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December 18th, 2013
05:57 PM ET

One-on-one with 'Anchorman' Will Ferrell

(CNN) - It was the sound bite that launched the "Anchorman" franchise.

"I was a traditional 1970s male chauvinist anchor. I liked women, but I didn't think their place was necessarily sitting beside me on an anchor set," local Philadelphia anchor Mort Crim said in the lifetime documentary about pioneering anchorwoman Jessica Savitch.

"I got into the documentary, and I watched him say, 'You have to remember back then, I was a real male chauvinist pig. I did not like women,'" actor Will Ferrell said in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper. Crim's comment "kind of was the genesis for us sitting here right now."

CNN sat down with the actor at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., in an exhibit dedicated to the film.

"They've done a wonderful job of archiving, you know, the old news stations and the news teams," said Ferrell of the exhibit. "We weren't far off the mark without even knowing it."

The entire wardrobe of actor Paul Rudd's character Brian Fantana was essentially modeled after Geraldo Rivera, circa 1970.

Fans of the original "Anchorman" movie regard it as one of the best comedies of the last decade. But it wasn't well received, initially.

"It was a modest hit in the theaters when it first came out. And it was actually very divisive in a weird way," said Ferrell. "Both (director Adam McKay) and I had friends who would say, 'That is the funniest thing I've ever seen,' and other people were like, 'I don't get it.'"

A good friend of Ferrell's went on a double date, and the other couple left in the middle of the movie.

"They walked out and were like, 'This is too weird, I don't know what's going on. There's a gang fight with news people. And it goes into animation like, ugh, come on,'" said Ferrell.

But the movie's unexpected, cult-like following has been a fun part of the journey.

"It kind of now has this legendary status, but it definitely didn't start that way," said Ferrell.

The original movie was released in 2004, and the new film takes place roughly ten years later, in 1980 – a decade that saw the launch and rise of CNN, ESPN, and 24-hour news channels.

"We kind of find Ron and his team, and what they're doing," said Ferrell. "They're kind of given a second chance to get back into the news game by going on the brand new, 24-hour news channel."

The faux channel is called GNN.

"It's CNN-esque, and we just thought that would be, you know, what better backdrop to see Ron and his incompetent fellow news team try to compete with what is now pretty much modern day news?" said Ferrell.

While real-life local anchor Mort Crim inspired the movie, Ferrell says Ron Burgundy isn't specifically modeled after anyone.

"He's just an amalgamation of all the local news guys I watched growing up," said Ferrell, who says he often runs into local news folks who say they know who inspired the character.

Former local Los Angeles anchor Harold Green once anchored the news in San Diego in the 1970s. He also used to sport a mustache. Green was convinced the Burgundy character was based on him.

"I randomly ran into him on the street one day and he was like, 'That movie is based on me, isn't it?' I go, 'No.' And he goes, 'There's an old saying in the news game: Yea, right.' And he walked away," said Ferrell.

Ferrell said Green's line was so good, they used it in the sequel.

So is there just something about the news profession that is inherently funny?

"That's changed. I think journalists are - try to be more human, and have a few more laughs, do the special interest stories a little more. And when it's time to deliver hard news, you guys, you know, are serious," said Ferrell. "But I think it's a profession that's based on being serious, having good hair."

"And that's a fun world to make fun of," said Ferrell.

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