Peter Farrelly — along with his co-directing, co-writing brother Bobby — has given us some of cinema’s most indelible moments, both lovably juvenile (the bathroom mishaps of Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary) and just lovable (most everything in between). So who better to bring the slapstick of The Three Stooges (out this weekend) to the big screen? We talked to Farrelly over the phone just before release time about the battle to keep the movie true to spirit, the Stooge snobs, Bob Dylan’s Stooge love, his favorite Jersey Shore cast member, and what’s in store next for Harry Dunne.
ERIC SPITZNAGEL: So I was at a Three Stooges screening last night, and there was a kid sitting behind me, maybe nine or ten years old, who was laughing so hard I was convinced he was gonna have a stroke.
PETER FARRELLY: [Laughs] I love that! That was actually our whole goal in making this movie. We’re trying to give as many kids strokes as possible.
ES: At one point he shouted, and I swear I’m not exaggerating, “I’m dying over here!”
PF: [Laughs] That’s so awesome. Okay, I have a confession to make. That was my son. We put him behind you. That was all strategic.
ES: Actually, that’s not a bad marketing idea. Make sure there’s a ten-year-old boy sitting behind every critic, and this thing will get glowing reviews. There’s no way to be cynical about a movie when it’s giving a kid so much pure joy.
PF: That’s the great thing about the Stooges’ comedy. We’ve watched this movie with five-year-olds all the way up to eighty-year-olds, and they all laugh at different stuff. That scene in the nursery—
ES: When everybody gets covered in baby piss?
PF: Yep, that’s the one.
ES: That’s exactly the scene I was talking about, where the kid behind me was having a laugh-induced aneurysm.
PF: Yeah, I could’ve guessed. Something about that scene appeals to five-to-eight-year-olds. It makes them fall out of their seats.
ES: Well, sure, it’s got grown men soaked in baby urine. What’s not to love?
PF: I agree. But I’ve watched kids laugh at that scene, and their parents or grandparents are right next to them, staring at them, just dumbfounded, like they have no idea what the big deal is.
ES: Was that your target audience? Were you trying to appeal specifically to the prepubescent who thrives on the simple pleasures of a piss shootout and painful scrotum punches?
PF: First and foremost, yes. Because the Stooges, the original Stooges, were made for kids. And kids aren’t watching them anymore. That just made us sad. I have a son who’s thirteen and a daughter who’s eleven, and half of their friends don’t have any idea who the Three Stooges are. The Stooges are disappearing, and we wanted to stop that from happening.
ES: Was it hard to keep it PG? That’s not really your style.
PF: It was hard, but we didn’t want to throw our stuff on the Stooges. Tonally, the Stooges are PG. Any time we came close to going overboard, it felt un-Stoogey.
ES: Un-Stoogey? Is that a word?
PF: It is. You are Stoogey, or you are un-Stoogey. The Stooges are essentially lovable children, so having them do anything particularly adult, like engaging in sex or abusing booze or drugs — it just didn’t feel Stooge-like.
ES: But as an adult fan of your other movies, there was a part of me that hoped at some point Larry would get sperm in his hair.
PF: [Laughs] Well, believe me, we were tempted.
ES: Tempted to put organic material in Larry’s frizzle-top?
PF: Not that specifically, but we were tempted to go blue a lot of times. Remember the scene where they’re all lined up to get adopted, and then the little kid comes in the room? And he’s like, “Hi, my name’s Teddy, and someday I’m going to have a puppy.” In the film, we cut to the other guys, and they’re just rolling their eyes, but originally they were making a jerk-off gesture.
ES: That would’ve been funny.
PF: Yeah, but it wasn’t the Stooges. We had a bunch of stuff like that in the original version that we had to clean up.
ES: One of my personal favorite moments is when the Stooges return to the orphanage, and the song in the background is Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
PF: Yeah, I love that, too.
ES: It’s so confusing and disorienting. Your ears don’t really believe it.
