Brotherly Love: How DeVito and Schwarzenegger Turned ‘Twins’ into the Ultimate 1980s High-Concept Comedy
Even at 4-foot-10, Danny DeVito is a pop-culture colossus. He’s an integral part of the ensemble of two of the most beloved comedy television series of all time. He’s a brother to Homer Simpson, and a friend to Nicholson, Douglas and Clooney. And he’s an underrated auteur whose dark comedies showed that his pursuit of laughs was actually a quest for meaning and purpose. In honor of his turning 78 — in his native New Jersey, his birthday, November 17th, is now an official state holiday — we pay tribute to this short king of (short) kings with a week dedicated to his most indelible work and the cultural footprint he continues to blaze.
Hollywood in the 1980s was the heyday of the high-concept comedy. If you could distill your movie’s premise into just a few words and grab an audience, you were golden. Streetwise Detroit cop travels to chi-chi Beverly Hills. Wisecracking scientists start bustin’ ghosts. Rugged Australian crocodile hunter takes on the Big Apple. Screenwriting classes taught aspiring scribes that they should think in one-line pitches when crafting their blockbuster scripts, envisioning the poster while mapping out the plot.
Twins was the quintessential 1980s comedy. The story of two strangers — a brilliant but naive virgin named Julius (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a coarse but endearing schemer named Vincent (Danny DeVito) — who find out they’re fraternal twins, the movie was one of 1988’s biggest hits. Combining laughs, pathos and a thriller narrative, Twins was easy to grasp as a concept. As soon as you heard the premise, you were laughing.
“I think the best piece of writing in the entire movie wasn’t written by any of the screenwriters,” Will Davies, who was one of those screenwriters on Twins, tells me. “It was the tagline on the poster. Whoever wrote, ‘Only their mother can tell them apart,’ my God, that is the most fantastic line. Annie Leibovitz shot that photo of the two of them. It was just so genius.”
That the movie remains implanted in the collective consciousness 34 years later requires more than a great poster and tagline, however. It took some inspired opposites-attract casting, a director in Ivan Reitman (the man behind Ghostbusters and Stripes) who knew how to make broadly appealing comedies and just enough emotional shading to give the jokes heart. But deep down, Twins works because it’s such a simple, funny idea smoothly executed. Davies had a sense that was true even back then. “On the first day of photography, going on the set, we were so excited,” he says. “The first (assistant director) turned around, he looked at (Davies and writing partner William Osborne), and he went, ‘Well, you stepped in a golden turd.’ Which I guess was a compliment? I think what he meant was that even in the world of brainless, high-concept comedies, this was the ultimate high-concept, lowbrow comedy. It’s a one-joke movie, but it’s a bloody good joke.”
The idea for Twins came from Davies and Osborne, two British comedy writers who fell into the profession after being frustrated with their day jobs. “We met the year before going to university,” Davies tells me from his home in Santa Barbara. “We’d both won these scholarships to spend a year at an American prep school. We met getting on the bus to go to Heathrow.” They eventually both ended up at Cambridge, with Osborne becoming a barrister and Davies working at The Daily Mail, “this absolutely reprehensible tabloid newspaper as a writer in the showbiz department. I was this scurrilous muckraking journalist that knew nothing.”
Their jobs weren’t too far away, geographically, from one another, so they decided to give screenwriting a try. “We used to meet at five o’clock in the morning before work and we’d write for three hours, then go into work,” says Davies. “We wrote a screenplay ridiculously fast, in about five weeks, and read it and thought, ‘My God, that’s complete shit.’ Just threw it away. Then we started again.”
The two men were undaunted, powered by enthusiasm more than expertise. But even early on, they knew that London wasn’t where they should be — they had to get to Hollywood. “This was an era when the movies being made were Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields,” he says, “but we loved Ghostbusters. I mean, Ghostbusters was a profound emotional experience for us, but nobody in the U.K. was writing movies like that. We had a couple of brainless, very high-concept, very lowbrow American ideas. We wrote them, and showed them to the handful of producers in the U.K. who hated them. But I knew one woman that was working at the L.A. Times, and she knew one producer in L.A. And so, we went out and we showed him these scripts, and then he optioned them.”
