Liane Bonin
June 17, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Anyone who thinks Hollywood is the land of nonstop glamour clearly never visited the Los Angeles-area set of Will Ferrell’s next movie, ”Anchorman” (opens July 9). During’s visit to the rundown converted warehouse that serves as a location for the film’s faux TV news studio, the place looks like a disco-era time capsule.

The rooms are stuffed with items harking back to an older, uglier era: clunky metal desks, antiquated office equipment, and a sea of wood-look Formica. Cast members and extras wander the set in goofy 100-percent polyester suits and shirts, which, despite the pumped-in air conditioning, can’t be comfortable on this broiling spring day. But the uncool retro vibe, albeit unflattering and perspiration-inducing, is clearly downright groovy to Ferrell, or at least to his character. Sitting on one of the pseudo-newsroom desks in a blindingly bright tie and a bushy mustache, Ferrell shrugs off the fact he’s not wearing a single breathable fabric. ”Are you kidding? It’s perfect!” he says, grinning. ”It really puts you into the character and the era.”

In the movie, Ferrell plays Ron Burgundy, a clueless nightly news anchorman who, like some of his macho coworkers (played by Vince Vaughn, Fred Willard, and Paul Rudd), lives the high life, 1970s-style. He drinks on the job, smokes like a chimney, and sexually harasses every woman he meets until a female co-anchor (Christina Applegate) who joins the team puts him in his place.

In trying to capture Ron’s time-warped era, director Adam McKay (a former ”Saturday Night Live” head writer) and cowriter Ferrell chose to nail down every last period detail, from Burgundy’s white leather tasseled loafers to his puffy, side-parted hair. It’s a heck of a sartorial price to pay, but after wearing yellow tights in last year’s hit ”Elf,” Ferrell seems to have no qualms about any fashion disaster — except, maybe, the ”Anchorman” ‘stache.

”The hair is a wig, but the mustache is all me, even though everyone thinks the opposite. I’m always getting food caught in it, so it’s tough,” he admits. ”Today I realized I had a little bit of snot in my mustache and I had carried on a conversation with someone and they didn’t tell me that. You always have to keep an eye on it.”

Fortunately Ferrell and McKay were much more meticulous in researching the film, which was inspired by the pair’s fond memories of the local nightly news while growing up. After meeting with veteran anchormen from San Diego, New York, and Philadelphia, they discovered their fantastical image of hard-living anchormen of the ’70s wasn’t far from the truth.

”When we started talking to them about ideas we had, there was a lot of, ‘Yup, that happened, you’d be surprised!”’ says Ferrell. ”There were stories of guys directing a newscast from across the street at the bar, doing it over the phone. It really was a time of booze and cigarettes.”

Sort of like Ferrell’s stint on ”Saturday Night Live,” right? ”I really miss the free cocaine,” Ferrell jokes of his seven years on the NBC show. ”But really, there’s nothing else like it, where you can be screwing around with an idea on Monday and actually have it on national television by Saturday. So now when I think of ideas that would be great sketches I kind of miss that outlet.”

But Ferrell has other channels for his creative energies. Called back to the set, he’s encouraged by McKay to try some improvisation for the next scene, in which Burgundy realizes he’s uttered an obscenity on the air. Shaking his head in befuddled disbelief, Ferrell ratchets up the hilarity, his exclamations quickly veering from ”Oh, God, no!” to more surreal expressions of shock. ”Great Odin’s raven!” he thunders on one take, following it up with a straight-faced ”Uncle Jonathan’s corncob pipe!” in the next.

The camera keeps rolling as Ferrell churns out his increasingly silly comments, while costar Willard tries to suppress the giggles on the sidelines. Too bad only one line will end up in the final movie… Outtakes for the DVD, anyone?

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