PF: That was something we knew we wanted to do years before we started filming. I was driving cross-country and listening to Highway 61 Revisited. All I could think was, “That’s the Three Stooges theme.”
ES: Is it? Please explain.
PF: They’re working-class, blue-collar, down-on-their-luck guys. And Bob’s early stuff is very Woody Guthrie.
ES: I’m looking at the lyrics now, and you may be on to something. There are references to a bloody nose, and some guy named Howard. That could be either Moe or Curly.
PF: Exactly, right! So we called his manager and said, “Listen, I know this sounds crazy, but we’re doing a Three Stooges movie, and I think it needs at least one Dylan song.” He checked with Bob, and then called me back and said, “Bob loves the Three Stooges. You got it.”
ES: Bob Dylan loves the Three Stooges? That’s insane.
PF: For me it just confirms his genius. So seven or eight years go by, and we finally get to make the movie, and we just assumed they’d kick the shit out of us with the licensing fees, but they didn’t. For me, having a Bob Dylan song and Larry David in the movie — those are the things that really class this baby up.
ES: That was my second-favorite moment. Larry David dressed as a nun is a thing of beauty, and it might be lost on the preteen audience.
PF: I’m sure there are some little kids who won’t even know that’s a man. But hey, if Larry David wants to dress as a dog, we’ll put him in our movie. Whatever he wants. We were offering him the role of Larry for years.
ES: That pains me to know what might’ve been.
PF: He used to do this amazing Larry Fine impression on Fridays [above]. Remember the show Fridays? From the ’80s?
ES: Yes, I am old enough to know what that was.
PF: He passed on being our Larry, but I begged him, “Do something, anything, just be in the movie.” We gave him the script, and he was like, “What about Sister Mary-Mengele?”
ES: Is it true that Sean Penn was considered for the Larry Fine part?
PF: Yeah. It’s all true.
ES: I can’t even think about Sean Penn in that role. It hurts my brain. Did he actually read for it?
PF: No, it never got that far. But we met with him. We met with a lot of people. We met with Tom Hanks and Russell Crowe and Benicio Del Toro. We met with everybody. And they all passed. It certainly didn’t help our case that there were so many naysayers out there. Everything you read online, all the blogs — it was just brutal. And I think that scared a few actors away.
ES: If the Internet is to be believed, people are very protective of the Three Stooges.
PF: It was like we were doing something sacrilegious. I was almost amused by the outpouring of anger. I was like, “Really? That’s your battle? There are starving people in the world and global warming and genocide, and you’re getting up every morning saying, ‘I’ve got to make sure the Three Stooges movie doesn’t get made!’ That’s your personal crusade in life?”
ES: “No time to worry about kids in hoodies getting murdered…”
PF: [Laughs] “That’s right! Somebody’s trying to make a Three Stooges movie! Not on my watch!”
ES: So that’s why actors were backing out? They didn’t want to incur the Internet’s wrath?
PF: Well, no, it was more complicated than that. We were asking them to do something very specific. A lot of times we’d sit down with actors, and they’d say, “I have a great idea for how I’d like to play Moe. I have the perfect take.” And I’d say, “We don’t want a take. We want Moe. Exactly Moe.” That’s not what actors want to hear.
ES: It wasn’t just the impressions. You followed the Stooges’ comedy blueprint to the letter, right down to the crappy special effects.
PF: We had some early screenings where people would say, “Those are the worst special effects ever! You’ve got to change it!” And the studio agreed with them, but we were like, “No, it’s got to be that way! That’s the whole point.”
ES: When they jump out of the hospital window, and it’s obviously dummies — that’s the exact moment when the movie won me over.
PF: We were adamant about that. When a dummy lands, the audience needs to recognize it’s a dummy, and then we’ll cut away to the real guys. That’s how the Stooges are done. This is low-tech, man.
ES: Anything more would’ve been un-Stoogey.
