Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I knew within the first 30 seconds of meeting director Peter Farrelly that I could easily spend an hour or more talking to this man about comedy and still not be satisfied that we'd covered everything on my checklist. Along with his brother Bobby, Peter Farrelly has been responsible for some of the biggest laughs and most memorable moments in comedy in the last two decades, beginning with their 1994 romp DUMB & DUMBER, followed by KINGPIN and the game-changing THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY.
I never really gave up on the Farrelly brothers as they continued their run with ME, MYSELF & IRENE, SHALLOW HALL, and STUCK ON YOU, all of which I thought were pretty damn funny, but maybe haven't stood the test of time as much as their first three. THE HEARTBREAK KID was a disappointment for all, and may have something to do with why they waited four years to make another feature, the far funnier HALL PASS, starring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as a pair of husbands whose wives give them a week off from marriage to chase women and sleep with whomever will they'd like, in an effort to strengthen their marriages. It's a damn funny movie with at least one scene that had me laughing so hard, I was halfway out of my seat before I pulled it together (no lie or exaggeration).
Of course for many, HALL PASS is simply a placeholder for two unique projects from the Brothers Farrelly. Later this year, we'll get the short-film collection MOVIE 43, about a couple of college kids searching through film archives looking for the famed and elusive Movie 43. Along their search, they find several other short films (all directed by different directors and starring some very big name actors), with a wrap-around story directed by Peter.
Their other big project as directors will be, of course, the long-awaited THE THREE STOOGES movie, which apparently is not a biopic in the traditional sense. Instead, we'll get three "episodes" of their show, each one picking up where the last one leaves off. The first episode will begin with a car driving by a Catholic orphanage. A bundle is tossed out of the car, and when a nun comes out to investigate, she finds infant versions of the Stooges in the bundle.
Although no casting has been announced, Farrelly told a post-screening Q&A audience the night before our sit-down interview that shooting on THE THREE STOOGES is expected to begin in April. He added that casting decisions haven't been completely locked down because there are a couple more (presumably well-known) actors that have been promised auditions, and they don't want to firm up anything until those are done. But he made the point of saying that whoever is cast will look and sound as much like the original Stooges as possible, the sound effects will be in place, and some of the replacement Stooges will likely appearances.
Joining Farrelly and myself during this interview is co-screenwriter Peter Jones (who also gets the "story" credit for HALL PASS). A native of the Chicago area, Jones is probably best known as being the winner of the first-ever Project Greenlight contest, and as a result, he got to write and directed his film STOLEN SUMMER, which was released in 2002. Two years later, he made the comedy OUTING RILEY, which I really liked. And since then he'd been writing and trying to break into Hollywood proper, which finally happened when the Farrellys read his first draft of HALL PASS. I'll let them tell the rest of the story, so please enjoy my talk with Peter Farrelly and Peter Jones…
Capone: Good morning.
Peter Farrelly: Good morning, Capone. How are you?
Peter Jones: Long time, no see.
Capone: I know, it’s good to see you again.
PF: Where’d you get the name “Capone”?
Capone: I live in Chicago, man.
PF: It’s a good one. Was that your tag when you started writing reviews?
Capone: Yep, just for Ain’t It Cool.
PJ: It’s still up.
Capone: Yeah, our real names are on the site, so that’s not a secret. When I wrote my very first review, the site was largely a combination of reader contributions and Harry. I used to travel for my old job in the '90s. Everywhere I went, if you told some people you were from Chicago, they either think Michael Jordan or Al Capone. Michael Jordan didn’t really work.
PF: I wasn't in Chicago 15 minutes before I asked someone, “Where did Al Capone hang out?”
PJ: When I was in Europe, it was all about, "Bang, bang. Al Capone." And this was in like 1993.
Capone: A couple of the other guys on the site who were regulars, they all picked names of villains or other dubious characters. So, I just went with the obvious; I put no thought into it whatsoever. It was like an instantaneous decision.
