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Good old days helped set up Meagan to make headlines

THE movie is called Anchorman, but talk to its female stars and it soon becomes clear that in the world of Ron Burgundy it is really the skirts who wear the trousers.

Take Meagan Good, who plays a news station boss in the new film, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Asked to go for a "chemistry read" with Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy, the Think Like A Man star was clear about what she had to do.

"I went in, threw him all over the audition room, beat him up and they gave me the job," she says. Handily for the sake of not involving lawyers, it was all in the script.

Christina Applegate, aka broadcast journalist Veronica Corningstone, fell victim to similar "Ron rage" in the first film, set in the 1970s, when her character stood up to the mucho macho anchor and his sexist cronies. At one point during a newsroom rammie Veronica threw a typewriter the size of a small child at Ron's head.

"Those boys like to see chicks get down," says Applegate, laughing.

Those "boys" are Ferrell and Adam McKay, whose first Anchorman in 2004 introduced Ron - sign off: "Stay classy, San Diego" - and his perfect hair to the world. In the 1980s-set sequel, Ron and his now wife Veronica have made it to New York, where one of them is about to make it even bigger as the first female anchor on prime time network news.

McKay, the Saturday Night Live writer who has also helmed Step Brothers, The Other Guys and Talledega Nights, says the first Anchorman was a hit with women because it laughed at "man-child men" who couldn't handle females coming into the workplace. "Women generally like our movies because we mostly make fun of idiot guys."

Applegate backs him on that. As the star of cult comedy Married With Children and other shows and films ranging from Friends (for which she won an Emmy for playing Rachel's sister) to Hall Pass, the 42-year-old knows comedy bones when she sees them. Her theory is that Ferrell and McKay write such strong roles for women because they are so in awe of their own wives.

"We are so used to seeing women being portrayed as imbeciles and weak. Will and Adam are able to take feminine, strong women and make them loveable and likeable."

As such, says Applegate, that makes them a rare breed in Hollywood. Applegate is something of a rarity herself in as much as she is not afraid to speak out when the occasion demands it, in this case when the talk turns to women in movie comedies in general. It is a boys' club, she says.

"It's very evident, you can see it in the comedy world, that it is driven and run by men. Nine times out of 10 the female parts are so thankless in these movies, because there is no way that some of these guys are going to let a woman be funnier than them." Any female roles there are call for someone soft and loving, supportive and co-operative. That's where Ferrell and McKay are different, she says. "These guys are not afraid. They want us to be funny. They want us to challenge. They want their female characters to be strong and powerful and stand out."

Ferrell and McKay aside, what is required is more women writing comedies. "We need more Kristen Wiigs writing the Bridesmaids of the world." That was a showcase of how women could be funny in a movie, says Applegate, and it was a huge success at the box office besides. Wiig, as it happens, is in Anchorman 2.

Between the first film and the sequel a lot changed for Applegate. She became a mother to Sadie, now three, for a start. Her husband, Martyn LeNoble, is a musician. Before that, Applegate had suffered breast cancer. There was history of it in her family and in 2008, after cancer was discovered in one breast, she opted to have a double mastectomy. She then started her own foundation in America, Right Action For Women, which raises awareness about screening and helps women with the cost of MRI scans.

Applegate was born in Los Angeles to an actress mother and record producer father. Her father left when she was three months old. It was a hard-working household, with Christina making her acting debut in a soap opera when still a baby. Other roles followed, but it was not until she was 16 and joined Married With Children as teenage daughter Kelly Bundy, that Applegate became widely known.

Married With Children, which ran from 1987-1997, made The Simpsons look like The Waltons. It was the time, recalls Applegate, when television was full of perfect families who could solve all their problems within the allotted half hour.

In contrast, Married With Children, featuring a deadbeat dad, loudmouth mother, and two sarky children, was Dysfunction Central. In its own way, says Applegate, it was feelgood television.

"We gave people the opportunity to watch a show and think, 'Thank God we're not the Bundys'," she says, with a laugh. It was also great training for Applegate, who until that point had only done drama.

"I learned so much about myself as an actress, as a funny actress, what being in front of an audience is like, so it prepared me for theatre, it prepared me for everything."

Applegate, who would later be nominated for a Tony award for her Broadway performance in Sweet Charity, recalls the vibe on set with fondness.

"I remember when we would be rehearsing and sitting on the couch set, just talking and laughing. That was the stuff that really stands out for me. Those people raised me. I was with them more than I was with my own family."

She remains in touch with her co-stars on Married With Children, just as she stayed close to the Anchorman gang after the first film. They were all determined to do another movie, she says. In the years since, nothing has compared to it for a fun gig. It is not that there are practical jokes on set, or anything like that.

"We are all over 40, those days are long gone. They are all very funny people but not funny how you think they would be funny. They are not zany. Their humour comes from a lot of wit, it is a little bit more acerbic, politically driven a lot of the time. They are all much calmer people, except for David Koechner (Champ the sportscaster)."

In Anchorman 2, Veronica and Ron have become the proud parents of a son.

Those are not the only changes in Veronica. Her wardrobe has had a radical makeover to match her new high-powered status, and gone are those three piece skirt suits and wrap dresses of old.

"Veronica had been moving into a different level of her journalism so she had to become a little bit more conservative, a little bit Barbara Walters if she was going to be interviewing heads of state. Her wrap dresses could not be on air anymore. She had to have some Chanel."

Applegate knows how to stay classy.

Anchorman 2 is in cinemas now

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