This weekend sees the release of Hall Pass, the latest movie from the Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber, Stuck On You). We’ll have our review of the film up soon, but in the meantime director/writer Bobby Farrelly and co-writer Kevin Barnett sat down for a roundtable interview here in Toronto, and Dork Shelf’s own Ian MacIntyre was invited to join in. Bobby and Kevin discussed Hall Pass, how comedy has changed, marriage, and crazy Three Stooges casting rumors.
Questions marked with “Q” are from other journalists who were present at the roundtable.
Bobby Farrelly: Well guys, what have I got to say? (MOTIONS TO HOTEL BOARD ROOM)
Q: This is all looking rather more corporate than I would have thought for the guys that did “Something About Mary”…
Farrelly: Uh yeah. We’re kind of more boring in real life than people want us to be. Our heroes when we first went out to LA and became screenwriters – the guys we looked up to – were the Zucker Brothers. Because, first of all, they were making some extraordinarily funny movies, but they were a brother team like my brother and I. So we always looked up to those guys and we got the opportunity to meet them and they were pretty dorky too (ROOM LAUGHS). And that sort of inspired us, that they weren’t Hollywood at all. They were very much true to where they grew up which was in Wisconsin, and I think that we always kind of secretly vowed that if we ever had some success we would just be who we were.
Kevin Barnett: Remain dorks?
Farrelly: Yeah. Remain dorks.
Ian MacIntyre: When you and your brother work together is it quiet and boring, like he mentioned, or does it get crazy behind closed doors?
Farrelly: It definitely gets crazy – writing’s the hardest thing we do. Kevin’ll attest to that. Once we get the chance to direct the movie, that’s fun, but the writing process is very difficult.
Barnett: It’s not quiet. But yeah, you kind of just hunker away for months at a time and you either go on a road trip, or Pete’s got a farmhouse up in Ohio so we all just get away and get together and just put it down. But draft after draft takes a long time so… lots of yappin’.
Farrelly: One thing we like to do, as he mentioned, when we’re writing – because it’s easy to get together to write but not get anything done, you know? You talk about the game last night, or something else – anything but writing. So we hop in a car and we don’t think anything about driving from one end of the country to the other. Because you’re trapped in that car and you are gonna get some work done. You may have to put it in a tape recorder or something, but you’ll get some writing done if you do that.
Q: When you’re on set, how do you balance the directing with (your brother?)
Farrelly: Yeah, early on we realized that because we both have ideas – “Hey, what do you think? Do you think we should do this bigger?” “Yeah, yeah…” and we’d both go over and talk to the actors and you could see ‘em going like this (makes confused face). We realized that that probably wasn’t a good idea, so Pete and I talk to each other, and one or the other will go over and approach the actors, but generally not both.
Q: You seem to really push the envelope with your humour. Are there any lines that you wouldn’t cross, or anything that you find too offensive?
Farrelly: We do push the envelope, but a lot of it is just, like, bodily functions and that sort of thing, and really it’s more just like things that are embarrassing, you know. So we’re comfortable joking about that because it’s just sort of things that happen – it’s just part of being human, you know? We don’t really know for sure if everybody’s gonna enjoy it the same way we do until we show it to an audience. So when we do that we learn, “Oh yeah, we might’ve gone too far with this one…” Or even not far enough sometimes. But the audience ultimately tells us. But the general rule is, if someone is getting hurt, it’s probably not very funny. If someone is getting embarrassed, that’s okay.
Ian: Can you guys think of a time when you wish you’d pushed something a lot further?
Farrelly: Umm… I can tell you a time that we thought we had gone way too far and we hadn’t, and that was when we made There’s Something About Mary. We started off and Ben Stiller was masturbating and then he lost it and then it was on his ear and then it was in her hair and then her hair’s stickin’ up. And at each level of doing that we thought “No, this is where we just crossed the line,” “No we’ve probably gone too far here…” But… it all worked. (ROOM LAUGHS) At the end, when we test a movie, we always ask people, “What’s your favourite scene in the movie, and what’s your least favourite scene.” And almost always it’s the same scene. So there are people that we do lose. When we had the “gel” in Mary’s hair we lose a certain percentage of the crowd. There are some people that are like “oh, that’s not for me.” But the other people like it so much that we have to keep it in, because those are the people that wanna laugh.
