It’s hard to know what will have staying power in this business…
In Tommy Boy an incompetent, immature, and dimwitted heir to an auto parts factory (Chris Farley) must save the business to keep it out of the hands of his new, con-artist relatives and big business.
It’s an anniversary we honestly didn’t anticipate to be celebrating here at In The Seats but with it being 25 years since the world first discovered Tommy Boy this sweet, gonzo physical comedy really holds up.
We got the unique chance to sit down with director Peter Segal and talk about the legacy of the film, the difficulties they had making it, the legacy of physical comedy and the staying power of Tommy Boy throughout the industry.
Dave Voigt: It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since Tommy Boy, but there it is! I’m curious can you walk me through you coming on the project because correct me if I am wrong, this was only your second feature and a lot of the people on it were still in the fairly early stages of their feature film careers?
Peter Segal: Yes, this was only my second feature at the time and for Chris (Farley) and David (Spade) this was the very first time that they had been leading men. Until this point they had only ever done supporting player type roles. In many ways it was a first for all of us…
That’s wild because on the outside looking in people always assume that working on a comedy like Tommy Boy would just end up being a non-stop barrel of laughs but really you do have to buckle down and get to work just like anything else. I’ve always been curious because you’ve worked on a lot of comedic films and I’m dying to know how you sort of ‘rein in the giggles’ that are probably running rampant on a film production like Tommy Boy?
I really feel that a good comedy should LOOK effortless and Tommy Boy just might be one of the hardest movies that I’ve ever worked on because we actually started without a script! There was a birthing process to it all to try and figure out the story that we should tell. When Lorne Michaels sold the ‘one-liner’ pitch to Sherry Lansing at Paramount the film was about step-brothers with the focus more on Chris and Rob (Lowe) characters but I had a different idea, which was Chris and David’s characters who were NOT getting along and being forced to work together to save the company and save the town.
That ultimately delayed things and it was a cause of a lot of consternation at the beginning of this process and I absolutely love that people think this shoot must have been smooth sailing and a huge barrel of laughs because it really was the further thing from that, it was a hard shoot.
I’ve got to imagine particularly so because both David and Chris were still SNL members while you were shooting?
That’s correct and because we were still working out the kinks on the story there was a moment during the SNL summer hiatus where I actually tried to quit the movie! I just saw us heading towards an unavoidable cliff where this wouldn’t get made. Of course I was called by the head of the studio and told I wasn’t going anywhere (Laughs). So with that I was shipped up to Toronto and told to figure it out and it’s like that old Orson Welles quote where “Sometimes you do your best work when you’ve got a gun to your head” (Laughs). With the SNL hiatus now gone, it ended up being a blessing in disguise because we had to split time with the show while shooting this movie which allowed us the time. I’d shoot with David and Chris on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and they went back to NY for the show on Wednesday so from then until they’d get back, I had time to write the rest of the movie.
It was kind of like laying out train tracks right in front of the train while it was in motion. It was stressful to be sure but it all gave us just enough rope so that we could get the job done.
Something else that really hits home for me in this film is just Chris, his performance and the use of physical comedy which really just gets underrated these days. From your perspective how does the job change when it’s a film with lots of physical gags like this one versus something where jokes are just being thrown back and forth because it really is Chris doing all those falls in this film.
Yes it is. You know we had a really difficult time finding a stunt double for Chris who was actually a better athlete then Chris was…there just weren’t any. Every single stunt we see in this movie is Chris and having just come off my first feature which was Naked Gun 33 1/3 which is MOSTLY physical comedy I felt like I was in a really good position to stage and choreograph this story and Chris was obviously this amazing physical actor and used his body in his performance more than anyone ever has in a film maybe going back as far as the likes of Buster Keaton!
The real challenge with this movie though which I think is why it has resonated so well over the years is that even past the physical comedy, it was so important for me to show the sweeter side of Chris through his character which I had experienced firsthand working with him a couple of times before this film and it was important that we got to let that side of Chris really shine here.
Would you say that your roots as a storyteller are probably more grounded in comedy more than anything else? Something like your most recent work My Spy which has a lot of action in it is also really funny and grounded as well. Is there a straight up action movie or drama in your future? Or are you more of a comedic based kind of story teller?
You know I’ve flirted and got close to a lot of different things, I mean at one time I was attached to Fantastic Four, I was attached to Shazam! at one time. A lot of it just comes down to timing and things fall through due to financing or whatever and it just seems that through the years I keep telling stories that are comedies. However the thing that I really look for in the comedies that I do is to make sure there are differences, be it political, romantic, gonzo, dumb-guy or whatever and as long as I can keep finding that difference, I’m content. There used to be a line I’d get from European reporters about how OK, I’ve done my comedy, when am I going to do a REAL movie. With that I like to think that I took a page from Preston Sturges and Sullivan’s Travels and how we don’t always have to be doing the thing that were supposed to be doing. If we’re telling stories that are putting smiles on people faces and making them forget their troubles for 1.5-2 hours then that can absolutely be just as rewarding.
I’ve got to put over my own town for just a minute because you’ve shot in Toronto a couple of times now and I am curious other then the obvious things like tax credits etc etc, is there a certain comfort level in going back to certain cities and being able to shoot with certain crews over and over again?
To be fair, My Spy was the first time that I had set foot back in Toronto since Tommy Boy! There was no specific reason to be honest it was just all coincidence because yes sometimes the tax incentives come into play which can mean places like Georgia, New York and of course Toronto…and I shot Get Smart in Montreal. However Toronto does have a special place in my heart, particularly because Callahan Auto was the Gooderman and Worts Distillery and we got to go back for My Spy and shoot there as well and it turned out that we had about 12 people on the crew for My Spy who were with us for Tommy Boy! One guy who was our animal wrangler on My Spy wrangled the deer for us during Tommy Boy! Obviously we’ve all grown up and look a little different now but it was just so cool to have somewhat of a family reunion and they all kept telling me how whenever they’d interview for a job the one thing people always ask about is Tommy Boy, which is really cool and makes me feel so good.
Now 25 years later is there one memory about your Tommy Boy experience that you maybe hold dear to your heart that we wouldn’t necessarily expect?
Yeah, it was at the premiere which was held on the Paramount lot because they didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a big flashy launch. I was in the Men’s room and people were heading into the theatre and Chris was there with me. We got to have this little quiet moment where we hugged; which sounds totally awkward now I know (Laughs), but we were both so happy and he just turned to me and said “This is it, we did it!” and I said how proud I was that he has two original catchphrases coming out of this movie with “Holy Schnike” and “That’s Gonna Leave A Mark” to which he subsequently said “Yeah, I stole That’s Gonna Leave A Mark from Planes, Trains & Automobiles” So RIGHT before the premiere I had that bomb drop in my lap which I just said we’ll keep to ourselves (Laughs) But now that’s a badge of honor and that was just pure Chris.
Tommy Boy is available on Digital, DVD & Blu-Ray from all major providers and retailers.