As one half of the filmmaking duo known as the Farrelly brothers, Peter Farrelly has been churning out slapstick comedies with his brother Bobby since “Dumb and Dumber” in 1994. Since then, both have introduced audiences to some unusual characters in films such as “Kingpin,” “There’s Something About Mary,” and “Shallow Hal.”
In the Farrelly brothers’ new film, “Hall Pass,” actors Owen Wilson (“Wedding Crashers”) and Jason Sudeikis (“Going the Distance”) play two men whose wives give them the opportunity to take a week off from marriage and have an affair.
During an interview with me, director/writer Peter Farrelly talked about what his wife thought about him making a movie centered on infidelity, his personal feelings on film critics, and had just enough time to give us an update on “The Three Stooges.”
Some married women are going to leave the theater after watching this movie and turn to their husbands and ask them, “Honey, if I were to give you a hall pass would you take it?” What’s the right answer?
Not if you’re getting one, too, honey.
What did your wife think about the idea for the movie when you told her about it?
I gave my wife a draft and she read it and said, “I hate these people.” Originally, while the guys had the hall pass, the wives sat around at home biting their fingernails and wondering what they were doing. My wife didn’t think we were being fair to the women. She said, “If you get a hall pass, then I get a hall pass.” At that point, we realized it was becoming too guy-centric. From that point forward, when we were rewriting it, we were trying to be fair to both sides and be real about what would happen.
Well, in real life, the situations in “Hall Pass” might lead to divorce.
Well, we didn’t want to necessarily go for a happy ending. We wanted the movie to have a 70s ending – an honest ending. Back in the 70s you could end a movie like “The Way We Were” where [the main characters] don’t end up together or “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where they get killed at the end. We knew when we started that this could end up with both couples getting divorced. We didn’t want any bad guys in the movie. We didn’t want the husbands or the wives to be the bad guys. We felt like they were all good people who made mistakes and who are punished for those mistakes.
How does the writing process begin for you and your brother?
Some people think we look for gags and write a movie around that, but we actually do it the opposite way. First we think of characters we like enough to hang our gags on them. That’s the No. 1 rule. We must love our characters for our humor to work.
Other than making movies, what is one thing you just can’t do without your brother?
(Long pause) Other than making movies what can’t I do without my brother? (Another long pause) Oh, boy. That’s a good question. It’s a tough question to answer because we are so close. We’ve always done everything together. We’re only a year apart. We always had the same friends, did the same things, and played the same sports. I can’t imagine my life without my brother, so it’s kind of across the board.
Okay, well what about naming something you’d rather do without your brother around?
Have sex. You know, sometimes after you finish a script you need time apart because you get on each others nerves. You’re working day and night together and bumping heads and fighting and trying to come up with the best stuff. After a script is done, I like to just spend time with my family and he spends time with his. It’s good for us both, but not for long.
Your movies have been both critically praise and panned since you first started with “Dumb and Dumber” back in 1994. Do you care what movie critics think?
You know, I’ll never be happy until we do a screening where we get a standing ovation at the end and the audience carries us out of the theater across the street to a bar and starts buying us shots. You want everybody to love your movies. Anybody that says they don’t care is full of it. When critics don’t love our stuff there is a certain amount of pain. On the other hand, we don’t live and die by it. If you look at the reviews for “Dumb and Dumber,” it’s pretty much straight Ds across the board with a couple of Cs thrown in there. But if you look at the reviews when “Dumb and Dumber” came out on DVD, all of a sudden it was straight Bs with a couple of As thrown in. Sometimes movies are better in retrospect. Even one of our movies like “There’s Something About Mary,” there was a review written by [New York Observer film critic] Rex Reed that was so mean and scant, you can’t worry about it too much. On the other hand, critics’ reviews have saved my life like Siskel & Ebert’s review of “Kingpin.” It only made $5 million opening weekend and it got slammed by critics. Sitting there that weekend, I was just devastated wondering how I could be so mistaken because I loved that movie. Then, Siskel & Ebert’s review came on and it carried me for the next six months. I was like, “You know, if Siskel & Ebert loved the movie it can’t be that bad.”
