Peter Farrelly (on the left in the above image), along with his brother Bobby, is one of the most notorious names in comedy today. Whether you love or hate his films, you can't deny they've got a big role in the shape of the gross-out comedy. With The Three Stooges, Farrelly is less focused on the gross and more on the slapstick, coming from a lifetime of watching the Stooges.
I got a chance to talk to Peter Farrelly on the phone about The Three Stooges (which opens tomorrow, and I've got a review of it coming in the early afternoon tomorrow), about the place of slapstick comedy in today's climate, and about Movie 43, something I'm exceptionally excited for.
Read on to see me sputter my way through an interview with one of the biggest names in comedy today.
You’ve been trying to get this movie made since I was a young one.
Well, we were hoping to make it when you were still a kid. I apologize for that.
Oh well, I’ll forgive you this time.
People ask, “How come it got made now?” It’s because they said we could make it. I’d have made it ten years ago if they gave me permission. Other people have the money, not me.
This is actually one of the first projects I’ve followed since I was young. It’s seen its ups and downs, castings and recasting. I actually wanted to ask you about the brief time when Jim Carrey, Sean Penn, and Benicio Del Toro were attached.
Ok, this is what happened. It was a very hard movie to make. Studios were concerned, “How do you take these characters, put them in a modern setting, and make it work?” When we finally got to the point where 20th Century Fox said, “Yeah, we’ll make it,” their first idea was to go with big names. Over the years, Jim Carrey, Benicio, Sean Penn, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, on and on and on. We talked to a lot of people, and it was complicated because we didn’t want a version of Moe, Larry, and Curly. We didn’t want someone’s take on Larry. We wanted Larry, exact Larry, as he was on the show, and that’s daunting for some people because people like to come in and put their spin on it. We had to tell them, that, unfortunately, this isn’t like Batman where every Batman can be a little different and everyone can do their own thing. This has to be Moe, Larry, and Curly. They have to look like them, talk like them, have the mannerisms of them, and yet we’re going to write all new material for them.
That was sort of the killer for people, that we just needed them to do exactly what the Stooges had done. We didn’t want them to go on their own thing, so it was very hard to get someone to commit to that. We felt it had to go that way. We wanted, first and foremost, to please hardcore Stooge fans, and we felt that if we did that, everything else would fall into place. Once all that fell apart, we convinced the studio, “Ok, let us open it up to the world. Let us read every actor who wants to try out for these parts, and just get the best available.” We looked at over a thousand actors, and these were the guys we picked.
It’s interesting, you’ve got Will Sasso, a sort of medium-to-large name that’s mostly known for his TV work, Sean Hayes also mostly a TV guy, and then you’ve got this guy you found to play Moe that’s just so thoroughly Moe, and he kinda came out of nowhere. Can you tell me a little about Chris [Diamantopolus]?
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that Chris Diamantopolus is as talented as anyone I’ve ever worked with. We’ve worked with some awesome guys, but this guy blew me away. Now, I’d never heard of Chris Diamantopolus, and the studio’d never heard of Chris Diamantopolus, but people in the know, stage actors, know Chris Diamantopolus. He’s done a lot of Broadway shows, that kind of thing. He’s a very highly regarded actor. We didn’t know him out here, but when he walking in the door, there was no denying this was going to be the best Moe on the planet, and there’s going to be nobody who could beat him. It wasn’t just way he looked, the way he talked, the way he moved, it was total understanding of him, to the point that he had made a bodysuit to match Moe’s body. In particular, he had made this suit that would cover up part of his neck, because Moe had a short neck, something that nobody would have noticed, or even thought about. He was just way ahead of it. On top of that, he understood Curly and Larry’s relationship to Moe, and it was like having a third director on the set because of his knowledge of the Stooges. By the way, he’s not a guy who just grew up with Stooges stuff. When he throws himself into something, he gets it right.
He’s just that kind of actor. Totally committed to the part.
Yeah. By the way, I also wanted to tell you that this was a very hard movie to cast, but it’s sort of typical. We’ve always had hard times casting movies. Dumb and Dumber was offered to 150 people before Jeff and Jim Carrey accepted. So, we always had sort of a zen view of casting. It usually works out, and this is one of those cases. If we’d gotten the first people we offered it to, this movie wouldn’t have been as good as it is, and it’s just one of those things. We don’t get down much when people pass us. Sometimes it’s a little disheartening, but usually we figure, “Ok, something must be better out there.”
If that guy wasn’t going to be the guy, he wasn’t going to be the guy, right?
Yeah. It’s like I always tell people, if you get every single thing you want in life, it’s going to be as good as you make it. If you don’t get everything, sometimes the universe opens up and gives you things better than you could ever imagine, and this is the case here.
Let’s talk a little bit about slapstick in general. Slapstick’s not the kind of thing you’re seeing people build entire movies around anymore. I dare say comedy’s taken a much more cynical approach in the past few years. You’ve got these movies about people, if they’re not going around getting themselves in wacky, sexually compromising situations, there’s a lot of, just, I doubt this is a real word, but there’s a lot of cynicality in the Hollywood big budgets, and the Stooges are so not that, so what’s your take on slapstick today and, sort of in that vein, how do the Stooges fit into that or buck that trend?
