In the new comedy Hall Pass, married best friends Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) both love their wives, but just can’t help checking out every other woman they come across. Fed up with their behavior, their wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), decide to grant their husbands a hall pass, giving them one week of freedom to do whatever they want with no questions asked. At first, Rick and Fred think it’s a dream come true, but they quickly realize that the single life is not all they had built it up to be.
At the film’s press day, Bobby and Peter Farrelly did this exclusive interview with Collider, where they talked about why they loved the concept of Hall Pass, assembling this great ensemble of actors, having to cut out a scene featuring The Social Network’s Armie Hammer that will later appear on the DVD, trying to determine the point where you go too far and lose your audience, and their desire to do a comedy with Tom Hanks. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
PETER FARRELLY: Pete Jones sent us the script. We did not know him. Pete Jones was the original winner of Project Greenlight. His screenplay won the competition, and then he got to make his movie. It didn’t all work out as well as they thought it would, and he dropped off the face of the earth. But, he won a screenwriting competition amongst 50,000 people. He wasn’t really the director type, but he directed it. He’s an amazing screenwriter. So, we get this script on our desk for Hall Pass and it was absolutely hysterical. We loved the concept. Pete Jones is an all-American, middle American kid. He’s from Chicago. He couldn’t be more middle American. He’s just right down the middle. And, we felt it had the sensibilities that you have to have for this kind of thing. We didn’t want to do a hipster version of the hall pass, and we didn’t want to do something way on the other side. We wanted something that middle America could relate to, and he delivered on that. He delivered on the comedy too. So, we decided, at that point, to rewrite it with him and punch it and take it to the next level, which is something we do a lot. We did that on There’s Something About Mary, and we did that on Kingpin. We’ve done that with other scripts.
The success of comedies like this largely depends on the chemistry in the ensemble. How easy was it to assemble this cast? Did any of these actors particularly surprise you?
BOBBY FARRELLY: Owen [Wilson] is the key here. We love Owen, but he’s going against type. He’s going against what he typically plays, in this movie. He’s a suburban dad, a little bit on the dorky side, very all-American and not the coolest guy in town. Usually, he is a guy that comes across as really hip and cool. We thought, “If that guy is going out and getting a hall pass, there’s something about it that’s not fair because it might be too easy for him.” So, we thought that this guy had to be a suburban guy who was not overly cool. When we got Owen and he agreed to play that role, that was cool for us because we love Owen, he went against type and he really, really nailed that role, in our opinion. We love how he played it.
PETER: We didn’t know much about Jason [Sudeikis], going in, but he blew us away. To us, he’s the second coming of Jack Lemon. I loved what he did in this movie. He brought so much to it. And you’re right, with their relationship, there has to be chemistry and those two hit it off [right away]. The women hit it off, too. It was a very nice balance.
BOBBY: Jenna Fischer plays a great wife. You just inherently love her. You don’t want anything bad to happen to her. She’s a really good actress, too. And, I don’t know if there’s a funnier comedienne anywhere than Christina Applegate. Her timing is just impeccable. She’s a real pro.
Is there a practical use for a hall pass?
PETER: The one problem with having a hall pass is that, if you’re going to have a hall pass, then your wife would want a hall pass, and no guy would have a hall pass. That would get way stickier, quicker.
BOBBY: You’re swingers, at that point.
PETER: Yeah, actually there were quite a bit. Believe it or not, this is our shortest movie. Our movies generally run about an hour and 50 minutes, and this is only about an hour and 35 minutes, so there were quite a few scenes that were taken right out of it. We have seven or eight on the DVD. We had a scene with Armie Hammer, from The Social Network. We cut Armie Hammer out, but we’re putting it back in the DVD. That gives you a reason to go get it. It was a very fun scene where the guys try to get in a club and Armie Hammer is the doorman. He says, “Sorry guys, you’re not getting in. If I let you in, I’ll get fired.” Everybody is all hip and they’re not, and they say, “Come on, give us a break. We have a hall pass.” He says, “I don’t care.” So, they slip him 50 bucks and say, “Maybe this will change your mind.” And, he looks at the 50 and says, “All right, go ahead,” and lets them in. Cut to them all standing at a hot dog stand. Armie Hammer has been fired. They’re eating hot dogs and they’re trying to get their money back from him. But, it just came at a place in the movie where people were ready to get on with it. We had tested it a couple times and people were just like, “That’s not necessary. Let’s get going.”
