Over several days this past May, the makers of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues camped out in Atlanta's Woodruff Park in order to film a massive, star-studded battle sequence – setting off pyro effects, corralling dozens of actors and choreographing the gleefully ludicrous brawling of various rival network-news teams. Bystanders and paparazzi crowded around the park, trying to glimpse some of the action (and some of the stars) despite the best efforts of production assistants and some sightline-obscuring shrubbery that the crew had carted in. On a nearby street corner, a placard stood affixed to a traffic cone, bearing words of warning for pedestrians: "FILMING IN PROGRESS – SIMULATED GUNFIRE."
Most of Anchorman 2, the ravenously anticipated comedy sequel starring Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner, was made on Atlanta's northwest side, in three cavernous warehouses. The Monday after shooting on the battle scene wrapped, Rolling Stone contributing editor Jonah Weiner visited one of these warehouses to observe a day of shooting. (His Anchorman 2 cover story, in RS1199, arrives on newsstands this week.) By the time of this visit, gossip-sites had published numerous shots taken from outside the park, which let the cat out of the bag on many big-name cameos – much to the disappointment of the movie's cast and crew, including Ferrell and Adam McKay, the director. "It's a bummer," McKay said on set.
One cameo that McKay and Ferrell agreed to discuss, however, was that of Kanye West. West, who has quoted Anchorman hero Ron Burgundy in interviews and song choruses, played one of the brawl's combatants; paparazzi shots captured him wearing an eighties-style fade and wielding a hockey stick as a weapon. McKay said that West, who years ago shot a pilot for a Curb Your Enthusiasm-inspired HBO comedy, came prepared and eager to learn more. "Kanye was great," McKay said. "He really locked in. He asked me a ton of questions. He's super-interested in process – he's a big fan of comedy. He took private lessons in beginner's improv with a friend of mine in Chicago a few years ago." Joining West for part of the trip was Kim Kardashian, who was at the time a month away from giving birth to the couple's daughter. "She was there the first day," McKay said. "She seemed like this totally normal, pretty girl – not the most-Googled woman on earth."
West had paused in his scramble to complete his sixth album, Yeezus, and, while on set, he was eager to solicit feedback. "He rapped us a new song, then rapped it again for hair and make-up – so awesome," McKay said. "What's the single?" Ferrell asked. "I think it was 'New Slaves' – the really strident one. Whichever one gets off on a rant. He was like, 'You guys want to listen to some new tracks?' We're like, Yeah, sure! Then he started performing, and it gets to the point where he's screaming. He goes a full 100-miles-an-hour. Then he'd turn off and go, 'Anyway, thanks.' It was hilarious."
In addition to this live preview, Ferrell noted, West played some recorded material: "He was playing it through the sound department, on the speakers on set, at the park, as people were setting up for the next shot. Which was great. But then he didn't understand when it had to be turned off, when it was time to actually film. He was like, 'Hey man, what's going on?' We didn't want Kanye to get upset, but at the same time, we kind of had to film."
West has complained in recent interviews about slamming into a glass ceiling, creatively – he feels thwarted, and disrespected, in his attempts to penetrate, for instance, the fashion world. Apparently, he also has filmmaking on the brain. "He had a few movie ideas; he told me one, and I gave him some notes," McKay said. "He was really humble, like, 'Can we meet in L.A.?' I was like, Yeah!"
"I improvved a couple raps for him," McKay added. "I'm sure he thought they sucked."