Adam McKay

Anchorman 2 recent premiered in Sydney and I caught up with director Adam McKay to chat about it. You can download a short audio extract from the interview by clicking here and my review of Anchorman 2 can be found here.

Matt:  The original film seems to have developed a cult following since its release back in 2004.  Were there always plans for a sequel?

Adam:  We actually never did plan for one.  We moved on and made a bunch of other movies but we kept hearing fans say “where’s number 2?” and so it definitely put the idea in our head.

Matt:  Where did the idea of the character first come from?

Adam:  Will and I were looking to write another script together.  We had written one that we couldn’t get made and we figured we’re try another one.  Farrell had seen an interview with an anchor man from Philadelphia named Mort Crim who was talking about working with the first female anchor and how guys back then were so misogynistic.  It made us laugh to hear this anchor man with this authoritative voice talking about being a bit of a brat.  That was it.  The more we thought about it and that bygone era of news, when there were only a couple of TV channels, seemed really interesting to us.

Matt:  You’ve worked a lot over the years with Will Ferrell – not just on Anchorman but with films like Talladega Night and Step Brothers.  When did you guys first meet?

Adam:  We were both hired at Saturday Night Live on the same day.  We were all part of the same group.  I was hired as a writer and he was hired as cast.  Through the years we became friends and we’d occasionally write sketches together.  Out of that, we started writing movies together.

Matt:  I always think comedy is the hardest genre to perfect because we all have a different sense of humour and it’s pretty hard to come up with enough material to keep people laughing for two hours.  How much time goes into writing a script like Anchorman 2?

Adam:  You are constantly re-writing it.  That’s the trick.  You’re absolutely right in that you’re looking for specific comedy yet comedy that is universal enough for people to laugh at.  The first draft takes 2-3 months but it’s very messy.  From then on, we’re constantly re-writing.  All told, by the time we’re shooting, we’re working on the script for about 8-9 months.

Matt:  I’ve seen Will Ferrell pop up at live awards shows like the Oscars and the Golden Globes and I’m always amazed how he can stay in character so well when everyone around him is laughing.  Is he like that on set?  How does he do it?

Adam:  Yeah, he has pretty good dead pan but he will break on occasion.  We got him about 3 or 4 times during this movie.  Steve Carell is a tough one.  I think we only got him once on this. 

Matt:  Some of the conversations in this film are pretty random and I’m immediately thinking of the stuff between Kristen Wiig and Steve Carell.  Is there a lot of improvisation going on? 

Adam:  Oh absolutely.  We improvised so much that you could probably cut a 40 minute version of that scene.  There was tonnes of improv going on.  We knew we wanted the scene to have a “Waiting For Godot” kind of quality to it and once you’re that free and that open, you can just keep coming up with lines.  It was incredibly hard to cut it down to what it is.

Matt:  It’s nice to see an Aussie amongst your cast – Josh Lawson.  He hasn’t done a lot of work in Hollywood as yet so how did he come across your radar?

Adam:  We met Josh through a movie we worked on called The Campaign.  I worked on the script but I didn’t direct it.  He was cast in that and everyone spoke so highly of him.  We then had him do the read through for the first time we read the Anchorman 2 script out loud and he was so funny.  We weren’t going to cast him initially.  We looked at other people and I kept saying “Josh Lawson is better” and then finally we said “the heck with it, let’s cast him.”

Matt:  There are a LOT of cameos in this film.  How many strings did you have to pull to get them all involved?  I’m guessing many of them would have been working on other projects?

Adam:  It was definitely a little tricky.  The timing and the travel was the toughest part.  One of our producers, Kevin Messick, who is originally from Australia, was quite good at pulling it all together.  It also helped that people really do like the first movie.  Some actors were very excited to come.  Kanye West said “hell yeah” right away when I emailed him.   

Matt:  Now you often make a cameo in your own films but I couldn’t spot you here.  Did I miss you?

Adam:  You know, I’m just a voice over in this one.  I’m the announcer at the beginning of the Sea World scene.  This was such a tricky movie and it was so busy with so many moving parts, that I could never quite get myself on screen.

Matt:  What’s the experience like having now made the film and watching it in cinemas with packed audiences?  Are there scenes you think got more laughs / less laughs than you thought?  Or do they generally act as you might expect?

Adam:  They always react differently but it’s within the sphere of the same.  Certain scenes always play well but it was interesting last night to see certain scenes getting way bigger laughs than I’d heard before.  For example, when all the guys in the news team got perms, it got an extra big laugh.  It’s the most enjoyable part of doing this – when the movie is done and getting to see audience’s responses.  I never get tired of it.

Matt:  There’s clearly a lot of love out there for Ron Burgundy.  Do you think there’s hope for further sequels going forward?

Adam:  I’ll be curious.  Everyone is really exciting about this one but I want to wait until it’s been out for a couple of months and see how it ferments.  We’re certainly not going to rush it.  We’re not going to jamming a third one on people before we know how this one sits.  I liked the way this one came about because it was people asking for it as opposed to “let’s go make some money and quickly do a sequel”.  I want to keep that spirit with a third one if it ever eventuates.

Matt:  So what’s the plan from here?  What films are you looking to work on next?

Adam:  I have a couple of projects floating around.  We have one with Will and Kevin Hart that we’re putting together.  I wouldn’t direct it but it’s based on an idea I had.  Then I have another one with Will Smith called Uptown Saturday Night where we’re re-writing the script at the moment.  That could be a really fun one.  Denzel Washington might also be involved.  There’s another idea with Sacha Baron Cohen that we’ve been kicking around for a while so you never know.  I always like to have 3 or 4 projects out there and see which one sticks.