Soon, Davies and Osborne were in Southern California signing with an agency and plotting their next move. Their agent’s first question was, “Well, who do you want to meet?” They didn’t have to think about it too long: “We went, ‘Oh my God, we want to meet Ivan Reitman,’ because he directed Ghostbusters. Then we went off to meet Ivan, and we pitched him every idea we could think of. He just said, ‘Okay, I hate all your ideas; they’re all rubbish. But I want to make a comedy with Arnold Schwarzenegger.’”
In the mid-1980s, this was a strange idea. At that point in his career, the former bodybuilder had already successfully made the transition to movie star thanks to The Terminator and Commando. But he was known for playing imposing, monosyllabic tough guys — that seemed to be his dramatic ceiling.
What made Reitman see something in Schwarzenegger that no one else did? The light-bulb moment occurred during an evening hanging out with Schwarzenegger and Robin Williams. They both were so taken aback by how funny the action star was they asked him why he never showed that side on-screen. “I said, ‘Hollywood refuses to do a comedy with me because they make all the money in the world with the action movies, so they’re not about to switch now,’” the actor recalled in 2015.
Reitman was determined to change the industry’s perception of Schwarzenegger. Still, comedy was verbal and required a certain lightness. Could Arnold do that? Davies and Osborne wondered the same thing. But during a lunch break after their unsuccessful meeting with Reitman, they huddled in the parking lot to come up with pitches for a potential Schwarzenegger comedy. After about 75 minutes, they had three. One of them was a “dreadful comedy heist idea,” Davies says. “Another, I can’t even remember. The third one was Twins, and Ivan just bought it on the spot. And so we flew home with this deal to write Twins, leaving us with a completely unrealistic sense of how you set up a movie in Hollywood.”
For those who don’t remember the movie’s premise, Julius is, essentially, the perfect human specimen, both intellectually and physically, being raised in the South Pacific by a scientist who helped oversee his birth. On his 35th birthday, Julius is told a shocking truth: He has a twin brother who was sent away to an orphanage. Elated at the news, the cheerful, sheltered Julius tracks down Vincent to Los Angeles, where he’s in jail. They couldn’t look or seem more different — frankly, Vincent’s pretty doubtful that they’re related — but they will discover the many things they have in common as they try to find their mother, who they had each been told died in childbirth.
When Davies and Osborne started working on the script, at that time known as The Experiment, they had someone in mind for Vincent: Steve Martin. “We didn’t really know how to write for an actor, but we were really excited by the idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Martin — they feel very different,” Davies says. “There was a sort of playful malevolence about characters that Steve Martin had played, and so it felt like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s going to be funny: (One character is) very innocent and pure as the driven snow, and (the other is) much more Machiavellian and devious.’”
They spent a few months writing the first draft, sending it to Reitman around the holidays. “I remember his wife telling us later, ‘Ivan laughed out loud five times,’ and we said, ‘God, that doesn’t seem very much — that was 120 pages and we thought we had a lot of jokes in it.’ She said, ‘No, no, that’s very good.’”
But among Reitman’s notes was this: Vincent had to be played by Danny DeVito. “I happened to meet the two of them separately in one week,” Reitman later recalled, “and I started to think, ‘Boy, would it be interesting if we put the two of them together in a film.’”
If Schwarzenegger was a newcomer to comedy, this was DeVito’s home turf. Of course, he’d proved himself a fine dramatic actor in 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but in subsequent years he’d focus more on funnier fare, whether it was on the beloved sitcom Taxi or in action rom-coms like Romancing the Stone. DeVito had made his name playing no-nonsense types who maybe weren’t the most polished but knew how to live on their wits. Schwarzenegger was playing against type in Twins, but DeVito’s role fit him like a glove, with the two actors’ physical appearance (especially their height) adding to the inherent humor of these mismatched brothers. “Originally we called the two characters Oscar and Felix,” Davies recalls, “but Ivan said, ‘Look, everyone’s going to know what that’s a reference to — we’re not doing that, come up with different names.’”
Both Reitman and Schwarzenegger loved the idea of casting DeVito opposite the towering Terminator. And pretty soon, DeVito was on board, too. “I really enjoy the character,” DeVito said at the time, “the man who’s against all odds, (the) everyman — in this case with a much stronger backstory, in terms of a man who believes he was abandoned by his mother and left to fend for himself. … (He) has this ‘Do it to others before they do it to you, or you’re a chump’ attitude. I just get a kick out of doing that and makes it fun for me. And fortunately in Twins, we were able to add some other elements to the character that I haven’t touched on before. … I think this is the first picture I’ve ever done where I get the girl.”
