‘Champions’ Director Bobby Farrelly Discusses His Feel-Good Comedy
Mar 9, 2023
If comedy is your bag, chances are you’re a fan of Peter and Bobby Farrelly, better known as the Farrelly Brothers. The directing duo dominated the ‘90s and early 2000s with their “raucous” comedies, from the iconic Dumb and Dumber to There’s Something About Mary to Shallow Hal. Now, Bobby Farrelly returns to the helm with his first feature since 2014, Champions, a heartwarming movie about beating the odds and betting on the underdogs. The film, starring Woody Harrelson, is based on the 2018 Spanish film Campeones and is inspired by a true story, which Farrelly calls a “feel-good” film in his interview with Collider’s Steve Weintraub.
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
In Champions, after falling from grace, former minor-league basketball coach Marcus Marakovich (Harrelson) lands himself into even more hot water after causing a fender-bender. In court, Marcus is given community service that aligns with his expertise; the judge offers Marcus the opportunity to coach a team of adults with intellectual disabilites. Though he’s reluctant at first, Marcus develops a bond with his new team, dubbed the Friends, and with perseverance and dedication, they put in the hard work to get to the Special Olympics finals. In addition to Harrelson, the cast features Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Cheech Marin (Up in Smoke), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), and a cast of new faces who play the Friends.
During his interview, Farrelly discusses which of the Farrelly Brothers’ movies changed the most during editing, which is “closest to their hearts,” Kaitlin Olson’s “beautiful performance,” and why that relationship in Champions was such a key ingredient to the movie’s story. He also talks about the importance of hiring disabled actors to portray disabled characters and the upcoming Farrelly Brother reunion with Paramount for a new Christmas comedy. You can check out all of this and more in the player above, or read the full conversation below.
COLLIDER: I really want to give you a sincere thank you for making me laugh.
BOBBY FARRELLY: Wow, thank you very much. I appreciate that. That of course was our goal, we wanted to tell a story that did make you laugh, but also made you, hopefully, feel good too because it was kind of a feel-good story. The original movie from Spain, Campeones, I felt that it had really captured that, so we wanted to recapture it in this Americanized story.
Image via Focus Features
You’ve directed with your brother many things. If someone has actually never seen anything you’ve directed, not counting Champions, what is the first thing you want them watching, and why?
FARRELLY: Oh boy, that’s a good question. Because all of our movies, you know, are dear to us. They’re all a little bit different. I think that as far as my brother and Pete go, that we will probably be defined by Dumb and Dumber, only because of the number of laughs in it and that it held up for so many years. When it first came out, people didn’t know what to make of it, but nowadays I have kids, I have nine and 10-year-old kids come up to us, and they’ve been watching Dumb and Dumber. We had no idea that it would become a kids’ movie, you know, 30 years later. So, I think that was the one that got us off and running so that one is the one closest to our hearts probably.
Which of your films actually changed the most in the editing room in ways you didn’t expect?
FARRELLY: Well as far as our films go, the one that changed the most in the editing room was the movie Fever Pitch that we did with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. And it was simply because the story was about a guy who is loyal to his team, the Boston Red Sox, in the story even though they break his heart every year. And while we were filming the movie, lo and behold, the Red Sox – who never win – won the World Series that year. So we had to completely change the dynamics of what happens at the end. It sort of became the more traditional Hollywood ending, where, you know, everyone wins, and it’s a happy ending and all that, but it wasn’t intended to be.
So that one was a bit challenging, but they’re all fun in the editing room. You can tweak it a lot of different ways, but it’s always about, you have to show it to an audience and find out how they’re reacting to it, and you make your changes accordingly.
Woody and Kaitlin in this film have fantastic chemistry. The opening scene for me when they’re talking in the bedroom, I was like, “Oh, I’m in for it. These two are really good together.” When did you realize that they were going to be so good together?
FARRELLY: Well, I think the thing that blew me away is… I knew Woody, I’ve known him for a long time, and we’ve worked with him before. I always loved Kaitlin Olson, mainly from her TV show, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but she plays a completely different character, Sweet Dee, very funny, extremely funny, but you know, kind of goofy almost. In our movie, she plays a real woman that you can really believe in. I just thought she gave such a beautiful performance. I was wowed by her. I really was. I’ve had the pleasure to work with a lot of great leading lady comic actresses, but she was as good as any of them, and very funny too. I just really think the world of Kaitlin.
Yeah, I really sincerely think that the two of them together were fantastic.
FARRELLY: That was a big, key ingredient of the movie. You wanted to have that love story behind it so that [there are] different layers to the movie. That was part of Woody’s arc, too, is that he was a guy who was too lost in exes and oh’s and being a basketball coach, and not thinking about people. I think Ernie Hudson’s character points that out to him early on, he says, “You’ve got to learn to read people, you gotta pay more attention to that as a coach.” And so over the course of the movie, by meeting her and getting to coach the Friends, he becomes a much better person, and that makes him a better coach.
Image via Focus Features
Talk a little bit about the importance of casting disabled actors to play these roles because it’s everything.
FARRELLY: Yes, well you know, over the years, there’s been a lot of great performances about disabled characters played by non-disabled actors. A lot. From Rain Man to, you know, tons of them, but that’s just what people did before because they said, “Oh, that guy’s an actor, he can play that part too.” But what people have come to realize is that people, real people with disabilities, have a hard time getting into the movies. They very rarely get read for a non-disabled part, and so when there is a disabled part in a movie, it’s like, “Well, it should go to people with real disabilities.”
The world has changed in that regard, and for the better, in that, it’s giving those people a chance to play, you know, basically themselves. And so we were committed to that. We wanted to get real disabled actors playing these parts, and we got real lucky when we assembled this cast because they’re all excellent.
All of them, I believe, have never made a movie like this and never worked with Woody Harrelson, and on this scale. What surprised you about working with non-professional actors and filming this?
FARRELLY: Well, I’ll tell you something, if I had 10 friends at home who had never acted, and I threw them in a movie, not non-disabled people I’m talking about, I would have had every bit the challenge, and even more, than I had with these guys. So there’s no difference there. These disabled actors were tremendous. I didn’t have to do a single thing different as a director. All I had to do was trust them and let them play little versions of themselves, and they were just as good as I could have possibly hoped.
Image via Focus Features
I mentioned editing earlier in the interview, but how did this film possibly change in the editing room in ways you didn’t expect, or how did you tweak it?
FARRELLY: Yes, that’s a good question. There’s a lot of ways that a movie gets tweaked in the editing room. I think with this one, the thing that we worked on a lot is placing in music, key music where we needed. We had a great composer in Michael Franti, and he really drove the story in spots about how Marcus’ character was feeling or should have been feeling at a particular time. And so, that’s always the thing that you find in the editing room is where to place the music, where to maybe leave out music, and that sort of thing. So it’s an inexact science, but you learn as you go.
Do you already know what you’re doing next?
FARRELLY: I do. I’m actually about to make a movie at Paramount Studios right now. It’s a Christmas story and it’s a Farrelly Brothers movie. This one was just me here, but it’s kind of a throwback to our more raucous style of comedy and it’s Christmas story at Paramount.
Champions is in theaters on March 24. For more Woody Harrelson and Kaitlin Olson chemistry, check out our interview with the co-stars below.
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