In his book 'Kind of a Big Deal,' Saul Austerlitz digs deep into the Will Ferrell comedy
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Anchorman's 2004 release, a new book digs into the stories behind the scenes of the groundbreaking comedy.
In Kind of a Big Deal: How Anchorman Stayed Classy and Became the Most Iconic Comedy of the Twenty-First Century, Saul Austerlitz breaks down Anchorman from its origin story — an idea first hatched by actor and writer Will Ferrell and his SNL colleague, writer and director Adam McKay, in the late 90s — to its slow-burn success to the movie’s current status as a classic and beloved comedy.
Austerlitz’s book also reveals dozens of details you never knew about the now-classic film. Here are five:
The movie was almost never made at all — at least with the original title and plot
Ferrell and McKay wrote Anchorman after their previous script, August Blowout, made the rounds among various Hollywood producers and studios but ultimately failed to launch. It looked, Austerlitz points out in the book, as if their next project might suffer the same fate. Titled Action News Man, the original script featured a plane crash, cannibalism and orangutans. There’s no doubt it would have been hilarious that way, but alas, nobody in Hollywood was willing to bankroll such an off-kilter shindig.
The script went through a lot of revisions
“A good comedy is like a magic trick,” Austerlitz writes. “A great comedy is like actual magic.” But there can be a lot of rewrites before the magic happens. In the case of Anchorman, Ferrell and McKay revised the script over and over, but it wasn’t until Judd Apatow came on board that they were able to tame storyline that Austerlitz called “a 9.8 on the absurdist scale.”
Apatow went on to produce the film, launching the former television creator into films that would go on to include The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and This Is 40. And given that the film's co-writers and most of its actors came from the world of improv comedy, the script itself was merely a starting point for all the wild alternative lines they routinely delivered.
The film’s stars could have been very, very different
Will Ferrell was always going to play Ron Burgundy — he and McKay had written the role for him — but everyone else had to be cast. Austerlitz reveals that Ben Stiller was a top choice for the role of Brian Fantana, which ended up going to Paul Rudd (another contestant for the job was Bob Odenkirk). John C. Reilly, who eventually co-starred with Ferrell in 2008’s Step Brothers, was the original top choice for Champ Kind, the sportscaster, the role that eventually went to David Koechner.
Choosing an actress to play Veronica Corningstone, the woman who becomes Ron Burgundy’s lover and nemesis, proved toughest of all. Austerlitz describes the lineup McKay went through in finding the right woman for the role: Leslie Mann, Amy Adams and Maggie Gyllenhaal were all considered, but in the end it was Christina Applegate who went on to embody the smart, sexy and tough Corningstone.
The Veronica Corningstone character paid homage to an actual female anchor
One of the earliest influences on Ferrell and McKay’s script came from a television documentary about the news anchor Jessica Savitch. As Austerlitz recounts, initially Ferrell was taken by a scene quoting a male anchor named Mort Crim about “the casual sexism of the era” — a pervasive vibe Anchorman plays for laughs throughout, from the way Burgundy and his buddies first treat Veronica to the simmering feud that erupts when she is given an equal share of the anchor’s desk.
But beneath the laughter, the sexist attitudes faced by Savitch, an on-air reporter for NBC news in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, were real indeed. As Austerlitz chronicles, Savitch was a natural talent who seemed to effortlessly connect with the television audience. But she faced relentless harassment from male colleagues and executives, and a violently abusive boyfriend (fellow newscaster Ron Kershaw) at home. Substance abuse derailed her career when she appeared to deliver the news under the influence during a 1983 broadcast; she died in a car accident shortly thereafter. As Austerlitz points out, the character of Veronica Corningstone is Anchorman’s straight man, but she’s also perhaps the movie’s most realistic character, “a real person, with real desires and hopes, trapped in a world of buffoons, charlatans, and schlemiels.”
Nailing the movie’s 1970s aesthetic took a lot of work
Austerlitz details the little touches that made the Anchorman set, costumes and hairstyles feel like a realistic, at times vaguely surrealistic, 1970s time capsule. Set decatur Jen Pascale, whose previous credits included Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Tales from the Crypt and Day of the Dead, filled the newsroom and other offices with furniture sourced straight from the era, including the cringe-worthy cabinet hidden in a fake wall of books where Rudd’s Brian Fantana character stows his cologne collection. Costume designer Debra McGuire studied back issues of magazines and old Sears catalogs to nail the wardrobe (the vintage TV show Barney Miller was another inspiration, writes Austerlitz).
One of the movie’s most recognizable symbols, of course, is Ron Burgundy’s mustache, a personal grooming choice made by Ferrell himself. For Kim Greene, head of the film’s makeup department, it took a minute to get used to — she hated it at first — but of course the mustache, a nod to both 1970s sex symbols like Burt Reynolds and Mark Spitz and to a burgeoning population of hipster men who would flower into full facial hair creativity in the mid-aughts, grew to attain its own iconic status.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.