Will Ferrell slaps on the sideburns and returns to the ‘70s
with ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’
can pinpoint the moment in the early ‘90s when he
knew he needed to quit being a TV sportscaster.
“At your core, you have to have that thing where you want
to go and get a big interview – and I was just too
lazy to do that,” he recalls. “I worked for a
little, local cable station – a weekly broadcast – and
I remember a very significant moment: We were sitting there – this
was when the Rams were still in Los Angeles and played at
Anaheim Stadium – and the producer of the show asked, ‘Who
wants to go and interview John Robinson, the head coach?’ And
I just sat there, daydreaming.
“Later, I thought, ‘Boy, that’s not a good testament
to my journalistic drive.’ And as we did our little
broadcast, what occurred to me was: I enjoyed the performance
of it – I didn’t really care that I was uncovering
So there may be more than a little
Will Ferrell in Ron Burgundy – the
1970s newsreader he plays in “Anchorman” (which
Ferrell also co-wrote with Adam McKay). “Ron Burgundy’s
loved, even though he’s a terrible journalist,” Ferrell
says, laughing. “Growing up in the ‘70s, before
cable, your local newsman was king. ... They would go on
the weekends to the grand opening of a supermarket, and 10,000
people would show up. In fact, we start the movie with a
Bill Curtis voiceover: ‘There was a time … before
cable … when the news was read by men … and there
was one man … who was considered a god. ...’”
We talked with Ferrell about “Anchorman,” his
sports background, his frequent “Saturday Night Live” target
(and “Inside the Actors Studio” host) James Lipton,
working opposite Robert Duvall and Mike Ditka, and much more.
I read a fascinating profile of James Lipton once that
asserted that he is, in fact,
the most effective celebrity
interviewer in the world – he’ll get people like
Ed Harris to cry – precisely because he has this incredible
combination of being so prepared and kissing so much fanny.
WILL FERRELL: [laughs]
Did he say this himself?
Well – and I say this with complete and total love – he
might be one of the most affected people I’ve ever
met. In fact, he invited me – and excuse me if you
already know this – to come and interview him, as him,
for his 100th show. So he totally has a sense of humor about
the fact that we would do him on the show.
So we went down there [to do the taping] – and it takes
me about 20 minutes, 30 minutes to get into the hair and
makeup. And I thought he would come in and say “Hi” and, “Well,
I’ll be in my office; when you guys are ready, we’ll
get out on the stage.” Well, he came and said “Hi” – and
then he stood over my shoulder while I got into the bald
cap and the beard, for a half-hour, saying stuff like, “The
transformation has begun ... Oh … my ... GOD. … I’m
looking at you looking at me looking at me.” I remember
thinking to myself, “I actually under-play him.”
But yes – he is incredibly prepared. He spends weeks
and weeks and weeks on those [interviews]. And now he wants
me to come on [“Inside The Actor’s Studio”].
... But I just can’t sit there in earnest and talk
Chris Rock has stressed that a comic
really needs to get involved in the writing of his film
projects. He says it’s
essential to career longevity.
Yeah. Sometimes you’re greatly involved – as
was the case with “Anchorman,” where you just
write the script full-out. But you kind of have to get in
there and get your voice heard – unless there’s
someone who really gets you. That’s what happened with “Old
School.” I really benefited from Todd Phillips – he
kind of captured what I do comedically in a way that no one
had captured it up to that date. And I had no involvement
in the development of that script.
I’m hearing “Anchorman” is going to be
a monster of a DVD – because there are hours of improvisational
material that didn’t make the theatrical cut.
Yeah. We essentially found ourselves – just shooting
the script – with a 3-hour cut of the movie. Which
is not so uncommon: If you’re doing it right, you want
to have that much to choose from. They might put all the
extra stuff on the DVD – or at one point they were
just gonna run the 3-hour cut on there, as well.
Special Extended Edition.”
Yeah. We had a whole other plotline we ended up shelving.
It must just kill you when you have to get rid of that stuff.
Yes and no. It kills you for the fact that your friends – who
you had come out and play those parts in the movie – you’ve
got to call them up and say, “You’re not in the
movie any more.” But then, when you throw it up in
front of an audience and it’s not really working. ...
Do you make those calls yourself?
Luckily I don’t have to. Between myself and Adam McKay
and [producer] Judd Apatow, we all land on the same page.
The Internet’s Onion AV Club has mentioned your, and
I quote, “sometimes-spooky level of glassy-eyed conviction.” And
looking over your body of work, it’s true – you
have mastered the deeply terrifying stare that says, “I
really mean what I’m saying.” How does one perfect
such a look? You’ve said it may have roots in the mindset
of field-goal kicker. ...
Oddly enough, it does. [laughs] I’ve always been, for
some reason, someone with great focus and concentration.
And that’s all field-goal kicking was – going
off to the side of the field by myself and kicking these
balls over and over and blocking everything out. I think
I kind of fall back on that – and am able to commit
to what I’m doing wholeheartedly. Which is the fun
of it, you know?
But “glassy-eyed conviction.” That’s good.
That was always kind of my first love, sports.
Do you think you would have stayed in
sportscasting if you’d
gotten a break at one of the “funnier” cable
sports shows – like “SportsCenter”?
It’s interesting to think about – because when
I was in college, the proliferation of the “funny” sportscast
hadn’t come about yet. It wasn’t until “SportsCenter” started
loosening it up and adding some humor. ... I don’t
know. Even though entertainment has fused itself more into
sport, I still think I probably would have veered into trying
my hand at comedy.
Is “Kicking and Screaming” [in which Ferrell
and Robert Duvall play rival kids’ soccer coaches]
going to draw on your sports background?
