Academy Award winner Kate Winslet. Academy Award winner Halle Berry. Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman. Academy Award nominee Greg Kinnear. Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts. Academy Award host Seth MacFarlane. Definitely Nowhere Near The Academy Awards Johnny Knoxville and Snooki. All together on the big screen, at long last. Well, kind of.
The only thing more baffling than trying to make sense of what exactly Movie 43 is about (we’ll get to that), is figuring out how in the hell they assembled half of Hollywood to be in a no-holds-barred raunch fest that was made for just around $6 million. Peter Farrelly (the other half of the Farrelly brothers behind comedy classics such as Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary, and their masterpiece Dumb and Dumber, as well as its in-the-works sequel) is a producer and one of the dozen directors to contribute to the comedy, which opens in theaters today. Farrelly a simple explanation for all of this: fellow producer Charles Wessler, who has worked with the Brothers Farrelly on all their films.
“It’s the brainchild of Charlie Wessler. He’d been talking about this for years, basically what he wanted to do was a Kentucky Fried Movie thing,” Farrelly says. After receiving hundreds of submissions and scripts, Wessler settled on roughly forty and then set his sights on some of the biggest names in the business to star.
As Farrelly put it, “The world doesn’t know Charlie Wessler, but Charlie Wessler knows everybody. He was a P.A. on Star Wars, he was the assistant to the director on Empire of the Sun. He’s done a million things. So he would call actors like Richard Gere and say, ‘Hey Richard, you wanna do this short film?’ We have no money. You’re working for one day for scale, but there’s gonna be a lot of laughs.”
If that didn’t sell the sizzle enough to the all-star cast (which also includes the likes of hot commodities Emma Stone, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and Jason Sudeikis, to name just a few), the various directors whole filmed segments of Movie 43 over the span of two years (with different writers and crews, as well), catering to when and where the actors could film. Production even waited a full year for Gere, whose conflicts kept him unavailable for this extended period of time.
While it seemed like a pretty convenient deal for the busy stars participating, there was one A-lister who wasn’t swayed by the lure of working on the mysterious Movie 43. “[George] Clooney told us to f**k off,” Farrelly admits.
As such, everyone but Clooney (and Colin Farrell, and South Park‘s Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who each reportedly dropped out of the project along the way) was on board. So what exactly did the stars who stayed put get themselves in to?
Movie 43, a series of short films connected by a wrap-around featuring “Dennis Quaid as a down-and-out producer” pitching crazy ideas, is a very different breed of the big ensemble movie. “My fear with that is people will think it’s like a Valentine’s Day-type movie,” Farrelly says.
Anything but. Movie 43 features a series of gross-out jaw-dropper shorts, including the Farrelly-directed sequence about a woman on a blind date (Winslet) whose suitor (Jackman, pictured above) has it all: good looks, charm, money, and…a pair of testicles that hang from his chin that no one else but her seems to notice. While Farrelly doesn’t expect the Oscar-nominated Les Mis star to be out stumping for Movie 43 (“You’re not gonna see him at our premiere, he’s got things to do”), he and Winslet were all-in for their shoot.
“Hugh and Kate were just sensational because it’s such a ballsy little piece.” (Get it?!) “They embraced it so much and they were so committed and so into it. There was no hesitation. In fact, it was the other way. Both of them were going off the page doing insane things. They got into the swing of it,” Farrelly says of his time with the stars, calling the shoot “two hilariously fun days.”
Even with A-listers going, ahem, balls-out, this is a moviegoing generation living in the age of Funny or Die. Nowadays, celebrities taking part in outrageous, image-shattering shorts is not only the norm, but free of charge. “Funny or Die is sensational, I wish I’d started it,” Farrelly says, “but they do have restrictions to what you can say and do. We wanted to do something that you can’t do on Funny or Die. We wanted to push it past the Funny or Die ceiling.”
Farrelly, along with the various directors and producers, also realized that coming up with a Kentucky Fried Movie (which came out in 1977) or Groove Tube (from 1974, which Farrelly cites as another influence as an ensemble sketch comedy movie) for a new era provided another challenge with today’s breed of moviegoers. “Things have changed since Kentucky Fried Movie in that attention spans have shortened. You can’t just have one short after another. Because then you just have people looking at their watches, like ‘All right, I don’t know if I want to start another short,'” he says.
Alongside Wessler, fellow producer John Pennotti, and Relativity, Farrelly and co. narrowed down which of the shorts would make it into Movie 43. “There were a couple that didn’t make the final cut, we knew that would happen. The reasons they didn’t make it is they were either redundant, in that there had been a short that was similar, or it just felt like overkill or trying too hard in trying to shock people. We really tried to find the right rhythm so people wouldn’t feel manipulated,” Farrelly explains, adding, “It gives us stuff for the DVD.”
Movie 43 opens in theaters today.
[Photo credit: Universal Pictures]