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Ricky Stanicky Interview: Peter Farrelly on Working With Zac Efron & John Cena

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with legendary comedy director Peter Farrelly about his latest film, Ricky Stanicky. Starring Zac Efron, John Cena, and more, the comedy movie is now streaming on Prime Video.

“When three childhood best friends pull a prank gone wrong, they invent the imaginary Ricky Stanicky to get them out of trouble,” reads the synopsis. “Twenty years after creating this ‘friend,’ Dean, JT, and Wes still use the nonexistent Ricky as a handy alibi for their immature behavior. When their spouses and partners get suspicious and demand to finally meet the fabled Mr. Stanicky, the guilty trio decide to hire washed-up actor and raunchy celebrity impersonator ‘Rock Hard’ Rod (John Cena) to bring him to life. But when Rod takes his role of a lifetime too far, they begin to wish they’d never invented Ricky in the first place.”

Tyler Treese: You just worked with Zac Efron on The Greatest Beer Run Ever. What made you think he was perfect here as Dean — the lead — and made you want to reunite?

Peter Farrelly: I was blown away by Zac in Beer Run. I was really shocked at how good he is. He’s got the whole palette where he could go over here, or he could go over there. He does it all. But more than that — he’s a director’s dream because he trusts you. When he does the scene, you’ll come up, and he will say, “What do you think?” And I’ll say, “Perfect, great, let’s move on.” Or I’ll say, “try this, try that.”

But more than that — he’s listening. Like a lot of actors, you approach him, and he’s thinking, “What should I do next?” And you’re like, “Try this.” He’s like, “Tell me.” And those are the most fun actors for any director to work with.

This film has had a surprisingly long development history. What about the original idea and the script kind of made you want to put your own stamp on it and finally see this made?

Well, I loved the idea from the moment I heard it. And it was by a guy named Jeff Busell, like 15 years ago. But we kept developing, developing, developing. And like a lot of scripts we’ve done, they all take forever. It’s unbelievable how long they take. But this one took a particularly long time, and it was ’cause it probably wasn’t right yet. It was thin.

I look back at it like years ago when we almost made it with Jim Carrey. That’s a funny movie, but it’s a thin movie. It doesn’t have what this movie has. When we started thinking recently, “Well, wait a second, why do they lie? Do they just? Or do they have a reason?”

And they do have a reason. Like most people who lie, they’re lying out of some insecurity or their fear. There’s a million reasons you lie, but there’s a reason. And we didn’t have their reasons. Their reasons were just, “get out of a party.” And that’s not enough. I think it just made it a better script when you get into the psychology of these guys.

I loved John Cena in this. He has this dual rule going on where he is Rock-Hard Rod, and then he is trying to be Ricky Stanicky. And he does this by having this bible that sort of tells him the rules, tells him the full history. How was it working with John to make sure he nailed that character and kept the continuity?

John, by far, is the most prepared actor I ever worked with by far. He literally had the entire script memorized on day one — the entire script. Like if I said, right now, let’s go to scene, page 62, seeing this, tell me what happens. He memorized. He doesn’t have to look at it. He read that thing over and over and over. Like was doing a stage play. And so it wasn’t hard keeping him.

And he had all the heavy lifting, you know. He had some very big scenes to do, and we were always done early. When we did him singing, they gave us [about] two days to do all that stuff. And we were done in, like, four hours. We had gone into a studio the day before, and he recorded the songs. But then, when we got on the set shooting it, and he was supposed to be lip-syncing, he was singing better than he was the day before. So we didn’t even lip-sync. We just had him sing it, and he knew everything. It was a ball and a joy to work with him.

I wanted to ask about the song parodies. They’re all about jacking off. How did it feel, coming up with those and picking which songs you were gonna parody? They’re so much fun.

It was kind of tricky because we originally wrote four or five songs, and we did ’em. And then we couldn’t clear any of them!

So then we got our music supervisor, Tom Wolf, and his partner Manish Revelle. They had to find songs to clear before we did it. We didn’t want to go writing songs. So we said, “Ask them if we can get songs that we can clear.” So they said, “These guys are gonna make songs about masturbation, about your song. You okay with it?” “Yeah, sure.” [laughs] So we had like four or five people, and then we did it. So we kind of did it backwards.

That’s very funny. And I love the animated opening to this film. It just kind of sets the tone and helps that time skip along. How was that animated intro conceived? Because I thought it was so fun.

So here’s what happened. One of the writers, Brian Jarvis, had the idea. He goes, “we should do an animated opening credits.” And I thought, well, that’s a good idea. Because they go from kids to adults, and it would give us a little like cushion. Because if you go, “Boom!” — right to adults — it’s like, “What’s going on?”

That was a nice little touch. But we didn’t have a lot of money, so we went online and we were just looking for really good animation. And we found this guy online and we just called him up and said, “Hey, we love your stuff. We wanna do an opening credit thing, but we have X amount of money.” We didn’t have a huge budget. And he said, “Great, let’s do it.” So he was really, really fantastic. I’ll give you his name in a second.

Let’s talk about that opening flashback with the kids. How was it finding those kids? They were just as funny as the adults.

