Forget San Diego, New York City or even Japan -- when you're big in Baghdad, you have truly arrived.
And it was a comedy fan in the dusty, war-torn Iraq capital who unwittingly helped usher Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues into existence. Whether he -- or she -- realizes it or not.
We'll get to that in a second. First, all you need to know is that if Anchorman star Will Ferrell had a nickel for every time someone has asked him about a sequel to one of his movies, he'd have enough cash to retire and live out the rest of his days in a sprawling multi-level mansion. On the surface of Mars. Staffed by robots made from surplus nickels.
But the 46-year-old Saturday Night Live alumnus, who has appeared in more than 40 flicks since making the leap to the big screen, is oddly sequel-averse.
"We didn't understand the sequel thing," a relaxed and convivial Ferrell said during a recent stop in Toronto to talk about Anchorman 2, opening in theatres Wednesday. (And no, he was not in his Ron Burgundy persona for this chat. Which is just as well, because that moustache is like a pregnant woman's belly: a magnet for uninvited touching.)
It's not like Ferrell and his frequent collaborator Adam McKay (director of 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers and others) haven't been approached -- repeatedly -- about sequels. They just weren't interested.
"I guess we're either really dumb, or we're just not enamoured with any of that," Ferrell said. "We have all these other original ideas we'd rather do, and that's kind of what's guided us. And then we'd have a side conversation: 'However, if we ever did a sequel, Anchorman would be the one, don't you think?' "
They weren't the only ones thinking that. For all the oft-quoted comedies Ferrell has done -- from Old School to Talladega Nights to Step Brothers to Bewitched (ha ha, just kidding) -- Anchorman was the one people asked about the most. From fans on the streets to journalists interviewing him for other movies, everyone wanted to know when Anchorman 2 was going to be made.
"It started showing up on Google alerts and Halloween costumes," said Ferrell. But then came the bombshell from Baghdad: "I got sent a (photo) from a friend -- on a side of a jeep in Baghdad, a stencilled picture of Ron Burgundy that says, 'Stay classy, Baghdad.'
"And I thought whoa, this is getting into the zeitgeist on a level where we have no idea."
The world's reluctance to give up on Ron Burgundy finally wore down the resolve of Ferrell and McKay, as well as Anchorman co-stars Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner.
"The guys -- Steve, Paul and Dave -- were always like, 'By the way, I get asked about that sequel more than anything. And if you guys are going to do one, just so you know, I'm in,' " said Ferrell.
"I remember saying to Adam, 'Gosh, George Clooney and those guys get to make 15 Ocean's Eleven, and they don't seem to get beat up for it. So why can't we make a sequel?' That kind of was the slow, slow process of it happening."
And thus Anchorman 2 was finally born. The story picks up a few years after the ending of Anchorman, when Ron Burgundy and his co-anchor wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) are San Diego's most successful news team. But when a wedge is driven between them and Ron falls on hard times, he reassembles the old news team and heads to New York to join the first-ever 24-hour cable news network, under the watchful eye of producer Linda Jackson (Meagan Good). From deep fried bats to a wayward pet shark, high jinks predictably ensue.
But you already know that, because Anchorman 2 might be the single most publicized movie of the year. Ron Burgundy has shown up everywhere from car commercials to museum exhibits to a newly created Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavour -- Scotchy Scotch Scotch, of course -- to the cover of Dog Fancy magazine. Seriously.
Overexposure? Maybe. But Ferrell is having a freaking blast.
"I probably don't need to do any press for it, but it's ironic that the ones that have all this attention and focus are the ones that are fun to do the press for," said Ferrell.
This unflagging flogging has been felt in Canada, with Ferrell guesting as Ron Burgundy on TSN's coverage of the Olympic curling trials -- "I just couldn't get over how they're expert commentators on curling, and yet they had no ego about me coming in and messing around," Ferrell said -- as well as a bit on Conan, where Ron declares his oblivious admiration for crack-smoking Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
In fact there's a scene in the movie that may seem inspired by Ford's infamy, in which Ron and the news team smoke crack on the air.
But Ferrell swears that's not the case.
"We had that idea two years ago," Ferrell said. "The fact we have Ron and the news team smoking crack in the movie is serendipity."
‘Anchorman 2’ chock-full of celeb cameos
If you've managed to avoid any and all spoilers about Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and you want every gag to come as a huge surprise when the movie opens in theatres Wednesday, stop reading right now.
For those still here, we're going to make a bold statement: Anchorman 2 may have the highest concentration of celebrity cameos ever assembled for a single movie scene. We won't give too much away -- it needs to be seen to be believed -- but a climactic gag has a dozen or more celebs on screen at once, from Jim Carrey to Liam Neeson to Kanye West. Plus some even bigger names. Oh, and a minotaur.
Not only did nearly every celebrity that Ferrell and director Adam McKay approach agree to be in the movie, "some people were chasing us that we just couldn't find the right fit for," Ferrell said.
"I kept hearing how much Thor -- Chris Hemsworth -- was like, 'I'm a huge fan, I'll do anything!' And we're like, 'OK, cool.' "
Hemsworth ultimately didn't make the cut (unless that's him in the minotaur costume), but there was one star who Ferrell sought out that turned him down: three-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep.
Ferrell said word was Streep was a big Anchorman fan, "but we reached out to her and it was like, 'Nope, not gonna do it.' "
Maybe it was just crossed wires that led them to believe Streep would be down for a cameo. "Or did she get the script and go, 'I don't want to do that!' "