Davies freely admits that he and his writing partner were so green that they probably wouldn’t have been able to get the script to a place it needed to be. But even as newbies, they hit on what resonated about their high-concept idea. “I know that one of things (Reitman) laughed at was when Danny DeVito talks about that he’s a side effect — he’s all the crap that’s left over. That scene was in one of our very early drafts, and Ivan really laughed at it. That was one of the jokes that lasted all the way through.”
Early on in Twins, it’s established that Julius is trusting and kind, as opposed to Vincent, who’s cheating on his loyal girlfriend Linda (Chloe Webb) and stealing cars for quick money. Julius is the ideal human specimen, including in temperament, but Vincent — well, Vincent is more like the rest of us, flawed and suspicious and angry and discontented. And when the character learns that he wasn’t even supposed to have happened — that he’s the leftover genetic material from the creation of Julius — it only exacerbates his feelings of rejection that were there from his orphan childhood. Any mere mortal could relate to Vincent’s plight. None of us can measure up to Arnold.
Still, Davies and Osborne didn’t have the chops to fully bring that human element to life. “The emotional structure wasn’t very sophisticated,” Davies says of their Twins scripts. “It wasn’t built in a clear, mature way so that you really were taken along for the ride and you really felt the turns.”
Enter another writing duo — Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod. They were among the hottest comedy teams at the time, responsible for the 1983 hit Trading Places and then going on to work on Brewster’s Millions. “For Trading Places, we were inspired by Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Lubitsch,” says Weingrod. “We wanted to do social comedy. But then all of a sudden, we’re type-casted as ‘comedy guys.’ I mean, those aren’t the kind of movies that I would normally pay to go see. I like the John Hughes movies, I admired them, but I like Groundhog Day a lot better than that. I mean, Groundhog Day is a masterpiece.”
Reitman was a fan of theirs — according to Harris, he had originally been interested in directing both Trading Places and Brewster’s Millions — and so he hoped they could help on Twins. “Ivan called Tim and I and gave us that screenplay,” Weingrod recalls. “He said, ‘I only have one shot with Arnold and Danny. What would you guys do to give me a much, much better chance of getting those guys? I really like the premise — it’s not well-enough executed for me to be able to take that shot with those guys. We had to do revisions so that it would be tailor-made for Arnold and Danny, basically.”
Davies remembers that their original drafts had Julius and Vincent discovering that their mother was, in fact, dead. “We’re European and bleak and glass-half-empty,” he says, laughing. “Obviously, that was deemed not to be a very good way of going. It would be better for a Hollywood movie if the mother turned out to be alive.” Retooling that was something Harris and Weingrod made a priority.
“I’d been separated from my real father when I was very young, and then I went and found him,” Harris says by phone from the U.K. “And it suddenly occurred to me: These are two guys, they’re brothers, they don’t know where their mother is. Why aren’t they looking for their mother? Everything fell into place immediately, because then there was an emotional current to the story.”
A broad comedy like Twins wouldn’t necessarily be the type of project where you’d expect to hear the creative team talking about doing extensive research. But Weingrod did look a little into the phenomenon of twins who are separated at birth, and he was surprised by what he learned. “Rather incredibly, they marry women with the same name,” he tells me. “They name their pets the same. They buy the same toothpaste. I tried to incorporate all those things, because that’s how (Julius and Vincent) begin to bond is that they have this meal and they notice these weird similarities that they do with their utensils and weird shit like that. That actually happens (in real life) for reasons that no one quite understands.”
Indeed, it’s the charming interactions between Schwarzenegger and DeVito once Vincent lets down his guard and begins to realize Julius is telling the truth that help make Twins so engaging. (A big moment of revelation is when Vincent remembers that he named his dog Julius.) Writing for both actors required Harris and Weingrod to play to the men’s strengths — even if they weren’t yet acknowledged as strengths.
“We discovered that because of (Schwarzenegger’s) Austrian accent, there are certain vowels that immediately elicit laughter,” says Weingrod. “Like in Total Recall: ‘Consider that a divaaarce.’ So we knew how to write his dialogue where certain things are going to come out funny. (Early in the film) we put him on the plane, and we’re thinking, ‘He has the headphones on and he’s singing a song. So, he’s singing ‘Yakety Yak.’” The vowels in the lyrics helped make it one of the best-remembered scenes in Twins, as did Arnold’s utterly joyous rendition of the 1958 chestnut, the character unaware of how loud he’s being. “That was one of my favorite songs growing up,” Weingrod says when asked why he went with that specific tune. “I had The Coaster’s Greatest Hits.”
