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Q&A: 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues' director/co-writer Adam McKay

(Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune )
December 16, 2013|Matt Pais, @mattpais | RedEye movie critic

During his time at Chicago's iO Theater in the early `90s, "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" director/co-writer Adam McKay learned the value of avoiding the first joke that comes to mind, and doing even stupid characters creatively. That philosophy has so informed the filmmaker's career ("The Other Guys," "Step Brothers") that he constantly shouts out improvised and tweaked lines while shooting, to the point that both "Anchorman" films have entire movies worth of alternate jokes.

Rest assured, "Anchorman 2" is quite good -- hilariously picking up with Ron Burgundy's (Will Ferrell) increasingly outrageous shenanigans as he gets fired, loses Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and later rounds up his old news team (Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell) to help launch the first 24-hour news network.

At the Langham Hotel, McKay, 45, who co-founded Funny or Die with Ferrell and says his movies feature guys who aren't necessarily idiots, but boast unearned confidence, talked about one-liners that bombed, directing Harrison Ford and Kanye West (who have small parts in "A2") and the onscreen pairing he sees as "the ultimate comic challenge."

How do you compare writing with and without Will?
With Will, there’s obviously a crazy level of comfort. We’re so used to each other; we trust each other implicitly, but I have written scripts without him. Chris Henchy and I wrote “The Other Guys.” But you know Chris Henchy’s really fun to write with too. These are friends of mine, so it’s just really easy. We both know what we like. I think with Ferrell the one thing you get is that his character tends to be really dialed in by the time you’re done with the script. When I wrote with Henchy, we had to then go and do another pass on the script to dial him in more and actually have Will come in. So there’s a real convenience to it--if you’re writing a script with Will, you know he’s comfortable with it.

Can you remember something on “The Other Guys” that was tweaked because of that?
Yes. I think originally we wrote him more as a weak geeky guy and when we read it, it just wasn’t that interesting. And I think we talked with Will and we all agreed he should be one of those geeky guys who’s also kind of a badass. You know those super-confidence guys who are still nerdy but don’t give a [bleep]? “Napoleon Dynamite” was sort of like that; he really didn’t give a [bleep] what anyone thought. So that was a big rewrite on that character, and I thought that’s when that character got interesting was the fact that he was confident within his own skin.

Was he already a pimp, or that’s when the pimp stuff got added?
That’s when the pimp stuff started coming out. Then we started playing with the whole idea that this guy could be a secret badass. I think that’s when the character comes to life. And when he tells Wahlberg off in the beginning about the lions and the tunas, that moment is when the character got interesting. “Guess what? He’s not going to take it sitting down.”

Some of what people love most about your movies is the sense of randomness, that anything can happen or be said. How do you explain what happens to your mind in that setting? It’s hard to imagine where a line like “I get to work 30 minutes early to sexually assault a starfish” comes from.
[Laughs] Well, I think you just said it in the question, which is surprise. It should always have an element of surprise. You’re always looking for the surprising line that seems like it’s out of nowhere but is oddly appropriate. So it’s this weird mixture of, “It fits, but yet you don’t see it coming.” That’s the sweet spot you’re always looking for. It’s surprising yet doesn’t feel false. For some reason, “I get here to work 30 minutes early to sexually assault a starfish” felt right in that moment.

Because you assume most people don’t do that?
I guess … well you know you’re at Sea World. You know he wants to say something bad to the boss. I’m going to assume he’s not actually sexually assaulting a starfish. I don’t think you could do that. He’s probably washing his hands in the starfish tank. That’s probably really what he’s doing, and he made it a little worse for the boss when he walked away. I think he did, however, feed a chicken gyro to the seals or the sea lions, whatever the boss said. He definitely did do that.

I was surprised we don’t see Champ Kind in the background at Sea World with his pants off.
I know, how about it? That’s immediately what I thought of when we were there. That’s the image we needed. We should have just snuck him in the background for people to catch. That would have been a good call.

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