Yeah, yeah. We’ve been out on a soccer field for six
weeks now. Basically, my youth – which was six or seven
years of playing soccer – was kind of the genesis for “Kicking
and Screaming.” That and the fact that kids’ soccer
is still so wildly popular in suburbia; we thought, “God,
that’s such a fertile ground to do a PG-13 comedy.
Mix the insane parents in there and see if we can’t
have a ‘Bad News Bears’ feel to it.”
What did you learn from working with an old-school
minimalist like Robert Duvall?
It’s been amazing – because he’s definitely “less
is more,” and as you might have guessed, I go to a … heightened
place. [laughs] He’s a great contrast to all the stuff
We got Mike Ditka to come and play himself.
When I start coaching [kids’ soccer] against Duvall, I recruit Ditka,
who’s now retired, to be my assistant coach. And as
good as Duvall has been? Ditka has been phenomenal. He’s
really quick on his feet – and he’s improvised
some things that are just hilarious. He definitely lives
up to his persona. It’s been funny watching him deal
with 10- and 12-year-old soccer players.
What’s the secret to doing a really
good Neil Diamond impression?
A lot of liquor. I seem to specialize in doing
impressions where there’s no need or reason for them to be done.
[laughs] I always just loved how kind of banal his songs
were. It was just so much fun to take this benign pop symbol
and give him a background that’s insane.
He actually came on my last [“Saturday Night Live”]
show. Someone said, “Neil Diamond’s in town,
and he wants to come on and sing with you.” And he
was totally nice. [pause] But he got off the beat. It was
like a train wreck, in a way.
Now, you’ve been cast as Darren opposite Nicole Kidman
in “Bewitched.” What do you think it is about
ad-man Darren Stevens that fascinates the fabulous Samantha?
You know, I don’t think that I can answer that, because
we’re kind of doing a different “Bewitched” – and
that’s what attracted me in the first place. I wouldn’t
be doing this if it were just a straight-ahead movie version
of the TV show, because I’m not necessarily drawn to
that kind of film.
What we’re doing is basically: I’m a film actor
who’s seen better days, and I’m coaxed into doing
a remake of the TV show “Bewitched.” And then
we need to find someone to play Samantha – played by
Nicole Kidman – who is a real witch, immortal. It is
essentially the same relationship, but we’re kind of
bending it on its ear a little bit – which will either
be appreciated or will end up being too clever for our own
Let’s talk about “Anchorman.” Do you worry,
so close on the heels of “Starsky & Hutch,” about
making another ‘70s film?
You know what? We did. But I think, now, there’s so
much distance between the films that I don’t think
you’ll necessarily draw a correlation. And besides,
they’re just radically different films – different
comedic styles, even.
Is “Anchorman” set somewhere
between 1960 and 1980 because that was the era of Ted Baxter?
Yeah, it kind of is – but it wasn’t consciously a choice. If anything,
it’s more based on the story of Jessica Savitch being the first woman
newscaster paired with a man for the first time.
Although I assume your Jessica Savitch
won’t be having
any drug-fueled on-air meltdowns.
Exactly. Maybe that’ll be the sequel.
“Anchorman” reunites you with David Koechner – perhaps
your most frequent sketch partner in your first season of “SNL.” Did
you find it unnerving when David and Nancy Walls weren’t
back for your second “SNL” season?
That was a really awful thing to go through.
In fact, Cheri Oteri and I tried to lobby [on their behalf].
We of course
had no power, and no one cared what we had to say. We tried
to write a letter, we tried to do all these things. Because
it was really odd – it felt like, [my] first year of
the show, that it was a really solid cast that had gotten
the show back on its feet again. We were surprised that any
changes had to be made. And Nancy and David were so beloved
Which is why it was such a special experience
last summer [on “Anchorman”] – it’s the most
I’ve gotten to work with David in a consistent way
since the show.
There is, of course, the famous story
about you doing some guerilla filmmaking in New York with
Jon] Favreau, in the elf costume. Did you ever consider going
out in public in the full-on ‘70s-chauvinist disguise
Adam and I wanted to do a little barnstorming
tour where I just show up on local affiliates as Ron Burgundy.
think the “Today” show is going to allow Ron
Burgundy to read a couple of news stories. I think we’re
gonna write some fictitious fluff pieces – like, I
don’t know, that we’ve found aliens on the planet.
We’ll think of something.
We wanted to do a 6-city tour where he’d just show
up on the local news. People would be like, “Is this
for real? Who is this guy? Is he brand-new?” And not
tip it in any way. But it would be tough to control, and
you’d have to find out if the news stations were into
And, as I’m sure you know, people on the second tier
of the TV-news business aren’t that far from Ron Burgundy,
in terms of the fiefdoms. ...
Sure. That was a big part of the movie for
me. Adam and I, in doing our research on the script, interviewed
prominent local guys – this guy in Philadelphia, Larry
Kane; local guys in New York, Chuck Scarborough and Bill
Beutel; and then a guy in San Diego by the name of Jack White.
When you were doing
Alex Trebek in the “Jeopardy!” spoofs,
were you ever surprised at how integral Sean Connery became
to those sketches?
I don’t know if I was surprised – because Darrell
Hammond is arguably one of the best players to ever be on
that show, in terms of what he can do with impersonations.
It worked so well that I think it became this rule: “Sean
Connery always has to be on the panel.” And then,
from there, it developed into this feud between them.
Where are the Bill
Murrays, the Eddie Murphys, the Adam Sandlers of “Fridays” or “Mad TV”? What’s
so special about your show?
[laughs] Yeah, that’s a good question:
Why does “SNL” seem
to be the one place where people seem to go on from?
not sure. I guess next year will be the 30th year.
... And it’s still the marquee show .