ferrell

Do legends ever die? Do sagas ever end? Who cares, Will Ferrell is back as Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

With the film hitting theaters next Wednesday (Dec. 18), we got an advance look via a pre-screener, which was hilarious... all thanks to the direction of writer/executive producer and director Adam McKay, in collaboration with Ferrell of course. Many of you might not know who Adam is, but studies show 60 percent of the time his jokes make you laugh every time.

McKay sat with us at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Philly, offering up a memorable interview about all things Anchorman, from casting stories about how each actor was original picked, who auditioned and didn't make the cut, how Kanye West got involved, will there be a Step Brothers 2 and Barack Obama the movie star?

What was the process of making a sequel?

On this one, we definitely learned a couple extra moves on the guitar. We definitely learned some new skills that we applied to this movie. We wanted to continue the story and not re-tell the old one.

I noticed how you took the slow motion effect from The Other Guys and put it in this movie.

That was something we discovered, a new way to make people laugh. We weren't going to put it in The Other Guys unless it was funny. I didn't want to just do it because it looked cool. When we saw how cool and funny it was, we had to do it even bigger for Anchorman 2. Little did we know that the movie Gravity was being made (laughs), which they did 1,000 times better than us.

It was such a crazy combination of things, like the bowling ball and the scorpion. How did you come up with these things, did you pick out of a hat?

You are not that far off. Will and I just said, "What are the worse things you can be in a car accident with?" We thought of like six combinations, you know? Throwing stars and weasels or straight razors and darts. We thought bowling balls and scorpions would be the most lethal combination.

You had the hot grease in the movie too with the deep fryer (laughs).

That is by far the worst one out of all of them. This line didn't get a lot of laughs, but I loved it when Will says, "The best thing I ever did was put a deep fryer in this RV." The hot grease made me laugh the hardest.

What do you think is the key to your collaboration with Will Ferrell? Did you guys hit it off right away, and how has your relationship evolved over the years?

The key of the collaboration is Will is the opposite of the drama queen. Neither one of us are really like that, nor are we dramatic at all. We would laugh when we would work with other people on comedies and they get all upset and start yelling. We would say why? God bless them, but go be a stockbroker or something ... well maybe not. God bless stockbrokers (laughs). We share the same philosophy that we should be enjoying our work on the set. We aren't making Apocalypse Now, where it could be a little tense.

The way it has evolved... because the shorthand gets shorter and shorter where the level of trust is so huge. We don't check in on each other, we just know things get done. We might talk through text, but I will sit in the edit room for five months and he will pop in once in while. He will usually see the first cut and come back with some notes. We have such a similar sense of humor and we grew up on the same things like Steve Martin, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and that kind of stuff. That might be the biggest thing of all -- we have the same humor. We love out of control movies with pranks and where anything can happen. That feeling of being in the movie theater and you don't know what will happen next is the best. That happened to me when I saw Gravity (laughs). I was like, "Is she going to hit the satellite?" That's the feeling that we want in our movies.

Is that what you had in mind for the big battle at the end of Anchorman 2?

Yea, we had a lengthy discussion of what we wanted to bring back. We know one of the pitfalls of sequels is bringing back too many things from the past movie. We wanted to make sure the story progresses and new things happen, but there were a few things we had to bring back. One was we had a condom closet in this movie, instead of a cologne closet. The gang fight, we kept coming back to, but it had to be surprising. One of the reasons why it worked in the first one is because it was so unexpected and you didn't know what was going to happen. That's why in this movie, we put it in such a random place. One second Will is walking with his son and then sh** goes down.

How did you get all the cameos in this one? Were they all fans of the original?

The Kirsten Dunst cameo came about because I had worked with her before. She heard we were doing the sequel and she wanted to be in it. We told her we didn't really have anything for her, but she can be this lady who blows a trumpet. Right away she said, "Great I'll do it". And, we were like "Really? You are going to fly into Atlanta and stand on a building?" She said yea. Most of the cameos in the film are friends of mine such as (spoilers)...

And Kanye West?

Believe it or not, Kanye and I were emailing each other about working on something else together. I heard that he was a crazy Anchorman fan, so I asked him if he wanted to be in this and he wrote back, "F*** yea" (laughter).

Who didn't you get in the movie that you wanted to?

We honestly got most of our wish list, but we did try for Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Barak Obama. Right away Bill Clinton's agent said no. Oprah went back and forth with it, but said no too. The craziest thing is we were going back and forth with our connection in the White House, and they said he might do it. I don't know how serious they were, but if he did it, there is something wrong with that White House. I mean, we wanted him to do it, but there is no way it should happen.

