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How Ron Burgundy landed his big Peyton Manning interview for ESPN The Magazine

Although ESPN The Magazine’s third annual Interview issue – highlighting newsmakers of the year including Lance Armstrong, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Ware among others – won’t start arriving in subscribers’ mailboxes until next week, The Mag couldn’t wait to share a preview of the cover story, featuring Broncos star quarterback Peyton Manning and Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy.

ESPN The Magazines's third annual interview issue.
ESPN The Magazines’s third annual interview issue.

Editor in Chief Chad Millman provides fans an inside look as to how this special interview came to be:

How did the concept of the Ron Burgundy/Peyton Manning interview come about?
In May I saw a preview or a poster or something about “Anchorman 2” coming out in December. I thought it would be funny if he did an interview with an athlete for our Interview Issue, which was scheduled to come out around the same time as the movie. I threw the idea out to SportsCenter Senior Coordinating Producer Mike Shiffman to see if there was a joint effort to be done, with SC shooting whatever interview Ferrell potentially did.

They were in talks with him to host SportsCenter, so he was on board with the idea. After that, Stacey Pressman, one of our LA-based senior writers who has a ridiculous [list of contacts], reached out to Ferrell’s representatives and put the idea in front of him. We all had a call after that and Ferrell came on board pretty quickly. With the interview set to come out in December we knew we wanted a football player and had to wait a few months before putting out that ask, since we wanted it to be someone “in the conversation.” Early on in the season, it became clear that Manning would be in the conversation. So we approached him in late September and he was into the idea, too.

What was the most challenging aspect of putting this together?
The logistics of the interview and the shoot. Because it was during the season, Ferrell and Manning only had a couple of days in which both were available, and neither was able to travel. We all settled on the Tuesday of the Broncos bye week in late October. We set Ferrell up at the LAPC and Manning was in the lobby of the Broncos facility. The SC folks handled the logistics for the TV interview. Our photo team, led by Karen Frank, had the challenge of shooting Ferrell and Manning in each of their locations and then editing the photos so it looked like they were together. That required hiring photographers (Peter Yang in L.A. and Emily Shur in Denver) for each location who shared notes about lighting and poses, etc. It also meant hiring stand-ins for Ferrell in Denver and Manning in L.A., so the real Manning and Ferrell had people to play off of in the shots. Ferrell was shot earlier in the day, and those pics were sent to the photog in Denver, who showed them to Manning so he understood how he was supposed to pose.

Any behind-the-scenes stories or information fans won’t find in the Mag or online?
No shock, but Manning really wanted to be prepared for the interview. He and Ferrell had a call beforehand to discuss topics, and then the two of them, along with Peyton’s brother Cooper, decided it would be easier if they just wrote a script. There is a great email exchange between the three of them going back and forth on notes. They had a pretty good time with it.

For behind the scenes of the photo shoots, click here.

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