Cynicality, you should patent that word, because that’s right. There’s no irony in this movie, and that’s pretty much taken over. What it is is that I think, and I don’t know, is that physical comedy ages better than verbal repartee. The kind of comedies dependent on dialogue don’t hold up as well, wheras if you look at W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges, you still laugh at the physicality, whereas Preston Sturges may not get you because it’s a lot of sophisticated banter that doesn’t seem so sophisticated today. So, I think the more sophisticated something gets, the less lifespan it has. And the Stooges, and the physicality, I think just lasts. So we started with something that we felt would work, which is a bunch of slapstick-y physical things that hasn’t been done that much lately. However, we didn’t want to do the stuff they’ve done before. We wanted to write all new material, place them in a present day, and that was the dilemma for the studio. They thought, “Ok, you’re going to take characters that were created seventy, eighty years ago, and pretty much using those guys’s personalities, and place them in a modern setting, and you want me to give you fifty million bucks to make that?” That was the argument that the studios had, but we believed it could be done, and I think it has.
You know, the thing that I’m most proud of about this movie is that the hardcore Stooges fans are loving it. Honestly, I haven’t shown it to one Stooge fan, and these guys aren’t friends, they’re guys we find a Stooge festivals and ask, “come on in, watch the movie,” and to a man, they flip. And guys like Howard Stern, he’s the ultimate Stooge fan, and he’s been very skeptical of the project over the years, we screened it for him last week. When we did, by the way, the studio was like, “I don’t know about this, what if he doesn’t like it?” I say, “He’s going to love it.” They said, “But what if he doesn’t?” I said, “Then he’s gonna bash it.” So they said, “Maybe we tell him that he can watch it, but he can’t bash it, if he doesn’t like it he can’t comment.” I said, “No, you can’t do that. It’s Howard, he’s got integrity. He’s gonna bash it, or he’s gonna love it, but I can tell you he’s gonna love it cause Howard knows his Stooges,” and he loved it, and that’s been the case so far. So no matter what happens, and you don’t know what’s going to happen, I know this: we’ve created the Three Stooges as they were, and I’m proud of that
I’ll tell you something else, Alex, online, you see a lot of people going, “How dare they, the Farrelleys, they have no right to the Stooges, this is blasphemy, blah blah blah.” You know what we find, what I find horrifying, is that there’s a lot of kids these days that don’t know the Stooges. That kills me. I would rather take a chance and blow it then not take a chance, because otherwise the Stooges were going away, and we love the Stooges. They’re our all-time favorites. We honestly came from a place of respect and love and wanting to maintain their legacy and make sure kids in the future know about the Stooges?
As both the directors and the writers of the movie, what goes into the creation of a Stooges bit? Every great gag in the Stooges isn’t just a gag, it’s a sequence of one gag leading into another, whether over the whole episode or just over a five-minute period. How do you approach that?
Generally, when we start a movie, when we start shooting, we feel we have a script that’s 100% perfect, but we’re wrong. As you go along, you realize things that just aren’t working, so you do have to fix it on the day. However, because of the physicality of this, we really thought this one out. There were storyboards, and we don’t usually do that, because our things don’t really have action stuff, so generally we don’t need to do this, but we thought it through very clearly. For instance, the whole bell scene, we had thought that through from every angle. What’s the best angle to show that joke from? To the point where Fox was considering making the movie, I went in front of the marketing people. You have to get the marketing people to tell the president or chairman of the studio, “Yeah, we can sell this.” And I went in front of them before they gave us the green light, and I pitched that whole bell thing, and I said, “Ok, this is what this movie is.” I started from the top, with the donut remover, and the bell falling off and hitting, and the sledgehammer first of all coming, and then the bell hitting, and the ladder falling, and the throwing the sledgehammer in the face. It was almost like that movie was done already in my head, and that has never happened before. I had to get to that point before the studios could allow me to do that.
What can you tell me about Movie 43, the anthology you’re working on?
That’s really interesting, but first of all, Dumb and Dumber 2 is the next movie we’re working on. We’ve got Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey back, and it looks like we’re shooting in September and it’ll come out in 2013, if the Mayans are wrong. So that’s picking up where the Dumb and Dumber movie left off. As you might know, we didn’t have anything to do with the prequel.
So, Movie 43, that is a really interesting movie in this sense. That was a brainstorm of Charlie Wessler, who produced all our movies, or most of our movies, and his idea was to get big stars, and to do a movie for a low budget, six million dollars. He basically went to huge stars like Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman and Richard Gere and Emma Stone, and say, “Look, we’re all working for nothing, and we’re going to make a hugely R-rated shorts comedy, but it’s not going to be like Kentucky Fried Movie, we’re going to have a wraparound story that’s going to hold the whole thing together, and we’re going to shoot it over several years, because we can’t get all these kinda actors together for a ten week period.” So basically, starting three years ago when we shot the Kate Winslet one first, every four or five months new writers, new directors, new actors, and we shoot a new episode. They’re just wrapping it up, and it looks like it’s not going to come out until next fall or even after that, but they’re finally finishing it up. It’s really, really cool, but it’s outrageously R-rated. Never before has big movie stars done as many outrageous things nor had as many writers participating. You’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it, it’s that kind of thing. Some people are like, “That’s just fucking obscene,” and some people are like, “You guys are gods.”