Did you have any dialogue for him?

Not exactly, we wanted him to be the host of CSPAN. It would have been the most boring channel in the world. A few weeks after we asked him, the whole Syria gas thing happened, so he had more important matters to attend to.

How did you come up with the idea of Ron Burgundy? I worked at a news station on air for years and was like, "The movie is parody, but it's so real (laughs)."

Will saw a documentary about this news anchor from Philly, actually named Jessica Savage who was the first female news anchor. There was this other legendary anchor from Philly named Mort Crim, who was in it as well. That's what kind of sparked it, because we were laughing at this guy that sounded so legitimate and wise, being a sh** (laughs). We thought about it and no one has done a comedy about the news; there was just some bad dramas. That style and that world, and it's such an old world -- it has a bizarre style to it. Then, we started hearing stories from friends about news anchors in different cities. In Pittsburgh, this guy told us about a bunch of news anchors getting wasted at pool parties and jumping in the pool in their underwear. Back then, they only had three TV channels. I think now we have 3,000. The more we looked into that era, and the more Will did the voice, we were like "Yea, let's do it."

When you were casting the first movie, how did you pick the newscast? What was it about them that meshed so well?

I think Will and I are really great at casting. We auditioned a lot of people, but it came down to these three guys. We had Steve Carell come in and audition, and it came down to him and one other actor. I worked with Steve in Chicago and he was always funny. He's a technician, he never misses. For the role of Champ, we just knew we had to get David Koechner because he is Champ Kind. David was actually a bit more unknown back then and we showed the studio his audition tape and they were all for it.

In the case of Paul Rudd, things were a little bit different, because at first 25 different studios said no to financing the movie. The movie was dead in the water, so we started working on something else. Paul actually called me and said how he loved the script and wanted to meet with me to talk about it. I didn't really know Paul at the time, but I met him and I told him how the project was dead. He said he didn't care and it was the funniest script he ever heard. Later on, we had him audition and I remember saying, "Well, I hope he's good" (laughs). Then it actually came down to Paul and Bob Odenkirk (Sal from Breaking Bad). It turns out that Paul was a great comic; we knew he was good, but he blew us away. He's a great writer too. He and I wrote the "60 percent of the time, it works all the time" line.

For Christina Applegate, she actually beat out Amy Adams, Leslie Mann and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Amy, at the time, looked like she was only 18. We couldn't cast her, even though she's awesome. Maggie; I said is going to win an Academy Awards some day and you don't put Meryl Streep in a comedy (laughs). Leslie Mann is great as well, but she didn't have that 50's wholesome thing that we wanted and Applegate had all that. We picked the perfect choices for this movie, which doesn't always happen. We had a decent budget and the studio wasn't pressuring us, so that helped us as well.

Who else auditioned for Carell's role?

You want to hear the craziest thing? Early on the script is out there, we get the green light and people start reading it. I get a phone call and I hear that James Spader is obsessed with Brick's character. I say "James Spader? That is insane, will he come in and read?" They say, "No, he's not going to come in and read; he's James Spader!" James Spader and I end up talking and he called it about the Brick character. He thought it was one of the funniest character he ever read and we weren't even sure if it was going to work. He literally said, "I will do anything to get this role." Eventually, we were just like, "This is James Spader; he is too good for this role." But, he was right about how funny it was. The movie studio even questioned us and said how bizarre Brick is, and it wouldn't work. I felt bad we didn't cast James, but Carell was so good.

The catch phrases in this movie are so funny, like when Drake talks about a butt being like the North Star. How do you guys come up with this stuff?

We actually did 9 or 10 takes on that, and we kept looking for that best line. It's kind of hard to come up with ass jokes just like that (laughs). At the end of the day ,we were packing up and someone said something like the line in the movie. We ended up re-writing the line and going back and re-shooting the scene just for that line. The way you get that kind of stuff is you have to keep trying and trying.

So it's like improv?

Yea, yea... sometimes I will collaborate before doing a shot and we will add to a line or take it away things like that.

Being that you are such a fan of comedy, who is your idol or someone ideally, you would like to work with the most when you were growing up?

When I was young, in 5th or 6th grade, I would say John Cleese and Monty Python. I actually got to meet him at Saturday Night Live one time and I was not cool at all (laughs).

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is in theaters December 18.