On-set with Ron Burgundy, dolphins, and Adam McKay's weird brain for 'Anchorman 2'
One of the great partnerships of modern film comedy is between Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, and getting a chance to watch the two of them as they work is a treat, no matter how many other comedy sets I've been on over the years.
Ferrell and McKay shouldn't even technically count as two people, since they appear to share one brain. One very strange and hilarious brain, I might add. There's an amazing chemistry that happens between them, and while I've had a few opportunities to observe it in progress, it's one of those things that you always say yes to if an invitation is extended.
In this case, I was asked to attend one of the final days of production on "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" in San Diego, where they were using Sea World for a scene that comes near the start of the film. In particular, they were using several of the dolphins, since Ron Burgundy's rock bottom turns out to be a gig announcing for the dolphin show at the park.
A group of us took a bus to Sea World, leaving from Paramount at a preposterously early hour. By the time we got there, though, things were already underway. Evidently, season pass holders for Sea World were sent an invitation to come be extras for a morning and told they would get to see Will Ferrell if they showed up. The place was completely packed as a result, and we could hear the crowd just rolling with laughter as we walked through the park to where the dolphin stadium is located.
They had gone through and redressed the crowd in vintage Sea World t-shirts and hats, perks for being part of the shoot, and walking into the stadium felt like stepping back in time to my own childhood visits to the west coast version of the park. They had just wrapped up a run-through when we arrived, so people were standing and stretching and milling about, and they were doing a short Q&A with people while waiting to start.
Quickly, thought, the film's A.D. was brought in to describe the scene to the crowd to get them ready. He explained that the scene comes very near the start of the film. Ron Burgundy is laid low very quickly in the film, losing his job and his wife, and we catch up with him working at Sea World, doing the only job he could find. He is bitter and drunk and, based on what we saw, 100% the same Ron Burgundy we met in the first film.
"Welcome to the Sea World 320 Show. You may remember me from the news before I got shitcanned."
This is the morning Ron can't take it anymore, and watching them sculpt his complete breakdown was a real treat. "Don't worry," he told the crowd at one point, "I'm fine as long as I stay hammered." He ends up introducing the trainers, two cute and chipper young women, one of whom I immediately recognized as Eliza Coupe. They're both in all-white outfits and short shorts, professional in every way Ron Burgundy is not. "Looks like they had their morning coffee," he said as they made their first entrance. "I'm so drunk I'm going to crap my pants."
At one point, after the first dolphin trick throws water into the front rows of the audience, Burgundy points at several women sitting there. "I told you you were going to get wet, you fat cows." That's just the beginning of him antagonizing everyone, though. Ron actually starts yelling at the dolphins at one point, prompting a little girl in the crowd to yell, "You're a horrible man, Ron Burgundy! Children hate you!"
As we're watching them run through the scene, Judd Apatow goes walking by at one point. One of the benefits of having Judd on-set is that he is such a smart comedy audience that I'm sure McKay loves having him as a sounding board. We chatted for a few moments as they reset for a second run at the scene, and he sounded enormously pleased to finally see the sequel happening.
The next time they ran the scene, we started to see them adjusting behavior and dialogue. The little girl in the crowd turned out to be Pearl, McKay's daughter who was a viral video sensation with "The Landlord" several years ago. She's been given license to taunt Will as much as she wants, and seems happy to comply.
A voice introduced Ron before his entrance with "Please welcome your host, former legendary San Diego anchorman Ron Burgundy!" Will seemed to be turning up the drunk in each take, getting more and more belligerent.
As he brought in the two trainers, he leered at them. "I'd like to train the two of you to take an nice little spanking," he said at one point. He also referred to the dolphins as "swimming rats" during the take. He did such a good job riling up the crowd that McKay decided to try some chants as Burgundy is being dragged away by park security.
We started with "You're not classy!", then moved on to "You have taken an Icarus-like fall, Ron Burgundy!", finally moving on to "You need to seek counseling for your serious drinking problem, Ron Burgundy." Try picturing that one roared by a full stadium of people at the same time.