The Lost Roles of Anchorman

With a stellar cast full of actors who would go on to become big-name movie stars, Anchorman’s ensemble is an impressive one and a definite casting coup. The cast is so strong that it’s absolutely insane Paramount is refusing to greenlight a sequel, even though bonafide movie stars Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and Paul Rudd have all lowered their asking prices to keep the budget reasonable. Despite the eclectic and talented group of performers at Anchorman’s core, these guys weren’t Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s original choices to portray the news team. In the first draft of the Anchorman screenplay, Ferrell and McKay included suggestions as to which actors could play which character. None of the desired actors ended up playing the specified roles, but some of them portrayed different characters in the movie. Read on to find out who was on Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s initial wishlist for Anchorman parts, what Paul Thomas Anderson’s role in getting the movie made was, and which famous comedic actors were left on the cutting room floor.

John C. Reilly

The role: Champ Kind

Who got it: David Koechner

Reilly would go on to work with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay two years later in their next project, Talladega Nights, but Ferrell and McKay had their eyes on the actor much earlier. They envisioned him as catchphrase-spewing sportscaster Champ Kind, and it seems like it would have been a perfect match. Instead, they went with their former SNL cohort David Koechner, causing a well-deserved resurgence in his career. John C. Reilly would later become a crucial part of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s comedic universe, his sensibilities gelling nicely with theirs. The trio has thus far made two popular movies together, as well as a number of online videos and other projects.

Ben Stiller

The role: Brian Fantana

Who got it: Paul Rudd

Ben Stiller was on the initial casting idea list for sleazy news correspondent Brian Fantana, but by 2004, when the movie was released, it seems like he was much too big a star to have taken a supporting role like this. 2004 was when Stiller’s career was blowing up, with him toplining five movies that year (Along Came Polly, Starsky & Hutch, Envy, Dodgeball, and Meet the Fockers), as well as producing two of those projects and doing an arc on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He even had time to squeeze in a cameo in Anchorman, but taking a supporting part might have driven the busy actor to the point of exhaustion. Brian Fantana ended up a breakthrough role for Paul Rudd and the start of a still-going professional relationship with Anchorman producer Judd Apatow that’s led to some of both parties’ biggest hits. Stiller’s presence would have given Anchorman’s box office receipts a boost, but I don’t want to imagine a world where Paul Rudd isn’t a movie star.

Ed Harris

The role: Ed Harken

Who got it: Fred Willard

Ed Harris was listed as the actor Will Ferrell and Adam McKay wanted to play Ed Harken, and it seems as if the character was even named after Harris. Harris seems a little too dignified to appear in a slapstick Will Ferrell movie, but Ferrell and McKay have had no problem pulling Oscar nominees Tim Robbins, John C. Reilly, and Amy Adams into their comedic universe. Harris would have been able to bring a certain dramatic intensity to one of the more grounded characters in the movie, but Fred Willard’s deadpan charm and knack for playing exasperation served the part well.

Chris Parnell

The role: Brick Tamland

Who got it: Steve Carell

Ferrell and McKay had pictured their SNL buddy Chris Parnell as dimwitted weatherman Brick Tamland before giving him a much smaller part in the movie. Steve Carell took the role and became Anchorman’s scene-stealing breakout star, improvising many of the film’s funniest lines. I’ve always felt Chris Parnell was worthy of a big role like this. While he’s great as Dr. Spaceman on 30 Rock, that’s such a minor character that it doesn’t count; and Walk Hard didn’t find the audience that it should have. However, it’s hard to argue Parnell would have come close to a performance as impressive as Steve Carell’s. After all, it was more Carell’s absurd improvisations than the character itself that made him stand out so much. Hopefully, someday Chris Parnell will get the meaty comedy role he deserves.

Alec Baldwin

The role: Frank Vitchard

Who got it: Luke Wilson

Baldwin was the casting suggestion for rival anchorman Frank Vitchard and a good one at that. Before he completed his transition to full-time comedic actor with 30 Rock, Baldwin had already done great work with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay on Saturday Night Live, particularly in the Bill Brasky sketches that the pair co-wrote. He certainly has the gravitas (and the hair) to pull off a convincing performance as a newscaster, and his gruff voice would have been perfect for reading off teleprompter lines. Instead, Ferrell called in his Old School co-stars Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn to play his rival anchors. Luke Wilson did fine as Vitchard, but he doesn’t have the meanness that Baldwin could have brought to the part.

