It’s being billed as “The Biggest Cast Ever Assembled For the Most Outrageous Comedy Ever Made.” Yes, those are seriously big words. But the fact is, it’s hard to think of any comedy that’s paired A-list star power with R-rated raunch and wrongness to quite the same degree as Movie 43, opening Friday—and if that sounds like hype, check out this NSFW red-band trailer. The cast of the film—which is made up of a series of interrelated shorts shot by 12 different directors, spearheaded by Peter Farrelly — reads like a who’s who of actors you’d never expect to see in a demented, envelope-pushing Kentucky Fried Movie-style comedy (Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Gerard Butler, Richard Gere, Uma Thurman, Terrence Howard, Dennis Quaid), along with some people who make at least a bit more sense (Emma Stone, Elizabeth Banks, Anna Faris, Justin Long, Johnny Knoxville).
For nearly four years, this oddball project has been shrouded in secrecy—so much so that even some of the actors involved may not be totally clear on what exactly it is. “We did it, and then cut to a year or something later they’re like, ‘Hey there’s a movie coming out,’ ” Schreiber told EW recently. “I’m like, ‘Uh-oh.’ But you know, you do these things. We’ll see. It was a goof.”
So what exactly is Movie 43? We got producer and director Peter Farrelly and producers Charles Wessler and John Penotti on the phone to explain.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the genesis of Movie 43?
PETER FARRELLY: This thing started 10 years ago with Charlie Wessler. He wanted to do a Kentucky Fried Movie-type movie but he wanted all different writers, all different directors for every scene, and all different actors. He also had the foresight to realize that things have changed since Kentucky Fried Movie and attention spans have diminished greatly, so he knew we’d have to have some kind of wrap-around holding those shorts together.
JOHN PENOTTI: As we got going, we had literally probably 120 scripts that were created, and they were all curated by Charlie to keep the same kind of bold theme.
CHARLES WESSLER: So they’re blaming me for this disaster. [laughs]
Or giving you the credit.
WESSLER: Yeah, it depends what happens on Friday. [laughs] It’s true: I did come up with this idea. Initially, I had met Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] from South Park and we’d become buddies, and Pete knew the Zucker Brothers, so I went to the Farrelly Brothers, the Zucker Brothers, and Matt and Trey, and I said, “I want each of you to direct one third of the movie.” And everyone said, “Yeah, sure.” We set it up at a studio and were negotiating the deal when the studio decided that because of political pressure—at the time Washington was giving them a lot of grief about making R-rated movies marketed to younger people—they were nixing all their R-rated projects that were youth-oriented, and our movie was a victim of that. I preached this movie to every studio head, every executive, and they all said, “Yeah, sounds like fun. Good luck.” Years later, I was hanging out with my buddy John Penotti, and John said, “That’s a great idea. We should do it.” And he gave me money to develop some scripts.
FARRELLY: We had a $6 million budget, and yet Charlie wanted to do this movie with all these huge stars. He recognized it was going to be impossible to do that over the traditional 10-to-12 week period it takes to make a movie. We had to bend over backwards for the actors, because they weren’t being paid. So we’d shoot a short for three days, and then we’d shut down for four months, go do another short for 3 or 4 days, shut down for another six months. So this movie actually took three and a half years to make, and it was shot all over the place: New York, LA, Australia—wherever the talent was.
How did you know which actors would be game for something like this?
WESSLER: We didn’t really know. Some of the people we instinctively knew wouldn’t be interested were guys who do this every day. Like Will Ferrell—this is what he does for a living, so why would he want to come work for us for scale for two days? We figured it would be kind of fun to go for people you didn’t expect to see in this kind of movie. But we needed to test the waters. We called a lot of people up. I’ve got to give credit to Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts. They’re friends, and I asked them if they would do it, and they both said, “Yeah, we’re in.” I didn’t even tell them which script we were going to do. That’s a good friend. To give you another example of how nice people can be, the second day of shooting was Kate Winslet’s birthday. We said, “We’re going to try to get you out of here because we know it’s your birthday.” And she said, “Listen, I leave when the crew leaves.” And she was getting paid scale! It was a great process.
So what is the through-line that holds the shorts together?
FARRELLY: The through-line is that there’s a down-and-out movie producer, played by Dennis Quaid, who’s pitching projects to Greg Kinnear, who’s a studio exec, and to Kinnear’s boss, who’s played by Common. As he’s pitching things, we cut to the shorts. Dennis starts getting more and more desperate, and the screws start turning. So there is something that’s holding the thing together: You want to know what’s going to happen at the end with Dennis Quaid.
Okay, because I had heard the through-line was about a groups of kids surfing around on-line to find the most outrageous web video ever.
FARRELLY: We have no idea where that came from! We are so baffled by that! [laughs] No, I’m just kidding. We shot two wrap-arounds and we tested them both, and this was the one we decided to go with. The other one was fun, but this one is just better.
Does it feel like it’s harder to do an outrageous comedy than it used to be, in part because of the influence of Farrelly Brothers’ movies like Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary? Have audiences seen everything already?
FARRELLY: It was easier at one point, yes, because nobody was doing this sort of thing. When we started, no one was really pushing the envelope, so you could sneak up on people — and that’s the whole fun of it. So when it started getting predictable, that’s when we sort of veered off: we did Shallow Hal, Three Stooges — even Hall Pass is a more traditional thing. But this one is just kind of a balls-to-the-wall hard R. It’s Funny Or Die if you could do anything. Because, you know, there are limitations to what they can do on on Funny Or Die.
WESSLER: They have taste. [laughs]
Did you ever pencil out how much this movie would have cost to make with this cast if everyone had been paid their normal fees?
PENOTTI: It’s an incalculable number. It would not have been possible to pull off as a straight studio film.
Farrelly: $200 million is not too high.
So have any actors expressed any regrets now that they see that this movie they might have done just as a three-day lark is now actually coming out in theaters?
WESSLER: I think most of them have embraced it. But I guarantee there are two of them out there who totally regret. We just don’t know their names. But we’ll find out who they are soon. [laughs]
FARRELLY: I know their names: Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman. [pauses] I’m just kidding.
WESSLER: It is a very awkward situation that we have two actors in this movie [Jackman and Watts] who are nominated for Academy Awards this year. [laughs]
So what’s next for the Farrelly Brothers? I know you’ve been working on developing Dumb and Dumber To. Where do things stand with that?
FARRELLY: It’s not a firm greenlight yet because there are still negotiations happening, but that’s what we’d like to do next. We have a script that’s really, really fun. If I told the plot to you, you’d say, “That’s a piece of s—.” But if I had told you the first one—”Well, it’s about two guys and they find a briefcase and they bring it to Aspen to meet a chick”—you’d be like, “You’re f—ing with me. That’s not a movie!” It’s a character thing, and it’s all about the little things. Because it’s been so hard to get this thing made for whatever reason—it’s baffling but whatever—we’ve had time to just keep plugging, keep plugging, keep plugging. And the script is really fun.