PF: [Laughs] Thank you, yes. It would’ve been tremendously un-Stoogey. We tried to go further than that. In the Stooge shorts, whenever they showed a sign, like COUNTRY CLUB, NEXT LEFT, they would hold onto the shot for way too long, to the point where you could’ve read the sign thirty times over. And there were never any other noises, like city sounds or whatever. All you heard was this crackling brrrrrzzzzhhhhhh.
ES: Like white noise?
PF: Yeah, yeah, white noise. It was the most amateurish thing they did, so obviously we wanted to do it that way in the movie. But the studio was like, “Absolutely not. Nope, that ain’t flying.”
ES: It’s not like the movie’s all old-school slapstick. There’s plenty of modern stuff to keep it current. You’ve got the Jersey Shore cast, for God’s sake.
PF: I know, right? What else do they want from us?
ES: Was that a nightmare to shoot?
PF: Weirdly, no, not at all. When they were coming on the set, we thought, “This is going to be a flipping nightmare.” We had two days with them to shoot, and nobody was looking forward to it. They just seemed horrible. But they couldn’t have been more professional. I wish I could tell asshole stories about them. But they showed up on time, they worked their butts off, they were very gracious, and they wanted to be a part of the joke. They were all awesome.
ES: Do you have a favorite?
PF: Oh, yeah. The guy… What’s his name? The big dude.
ES: The guy with no neck?
PF: Yeah. No neck.
PF: Ronnie! Yeah, we loved Ronnie. Ronnie was the best. They were all great at taking abuse, but eventually they all got tired of it. The Situation was the first to cry uncle, I think. At some point he said, “Okay, dude, that’s enough. We’re not going to get hit anymore.” But Ronnie would do anything. He was like, “What do you need me to do?” That’s why Ronnie gets whacked way more than anybody else, because he was so game.
ES: Every time Moe smacked around Ronnie, I flinched a little bit. Of all the Jersey kids, he seems the most likely to just freak out because of ‘roid rage.
PF: He’s actually not that big in person. He’s built, don’t get me wrong. But he’s only like 5’7″ or something. He looks a lot bigger on TV. I mean, yeah, he’s a ‘roid guy. He’s got to be a ‘roid guy, right? But he’s very cool. I’ve got nothing bad to say about him.
ES: Let’s say this thing does a monster box office and the studio wants a sequel. Do you go with Curly or Shemp?
PF: I would always go with Curly, but there’s been talk that, if we ever do a sequel, we might bring Shemp in. I’m a big Shemp fan.
ES: To replace Curly?
PF: No, just a walk-on or something. Shemp is great, but Curly trumps Shemp every time. We’ll probably only go with Shemp when Will Sasso passes away. [Laughs.]
ES: So just like the real Stooges? No pressure on Sasso to drop dead or anything.
PF: Oh, no, no, no. We definitely don’t want that.
ES: Speaking of sequels, there’s really going to be an official Dumb and Dumber 2?
PF: Yeah, we’re almost done with the script. We’re shooting in September.
ES: Can you tease us with some plot points?
PF: I would love to, but none of it would sound very good.
ES: Try me.
PF: Imagine if I told you about the first one before you saw it. “Well, it’s about these two guys who go to Aspen because one of them likes a girl.” You’d be like, “Pete, don’t fucking make that movie. It sounds like a piece of shit.” That’s how this one is. It’s not the type of thing you can pitch. It’s not a plot-oriented movie — it’s a character-oriented movie. I tried pitching it to my wife, and she was like, “That’s doesn’t sound good.” Trust me, it’s fucking awesome!
ES: Just tell us this: Does Jeff Daniels have any digestive issues in the sequel?
PF: No, his colon’s fine this time. But we’ve come up with some new things that you probably haven’t thought of.
ES: Involving which orifice?
PF: [Laughs] Oh, there are all sorts of orifices involved. We don’t go into this lightly.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)