During the development process, Reitman also decided to change the title from The Experiment to Twins. “The Experiment, that’s cold,” Weingrod explains. There was one catch, though: “David Cronenberg was making a movie that he was calling Twins about twin psychiatrist brothers played by Jeremy Irons. Universal basically had to pay for that title,” which helped Cronenberg finance his acclaimed psychological thriller, now renamed Dead Ringers.
Reportedly, some at Universal Pictures were anxious about Schwarzenegger doing a comedy, prompting the two stars and their director to waive their salaries in order to receive a backend payment if and when Twins was a hit. Harris and Weingrod were just as confident, asking for backend as well, which the studio refused. “Universal said, ‘No, no, no, that’s precedent, we can’t do that,’” Weingrod recalls. “Those three guys made millions of extra dollars on that movie because it made about $200 million worldwide, in 1988 money.”
“I wasn’t worried about (the film bombing) because I thought he was funny,” Harris says. “It’s just funny to see the two of them together. It’s an instant visual joke.” Plus, Schwarzenegger seemed relaxed about playing a goofier, sweeter character than he’d portrayed up to that point in his career. “He didn’t behave like an actor — he was a star, and he didn’t have any of the thespian qualities or conceits,” says Harris. “I think he just thought it was hilarious that he’d become a huge action star and now he is going to be in a comedy. His delivery with that thick Austrian accent made normal lines comic.”
As for DeVito, he was more involved in the rewrites of the script. According to Weingrod, “He was concerned about being typecast as Louie from Taxi: ‘This is just another version of Louie, isn’t it? I mean, what’s the difference?’ We didn’t say, ‘Well, but everyone loves you as Louie,’ because he’s an actor and he wants to broaden his horizons as well. So we tried to make little things so that he wouldn’t be some version of Louie from Taxi. He would be more nefarious on the one hand and more romantic on the other — he winds up having a romance.”
DeVito shined as Vincent, showing a leading-man warmth he’d never gotten to portray before. “Steve Martin’s amazing and I’m sure he’d have done an incredible job, too,” Davies says with the benefit of hindsight. “But Danny DeVito was so sweet. Coming off Taxi, that character in that show was so dark and biting, and there was no sense of the emotion that there (is in DeVito). Danny is so warm and communicates so much and was so open — to us, as well as for everyone else — that you could see that once Vincent turned, all that emotion was going to come pouring out.”
Part of the film’s sweetness comes from its dual love stories. Julius falls for pretty Marnie (the late Kelly Preston), who is the sister of Linda, Vincent’s long-suffering girlfriend. Chloe Webb had turned heads playing Nancy Spungen in the searing 1986 biopic Sid and Nancy, in which Gary Oldman portrayed Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. Twins was obviously a very different kind of film and a very different kind of role for Webb. “I did the pilot of China Beach, and I was singing and being funny in that,” Webb says about being approached for Twins. “Honestly, I think it was Arnold that saw me.”
She instantly hit it off with DeVito, who decided to try something unconventional when they were first rehearsing for the film. “We were in Santa Fe, New Mexico,” she says, smiling at the memory. “We were just kind of hanging out, and there was a really good bookshop there. There was a really gorgeous edition of The Velveteen Rabbit.” DeVito had never read it and was curious what had prompted Webb, who didn’t have kids, to buy it. After explaining why she thought his daughters would like The Velveteen Rabbit, DeVito suggested they read the book together, voicing the different characters.
“We would just pass the book to each other,” says Webb. “This was the entirety of establishing complete trust in each other. The playfulness of sitting at this patio with omelets going cold and passing the book back and forth. At one point, he was doing Tom Waits and I was doing Marianne Faithfull. We were entertaining each other. It was so fun. It was so natural. It was the absolute genius way to build this confidence in each other — the idea of watching and getting an idea and then doing it and then building on that idea. Right from the first, that was in the pocket.”
As much as Twins is a classic buddy comedy, the relationship between Vincent and Linda is nearly as important, with this impetuous scammer finally realizing that he’s found his soulmate in this tough-minded woman who forces him to grow up. Harris and Weingrod wrote Linda to complement Vincent’s (and DeVito’s) demeanor. Linda couldn’t be the “nice-looking bimbo,” Harris says. “She had to be smarter than that to make it work.”
