From platform shoes to man perms, a crop of fall movies will take us back to the late 1970s by reviving the fashion trends of the last days of disco. For Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, costume designer Susan Matheson took cues from Saturday Night Fever to update the look of Ron Burgundy, his news team, and a host of stars who make cameo appearances in the sequel.
“Will [Ferrell] and Adam [McKay]… are always coming up with new ideas and then it’s for me to interpret them and run with it. Because I’ve worked with both of them so many times, there’s a level of…we’re very simpatico,” says Matheson, who has also designed the costumes for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Rocky Bobby, Semi-Pro, and Step Brothers. “I always feel like I’m running a marathon. The script is a framework and things morph as you start shooting. For me, I find it very intellectually challenging working with them because I never really know what surprises will come my way.”
Read on to find out why Matheson says it was so hard to dress Ferrell as a 70s stud, which cast member’s look was so sharp it drew wolf whistles from the cast and crew, and how a murder trial caused a wrinkle in the movie’s costume design plan.
Entertainment Weekly: You are Will Ferrell’s go-to costume designer, but you didn’t create the costumes for the first Anchorman movie. Why?
Susan Matheson: I’ve been [working with Will] since Talladega Nights. I didn’t do the original Anchorman. Every time Adam [McKay] and Will work together, they call me. I had promised them when I wasn’t available to do The Other Guys — because I was doing The Town — that I would be available for Anchorman 2.
Anchorman 2 takes place during the end of the 70s and the dawn of the 80s. How much did the fashion change in that short period of time and how do Ron Burgundy’s costumes reflect those changes?
One of the biggest changes for Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2 is that this is 1979 moving into 1980. If you think about the framework, 1977 is when Saturday Night Fever came out and 1980 is when Ronald Reagan became president. So for me, it was this interesting fine line. One of the things that was popularized by Saturday Night Fever was John Travolta’s famous white three-piece suit. I really wanted to transition Ron by changing his suit, making it much slimmer and also giving him a vest, so [he wears] three-piece suits, a la John Travolta and the men of that time.
What was your biggest challenge in updating Ron’s look?
Will is very tall and people in the late 70s weren’t very tall. It was very difficult to find any clothing from that time period that worked well on him. Will wore 55 outfits [throughout filming] and almost everything that he wears, I had to make from scratch. He has different phases of his character — there are times when he is more humble and there are times when he is basking in the gluttony of success. That meant [wearing] everything from conservative polyester suits to full-length leather jackets with fox fur collars. [He’s also] trying to bridge the transition from being an anchor in San Diego to being a full-blown rock star news anchor in Manhattan. Ron’s clothing gets more and more glamorous, to the point where he’s wearing leisure suits with very special buttons from France. I hand selected skins and had fur jackets made. All we did was constantly sew and make clothes for Will. Head to toe, absolutely everything. Shirt, jackets, pants, suits, everything.
Other than Ron, which character was the most fun to dress?
The other character for me who was an absolutely blast to dress was Brian Fantana [Paul Rudd]. Clothing looks good on Paul! People would wolf-whistle [at him]. Brian has become a glamorous fashion cat photographer… and I knew I had to up the ante. I put him in some custom-made white wool pants, a white Gucci belt and an extremely vibrant floral-print pullover shirt. The minute that happened, I knew that every outfit needed to be just as fabulous. [Paul would] come into the wardrobe trailer and say, “Well, what am I going to be wearing today?” It got to the point where if I wasn’t making things for Paul, then I was tracking down vintage 1970s Yves Saint Laurent slim fit suits. I could keep dressing Paul Rudd forever.
We’re introduced to a number of new characters in Anchorman 2, so you also had to design costumes for people like Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Kanye West.
I was literally building suits for people I’d never met who were flying in the night before [they filmed their scenes]. I would normally be intimidated by one of these people, and then to suddenly have literally a hot dozen of them descend upon me, it was a tornado.
Plus, you had to serve jury duty while you were trying to pull everything together?
I was on a murder trial for four months, but I wanted to make sure I was available to [Will and Adam] no matter what.
For more on Anchorman 2, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands today.