Will Ferrell has been the king of goofball American comedy for nearly 20 years. Since his seven-year stint on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, the California-born writer-performer has starred in several of the biggest comedy movies of recent years. He’s donned glittery Spandex as ice skater Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory, searched for Santa in festive classic Elf and gone streaking after a beer bong binge in Old School.
There’s an OTT macho-ness running through many of his characters, but in person Ferrell is calm and softly spoken, pondering his answers as if he’s been asked to work out the square root of pi. So it’s hard to square the man himself with his most famous creation: bombastic news anchor Ron Burgundy.
Nine years after its release, Anchorman still has a huge following, spawning quote-along screenings and tons of merchandise (you can even sting your nostrils with ‘Sex Panther’ aftershave, if you wish). It’s this loyal following that has made Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues the most highly anticipated comedy of the year.
Anchorman 2 is the first sequel you’ve made, but not the first you’ve been offered: you turned down $29 million to make a second Elf movie. Why?
‘The script was terrible, even for $29 million. Seriously, I was in a position where that movie was not going to be good, and I would’ve been stuck in an interview situation like this where I would have had to say, “I couldn’t say no, it was $29 million,” and I don’t want to do movies for that reason.’
What was different about Anchorman 2?
‘Well, philosophically speaking, Adam [McKay, Anchorman co-writer and director] and I were generally against sequels. It didn’t interest us. But Anchorman just kept getting more and more of a cult following. And I remember seeing George Clooney or Brad Pitt doing press for the hundredth Ocean’s Eleven movie and I thought: Maybe we should do a sequel. Those guys make sequels, they don’t get criticised!’
Clooney and Pitt are dramatic actors, though, and you’ve only taken on a couple of less goofy roles. Would you like to do more serious parts?
‘Now that I haven’t done one in a while a lot of journalists say, “I’ve really liked your dramatic work, are you going to do more?” When you do one, though, the same people say, “How do you feel about those who say you’re just looking to be taken seriously?” You were just asking me why I don’t do more! So it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m constantly keeping my eyes open, but you never know if it’s the right thing.’
Can we talk about your butt? You’ve whipped it out in a few of your movies…
‘I am the Lady Gaga of comedy. Or she is the Will Ferrell of pop music.’
Do you have to work hard to keep it in shape?
‘No. It’s naturally perfect.’
Would you consider doing full-frontal?
‘I would, if the circumstance dictated it. But full-frontal’s a whole other ball game. Full-frontal’s very revealing. The most revealing!’
Ron Burgundy doesn’t get naked, but he does say a lot of inappropriate things. He’s ultimately lovable, though. Why do people warm to him?
‘He’s not hateful. He’s insecure and blustery and comes off like he’s pompous, but he’s really just constantly seeking approval. He was chauvinistic, but he’s learned not to be now. He’s not racist, but he’s ignorant and misinformed – he just doesn’t know the rules: [adopts Burgundy’s voice] “Oh, that’s not what you’re supposed to say? I beg your pardon! Thank you!” And then when he tries to fix things he makes them even worse.’
Anchorman is set in the ’70s, this sequel in the ’80s. Is there something naturally funny about that era?
‘It seems ridiculous when we look back. As I assume the 2010s will in 2040. People will be sitting in spacesuits going, “Can you believe people used to wear that?” But we didn’t set out to make a movie about that time period, it was idea-specific. The first movie’s about sexism, and the first time a woman worked with a man in the newsroom was during that era. Then 1980 is a pivotal year: the launch of CNN, of ESPN, of mainstream cable TV – the perfect place for the next chapter.’
You performed a song at the Academy Awards about comedy being snubbed by the judging panel. Should there be an Oscar for comedy?
‘No, because I don’t know if there’s an Oscar-worthy comedy every year. But in those years when there is an exceptional comedy, I just wish the governing body would be flexible enough to put it in the same category as the rest of the films.’