Fans of the Farrelly brothers have come to expect a certain level of outrageousness in their films, whether it’s Ben Stiller’s zipper issue in “There’s Something About Mary” or that heavyset fellow who defecates in a sand trap in “Hall Pass.” But all bets are off in “Movie 43,” a series of loosely related shorts produced and partially directed by Peter Farrelly (Bobby Farrelly was not involved in this project). The film, which opens today, has a dozen different writers and directors, and a cast that includes the likes of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Emma Stone, Gerard Butler, Kate Winslet, and Elizabeth Banks. “Movie 43” is also rated R for reasons that, depending on your taste in comedy, will either amuse or appall. We reached Peter Farrelly by phone in Los Angeles.
Q. I don’t normally do these things without seeing the film, but there was no screening for critics. It looks crazy. What the hell is this?
A. It’s the brainchild of Charlie Wessler. He’s our longtime producer. And he wanted to do a sort of “Kentucky Fried Movie,” except “Kentucky Fried Movie” was written and directed by the same people. He wanted to go out and get all different writers, all different stars, and all different directors, and put it together. It’s with all different people, but also it has a wraparound that holds it together.
Q. So the stories intersect?
A. No. But what does intersect is a story, but I can’t give that away. It would kind of spoil it. A story that, after every two or three shorts, we go back to.
Q. With so many actors and the schedules each of them has, I’m guessing it took awhile to make this?
A. It took three and a half years to shoot. Usually, you can shoot a movie in 10 or 12 weeks. But we knew going in, or Charlie knew going in, that you’re never going to get this many stars together over the same 10-week period. So Charlie would call guys, like Richard Gere, and say, “Hey, Richard, you know we’re doing this crazy, hard-R short movie, do you want to be in it?” And he says, “I can’t. I’m busy.” And Charlie would say, “For how long?” And Gere says, “For at least a year.” And Charlie’s like, “When could you do it?” Gere says, “A year from April.” And Charlie would say, “Great, we’ll do it then.” And we’d literally wait. We’d shoot two or three days here, and then we’d shut down for three or four months. The next star that was available, we’d go to them and do it and then we’d wait four more months. And we’d do that over and over again. This was an experimental movie so the budget was extremely small, like $6 million. We didn’t have money to pay anyone so, basically, everybody worked for scale.
Q. What’s your role?
A. There are about 14 directors. I directed two of the shorts.
Q. Who wrote it?
A. All different writers. I didn’t write. What Charlie did was scour the Internet for funny shorts and, when he found something, he’d call the guys and say, “Hey, this is hilarious, you want to write another one?” He solicited shorts from complete unknowns from all over the world. He probably read 1,000 shorts, narrowed it down to 100, and then I came on and helped him. We hooked the shorts up with young directors who we were fans of.
Q. Guerrilla style.
A. It is. All different writers, tons of different directors, and new guys who had never had a movie made. You should write a story about Charlie Wessler because he knows everybody. He was a PA on “The Empire Strikes Back.” He’s been around forever and he knows all of these people: Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry . . . Their managers and agents didn’t have a lot of interest in this because they weren’t getting paid. So Charlie just called everyone personally and said, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And they were all, like, “Sure, man.” They all like Charlie.
Q. It sounds like a lot of work.
A. Well, for Charlie it was [laughs]. He’s the one who held it together for all of these years when I went off and I’d be directing my own thing. I only shot the movie for, like, five days. Two days on the one short with Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman, and another two or three days with Halle Berry and Steve Merchant.
Q. In addition to not getting paid, these actors were being asking to do things that we haven’t seen them do.
A. That’s what the appeal was.
Q. Didn’t you encounter some stars who were, like, “Forget about it, I’m a big movie star, I can’t be telling fart jokes”?
A. Oh yeah. Clooney told us to [expletive] off, but in a nicer way. Of course, there were tons of people who said no. Whenever you cast a movie, some people want to do it and some people don’t. It’s not for everybody. But, I must say, when we got Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman to do the first one, suddenly people were thinking “Oh, they’re in it? Yeah, I’ll do this.”
Q. That actually lent it some credibility?
A. You know, Emma Stone, Halle Berry, Naomi Watts . . . Once you start getting a few, the others want in. It was really surprising how many people were excited because this was a movie like no other movie. It has huge stars doing ridiculously outrageous things that they’d never done before or will never have an opportunity to do again. Let me be very clear. This thing is going to score 7 on Rotten Tomatoes.
Q. Is that a badge of honor?
A. No, it’s a fact because it’s so outrageous and they do so many crazy things. It’s a jarring movie. It’s really not for everybody. It’s for people who like their comedies — high school kids, college kids, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, even 40- and 50-somethings who still smoke weed. . . . This is Charlie’s baby. [The Farrelly brothers] try to have a balance in our movies. We’re not bashful, but we also have a certain layer of heart and dignity in our movies.
Q. So this has no heart and no dignity?
Q. Awesome. So you basically just produced?
A. Really, I only worked on this movie for like a week. But the shorts I did were a ball. To work with Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman was unbelievable. And Halle Berry was sensational. All of the people in this movie, when they got on board, they wanted to push it further. Literally, I had Halle Berry calling me about the script, telling me, “You guys said this was going to be a hard-R, come on, keep going.”
Q. Explain the title.
A. I can’t explain the title without giving it away, but it does make sense.
Q. Can we talk just for a moment about the “Dumb and Dumber” sequel? Is it happening?
A. There’s nothing much to report there, except that, you know, we’re plowing ahead on it. We have a great script, we have the actors, and we have . . . There are a lot of negotiations still going on. Knock on wood, we hope to be filming it by this summer.
Q. And when you say “We have the actors,’’ do you have Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels?
Q. You guys have been making movies for a long time, and it seems like, in some ways, the culture has caught up to you. The kind of humor you’re well known for, no one was doing it when you were. Is that fair?
A. Yeah. I mean, when we started doing movies, people weren’t really pushing the envelope. So there was an opportunity to sort of sneak up on people and surprise them. And you don’t have that anymore. Now everyone does it, and it’s expected. When people see you coming down the road, you know, you don’t like doing the same thing over and over. That’s why we did a movie like “The Three Stooges,” which probably was the highest degree of difficulty movie we ever made. It was a logistical nightmare. But it was the most satisfying movie we’ve made because the actors were so good in that movie and they pulled it off.
Q. And it was reasonably well-received by the critics.
A. It did fine. I mean, it didn’t break any records. But yeah, the reviews were extremely good for this kind of thing. Critics liked it and they knew what it was.