Not that there wasn’t room for tenderness, too. All these years later, Webb recalls a crucial scene in a hotel room when Vincent, nervous about meeting his mom for the first time, starts doing push-ups, which endears him to Linda, who for once sees his little-boy vulnerability. “I just remember being really moved,” she says. “And the camera operator said, ‘Is there something in your eye?’ And I was like, ‘No, why?’ He was like, ‘Your eye’s tearing up on one side.’ And I was just like, ‘No, I love him. I love this guy. He’s making me cry.’ Vincent is worried his mom is going to be disappointed in him. Even in a comedy, Danny’s still Danny — he’s a person, and most certainly he understands that fear on a deep, deep level.”
Although the cast and the writers were all fairly confident they had a hit on their hands, there was one element of Twins that never quite worked — the element that, if you haven’t seen the film in a while, you may have forgotten even existed. Julius and Vincent and their girlfriends eventually head out on the road to find the men’s mother, but the initial impetus is that Vincent, having stolen a car, comes to realize that there’s a valuable mystery object in the trunk — something that a wealthy man (Trey Wilson) in Texas wants. Vincent pretends to be the car’s intended driver, which incenses an enforcer (Marshall Bell) who was supposed to execute the handoff. Amidst this buddy comedy and love story, there’s also a thriller/chase element at play.
“I remember (Osborne) being so funny about it,” Davies says of the thriller narrative that originated in their initial script. “Ivan was saying at one point, ‘So, what is in the trunk of the car?’ And Will said, ‘A MacGuffin, that is what’s in the trunk of the car.’ And we kept on saying that for quite a long time, ‘cause we didn’t know what the thing was. And eventually it was Tim and Herschel that worked out all of the plot to do with this revolutionary jet engine hidden in the trunk. But there was always going to be something in the car, which they’d mistakenly taken and that was going to have these people pursuing them.”
“Ivan is a very good comedy director, and he’s a great caster,” Harris says. “All his films have wonderful casts. But I don’t think that thrillers are his actual métier. When he’s tried to make just straight-ahead thrillers, they’re by-the-numbers a bit. He wasn’t inspired, whereas he was more inspired as a comedy director.”
And yet, that thriller element is partly why Twins is such a 1980s comedy, marrying a high-concept idea to a more action-oriented narrative engine, even if tonally it’s not a great fit. “That’s what we spent 90 percent of our time on, trying to make that make sense,” Harris says of Twins’ “incredibly convoluted thriller plot. People don’t even remember that part of the movie. They remember other memorable scenes in it. That was the real complication with the film for me — it wasn’t a great thriller plot, it wasn’t that exciting, but it’s what drove the story.”
When Hollywood writers are replaced by other, more successful Hollywood writers, it can lead to bad blood, but Davies says he and his partner were hardly mad that Harris and Weingrod were brought into the fold. “They were idols of ours from Trading Places,” he says. In fact, all four of them would gather in rooms to work on punching up the script. At some point, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Oscar-winning writer William Goldman was also hired to do some polishing. For a young writer like Davies, it was an incredible experience, which was then amplified by seeing what DeVito did with the lines.
“Danny improvised so much of it,” he says. “There was all that stuff in the motel room when Arnold is really nervous because he’s going to spend the evening with Kelly and he doesn’t know how to seduce a woman. Danny was sort of dancing with him and doing his little songs — so much of that is just Danny doing his thing. It’s unscripted — there was a gist of what it was, but it was him just riffing the whole thing.”
Davies came away from Twins realizing that improvising wasn’t simply coming up with funny things on the fly but also having enough of a story sense to know how it would connect to the overall plot. “When actors start really riffing, it can be slightly unsettling,” he says. “You can make the crew laugh ‘cause it’s something new they haven’t heard before — they’re bored of their original lines. You worry: Is this going to join up? But Danny gets the architecture of the whole thing. He gets the stuff that you need in order to get from A to B — this mark is here, and you’ve got to get to there, and the camera’s going to do this, and the lights are like that. And yet, within that he manages to make it so fresh and add stuff in — he makes it look so easy.”
