02.22.11

Interview With Hall Pass Directors Farrelly Brothers

The sibling directors behind Dumb & Dumber talk to Chris Lee about living up to the comedy standard they set, "sharting" and why Sean Penn should be a Stooge.

For their latest film, Hall Pass, directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly cast Wedding Crashers' star Owen Wilson and Saturday Night Live cast member Jason Sudeikis as two horny doofuses from suburban Rhode Island whose long-suffering wives grant them a "week off from marriage."

The new raunch comedy, in theaters Friday, gets its laughs from a certain kind of situational humor: explosive diarrhea, premature ejaculation, prison rape, and public masturbation. In one scene, for example, a character defecates in a golf course sand trap after eating a pot brownie—it's that kind of a movie. The Farrelly brothers, the gross-out auteurs responsible for Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary, are clearly back on the terra firma of R-rated comedy after making three consecutive PG-13 movies.

In the final leadup to their long-gestating dream project, a Three Stooges movie that's set to begin principal photography this spring, the Farrelly brothers took the time to discuss living up to the comedy standard they set, "sharting," and why Sean Penn would have made a most excellent Stooge.

Your movies have tackled subjects like Amish bowling, the Special Olympics, and conjoined twins—but never midlife crisis before. Was Hall Pass born out of some personal experience?

Peter Farrelly: It's probably the most personal movie we've done since Outside Providence. Being that we're both married—Bobby for 20 years, me 14—it was something that appealed to us. We thought we could have a lot of fun with it.

Bobby Farrelly: What we worked on for years, actually, was to try to get the story right. We knew it was dangerous territory joking about marriage and all.

Like how these characters could have come off as assholes if their hearts weren't in the right place? How did you make them loveable while still being repugnant and inappropriate?

PF: It was a really hard trick. The guys are not bad guys. They're not cheaters, but they're lookers. The wives come up with the idea, "Let's give ‘em a week off from marriage." Even when it first comes up, Owen's [character is] like, "Are you crazy?" We had to do it that way to get the women on board.

“The guys came in and took their clothes off and took photos… They sent us the photos and we picked the one we thought was the biggest schlong.”—Bobby Farrelly

They also fit into your films' tradition of deeply flawed characters—individuals who are deluded, stupid, or even developmentally disabled. What's appealing to you about guys like that?

BF: I think, basically, we're a couple of dimwits ourselves. [laughs] We sort of just relate to those kinds of guys. The more flawed they are, the funnier they become.

Jason Sudeikis gets the shit kicked out of him in the film. In general, your characters get pretty beat up and are made to look idiotic . Do you ever warn your actors about what they're getting into?

BF: I think they generally know. We make sure they're comfortable with it and they know it's in the script; so on the day we're filming some embarrassing scene, they don't pull out and balk at us. With Jeff Daniels all the way back in Dumb & Dumber, we're thinking, "Is Jeff gonna do this bathroom scene?" We didn't want to have to talk him into it on the day. He's like, "Naw, I understand. This needs to be done. I think people need to laugh and I'm happy to do it." That's been our policy since then.

PF: I do know this: When somebody has to look great on the screen, that's the death of funny.

Speaking of which, in Hall Pass, there's a scene with Owen being revived by a naked guy with a penis the size of an elephant trunk in a hot-tub room. Now that image is going to live on in Owen's filmography forever.

BF: It's funny you should point that out! That was Owen's biggest fear in doing that scene. Someone's going to snap a picture of that on their phone and it was going to get out before the movie was released.

Seriously, that guy has a humongous dick. Where'd you find him?

BF: We advertised in an actors' newspapers. The guys came in and took their clothes off and took photos. We weren't there. They sent us the photos and we picked the one we thought was the biggest schlong.

PF: We have an old shoebox full of Polaroids of the ones who didn't make it. If you want, I can send it over.

BF: I wondered what happened to those. You got those?

PF: Yeah, they're under my bed.

So the scene with the explosive diarrhea—

BF:—There's a medical term for it. That's a shart.

Shit and fart, got it. Is it an implicit homage to Jeff Daniels' scene in Dumb & Dumber?

BF: I don't think it was an homage; but we don't mind using bodily functions in our movies. I give a lot of credit to the actress who played it, a young lady named Carly Craig. She didn't hesitate. She really sold it.

PF: We are proud of that scene. It's a good head fake. Everyone is looking at that bucket, thinking, "Oh boy, she's going to throw up all over him." And then it comes the other way. [laughs]

Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary forever upped the raunchiness in mainstream movie comedies. What's it like to live up to that standard you've set?

PF: There was a point after Me, Myself and Irene that we seemed to have to one-up ourselves and we didn't want to do that. We don't want to compete with ourselves. So we did three PG-13 movies [including The Heartbreak Kid and Fever Pitch] in a row just because we wanted to go in a different direction—more heartfelt things. Then we read this and felt, "OK, if you're doing a movie about guys and women getting a hall pass, that's an R-rated comedy right away." Once we start thinking in an R-rated way, this stuff just flows—no pun intended.

And now you're doing a PG-rated Three Stooges movie.

PF: It's the scariest and most exciting thing we've ever done. Some people are going to be mad about it. But my argument is this—the Stooges never got the first-class treatment they deserved in their lives. They never got money. They never got the respect of Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brothers. But for our money, we find the Stooges funnier. We want to bring them to a whole new generation of fans.

Do you have a cast in place?

PF: No, we've been casting for the last six weeks and have some amazing choices already. We have two or three excellent Moe's, Larry's and Curly's. But we're still looking at people. Once you pick one, then it becomes a balancing act. They've got to be roughly the same age, roughly the same size.

Benicio Del Toro, Jim Carrey, Sean Penn, Johnny Knoxville and Andy Samberg were all on the short list at one point or another. But I can't get my head around how Sean Penn would have been an effective Stooge.

PF: He was going to be Larry. And Larry is the hardest Stooge to cast and play. [With] Moe, you give him the haircut and scowl [and] boom! Curly [is just] " Woob, woob, woob, woob, woob!" It's easy. Larry is the reactor—that's some hard comedy. Sean Penn is one of the best actors on the planet. If you watch Carlito's Way, he played a Larry-ish guy. But also, he's got a Larry-ish face: the big nose, the prominent lips. If anybody could have played Larry, it would have been Sean Penn. But, the Haiti thing happened; he's devoted all his energy to that so God bless him.

We don't stress over these things. If we had gotten our first choice in Dumb & Dumber, it wouldn't have been Jim Carrey. He was 150th on the list. God knows, we might not be talking to you right now if it had gone any other way.

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Chris Lee is a senior entertainment writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast. He previously worked as an entertainment and culture reporter for the Los Angeles Times. His work has also appeared in Vibe, Premiere and Details magazines and has been plagiarized in The Sunday Tribune of Ireland and The Trinidad Guardian.