So forgive me if we cover some of the same ground we covered last night.
PJ: Not at all.
Capone: I wasn’t recording last night. Pete, since you're here, lets start with you. Can you talk about your inspiration in putting together the original draft of this story?
PJ: Yeah, I was looking to write a bigger comedy, something commercial, something to sell, and as I said last night, I'm fascinated and obsessed with monogamy and being in a married relationship for 15 years. Any time I go out with my buddies, like a guy’s night out, it always comes back to “Oh my God, the same woman the rest of our lives,” and the idea that the grass is always greener. We think that this ring around our finger, that’s the thing that’s stopping us from getting crazy action, when the truth of the matter is, I take this thing off and I’ve got the feeling that 363 nights a year, I would be going home alone.
PR: By the way, this is what I love about Pete Jones. He starts everything like, “Why did you do the movie?” “I wanted to make a lot of money.” Justin Timberlake told me once, not to be a name-dropper, but I said, “How’d you get in the business?” He said he went and tried out for the band he was in, the boy band ['N Sync]. No, I’m sorry, before that he was in the Disney Club, and I said, “How’d you get that?” He said, “I went in and they said, ‘Why do you want to work for Disney?” And he says, “I want a paycheck,” and they all laughed, and that’s why he got hired. That’s Pete Jones, like “Why’d you write this movie?” “Money.”
PJ: I had made two movies that a lot of people missed and I love movies, and the idea of being able to make a living writing them is what I want to do, but I wasn’t really making much of a living, so I decided “Okay, I grew up on John Hughes. I grew up here in Chicago. Why not try to write scripts like that and make it broader?” Not broader in a bad way, but for lots of people to enjoy, and I just assumed “There are a lot of guys like me and my buddies that are facing these issues inside a marriage, write a story about it and hopefully make people laugh.”
PF: But I would say Pete’s intrinsically a commercial writer, that’s what he is, in fact, that’s how he got started. He wrote a script that got picked out of how many screenplays?
PJ: I don’t know. 10,000 maybe.
PF: Yeah, I mean they're looking for something that they think could be commercial that wins, and that’s how he gets on that map. The script that he sent us, the first draft of HALL PASS was very commercial, and not that that’s what we were looking for. What we were looking for is laughs, and we laughed. I laughed, and the amazing thing, and this is what I always remember is I laughed throughout it consistently. A lot of times you will read a script in the first 30 pages and you might have two or three laughs and then you'll go 80 pages without a laugh. This one literally had a laugh-out-loud moment every 10 pages, and that’s what struck me, how consistently funny it was.
Capone: I know you and Bobby also produce films, so aside from the laugh-to-page ratio, to have an outside writer appeal to you enough to actually want to work on the script and direct it, what was it about it that you made you say, “That’s something we haven’t seen before. We could do something with that.”
PF: First of all, again it was funny, but we loved the concept and we saw how we might help make it even better and we've done this a couple of times. THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY is written by Ed Decter and John Strauss, and that was a script that sat around for 10 years. They were friends of ours, and I had read that script 10 years earlier and I loved the setup, which is a guy who has only been in love with one woman, and he hasn’t seen her since high school. His friend convinces him “Why don’t you hire a private eye, track her down, and see if she’s still single?” He’s like “That’s crazy, I’m not going to do that.” “Come on, they do it all the time. It’s going to cost you a few hundred bucks. It’s the only girl you’ve ever loved, you might as well try to find out where she is.” So he does, the private eye falls in love with her, and he ends up having to battle that private eye for this girl. We thought it was a hysterical concept, and so then we got it. We rewrote it with those guys, the same thing, and that’s what we saw in HALL PASS.
I had never heard of a hall pass. I liked the concept of a hall pass. I’ve been married 14 years. My brother’s been married 20 years. We know how this is, because I've seen friends of mine in their 40s who have gotten divorced, and it’s just amazing how much they have lost off their fastball since they were in their 20s. To see them out in the single world again is funny and sad.
