Interview: Bobby Farrelly; co-director of Hall Pass, There’s Something About Mary

When they’re not too busy giving each other noogies, brotherly filmmaking duos can make one hell of a mark on cinema. Just look at the Coen brothers or the Marx brothers or the Hughes brothers’ or the Nolan brotherss. Bobby and Peter Farrelly are no different. They re-introduced slapstick and outrageous gross-out humour to cinema in their debut picture Dumb and Dumber, which grossed US$240 million worldwide (not bad for a little film made on a budget of only US$17 mil). They then carved their name into the history books with the now-legendary comedy There’s Something About Mary, which earned an impressive US$369 million – back in the days when that actually meant something – and etched more than a couple of comic sequences into the public consciousness.

I spoke to one half of the duo – Bobby – ahead of the release of their latest comedy Hall Pass, in which Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis star as two guys whose wives offer them a week off marriage. Bobby shared with me the tale’s origin, the flaws of the original script, and discussed the potential casting of Aussie Shane Jacobson in their next project, a modern-day adaptation of The Three Stooges (the legendary comedy troupe which, fittingly, included a couple of brothers).

Pictured: (L-R) Owen Wilson, Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly.

SM: Tell me a little bit about how Hall Pass came to be. I understand Pete Jones wrote the original spec, but was there anything in that iteration that changed significantly to what we have today?

BF: Yeah, Pete Jones did write the original script, and it was one that somebody had read, then said to my brother Pete and I, “You guys should read this; it’s pretty funny”. And we did read it and we totally agreed; it was a very funny, high concept idea about a couple of guys getting a week off from marriage and the comedy that ensues. The problem that we had with the original script – and nothing against Pete Jones – it was a little bit guy-centric; the guys got a hall pass and the girls, they kind of just sat, bit their nails and worried about what was happening. They didn’t really participate, and we showed it to our own wives – the script – and they liked the idea, but said, “Those girls seem a little weak; if the guys get a hall pass, shouldn’t the girls?” Just mentioning that sort of opened it up for us; “Yeah, we’re doing a disservice to the girls if we don’t show that if they get a hall pass, what happens to them?” I think the story became a lot better. But it was a balancing act to ensure we got both sides involved. 

SM: I was going to say, I was really glad to see a significant portion of the film devoted to Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate’s wife characters. In that original iteration, were they pretty much a non-presence, or did they just not have a hall pass themselves?

BF: Well, I think it was both. They were non-presences and they didn’t have a hall pass. And it was more in the vein of the old comedy The Seven Year Itch, where the wife kind of just went away and it just followed the guy – or in this case, the guys – for a week. It wasn’t until we thought, “Wait a minute, we gotta follow the girls too. We can’t just say that they’re gone.” Again, that opened up everything for us and it became a much better story. 

SM: As a big fan of Saturday Night Live, it was great to see Jason Sudeikis in a leading role, but it was also new to see Owen Wilson playing this somewhat dorky husband and father figure. I understand you’re on a pretty massive casting search for Three Stooges right now, but can you tell me a little bit about finding the right actors for Hall Pass?

BF: Well, my brother Pete and I love Owen – we love him – and we’ve known him a little bit personally. We think he’s a great actor, we think he’s a very smart guy and we’ve always wanted to work with him. With what we wanted to do with this one, we wondered, “Geez, can Owen play one of these guys?” Our initial hesitation was that he’s a good looking dude, and the type of guy that ordinarily doesn’t seem to have a hard time getting girls. We thought, “If a guy who can get girls gets a week off from marriage, it’s almost unfair”. So we had to dork him up; we had to make him a suburban guy who the game had passed him by, and he was a little bit more dorky and good natured than you typically see him, and I think Owen did a great job capturing that, but that just proves he’s a good actor. And I’d agree with you about Jason. Jason was a little bit of a dice roll for us. We knew he was funny on Saturday Night Live, but we didn’t know if he would be funny in a movie. And I think he is a breakout star – he could be a Will Ferrell; he can headline movies, because he’s extraordinarily funny. I just think we got him at the right time. 

SM: You guys have a lot of cache obviously, and I assume with casting you get to have your final say. But was it hard to convince the studio to cast Jason Sudeikis in a headlining role?

BF: You know, sometimes we have to fight for guys. But in this particular case, Jason had already been in a few films with our studio New Line – in much smaller roles – and to their credit, they recognised that he’s very funny. So when we started eyeballing Jason, they said, “That’s not a bad idea at all”. They believed he was going to be funny too. It was a mutual decision in this case. 

