an interview with peter farrelly   interview  
photo of peter farrelly

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on the set

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  You've accumulated quite a few writing and directing credits with your brother Bob, including half a dozen screenplays, and two Seinfelds. What's it like, working with your brother?

It's half as difficult. Everything's a lot easier when you work with someone you know just about as well as you know yourself. We take a lot of the load from each other. When in doubt, we can just look at each other and the other guy either has a quizzical look like "I'm wondering about this too," in which case we have to look further, or he just kind of gives a nod like "It's okay."

How long have you been co-writing with your brother?

Eleven years, since 1987. What happened was, neither of us were trained screenwriters. I was a business major in college and Bob was an engineering major. When we got out of school, we were both salesmen. I was selling space on ships; Bob was selling round beach towels. In fact, he and a friend of his, Clem Franek, invented the world's first round beach towel.

What's the advantage of the round beach towel?

Well when the sun moves across the sky, rather than move your towel you just move your body. It's called "Sunspot." It still exists, actually, but never really got going as far as sales. In any case, after a couple of years of sales, I started writing on my own. Just got the bug, I guess. I wasn't much of a writer at all...hadn't written anything. I went back to grad school for creative writing, and while there, me and a friend of mine, Bennett Yellin, whipped off a screenplay which we ended up selling. And for about two years, every time we wrote a screenplay I'd send it off to my brother because I trusted his instincts with comedy, and story. He was good at it. So we'd send it to him, and he'd say "This is good, this is bad." Finally after a couple of years of this I felt like we were taking advantage of him, because he was doing a lot of the work but he wasn't getting any credit, so we ended up writing a screenplay with him, and it was our best one. He just wrote with us from then on, and after a couple of years Bennett quit.

You've had the chance to work with some great comedians, like Bill Murray and Jim Carrey. Have you always gotten along with the actors?

Oh, yeah. We've had no problems with the actors, but we keep a really loose set. Before we started, somebody told us, "Comedy's hard work. It's gonna be a real grind." But we just think that's baloney. Our feeling is that the most important thing on a set is that actors have enough confidence to try different things. If there's stress or tension, they won't go out on a limb because they won't want to embarrass themselves if they don't feel completely comfortable. Nine out of ten times--even the best actors, like Jim Carrey and Bill Murray--these guys will hit it eight or nine out of ten times, they'll be on something incredibly funny, but one out of ten, two out of ten, they'll fall flat on their faces. That's what makes them great actors: they take those chances, they don't play it safe. It doesn't always work, but if you're on a comfortable set, you don't mind failing, because you know you're among friends. So we like to keep the set very loose.

What do you enjoy about writing novels as opposed to filmmaking?

As far as my brother and I, we are a great collaboration and it's fun to work with him, but it's also nice to get the hell away from him.

How long were you working on The Comedy Writer?

I wrote it for ten years. I started writing it in 1988. A few weeks here, a few weeks there. Throughout the whole time Bob and I were writing screenplays. It was kind of something I would do when I was on vacation or when we weren't working on something else. I took the summer of '92 off and went and worked on it, got about 100 pages under my belt. I tried to do it in between projects, because writing screenplays was how we made our living.

You mentioned Philip Roth as an influence in a Time Out: New York interview. Are there other writers who have influenced you?

When I say he's an influence, I don't mean to be presumptuous as if my writing is anything like his. I kind of cringe when I read that. All I meant was--first of all, I love Roth, I love all his stuff--that story, My Life as a Man, particularly influenced me although I don't think it's his best book. It's got a 150-page section that is, for my money, the best he's ever written, but the book as a whole doesn't hold up because I think he attempted too much. But this section of that book really influenced me because it involves a guy's relationship with a woman who makes him crazy. When I read it, I found it hilarious. I wanted to do something like that. And I had this incident happen, this actual suicide, that I mentioned in the article, and I was looking to do something with that, and they kind of came together.

And now you're working on There's Something About Mary with Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz?

Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott...

You're working on that now?

We just finished editing. I'm doing our last screening before we lock picture tonight. We're going to lock picture in the next day or two. It's coming out July 15, and I can say with confidence that if you like a comedy, this movie is going to be for you. The first responses have been better than anything since Animal House.
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    Photo of Peter Farrelly copyright © Glenn Watson