R-rated comedies can be a tough sell, especially in the '90s when most comedies were either PG or PG-13 to cater to a broader audience. There’s Something About Mary behind-the-scenes stories prove, however, there were production companies willing to risk adult humor.
Peter and Bobby Farrelly were not scared to push the envelope. In making There’s Something About Mary, the Farrelly brothers wanted to pay homage to one of their favorite comedies from the '70s, National Lampoon's Animal House. They were able to compile raunchy, politically incorrect, adult humor into a film that balances over-the-top gags with plenty of heart. At its core, the Farrelly brothers' 1998 film is a sweet romantic comedy - once you get past the hair gel scene and the franks and beans incident - and what happened behind the scenes of There’s Something About Mary could almost be its own film.
The Farrellys Wanted A Close-Up Of Ted's 'Beans'
Most directors allow the audience to use their imagination when it comes to offensive imagery. The Farrelly brothers were looking to push the boundaries of good taste in There's Something About Mary, especially during the raunchiest set pieces.
When Ted gets his "franks and beans" caught in his zipper on prom night, the Farrellys were looking to humiliate the poor teenager as much as possible. They chose to get a clear close-up shot of Ted's beans by having the crew create a prototype. Bobby Farrelly explained:
We gave it a try and the audience reaction was as good as we could have hoped. Peter Chernin, then the head at Fox, saw the film with an audience. We thought he might ask us to try a screening without the close-up. He said, "It/s perfectly reprehensible; don't touch a thing." And that was that.
W. Earl Brown Was Cast As Warren Because He Was Gym Buddies With Lin Shaye
One day at the gym, W. Earl Brown was on the stair master next to Lin Shaye (Magda). She told him about this hilarious new script from the filmmakers of Dumb and Dumber, calling it the "funniest script [she] ever read." Brown was able to get a hold of the script and land an audition.
The Farrelly brothers originally wanted to cast a comic for the part of Mary's brother, Warren. At one point, they even considered Chris Farley, but thought the audience would not appreciate the larger-than-life comedy actor in the role.
Brown landed the role because he was able to separate himself from the slew of auditioners. He recalled:
At the callback there were four people, and they were all stand ups except me. I could hear them in the room and I just knew, that’s not the way. Because I played it straight, that’s why it was funny. You couldn’t goof on that and amp it up to play funny, because it was a commentary on the character instead of being honest. So that was how it came about. It was the last time I think I was giddily excited when I left. I remember in the elevator afterward I was like, "F*ck yeah!" That’s not happened to me since.
Ben Stiller Had A Believability Issue With The Famous Hair Gel Scene
Ben Stiller told the Farrelly brothers he had a problem with the credibility of the infamous hair gel scene. The directors told Stiller not to worry about it, because believability would not be a factor in how the scene played.
The actor revealed in a 2013 interview with The New York Times:
My big thing with that scene was that I argued with the Farrelly brothers all during the shot, asking how he could not feel it on his ear? I was lobbying them to have a back story that the character had somehow, like, lost sensitivity in his ear, like he had gotten hit as a kid or something. They finally told me it doesn’t matter, and I should quit thinking about it.
Keith David's Role Was Based On The Farrellys' Father
The Farrelly brothers based Mary's stepdad on their own father. During the audition process, they opted to cast Keith David because "It just kind of changed the dynamic." Bobby Farrelly explained, "We had auditioned a bunch of guys and when Keith came in, he just blew us away."
David loved playing the stepdad and was especially happy that many of his improvised ad-libs made the final cut. The part was also emotional for the actor, who was raised by his stepfather. He said:
Sometimes a stepdad comes in at the right time in everybody’s life. It’s not about who sired you, but who raised you and how they raised you. My stepfather was an extremely lovely man. I based some of [my character] upon him because he loved his wife and when your wife comes with children, you love them, too.