Since you guys have had some of the most memorable moments in comedy with your films, is it difficult to still find new things to shock and surprise people with?
PETER: We don’t attempt to shock people, but yes, it is hard. When Dumb and Dumber came out, and when There’s Something About Mary came out, nobody was really pushing it, at that point, so we kind of snuck up on people and, yes, it was easier. Nobody saw it coming. Now, they expect it. They know who we are. Of course, there are other people who do this kind of thing and they do it very, very well, like Judd Apatow. He pushes it, and he does it in a great way, and so people expect that kind of thing. Yeah, it’s a lot tougher. It is. But, it’s not all about just shocking people. If it is, then it does become very difficult. We weren’t really trying to shock people.
BOBBY: We don’t mind shocking people, but it’s not really what we set out to do. What we attempt to do is try to come up with these characters that you can relate to and you like enough that, if these outrageous things happen to them, you still like them and you understand it and you laugh at it.
PETER: Yeah. And, the shockingness isn’t as important to us as the funniness of it. If it’s really funny and shocking, we love it. If it’s just shocking, we probably wouldn’t do it.
PETER: There is a point you can definitely lose the audience and sometimes you don’t know where it is. We’ve been wrong, and it comes out and we’ve made a mistake. I’ll give you a good example. In There’s Something About Mary, in the snowball fight where Jeff Daniels throws a snowball at Lauren Holly, and it gets a huge laugh, originally, when she had been hit in the face, we had her come up and she had blood under her nose. We had put blood there, and she came up and there was a little blood dripping. Well, we test screened that and the audience howled when she got hit in the face with the snow, but when they saw that blood, there were no more laughs. It was not funny to them anymore. We had to go in and digitally take the blood out of the movie, and then the laughs continued. So, yeah, there are lines that we’re coming up against all the time, where you can go too far. For instance, in Hall Pass, with the hot tub scene where the guys come out of the bathroom, I’m sure we’ll lose a lot of people with that. There will probably be one out of four people who are put off by that, but three out of four will love it. We came out of a screening and people said, “I don’t like that.” But, a lot of people didn’t like the hair gel in Mary. Most did. You have to weigh it.
BOBBY: We test and ask people, “What’s your favorite scene? What’s your least favorite scene?” And, almost always, the favorite scene and the least favorite scene are the same scene. In Mary, the hair gel was the least favorite scene in the movie, and the favorite scene in the movie. For 80% of the people, it’s the favorite, and for 20%, it’s the least favorite, so we’ve gotta play to the 80%. There’s definitely lines you can go over and there are things that are mean that people will stop laughing at. It’s a constant battle to stay right below that line. It’s just not funny, if you go over certain lines.
PETER: The guy we’ve never worked with that is pissing me off is Tom Hanks. I want to work with Tom Hanks more than anyone.
BOBBY: Are you pissed at Tom, or are you just pissed that we haven’t worked with him?
PETER: Both. It’s a combination. I’m angry with him. No, I’m not angry with him. But, that’s the guy. To me, Tom Hanks is king. I’d love to work with Tom Hanks.
BOBBY: You always forget that Tom Hanks came from the world of comedy. He was the funniest guy going, and he was doing pratfalls and all that kind of stuff. Now, he doesn’t do it so much.
PETER: We would have worked with Tom Hanks a long time ago, if he wasn’t so talented. Because he can do anything, he’s got so many things to do. He’s got dramas and he’s got historical things. If he’s up for a comedy, he’ll do it. I think he’s the funniest guy out there. If he did a flat-out comedy again, it would be a ball. We just love the guy. He’s the one guy who we haven’t worked with. There’s a lot of guys we like. I love Will Ferrell. We’ve never worked with Will Ferrell. But, there’s no one like Tom.
How did you guys know that comedy was what you wanted to do?