Capone: I was going to say “pathetic.”
PF: [laughs] Yeah! It’s kind of hilarious. You are looking at them like “Are you for real? Is that the best you have now?” Because what you use for a rap as a 22-year-old guy is different than what you use as your wrap for a 40-something-year-old guy, because now as a 40-something-year-old guy, you identify yourself with what you do usually. What you do for a living, that becomes who you are. When you are 22, you're just an idiot college guy who’s got nothing, it’s all personality, that’s all you’ve got, and when you start relying on things other than personality, it shows.
Capone: Yeah. I love the conceit--and it’s right at the beginning of the movie--that the ring is what’s keeping the women away. As if, without those rings, they'd have to fighting them off. Where did you come up with using the "Law & Order" sound effect?
[Everyone Laughs] PF: I cannot take credit for that. I have no idea.
PJ: All I remember is how any times we would be writing, and then you would go, “Dun dun!”
PF: You know what’s funny about that is that “Dun dun” cost $200,000. We had to buy it off of [composer] Mike Post, and the studio just said “Wait a second, why can you just go 'Dun dun'?” We tried it, and it wasn’t as funny. It’s like “What’s that?” But “Dun dun,” that’s funny.
PJ: That made me laugh.
PF: We thought about having just “Dun” and just paying 100 grand. [Everyone laughs]
Capone: It was great to see you using Richard Jenkins again.
PF: We love him.
Capone: As some point I had read that he might have a role in THE THREE STOOGES.
PF: Yeah, maybe. The thing with Richard is, he’s been in four of our movies and every time we have to beg him, like “Ah, come on, leave me alone.” (Laughs) “Come on Richard, please do it.” He’s like, “I don’t really think I can do this, I really don’t.” “Please, just do it.” He’s like, “Oh, okay.” He comes and does it and he’s fantastic. Our argument is “Look, you did THE VISITOR; you can do this!”
Capone: “This is Oscar worthy.”
PJ: He actually lived on the street you grew up on.
PF: That is a weird thing. Okay, the first time we worked with him was THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, he played the psychiatrist, and we cast him because we'ad seen him in FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, where he was so hysterical as the FBI agent on drugs. So, we cast him and we got together with him and we're shooting it, and he’s like “By the way, I live in Rhode Island too.” We are like, “No way,” because we're from Rhode Island. So, I said, “What are you doing in Rhode Island?” He says, “I work at Trinity Rep,” which is a great theater company. It’s one of the best in the country. He was the head of it for a while, ran it. I said, “You’re kidding. Where do you live?” He says, “I live in Cumberland.” I’m like “That’s where we grew up. What street?” Not only our street, five houses past us where we grew up our entire lives, he lives five houses around the corner, and by the way we are out in the middle of nowhere, just some bizarre coincidence. Yeah, we have a lot in common.
Capone: I wondered why you set the film in Rhode Island.
PF: I’ll tell you something; it was originally set in Anywhere Land, right?
PF: It was never said where it is, and I don’t like that. I want to know where we are. I like specificity to a story, and then people just said, “Why don’t you just put it in Atlanta, because you are shooting as Atlanta?” I said, “I don’t know what people in Atlanta are like. I don’t know how they talk. I don’t know if it’s authentic. I know Rhode Island. I know how they talk, I know what they do, and I know what they won't do. So, for us to put it anywhere else would be a little fraudulent. I remember when I was in grad school, I was in a creative writing program, and there was a guy who, you hand in your writing every week--we were writing short stories and novels--and there was a guy writing a novel that took place in Paris, and we're editing him every week. Finally at one point late in the year, someone says “When was the last time you were in Paris?” He replied, “Well, I've never been there.” “Are you shittng me? You're writing a novel that takes place in Paris, and you've never been to Paris?” “No.” “So how could you possibly tell us something authentic, real, and something that we didn’t already know. All you know about Paris is what you have seen on TV, movies, or reading yourself. You are bringing nothing to the table.” He was like “Uh, yeah, I guess.” So that’s why we put things in Rhode Island.
