Adam McKay has turned epic filmmaker. His new movie is “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” which follows 1970s hero Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) into the early 1980s at the dawn of 24-hour cable news.
“It is big,” he says of the sequel to the 2004 hit. “You can picture Burt Lancaster playing the lead. It’s by far the longest movie we’ve ever done. There are songs and fights, and you go to all these different cities. It’s just got this scope to it.”
Part of the movie’s epic appeal is its selection of cameos. Not to give any of them away, but McKay says he got everyone on his wish list, except two.
“There were two crazy ones we went for — Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama — and for about five minutes they looked like possibilities,” McKay says.
A veteran writer and director from “Saturday Night Live” and co-creator of the hugely popular Funny or Die website, McKay co-writes all of his movies — including “Talledega Nights,” “Step Brothers” and “The Other Guys” — with Ferrell.
Their method of creating comedy involves tossing ideas back and forth and improvisation. He cites “Anchorman 2’s” bizarre romantic subplot with weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and his new love, Chani (Kristen Wiig), as an example of the method in action.
“I like those scenes a lot because they’re different from the entire movie,” McKay says. “All of a sudden you’re in like second-and-a-half-gear. You’re not even in third gear. We ended up leaving some lines in that didn’t even get laughs from the crowd.”
In making his comedies, McKay says the point at which he feels most out of his element — “How did I get let into this room?” — is when he knows he’s in the right place: “That’s good. That is the way it should feel. When you do comedy, you’re purposely doing stuff that’s not legit.”
The concept extends to the movie’s strange opening shot: a tuxedo-clad Burgundy in the ocean, being attacked by a shark.
“This was a topic of great discussion,” he says. Though the film tested well before an audience without the scene, he and Ferrell could not stop laughing about the shark.
“It’s because you haven’t seen this character in nine years, and what’s your first view?”
That’s the key to McKay and Ferrell’s comedies. They never try to make the audience laugh, only themselves.
“You know if you’re doing that, you’re at least in the ballpark,” McKay says.
IF YOU GO
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Starring Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Meagan Good
Written by Adam McKay, Will Ferrell
Directed by Adam McKay
Running time 1 hour, 59 minutes