How seasoned comedy director Peter Farrelly switched to drama for Green Book
How Mr Dumb And Dumber could become Mr Oscar & Oscarier with his new movie, Green Book.
Peter Farrelly’s last movie featured a scene in which two middleaged men play a game of competitive farts. His new movie Green Book, telling the true story of african-american pianist Don shirley touring the 1960s Deep south with mismatched Italianamerican driver tony ‘lip’ Vallelonga, is pretty different. Best known for over two decades as a gross-out merchant (Dumb And Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal), it’s clear that wasn’t necessarily always the plan. “after our first few comedies, I should have said, ‘Hey, we should do a drama!’” he laughs. “But we didn’t. It’s like falling in love: you can’t plan these things.”
It’s not just a significant new direction: it also marks the first film without his brother Bobby (who has briefly stepped back from filmmaking, for personal reasons).
“to be honest, it really wasn’t any different for me than directing a comedy,” Farrelly says of the switch in genres. the real challenge came in the writing process: screenwriting with Brian Currie and Nick Vallelonga (son of the real tony lip), Farrelly had to restrain himself. “My tendency is to go for the joke,” he acknowledges. “each time, I had to say to myself: ‘No, that’s a different movie. We have to be true to this story.’”
there may be no fart gags here, but that’s not to say the story is without levity. “I am flexing a slightly different muscle,” agrees Farrelly. “the humour is nuanced and character-driven.” Much of that comes down to the two lead actors, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala ali, who spark off each other in a charming, Odd Couple kind of way; the former as a salt-of-the-earth lughead; the latter, a prim-and-proper grammar fiend. “I didn’t expect the outright laughs that we’re getting,” Farrelly says. “that’s coming from the acting. Mahershala’s reaction to what Viggo’s doing is what’s killing.”
If there’s one consistent element from a Farrelly movie, it’s the road trip. this is his fifth or sixth film on the road, depending on your definition; here, the characters use the ‘Negro Motorist Green Book’ to navigate the hostile Jim Crow-era Us. Farrelly admits he’s fascinated by the open road, having driven across the states 22 times (“16 alone”) — but this is the only similarity the film has with Dumb And Dumber. “I get a lot from the car. [But] it’s not a conscious recurring theme. this is based on a true story.”
earning a rapturous reception at toronto International Film Festival, Green Book won the People’s Choice award — an important bellwether for the Oscars. How does he feel about awards season? “I wanna win so fucking badly!” he laughs, in mock desperation. “No, I’m kidding. I don’t think about it. I just hope Viggo and Mahershala get what they deserve; I don’t think there are two better actors working today.” From competitive farts to competing at the Oscars: quite the journey.
Top to bottom: Farrelly, ready for a dramatic turn. Touring tension for pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and chauffeur Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen). The director hits the road again, sans buffoonery.