SM: Nice one. Well, I understand a lot of writing/directing duos have different approaches, and I was wondering how you and Peter work. Do you divvy up the roles, or is it a little bit more symbiotic than that?

BF: It’s definitely symbiotic. We both share the same vision; we don’t have the exact same sensibility, but we both want to accomplish the same thing, which is to create a movie everyone will enjoy and have a good time laughing at. So having two of us do it is much more of a help than a hindrance. There are times probably when we annoy each other, but by and large there is a heck of a lot more times when we support each other and fight for each other’s vision, and because there’s two of us, we’re really allowed to put a little bit more of our stamp on it than either one of us would if individually. 

SM: Have you changed your process at all over the years, if only to mix it up?

BF: You know, we really haven’t. We figured out really early – on the making of Dumb and Dumber – that we do everything together. We write together; the writing is something where it’s very important that we’re both there, running ideas past one another, pushing each other. We do a lot of the same in the editing room. The only time we sort of split up is when we’re on set shooting. I have a tendency to be watching the camera, watching the monitor, to see what we’re getting and what we still need to get, and how it’s playing and all. Pete kind of stays a little bit closer to the actors and will give them the specific direction. Between takes, he and I will meet almost every time and consult one another about how it’s going and what we’re getting, and what we should still be trying to capture. 

SM: Interesting. I’m a big fan of your audio commentaries, and I like listening to them and see you point out your family and friends and people you’ve grown up with and have cast in your films. But when it comes to leading men and women you often do mix it up, and I think – and correct me if I’m wrong – that Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey are the only ones that have appeared multiple times in the lead. Are there any actors or actresses that you’d like to work with in another project?

BF: Oh my God, there’s so many that we would love to work with. But, the one thing I’ll say is we don’t limit ourselves. We don’t say, “Oh, which comedians can we work with?” We open it up. We think “What actors can we work with?” People who aren’t necessarily in the world of comedy. Because we believe that if we work on a script long enough and we direct it properly, a guy doesn’t have to be a comedian to be funny; he just has to be a good actor. We’d love to work with Russell Crowe; we’d love to work with Johnny Depp. We’d love to work with those kind of guys, because we think in the right role we’d make them very funny. 

SM: Have you had many people from home and family friends ask if they can be in The Three Stooges? Do they ever pre-empt your projects?

BF: (Laughs) The people we know are always trying to get in our movies, because they know we will open it up to put friends and family – I’m talking about in background roles. So for them to have an opportunity to be in a movie, we get inundated with that. The trick for us of course, for the important roles, is to get the best available people we can get. Those are probably not our friends and family. 

SM: Fair enough. I’m sure you’re similarly being inundated with questions from reporters about Three Stooges, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask. There was a rumour a few weeks ago that Australian actor Shane Jacobson was in consideration for one of the roles. Have you had many Aussies audition?

BF: Shane is definitely in consideration. I’ll be totally truthful; I wasn’t all that familiar with Shane before, but the word came to us that we had to check out this guy Shane – he’s one of those guys that’s breakout funny. We are looking at him right now, so he is in the mix. We haven’t cast it at all, so it’d be unfair to say too much more, but he’s one of the guys that we’re definitely, definitely considering, because the guy is a comic genius. 

SM: I understand you guys start shooting before April. Do you have a strict deadline that you have to deliver your cast by before then?

BF: I wouldn’t say it’s a strict deadline; it’s just that that’s our start date. We always thought that we could pull it off. Everything is in place – except for our cast, which is of course a big part of it. But as soon as we return to the States we’re gonna make the decision on this casting thing. I see us doing it within the next two to three weeks, which will give the guys – the Three Stooges – about a month/five weeks to rehearse the role. We feel like that’s enough, because we’re not guys that over-rehearse things. We like to get it going and then find it when we’re shooting. So I feel like we’re in good shape to get to that start date. 

SM: Five weeks is often a lot more than actors get when they sign on for a role; sometimes it’s even after production has started.

BF: The Stooges though, these guys are really gonna have to hone their skills. Because we’re going to try to recapture exactly the style and the mannerisms of Moe, Larry and Curly. 

SM: I’m sure that the Stooges is consuming a lot of your headspace at the moment, but looking past that, do you have any other projects in the pipeline or any scripts that you’re interested in?

BF: We are pretty much simpletons in that we don’t look to far ahead. We’re always looking for new projects, but right now, honestly what you said first would be way more accurate. We’re just finishing Hall Pass and starting Stooges; that’s where our focus is. 

Hall Pass arrives in Australian cinemas March 3, 2011.

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