Q: With Hall Pass it seems that it was meant to be for the guys to have that week off, and it turned out that both the men and the women had the week off from marriage. Was that intended when you first wrote the script, or was that something you put in after you wrote the script?
Farrelly: That’s a good question.
Barnett: Yeah, that was the biggest problem with the script. Pete Jones wrote the original script and it was hilarious, and great script, we all loved it. But after rewriting it for about… probably a year into it – because we did The Heartbreak Kid, and kinda kept bouncing back to this, because the guys were working on “Stooges”… We kind of had a brainstorm one day and, actually the way it came to be was that Pete handed it to his wife and she read it and said, “it sucks. I fuckin’ hate these guys.” And we’re like “really?” I think she got on page 45 and she’s like, “what wives would give their husbands ‘hall passes’ and just say ‘yeah, go, we’ll take care of the kids and we’ll just be waiting for you when you get back’”. And that was when Pete came back and we all got on the horn and were like, “yeah, the women have to have something in this too.” And that’s really where the script kind of came to fruition. It all started working when the women got in it.
Because the real truth of it is, a guy can go out every night of the week and try to get laid and it’s not going to happen, you know. Or its going to be very difficult. But for the woman it’s much easier, you know? There’s always a guy waiting there at a bar with open arms. It really is the reality of watching these two guys blunder through it and watching these two women accidentally fall into it, because guys are attracted to them.
Q: The whole journey for Rick and Fred seems to be so much about trying to score as much as trying to go back to those “good ol’ alpha male days”. Is there a fair basis of truth to that?
Farrelly: That’s a good question, because it is about that. And you know, a lot of times when we were making it we used this expression that “the older we get, the better we were.” That’s what happens to a guy – “Oh, you know, if I was single now the damage I would do…” You just start to think that, and that’s what these guys think. And, really, they didn’t do much damage when they were single. (ROOM LAUGHS) And now they’ve forgotten everything about that, so for them to go out there, they’re a little bit out of the loop. And yeah, we played it a little bit over the top, but we do that for comedy reasons.
Ian: There’s a lot of different points of view in this movie, like some people think the hall pass is a great idea, and some people don’t think it’s a good idea at all. Do you guys have particular opinions on whether this would be a good thing to try?
Farrelly: The general feeling is, it’s a good thing to try as long as our wives don’t get one. (ROOM LAUGHS) If they wanna try one out on us, we’re in. But if they want one, nah, deal’s off. It probably makes for a better movie than real life. In real life I think it’s a bit dangerous.
Q: Do you think comedy has changed over time since you guys started? Like are there things that work, and don’t work, and what appeals to audiences – is it different from when you guys started?
Farrelly: Comedy definitely changes, no question. When we did There’s Something About Mary, no one had made an R Rated comedy in a long time. So it was kind of like a new brand of territory for us, so we could go further. Now, there’s a bunch of good filmmakers making them, so it gets a little tricky. A lot of the things we joke about have already been done. You know, we come up with an idea for a joke and someone’ll say “Oh, they did that on Curb Your Enthusiasm or they did it in an Apatow movie or somewhere else.” So it becomes a little tricky to come up with new stuff. You want to be original, so it stays hard.
Q: I’m gonna switch gears a little bit, and I just want to ask about The Three Stooges movie. Is it going to stay true to the sitcom; is it true that it’s going to be three back to back?
Farrelly: Yeah, the Stooges back in the day did shorts that would be shown before a feature film. They never really got to make a feature film. They’d do that 20-minute bit before other people came in to see a different movie. So we’re gonna do it in that style. We’re gonna do 3 shorts, it’s probably gonna be about 25 minutes each. But each one would lead you into the next one. And, you know, back to back to back it tells a whole story. But it will be broken up into 3 shorts. It’ll be true to the Stooges: Moe, Larry, Curly. 3 new guys; not a biopic. We’ve written all-new stuff for ‘em in their vein of comedy. It won’t call for the outrageous gags that’s in, say, Hall Pass – it will be true to the Stooges.