PETER: It was just natural. It was organic. We weren’t the type of people to go out at night and talk about the bad things about the world and the horrors in different countries, though we certainly care about that. We would go out at night and have laughs all night. We don’t dwell on negative. We like laughing.
BOBBY: We’re screenwriters. That was really our entrance into the business. And, every time we came around to write a script, we just naturally wanted to write a comedy.
PETER: We work together, in the same room. We don’t like to divide it up. Occasionally, one of us will punch up the other one. Bobby lives in Massachusetts and I live out here, in L.A. My wife is from L.A. We were back in Massachusetts and she was ready to blow her brains out in the winter, so we had to come back to L.A. That does make it a little trickier. We used to just sit in a room and bat it out. Now, we still do that, but sometimes we’ll throw notes at each other. We’ll never write a draft without each other.
BOBBY: Writing is definitely the hardest thing we do. Writing is very difficult. You have 120 pages of blank paper and it’s like, “Go fill that up with some funny stuff,” and that’s challenging. But, in the world of comedy, having a partner is not the most unusual thing. Your partner always helps you go a little bit further with it or put a different spin on what you think is funny. I think most guys have a partner.
Is it rewarding to not only hear your dialogue brought to life by these great actors, but to hear the laughs that your jokes get?
PETER: It’s great. It’s nice. It’s short-lived, in a weird way, because you get to see it either at a test screening, where you’re a nervous wreck, or the premiere. And then, if you’re psychotic, you walk into theaters when the movie comes out to hear people. But, that’s it and it’s over. People will come up and say, “I really liked this joke. I liked that movie. I liked this.” To me, the guys who have it made are the musicians. You can be anywhere and James Taylor can just pick up a guitar and start strumming, and people are just riveted, and we can’t do that. I can’t say, “Hey guys, hold on,” and flip in Dumb and Dumber and say, “Watch this. Check it out.” It’s a very short-lived thing, but it is satisfying. It’s nice. Basically, you only get that at the premieres. You get that one night where everybody gets to hear it and you’re not worried because it’s all done. I really don’t see the movies after they come out. My kids might watch it once, and I’ll sit down for a few minutes.
BOBBY: No. We were both closing in on age 30, before it even occurred to us that we’d give the movie business a try, so this came out of left field. But, once we did say, “Hey, let’s give it a try,” we committed to it. We buckled down and we wrote a lot, and we wrote every day, and it was fun. It was something that we felt that we were having a lot of fun doing, but also we were pretty good at. We did have a little bit of confidence that we could write a screenplay. From there, we just kept doing it and doing it and doing it.
PETER: The only reason I thought it was possible was because of (comedy filmmaking trio) the Zucker brothers. We saw the Zucker brothers and we saw a lot of ourselves in them. We just thought, “Well, they seem like normal guys, and they’re succeeding at it.” And then, when we got into the business, we worked with them early on, and we saw how they lived and how they were, and we thought, “That’s not out of the realm of possibility.” They were our role models. But, we just kept plowing ahead. We never really thought about it, but we’re extremely happy.
BOBBY: Sometimes now, we just pinch ourselves and go, “Wait a minute, Dumb and Dumber was 1994. We’re going on 20 years. We’re getting close. Wow! Didn’t realize that. It doesn’t seem like it.”
PETER: No, it happens too fast. That’s one of the bad things about how hard we work. We work so much. Time goes fast, when you’re working. It really does. If you’re lying on a beach, everything is slow. When you’re working your butt off, week after week goes by. It’s shocking that it’s been this long.
Not being from L.A., do you miss being able to go to Dunkin’ Donuts while you’re here?
BOBBY: That’s funny, when I was driving here this morning, I was driving down Doheny and took a left on Pico and I was like, “I was almost certain there was a Dunkin’ Donuts around here. I wonder if that Dunkin’ Donuts is still here.” Years ago, there was one, and I couldn’t find it. I was like, “Darn, I miss that Dunkin’ Donuts.” Starbucks is okay. I’m a big coffee drinker. But, it’s strong coffee, and I do miss the Dunkin’ Donuts.
PETER: There are also a lot of Rhode Island things we miss, like clam cakes, Del’s Lemonade and coffee milk.
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