While the film’s different writers grasped that it would be funny for Schwarzenegger to play the brainy Julius, they weren’t prepared for the superstar’s disarming charm. Says Davies, “Every time he read a speech you thought, ‘Oh my God, this character is just so sweet and lovable and innocent.’ I mean, that’s just what happened when he read the lines.” Vincent is a man of pure cynicism, but Julius’ resolute positivity, although initially making him seem like a rube, ends up inspiring his brother to grow more openhearted. If Schwarzenegger surprised audiences with his comedic instincts, Twins also was a revelation because it suggested the big guy could be quite lovable.
Armed with its terrific concept and killer poster, the film opened on December 9, 1988 — interestingly enough, on the same day as another Harris/Weingrod-written comedy My Stepmother Is an Alien. Twins was the far bigger hit in a year full of smash comedies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming to America, Big, Crocodile Dundee II and The Naked Gun. “It was hugely successful, it was unbelievable,” Schwarzenegger said in 2019. “And I was so happy because it was actually my first movie that made, domestically, over $100 million — and it was a comedy, not an action movie.”
The film’s success proved Schwarzenegger could be more than an android assassin, paving the way for him to team up with Reitman for 1990’s Kindergarten Cop, which was also rewritten by Harris and Weingrod. “He called us,” Harris says of Reitman reaching out about the project. “He said, ‘I have a script. I don’t like it at all.’ In the end, we knew how it would work.” Harris feels that the two movies have one other thing in common: “People remember Schwarzenegger in the classroom with those kids, but they don’t remember the even more complicated and, in a way, more central thriller plot.”
No matter: Kindergarten Cop was another smash, laying the groundwork for future action-hero tough guys to switch gears by doing broad comedies and family films in order to widen their appeal.
As for DeVito, Twins arrived at a time when he was already deep into a career pivot. The year before, he’d directed his first feature, a dark comedic riff on Strangers on a Train called Throw Momma From the Train, which earned Anne Ramsey (who played the titular troublesome mother) an Oscar nomination. Soon after, DeVito recruited his Romancing the Stone costars Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner for The War of the Roses, an acidic portrait of a terrible marriage. Then in the 1990s, thanks to his Jersey Films, DeVito rebranded himself as a producer and champion of distinctive, independent-minded American films like Reality Bites, Pulp Fiction, Erin Brockovich and Man on the Moon. He hasn’t slowed down since.
“I don’t think I’ve been bored ever,” DeVito said in a 2012 profile. “I’ve always been working on two or three things at a time; whether it was in the early days, or whatever, I was always working on something.”
But surely Schwarzenegger and DeVito would get together for a sequel to Twins, right? “We were never invited to that discussion,” Weingrod says. “There was a lot of talk about it,” recalls Davies, “but then at some point the sequel turned into Junior.”
Where Twins had captured the public’s imagination, 1994’s Junior, directed by Reitman and reuniting the stars in a comedy in which Schwarzenegger’s geneticist character undergoes a procedure to become pregnant, failed to ignite at the box office. Reitman had pitched the idea to Harris and Weingrod, but they passed. As Weingrod tells it, “We said, ‘Ivan, respectfully, men will hate it, because the image of a pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger is emasculating to guys. Women will absolutely hate it because it minimizes their pain of having to actually give birth and carry for nine months. They’ll completely despise it.’ Well, that’s what happened.”
Still, rumors of an in-the-works Twins sequel kept kicking around. Harris says that he wrote a treatment, “which nobody seemed to be interested in.” His idea was that Eddie Murphy would star alongside Schwarzenegger and DeVito as another long-lost brother from the same genetic experiment.
“Murphy’s character had been imprisoned for a long time because he was a criminal,” explains Harris. “But he was equally intelligent — he was as intelligent as Arnold. The main thrust of my thing was that in the time since Twins, Danny DeVito had become a politically-correct, philanthropic, healthy-living man trying to take care of his brother Julius, who had been married three or four times and was an alcoholic, off-the-wall character. I thought it was a great twist that switched the two characters around. Arnold could play an out-of-control partier easily. And Danny Devito could portray a virtuous person who’s recovered from a life ill-spent and is now on the other side of things. It would’ve been a good role for Eddie Murphy as well: Julius and Vincent think he’s a recidivist Black criminal who’s illiterate — but, actually, he’s read every book in the library. He just hasn’t bothered to tell anybody how fucking smart he is. You could see Eddie Murphy doing that well, playing that super-smart guy. Then, when he interacts with Arnold, who’s on the sauce and out-of-control, there were just great comic possibilities.”
