There’s been a lot of Ron Burgundy lately — so much of him that it’s been difficult to turn on the television or go online without stumbling across a story about his whereabouts.
Will Ferrell — in costume as the title character he made famous in the 2004 movie “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” — has participated in a long list of publicity stunts leading up to the release of “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” These have included a surprise appearance at a North Dakota television station, where he anchored as Burgundy next to a real journalist; a visit to Winnipeg, where he called the national curling trials; a stop at Emerson College, which named its journalism school after Burgundy for a day; and a trip to Connecticut where he cohosted Dan Patrick’s radio show. A photo of Ferrell as Burgundy graces the current cover of Rolling Stone. And then there are all of the talk show visits (on Thursday he’ll appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”) and the many Ron Burgundy commercials for the Dodge Durango.
In an interview at the Ritz while he was in town to visit Emerson, Ferrell said that he’s been touring as his character, not because the studio required it, but because he likes it. He explained the meta marketing of “Anchorman 2” — a movie that takes Burgundy into the 1980s and a world of 24-hour news — and talked about whether he’ll ever bring any of his other classic characters back to life for another sequel.
Q. This is the weirdest campaign I have seen for a film in a long time. People would line up to see this even if you did nothing.
A. For the first “Anchorman,” I pitched, “Why don’t you let me go to news stations and just show up as this character?” And DreamWorks at the time was like, “Huh? What?” I think this idea of getting outside of the normal ways of promoting the movie were so foreign. But as you point out, there’s such a strong fan base. I remember when we had one of the first meetings with Paramount they said that by just mentioning the title of the movie we already have tracking numbers. We already have hard data of people who say, “Oh, I’m going on opening day no matter what the movie is like. No matter what I’ve read about it.” It’s just such a fun character to do. I was totally open [to do] things that I thought were unique and left of center. But, like you said, it probably doesn’t need it at all.
Q. And it’s been quite a road trip.
A. Luckily, for the most part — other than the haters on Deadline Hollywood who are like, “He’s doing a lot, the movie must suck” — other than those people, the good news is everyone’s like, “Wow. There are so many things and they’re all so funny and different.”
Q. That newscast in North Dakota — I was impressed that the real anchorwoman kept it together.
A. After we rehearsed. We did a run-through and she totally burst out laughing. But she did an amazing job. But here’s a prime example, too — we knew we wanted to do something in Canada, and the TSN people were like, “what about hockey?” No, too on the nose. “What about the Grey Cup — the Super Bowl of Canadian football?” Eh. Anything else? “We’ve got curling. . .” Perfect. And same with the Dodge campaign — there were a ton of products that had come forward, from soft drinks to fast food. And I kept saying, it’s too on the nose. What would really work is if Ron started doing Meineke muffler commercials — or Poulan chain saw spots. But I get it — those aren’t companies that would have a marketing budget to support that. But to just do Diet Dr. Pepper, that’s going to come off really lame. I thought the only other thing that would work is like a big fat American car company.
Q. There were critics, of course, who talked about what you did at Emerson — or on the news in North Dakota — where you’re being Ron Burgundy and mocking the trade as you participate. Have these appearances felt respectful enough?
A. Speaking specifically about the newscast, my pitch to them was, let Ron come on and he will do it as if you just called him. We’ll report that day’s news and he’ll throw in little happy talk banter here and there. But really, I’m just going to read the news straight. I think it somehow walked the tightrope.
Q. At Emerson did people think they’d been mocked?
A. They were just so excited. There was a moment where I was sitting next to the president and wondering if he was thinking, “Why did we do this?” But you know, on one hand, if you’re going to criticize what happened today on its purest level, you’re probably right. A journalism school is one of the last bastions of trying to teach the right thing to do, and you’re trying to maintain some sort of integrity. On the other hand, media is just changing so rapidly. And this is a prime example of a way to kind of poke fun at everything that’s happening. . . . Outside of a few of those questions, you could tell everyone was so excited. They wanted [Ron’s] advice — and he’s the last person to ask. He doesn’t know anything. He’s failed upwards.
Q. Like some people in journalism do!
A. [Laughs.] And all the things we’re doing, by the way, beautifully tie into what we’re trying to say in the movie — that [broadcast news has] become a real gray area. It’s ratings-driven now. It has to make money. It has to pop. The competition is so fierce — with the Internet and Twitter and everything that’s happening — it has this amorphous shape right now.
Q. Is this the first time you’ve marketed a film this way — in character and so aggressively? Will it change expectations for you in the future?
A. I think we did a commercial campaign for Sprint as Ricky Bobby for “Talladega Nights.” But what made me laugh is that I saw a thing in Ad Week — they did a whole story on this campaign, and it was like, “Is it changing the way movies are promoted?” And really, it’s an aberration, what we’re doing. My next movie, I’m probably going to play a straighter character, and a studio is going to be like, “Great — what are you going to do for us?” [And the answer will be:] Nothing. It doesn’t lend itself to that. Ron Burgundy is this unique character in terms of the comedic persona and the fact that it’s connected to news.
Q. Do you ever miss these characters? Or get sick of them when you have to do them over and over?
A. I don’t ever think about them, to be honest. It’s like when people ask, “Do you miss ‘Saturday Night Live’?” When I walked off the stage, I didn’t look back. And it doesn’t mean I don’t view that time with an amazing amount of fondness. It was so much fun and yet that chapter had closed. The same with the movies. I feel so fortunate that a number of these [films] keep staying in the zeitgeist with repeated viewings, but I don’t sit at the kitchen table thinking, how can I think of a sequel for Chazz Michael Michaels (from “Blades of Glory”).
Q. These are things that we think about. My sister is waiting for a “Step Brothers” sequel.
A. That’s kind of what led to us being here right now. We had hit a snag with this sequel and I think [writer-director] Adam McKay and I had gotten over our kind of reticence toward making sequels, so then we thought, hey, what about “Step Brothers”? That’d be fun. It would be fun because people wouldn’t see it coming. And Sony was totally up for it and of course John [C. Reilly], and we came up with a really great story line. But then when we kind of polled people, they were like, “Oh yeah, that would be great, but why not ‘Anchorman’?” So we revisited one last time and that’s when we . . . pushed that forward.
Q. So. . . what does that mean for “Step Brothers”?
A. I don’t know. I would love to say that’s the next one, but then I think we’re very cognizant of, OK, now they’re just making sequels. . . . We just want to see how this one does. I think, outside of the rare, massive hit, you don’t see the impact that film has for a year or two after it’s been out.Interview has been edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.