Capone: It’s cool to see Sudekis get such a high profile here. He’s kind of your secret weapon. Because Owen Wilson's character is just sort of the good guy, and he kind of begins as a good guy and ends as a good guy. But Sudekis is actually the one with a story arc here. He’s the one that makes the most radical changes in his life. Tell me about working with him and what he brought to this, because he certainly has never been featured this prominently in film.
PF: I will say this, I didn’t really know much about him going in. I had seen some "SNL," he seemed funny, and the guy we wanted was Owen, and the studio said, “Sudekis is good, what about him?” “Yeah, great”; we liked him. We didn’t dislike him, we liked him. I had no idea how funny this guy was. I think he’s the second coming of Jack Lemmon. Seriously, he is the perfect second banana. He’s anachronistic. He seems like he came out of a different era. He’s got this '50s or '60s vibe, but he has as quick a wit as anyone I have worked with.
PJ: The word Bobby used for his character, which is just perfect, is “Cad.” He’s a Cad. That’s a '50s term. He just reminds you of someone from back then.
PF: Do you remember Michael Callan?
Capone: Sure, just from TV.
PF: Michael Callan was an actor who got a lot of roles in the '50s and '60s. He was in CAT BALLOU.
Capone: Of course.
PF: He was the lead guy in that.
Capone: I know who you mean.
PF: That’s who he is. He’s this like '50s, '60s era cad. The guy was kind of a coward, but the girls like him, but he will never protect anybody. He’s just afraid of everything, but there’s something charming about him. He’s different. We really liked him.
Capone: That’s appropriate, because I have always sort of gotten an old-fashioned vibe off of a lot of the films that you guys to, that there’s like a real '50s purity to a lot of what you're doing, even though there are a lot of these very R-rated dirty jokes. There’s always a love story at the center, and it has heart.
PJ: I would assume your favorite show has something to do with your sensibilities.
PF: We were influenced the most… People ask, “What movies influenced you?” We were influenced by movies, but mostly we were influenced by TV, because we didn’t have a movie theater in my town growing up. The show that influenced us was "The Andy Griffith Show," it really did, because every episode you were going to laugh, especially the black-and-white years ‘60-’66 with Don Knotts, but you were also going to feel something. There was a little something there and we loved that and we love the Zucker brothers. They were a huge influence on us, but we felt the one thing that was lacking was that at the end of their movies. Nobody was funnier than the Zucker brothers, but at the end of their movies you ran out of steam a little, because you didn’t really care. You didn’t really care about Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley or what happened to them, and our feeling was if you had that kind of humor or as much--it’s a different style of humor--but as much humor and a little heart where you wanted to find out what happened at the end, that’s what we were going for.
PF: Someone pointed it out, “It seems you went out of your way to have no technology in the movie,” and it’s like “Huh?” “Well there’s only like one cell phone in the whole thing, maybe two.” That was an unconscious effort.
PJ: I didn’t even notice that.
Capone: That’s pretty impressive in this day and age.
[A publicist comes in to break the interview, but Peter Farrelly asks her if there’s anyway she can adjust the order of interviews, to show me a FUNNY OR DIE video that they did to promote HALL PASS.]
PF: We did a Funny Or Die thing last week that’s going up this week, and I just thought I’d get your opinion.
Capone: Really? Okay.
At this point, I went to Farrelly's room and was followed shortly by Pete Jones who showed me on Farrelly's computer the still rough-cut spot that runs about three minutes and stars Owen Wilson talking to a group of kids about what a hall pass is, comparing it to only getting to pick one dessert to eat for the rest of their lives. It's as funny as anything in the movie, so keep an eye out for it on Funny Or Die this week. That's it, folks. See you soon.
-- Capone email@example.com
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