I talked to J.B. Smoove the other day and I don’t think I have laughed harder on the phone during an interview. How did you keep him from getting out of control on the set?
J.B. Smoove is an unbelievable talent. He’s the kind of guy who would basically do things on his own and you had to let him. He was sort of like Bill Murray in that way. Bill Murray in “Kingpin” never did one line that we wrote, but every line he did was better. That’s what J.B. does. There are not many guys you want to go off the page, but he’s one of them. He comes up with funnier stuff by just winging it. I’m a bit disappointed that we couldn’t put more of J.B. in the movie because we only had him for a couple of days.
Have you always been a fan of Owen Wilson?
I’ve loved Owen since “Bottle Rocket.” The thing I like about him is his innate likeability. Even though he’s playing an idiot like in the “Focker” movies, you like him. I’ve gotten to know him over there years and I just convinced him one day to do something different. I said, “Owen, enough with the cool dude roles with the bleach blonde hair. Why don’t you play a regular guy?” I knew he had that whole side to him, so we couldn’t wait to show that off. It’s a whole different Owen. No one has ever seen this side. I have to say, we’ve worked with some great people over the years, but he was the most easy-going actors I’ve ever worked with.
This year is going to set a record for sequels that will hit theaters. I think I read there will be 27 sequels, which will break the record of 23 back in 2003. Now, I know you’ve never done a sequel before, but if you were to entertain the idea, which of your past films would you like to revisit?
We’ve never done a sequel, but it’s not because we couldn’t do it. We could have done it several times, but we didn’t because I didn’t like the idea of spending several years of my life on the same story. We’ve always moved on. Having said that, I always felt we should make a sequel to “Dumb and Dumber.” They did that prequel a few years ago, which we had nothing to do with. We thought it was a bad idea because they did it with [the main characters] as teenagers. To me, all teenagers are dumb and dumber. I was. The joke in “Dumb and Dumber” was that these guys were older and they were dumb and dumber. So, “Dumb and Dumber” is probably the one we’d do. In fact, we may be doing it in the next couple of years.
Back to naming things you’d like to do without your brother: You actually are doing a movie – or at least a segment of a movie – without your brother called “Movie 43.” Tell me about that and what it was like working on a project without Bobby.
“Movie 43” is a movie developed by our long-time producer Charley Wessler. I co-produced it with him. The movie is sort of a “Kentucky Fried Movie” except it has a framing device. It’s these two 15-year-old kids and their 10-year-old egghead brother who are trying to find the elusive Movie 43, which is the most subversive movie in the world. They go online and start breaking into government websites and archives and studio sites. Along the way, they find several other banned movies. [“Movie 43”] is one of the craziest things I have ever been involved with because there are all these different writers and directors. There are 15 or 16 shorts in it. I directed two of the shorts. The thing that makes it significant is that it has the biggest group of famous actors I think any movie has ever had – Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Ricahrd Gere, Naomi Watts, Halle Berry…on and on and on. And they are all doing things you would never expect them to do because it’s a hard R. All these movies are banned. It’s really fascinating. I have no idea how this movie is going to do, but it’s exciting. It was a little unsettling working without my brother because when I first got there on set I didn’t have him to look to. So much of what I do I bounce off him. But the shoots that I did were each only two days long, so it was over before I knew it.
What’s the latest on “The Three Stooges?”
We don’t know who is in it yet. It could be Benicio [del Toro]. We’ve been casting it for six weeks now. It’s going into production at the end of April. We’ve seen some amazing Moe, Larry and Curleys, but we’re not deciding yet because we have more actors coming in. We don’t want to make our minds up until we’ve seen everybody because it’s really a balancing act. It’s not a biopic. The film is three shorts. Each one picks up where the other one left off. It takes place present day. It’s all new material. We’ve written all new stuff, but they look the same, talk the same, and act the same and we have the same sound effects.
What’s the funniest movie you’ve seen in the past couple of years?
You know, this is going to be a boring answer, but I think “The Hangover.” Also, one that I liked that a lot of people didn’t like was “Bruno.” I’m still giggling about it. “Bruno” killed me. Sasha Baron Cohen is the bravest guy out there.