“It did get mentioned a lot,” Ferrell said. “ ‘Do you take your shirt off in every movie? You like to get naked all the time.’ So that is now viewed with a little more diligence. If I don’t have to do it for a scene, there’s no need to. Because,” he deadpans, “I want to save those moments.”
Ferrell stopped by the Newseum on Tuesday night on his all-consuming, kind-of-meta press tour for “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” He’s clocked far more hours as fictional newsman Ron Burgundy off-screen than he has in both “Anchorman” movies combined. Ron Burgundy has in recent weeks, among other things, read the real nightly news on North Dakota’s KX News, interviewed Peyton Manning for SportsCenter, shot 70 commercials for Dodge Durango, and announced the Olympic curling trials for the Sports Network in Canada.
Neither Ferrell nor Burgundy knows a whole lot about curling, to be honest. But ignorance has never stopped Burgundy before.
“They gave me a glossary of facts and terms, and I kind of just threw it away,” said Ferrell. “I dove into it as if I was Ron. Because if Ron Burgundy got a call to come announce the National Canadian Finals of Curling, he would say” — Ferrell steps into his Burgundy voice — “Of course! Thank you so much! This is an honor. I’ll see you Tuesday.’ Click. ‘What is curling?’ ”
Ferrell is amused by all the positive feedback the media tour has been getting. AdWeek gushed that the push is “unlike anything done before” and is “changing the way movies are marketed.”
“I keep laughing at it, because this really is an aberration,” he said. “You’re not going to see Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow going on ‘The Tonight Show.’ It’s a character that lends itself perfectly to this, but I don’t think I can think of any other characters from past movies I’ve done [who could do this] . . . I know I’m setting myself up for the next movie I do. Another studio will be like, ‘Oh, you’ll do all this crazy stuff, right?’ No, that was a one-off.”
If you didn’t already know Ferrell was capable of great acts of ridiculousness, you’d never guess it from his demeanor. It’s the end of a long day of press, and Ferrell’s still got that for-camera makeup on, his blue eyes glow-in-the-dark bright against a face caked with peachy powder. He speaks in the soft, gentle voice of someone trying not to wake the kids. His outfit — a polka-dot necktie knotted over a checked shirt, tucked into a tweed vest, topped off with a brown jacket — is about as far as one could get from Burgundy’s loud, polyester wardrobe, much of which is on display at the Newseum.
The most surreal part of the whole exhibit, said Ferrell, is to see “that we were so accurate.” Ferrell remembers the first film initially “kind of got pooh-poohed by the news world,” which dismissed the comedy as goofy fiction. And it is a little jarring to see the advertisement for the “Anchorman 2” exhibit in the Newseum lobby sandwiched between posters for the JFK assassination exhibit and “1963: Civil Rights at 50.”
While introducing Ferrell for a Q&A session, Newseum chief executive James Duff stated his hope that “Anchorman” will “draw more visitors in” to see the “more serious” exhibits on display.
Ferrell reports that a friend of his dad’s who worked in news vouched for the essential truth in “Anchorman”: “She’s said, ‘I’m telling you, I know it’s a crazy movie. But it’s the most accurate thing I’ve ever seen. That’s exactly the way news stations were.’ ”
The idea for “Anchorman,” the 2004 comedy that has become arguably the most-quoted movie of the past decade, came from a documentary Ferrell saw about Jessica Savitch, a broadcast journalist for PBS’s “Frontline” and “NBC Nightly News.” Mort Crim, Savitch’s co-anchor, “was being open and honest about the fact that he was a real chauvinist,” said Ferrell. “The thing that struck me was, here he was doing this interview” — switching to Burgundy’s tone again — “but he still kept his effective newscaster voice.”
“I just started imitating him,” said Ferrell. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to see a character . . . to see this newsperson who never let that down?”
In “Anchorman 2,” Ron is confronted with even more opportunities to be blissfully ignorant: One scene takes him to dinner with the family of his black female boss (who he happens to be sleeping with), where his racist behavior gets him punched in the face but somehow doesn’t alienate him from the audience. “Ron’s not doing it maliciously,” said Ferrell. “He’s showing, ‘Oh, I thought this was the way you were supposed to communicate with black people.’
“He can kind of get away with a lot because you can tell there’s a sweetness to the character,” he said. “He’s not a malicious person. And he ultimately will admit when he’s wrong. It may take a while. He just wants to be liked. That’s all.”
Ferrell and “Anchorman” director and co-writer Adam McKay have a nearly two- decade creative partnership (they both joined “Saturday Night Live” in 1995) that has remained nearly unchanged in its logistics. “We kind of sit in our office and just start spitballing ideas, from the most linear thought to the most outrageous. . . . In the first one, I said to Adam, ‘Should Ron play jazz flute?’ And he’s like, ‘Yes! He absolutely should.’ ”
After flirting with a bunch of other ideas — “What if Ron and the news team are selected to colonize the moon? What if Ron somehow gets involved with Manuel Noriega and gets caught up in that conflict in Panama?” — Ferrell and McKay decided to set “Anchorman 2” in 1980, at the dawn of 24-hour news. “At that time, CNN just needed bodies,” said Ferrell. “They had to have people on around the clock. You could conceivably find a guy like Ron on at two in the morning. And that’s perfect: to thrust these guys onto that stage, there’s a lot of comedic possibility.”
There is no catchphrase brainstorming session, no way of predicting which quotes will worm their way into the lexicon. “Anyone who says they can, they’re lying,” said Ferrell. “We’ve been asked that: ‘Do you sit and think of catchphrases?’ It’s so hard not to be facetious. ‘Yup, we’ve got a computer program! Yeah, we just run the numbers.’ ”
When the interminable press tour finally ends, Ferrell says he thinks he’ll miss Ron Burgundy. He’s not planning on a third “Anchorman” movie, he said, and “it’ll be a little sad” to leave this character behind. Starting a new movie from scratch is harder than it used to be, even though Ferrell is more famous than he’s ever been. “Everything’s just really kind of scrutinized on a super hyper level.”
He’s still got a few weeks left to slip into character, though, and being Ron comes naturally now. “Just put the wig and the mustache on,” Ferrell said. “And I’m good to go.”