Dan Aykroyd

The role: Garth Holiday

Who got it: Chris Parnell

Ferrell and McKay suggested Dan Aykroyd for the role of Garth Holiday, the assistant to Fred Willard’s character. Aykroyd was one of the founding members of Saturday Night Live, the show on which Ferrell and McKay first worked together and where they first found mainstream success. It would have been nice to see them pay tribute to their predecessor by giving him a role. Garth Holiday was no major part in Anchorman, though, and it seems like Dan Aykroyd could have used more to work with. After all, he has quite a bit of experience as a fake 70’s newsman under his belt from co-hosting “Weekend Update.”

William H. Macy

The role: Marshall Connors

Who got it: Role cut from film

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay had William H. Macy in mind to play Marshall Connors, a part that was cut at some point in the film’s development process. Although Macy’s an acclaimed, actor, I doubt he would have felt a broad comedy like Anchorman was beneath him (He did make Wild Hogs). It would have been nice to see Macy try his hand at a non-Tim Allen comedy instead.

Maggie Gyllenhaal

The role: Veronica Corningstone

Who got it: Christina Applegate

Maggie Gyllenhaal auditioned for the role of Veronica Corningstone but lost out to Christina Applegate. Her lack of comedic experience might have actually helped, as Veronica was a grounded character who often served as the straight man to the sophomoric male members of the news team. Gyllenhaal doesn’t have a lot of experience with comedy, but she had nice chemistry with Will Ferrell when she worked with him on Stranger than Fiction.

Adam McKay

The role: Aaron Zimmerman

Who got it: Role cut from film

McKay was originally going to play a minor character called Aaron Zimmerman, a Robert Evans-esque TV producer. The idea was shot down before it was filmed, but Adam McKay reprised the role on a DVD bonus feature for Anchorman. This sounds like it could have been really funny, but maybe it’s just because Robert Evans is already such a cartoonish figure that it’s not hard to turn him into a hilarious character.

Paul Thomas Anderson producing

Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, the indie auteur behind Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood, was an early fan of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s comedy, and he was planning on producing Anchorman prior to its production. Will Ferrell explains:

He was the reason why we wrote the script ‘cause he had read a script Adam and I had written called August Blowout that he thought was really funny and it was stuck at a studio and they weren’t making it… To his credit… very nice of him, [he] loved that script. He said, “Why aren’t they making this? What if I help you guys get something made? You just write whatever you want and I will be the producer. So, we wrote Anchorman on spec. He was kind of the impetus to get it going. He went on to do other things. Punch-Drunk Love. But he got the ball rolling for us.

If Paul Thomas Anderson had produced Anchorman, it would have been the only film he’s produced that wasn’t one of his own directorial projects. It should be quite an honor for Ferrell and McKay that Paul Thomas Anderson was considering making Anchorman the first film he’s produced that’s not his own. To this day, Anderson still has yet to produce a film by another director. Another indie film darling, David O. Russell, ended up serving as an unlikely producer on Anchorman.

Actors cut from the movie

After the initial cut of Anchorman scored poorly with test audiences, the studio ordered re-shoots. Several of the film’s scenes and the original ending were taken out and new content was created in its place. The original version of the movie featured a major plotline that involved a Weather Underground-esque revolutionary political group called The Alarm Clock, who rob banks and kidnap Veronica Corningstone to get their point across. The film’s climax in this version, instead of the panda birth/bear cage ending, involved Ron Burgundy and his team rescuing Veronica from these terrorists. Kevin Corrigan, Maya Rudolph, Public Enemy’s Chuck D, and Tara Subkoff played the members of The Alarm Clock, and needless to say, all of their scenes were left out of the final version of Anchorman.

Also cut out of the film were Amy Poehler, Stephen Root, Neil Flynn, Justin Long, John Ennis, and Freaks and Geeks adults Joe Flaherty, Steve Bannos, and Dave ‘Gruber’ Allen. A lot of the unused footage was gathered up and assembled into the direct-to-DVD release Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, which features the Alarm Clock subplot extensively. Wake Up, Ron Burgundy is basically a bunch of deleted scenes fashioned into a second movie. It doesn’t quite work as a complete story in its own right, but it’s worth checking out for a slew of very funny scenes that were left on Anchorman’s cutting room floor. It’s a revealing window into what Anchorman could have looked like, had it tested better with audiences.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

The Lost Roles of Anchorman