Ben Falcone on ‘The Happytime Murders’, the “Hard R” but “Super Fun” Puppet Movie

     July 19, 2018

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The adult comedy The Happytime Murders is set in the underbelly of Los Angeles, where puppets and humans co-exist. From director Brian Henson, the film follows two clashing detectives – a human named Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and a puppet named Phil Philips (played by puppeteer Bill Barretta) – who are forced to work together to solve the mystery of who is brutally murdering the former cast of The Happytime Gang puppet show.

On October 12, 2017, Collider (along with a handful of other online outlets) was invited to the Santa Clarita, Calif. set, where we got to talk with Ben Falcone, who produced the film, along with wife Melissa McCarthy, for their On The Day Productions. During the interview, he spoke about how quickly they wanted to get involved, after having read the script, this human-puppet world where puppets are the outcasts of society, the long journey to getting this adult puppet movie into production, that his film is a hard R while also being a super fun R, which puppets he has a particular affinity for, just how much of the puppet murders you’ll get to see, and the challenge of doing action with puppets, especially when they don’t have working legs.

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Image via STX Entertainment

Question: What made you and your wife, Melissa McCarthy, want to do this?

BEN FALCONE:  Melissa read the script. She read it really quickly and said she thought it was great. There are good scripts out there, but for her to just go, “This one’s really great,” is not all that common. So, I read it and I also thought it was really great. I’m sure that I’m exaggerating, but I feel like I read it in 30 minutes. It was just really clean and really funny, and I thought it had some good points to make. I was into it, from the start.

What can you say about the kind of movie this is?

FALCONE: It’s a movie about a world in which puppets and humans lived together, and puppets are the outcasts of society, a little bit. There’s a puppet cop named Phil, played by Bill Barretta, who’s amazing, and a human cop, a detective named Edwards, played by Melissa. They’ve had a falling out, and they have to re-team up to solve a series of murders. That’s basically what it is, with the puppet-human societal element in the background.

What happened to make the puppets outcasts?

FALCONE: It’s just the world that Brian [Henson], the director, is setting up really well. Because there are puppets, when you see a walk sign, there’s a human one and a puppet one, at their level because generally they’re a little bit smaller. The way that he’s got it set up is that puppets are ostracized and a little bit less than, and they’re not entirely taken care of by the law. It’s a really interesting world that he’s setting up and just saying that this is how it is.

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Image via STX Entertainment

Is there a message in there?

FALCONE: Well, I think you could definitely find some messages in there, of trying to treat everybody with equality, so that it’s a better country for all of us.

Why are the murders connected to a show that happened in the 1980s?

FALCONE: The Happytime Murders refers to a show called The Happytime Gang, which is a famous show from the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, where there are puppets and a human, named Jenny, played by Liz Banks, our friend. She was the star of the show. So, Phil gets wise to the fact that these murders are going down, and he brings Edwards in, even though they have a lot of animosity towards each other. It’s a cop movie, it’s a buddy movie, and it’s about their friendship and reconnecting through some hard stuff, during some hard times. It’s super fun because puppets are very funny.

How hard is it to get an adult puppet movie into production?

FALCONE: I think Brian has had the script for six years, and Adam Fogelson from STX has loved it forever. When you’ve got the head of a studio and Brian Henson, and it still takes a long time, it must mean that it’s pretty tricky to get it going, but here we are. They were crazy enough to let us try it. Brian is making a great movie.

Just how R-rated is this movie?

FALCONE: I’m a prude, by nature. I would say that it’s a hard R, but it’s also a super fun R. When things get super mean-spirited, I generally tune out, as a viewer. I think this movie has got great heart reflected through the script, and Melissa’s and Bill’s performances. Brian is a sweetheart of a guy and I think you’ll feel that, even when you’re like, “Whoa, did I just watch that?” Hopefully, that good heart is gonna come through.

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