Q: And is the cast still up in the air?
Farrelly: We’ve read a lot of people, auditioned a lot. We’ve seen some really good people, but we haven’t cast it yet, so I can’t really say who’s the frontrunner or anything. But we have some really good people in mind.
Q: There’s been a lot of rumors about the casting – what’s the craziest rumor that you’ve seen?
Farrelly: I think there’s one out there now saying Cher’s gonna be one of the Stooges. (ROOM LAUGHS)
Barnett: I saw that, it was saying it was for one of the sisters.
Farrelly: Oh, well that’s true. So that’s not crazy at all. (ROOM LAUGHS)
Q: I remember reading a few years a go that The Three Stooges was gonna include Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro. Was that the actual intent?
Farrelly: At that point, that was actually exactly who we were talking to. Unfortunately for us, Sean Penn – because we wanted to get Sean Penn back into the world of comedy. The first thing he ever did that I remember was Fast Times At Ridgemont High – and he was a funny character that we still laugh about to this day – and then he goes on to make all these deathly serious things, but we thought it would be great to get him back into the world of comedy. And we almost had ‘em, we almost had ‘em on the boat, but he wants to go down to… he’s into Haiti now and all that and that’s what he’s doing so he said “yeah, maybe later guys, I’m just doing all this other stuff now.” So it was like, we have to move on. So unfortunately, that one’s not gonna work out. But that’s the way casting is. You don’t always get – you don’t ever get exactly who you have in mind when you’re writing the project. But, at the same time, it seems like you will get the right people for the role. They’ll come to you somehow.
Q: Do you find it more rewarding to work with more serious actors and then have them play a more comedic role, or do you kind of prefer to go for people who are already kind of generally funny, and try to work their humour?
Farrelly: Well, when we were casting our very first movie, Dumb & Dumber we had Jim Carrey, and he was, like, in the zone of comedy – nobody could keep up with him at that particular time. He was so funny, and we read all these other funny guys. But it just felt like it was gonna be “Jim’s up here, and the other guy’s gonna be here. So we wanted it where the two guys were gonna be the same. So we thought, “let’s go into the other side of acting – you know, people we respect as actors.” And Jeff Daniels was one of those guys. He wasn’t necessarily a comedian. And the studio thought it was a terrible idea. But we thought, “you know what, he might challenge Jim in a different avenue. He might challenge Jim to say ‘oh, I gotta keep up with this guy who’s a really good actor’.” And it did work for us. It wasn’t the obvious choice, but it really worked. So ever since then we’ve always thought, “naw, let’s just get the best actor we can get.” And if we’ve done well by the script, they’ll be fine, because they’re good actors. We don’t ask them to write the stuff, we come up with things for them to do, and if they’re a good actor, they’ll be fine.
Q: Going back to Hall Pass, I really liked the Richard Jenkins character. How important was it to have somebody to represent that different point of view, in a movie that I personally found to be pretty pro-monogamy?
Barnett: I think when we wrote him – and actually, he’s the perfect actor for what Bobby said. You take a guy who’s nominated for The Visitor, in a totally dramatic role, and all of a sudden we put him in as Coakley, sizing up girls at a club or whatever.
Farrelly: By the way, (Richard) went in kicking and screaming. He was like, “what? That’s not me at all!” And we said, “so what? Just do it.”
Barnett: But no, to that question, for Coakley’s character we did explore that. But no, for Coakley we didn’t want that sappy speech of him saying, “God, I missed my window – I’d do anything to be you guys – you have wives, you should get home…” So we definitely stayed away from that.
We did actually have a scene at one point in the movie where Owen walks upstairs, and (Coakley’s) just watching The Andy Griffith Show, and (Owen’s) like, “Why aren’t you partying?” and he’s like, “Ugh, I’m tired as shit, man. I mean, I’m 55 years old, I can’t fuckin’ party with these kids.” But we never went there once we shot it.
Publicist: Well, that’s all the time we have…
Farrelly: Well thanks guys, that was a lot of fun.
Barnett: Yeah, thanks!
Hall Pass hits theatres February 25 2011. Stay tuned for our full review.