It was hard to do it because they were local hires in Australia, and it’s hard to find kids who can do American accents. Adults all can, for some reason — I guess they watch American TV all the time and they could all do an American accent. But those kids, they turned out great. They looked great. And yeah, they were real pros. It was fun to do.

Andrew Santino is a real highlight, and he obviously has the standup background. How is it working with actors that have that standup comedy background? Do you find them different from a regular actor?

I find it extremely useful when they have that kind of thing. Because they’re quick, and those are the guys who come up with the extra lines all the time. Like Sebastian Maniscalco in Green Book — almost all the stuff that he was doing in there, he was gonna say, “Hey, what if I say this? What if I said that?” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, do that.” He made it better and better and better.

And the same thing with Andrew and Jermaine. They think like standup comedians, which I like. But the first thing we always do is just do what’s scripted. Both of ‘em, they were great. You know, I’ve been a huge fan of Andrew’s for years. And I didn’t know Jermaine until this, but he was excellent.

Yeah. I’ve just been so impressed with Jermaine the past couple years. He’s so funny. And he does it in like a little, low-key way. He’s not over the top. What did you like most about working with him?

He was like Andrew Santino, where he brought his own thing. He just does little things – like that thing where he [talks about] pot milk. That kind of stuff. He’s just his own guy. You just let him go. He found that character, and that character is a hugely important one. In fact, he’s probably in I what I think is the most important scene in the movie. When he confronts Zac at the end and tells him, “Dude, you know, you had a real life. You made it fake. Stanicky had a fake life, made it real. You gotta stop lying.” That scene to me is the most important scene in the movie.

One thing we’ve seen recently was Loudermilk really blow up. It just completely grew in popularity. Is there any hope for a revival?

Absolutely. Guaranteed. A hundred percent. I’m going to do two more seasons. I don’t know where yet, but we’re going to do it. The show’s too good.

I have it mapped out for seven seasons. We always did. And we know where we want to go with it. The three-year break that we just got from the last one works right into it. Because the last episode, he sold his book, and now we cut to three years later — the book blew up. It’s a huge hit.

Now he’s back in the high life. He’s having lunch with Neil Young, but he’s got these bananaheads he’s trying to take care of in his twelve-step group. And it’s a really interesting world. It’s sort of a cross between Loudermilk and a Larry Sanders show. So I’m really looking forward to it, but we’re gonna do it.

How great is it seeing quality just rise to the top? It took some time, but it found the audience and that has to be so fulfilling.

It is the nicest surprise of my entire career, without question. That was just gone. And no one saw it. And we loved it. And we were all hung out — all of us, the group.

And then all of a sudden, not more than like five weeks ago, someone calls me to say, “Hey, Loudermilk’s on Netflix.” Then the next day I get like five calls from people. And then all of a sudden, it just snowballed.

It’s just very rewarding. And in a lot of ways, I’m happy it happened this way. Because the great thing about the Audience network, where we made it — which no longer exists — is they gave us freedom. They said, “go do whatever you want to do.” And we were able to create something special. I don’t know if we could have done that if we were doing it at any other place. It would’ve handcuffed us.

Dumb and Dumber — the 30th anniversary is coming up. That movie obviously changed your career and is still so funny today. When you look back on its legacy, what does that film mean to you? Because it’s a classic.

Oh, thanks. It means everything. I loved it. I was in LA nine years before we got a movie made. We were writing scripts and selling scripts. [When Dumb and Dumber released,] people said, “you must have been so happy.”

[But] when that got made, it was more relief. It was a relief because first of all, we couldn’t get anything made. Secondly, they wouldn’t make that movie for five years. And every studio shot it down. And there’s a part of you — a little part — that’s wondering, “am I an idiot? Like, why do I think this is so funny?” And they don’t.

Then when it gets made, it is successful, and it is funny. It’s the original one – you know, the oldest child. It was a special time.

And it was those two guys. Jeff, Jim — such great guys. So much fun working with them. On the second one too. If I was ever gonna do another sequel, it’d probably be Dumb and Dumber ’cause I just like hanging with those guys.

But it was amazing experience. I was on a plane recently — well not recently. Probably a couple years ago. I’ve been telling this story. But this woman next to me, we’re talking, and she goes, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m a writer.” “Anything I would’ve heard of?” I said, “Yeah, probably.” She said, “What?” I said, “Dumb and Dumber.” And she goes, “No, I never heard of it.”

I was like, “You never heard of Dumb and Dumber? Come on.” [laugh] Like, I’m actually challenging her. Like, you’ve never heard the words Dumb and Dumber put together? She said,” no, I don’t watch a lot of movies.” I said, “Yeah, but like, it’s on headlines.” They’ll say, “Dumb and Dumber, like people doing stupid things.” She said, “Nope, never heard of it.”

That’s hilarious. And to speak to your next project, you and your brother have Dear Santa coming out. You worked on the script and Bobby’s directing. How exciting was it to get Jack Black again and have him working on one of your films?

That was the dream getting Jack. It’s Jack Black at his Jack Blackest. He is Jack Black, the guy we love. And he’s really good in it. So it was fantastic. I love that guy.

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