Harris sent the treatment to Reitman’s production company. “I think I got a thank-you letter for sending it, but that was it,” says Harris. “I don’t know if Ivan ever saw it.”
Whatever happened with Harris’ treatment, a Triplets project eventually began to gather momentum. In 2012, DeVito was asked about the nascent sequel. “We’re absolutely talking about Triplets,” he said. “I went away and did a play — I did The Sunshine Boys at the West End for six months. Before I left, we were talking about the other brother. We don’t have the story. We have the impulse to do it and the desire to do it, because I think that would be really great if we got together again. But that’s as far as it is.”
Eddie Murphy was the name being bandied about. Then, in September of last year, it was announced that Triplets would be happening, but with Tracy Morgan as the third brother, working from a script credited to Dylan Dawson and Lucas Kavner.
“Twins was quite successful, and some years after, this whole thing started with Arnold meeting Eddie Murphy, and the suggestion came from one of them,” Reitman said at the time. “It was, ‘I should be a triplet, that could be a very funny comedy.’ We started a script with Eddie, and after the success he had with Amazon Prime on Coming 2 America, he got himself booked up heavily. And we knew we were going to make it at the beginning of next year. I’d been good friends with Tracy Morgan for a long time and always thought he was one of the funniest men in the world. I thought he would make a terrific triplet, and we rewrote the whole script for him. Now, we’ll go out and try and put the money together and get it made.”
Five months later, though, Reitman died at the age of 75, putting the future of the sequel in doubt. The following month, Schwarzenegger said that Triplets might still move forward: “We just have to now look into a different director and … see if we are going to continue with this project.” Still, when Reitman passed, the actor paid tribute to him, writing, “I’ll always be grateful that he took a chance on this Austrian action hero in a comedy during a time when the studios just wanted me to focus on finding new ways to kill bad guys, blow things up and show off some muscles.”
The two actors will reunite, in a way, as voices on DeVito’s animated series Little Demons. But if Twins never has a proper follow-up film, its place in the culture seems pretty firmly established. For one thing, Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld has acknowledged that the movie, and the bizarre dynamic between the two brothers, inspired his conception of Wade Wilson, who he viewed as the foul-mouthed Vincent leftover in comparison to Wolverine’s Julius-like perfection. “I stole that crap straight out of Twins,” Liefeld has said.
Then there’s Twins’ comforting rewatchability. “Little kids watch that movie over and over and over,” Webb says, adding with a laugh, “I see the residuals, and I’m like, ‘That movie’s 30 years old now!’ You know which movies have life by the size of your residual checks. I mean, that’s tacky but true.”
She thinks the key to the film’s longevity is its message about family — how we eventually find like-minded souls who understand us. Clearly, Twins strikes a chord — she’s always surprised who will want to talk to her about the film. “I’ve done all these super-cool, iconic, weird, edgy movies,” Webb says, “and somebody who’s super-cool, iconic and edgy comes up to you at a party and says, ‘I loved you in Twins.’”
Davies, who recently wrote the big-screen adaptation of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, hasn’t run into Twins’ stars in a very long time. “I haven’t seen Danny DeVito for decades,” he tells me. “But I do remember he was so lovely on that movie. To say we were unimportant is a massive understatement. That he took so much time (with Osborne and me)I — I can still remember the launch party, having our photograph taken with him and having such a laugh with him. He was just the sweetest guy. I wish that our paths had crossed again, but they just haven’t. Maybe they will.”
I was curious what those who had worked with DeVito would say his secret is. From Taxi to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and all the stops in between, what defines his legacy? “What he has is the very thing that I think makes an actor great,” Webb suggests. “It’s the willingness to expose parts of your own humanity that most people hide.”
“He’s obviously very intelligent,” Weingrod offers. “When it comes to comedy, he knows where the jokes are. He knows when to talk, when to be silent, when to just roll his eyes. Ultimately, he comes across as very amiable and very approachable, which he is in real life as well. He’s incredibly friendly. I mean, I’ve bumped into him over the years. He had a restaurant for a while or I’d bump into him at a pharmacy, and it was just a big hug and a big smile. He’s just a really decent human being. I really like his work as a director as well, Throw Momma From the Train and Hoffa and all that stuff. I mean, he’s immensely talented.”
When’s the last time Weingrod saw him? “I ran into him at Ivan’s memorial,” he tells me. “He said, ‘Why don’t you write something for me?’ I said, ‘I would be happy to.’”