Way back in the 2004 film Anchorman, Ron Burgundy was a local TV-news host in '70s San Diego. Fast-forward to this year's sequel, and that epic haircut is national news: Set in 1980, Anchorman 2 follows Will Ferrell's vain, shallow character as he graduates to a CNN-style cable news network.
"We felt like we needed to jack up the stakes," director and co-writer Adam McKay tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It was just perfect timing that, in '79, '80 — that's when you saw 24-hour news come about. You saw ESPN, MTV, the whole broadcast media [universe] completely changed. And anytime you say the word 'change,' that's a fun world to throw Ron Burgundy into. You know he's not going to handle change well."
Ferrell and McKay, who co-wrote both Anchorman films, started working together on Saturday Night Live. They've collaborated on the films Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, among others, and co-founded the website Funny or Die. They joined Fresh Air to talk about why the sequel took so long — and the meaning of that mustache.
On doing a sequel
McKay: For years we never even thought about doing a sequel, and people kept asking us. And rather than it getting quieter, it actually got louder. About five or six years after the first movie, Will and I actually said, "Hey, could we actually pull off a sequel?" And then from that point, it took another three years to get the budget together and do all that stuff. Yeah, this was really a movie that fans asked for.
Ferrell: What's so funny about the original movie was that it literally, it had a modest opening, it was a modest hit, but it just kept growing in popularity through DVDs and cable to the point where we just couldn't ignore the fans. And we thought, "Why should we? This would be fun."
On getting into character
Ferrell: Once I start growing the mustache, you put the wig on, you start wearing the clothes, I end up standing a certain way because Ron Burgundy is so rigid and moves like slightly robotic. I found myself holding my shoulders and neck a certain way because he's someone who — even though he's very confident, in a way, he's still wildly insecure and not comfortable in his own skin. So all of those things I kind of pull together, and then he's back and we go from there.
On the Ron Burgundy mustache
Ferrell: The mustache is real even though people think it looks fake. People think the hair looks real, but that's a wig. And they think the mustache is fake, but the mustache is real.
There is a lot of maintenance when it comes to facial hair. It gets in the way of eating. My children kept asking me when the movie was [going to be] over, "so you can shave your scratchy face." It's an encumbrance to a lot of things, so I have a lot of respect for those who lived in the 1800s when facial hair was mandatory. It's fun. It makes the character. It's such a vestige of television news from the '70s, and now you hardly see it, so it's a very distinctive thing.
McKay: That would be our best goal as a result of this movie, Terry, if we could start seeing mustaches return to news anchors. I want to see Brian Williams with no irony wearing a mustache.
On what motivated them to write Anchorman
McKay: We just love the ensemble comedy where you don't know where the jokes are coming from, and the idea of a dense movie that you want to watch over and over again. ... When we wrote the first Anchorman we talked about those old ensemble comedies like Stripes and Animal House and Caddyshack, and how no one was doing those anymore, so the idea of like four funny guys in the lead with Christina Applegate was fun for us.
Ferrell: I think when Adam and I met on Saturday Night Live and started working together, you're surrounded by writers who have all these rules, and I think when we decided we would write a feature one day, we were really rebelling against all these rules — the three-act structure and how you can't do this and this has to be set up in a certain way. The original Anchorman was kind of a function of wanting to break through all of that. Why can't you have a scene break into an animated sequence?
On why Ron Burgundy plays jazz flute
Ferrell: It's just incongruous. It makes no sense in terms of — it's not a manly instrument, and he thinks it's so sexy and yet, in a weird way, the way we staged it in the first one, he kind of makes it look cool.
McKay: We were talking about [how] back in the '60s and '70s, I feel like men had different hobbies. A lot of these anchormen are licensed pilots. And we were just talking about how back in the day ... they would have those Chinese pinball machines people would have in their house. Some people were into making bird houses. So it felt oddly appropriate, as strange as it was. It felt like, "This guy might actually play jazz flute."