Farley on Film: The Directors of Chris Farley’s Movies Share Their Favorite Behind-the-Scenes Tales
Twenty five years ago, on December 18, 1997, Chris Farley died of a drug overdose at the age of 33.
Beyond his days on Saturday Night Live, Farley starred in four films: Tommy Boy, Black Sheep, Beverly Hills Ninja and Almost Heroes. Although only Tommy Boy is regarded as a comedy classic, each has at least a few moments that highlight Farley’s undeniable comic genius. Which is why, as a tribute to Farley a quarter century after his death, we asked the directors of all four of these movies to highlight a memorable scene from them.
Tommy Boy director Peter Segal talked about “Fat Guy in a Little Coat,” which was a gag born on the set of SNL. Penelope Spheeris looked back on Farley’s antics in a log cabin with David Spade in Black Sheep. Meanwhile, Dennis Dugan recalled the hilarious hibachi scene in Beverly Hills Ninja. Finally, Farley’s brother Tom stepped in for Christopher Guest to discuss Almost Heroes, which was released posthumously.
By their count, Farley almost knocked himself out twice in the pursuit of laughter, and while his addiction issues were always lingering in the background, he attacked each film with an infectious energy that made them indelible and hilarious in their own right.
‘Fat Guy in a Little Coat’ from Tommy Boy (1995)
Peter Segal, director of Tommy Boy: Farley was fantastic to work with on Tommy Boy. I’d worked with him previously on The Jackie Thomas Show and an HBO special, and he was not sober then. In fact, after The Jackie Thomas Show, Tom Arnold and Roseanne Barr put him into a limo and drove him straight to rehab. When I got him on Tommy Boy, he was only overdoing it with coffee, having like 40 cups a day. He met with his priest almost every night, and he had his weight under control. So he was clean, and the two of us bonded really quickly.
Fat guy in a little coat, or at least the way you see it in Tommy Boy, was an accident. Back at Saturday Night Live, Farley was officemates with David Spade and across the hall were Chris Rock and Adam Sandler. Farley wasn’t a writer, but whenever somebody else was writing, he’d take their coat off the coat rack, put it on and chant, “Fat guy in a little coat! Fat guy in a little coat!”
That made it into the script of Tommy Boy because me and (screenwriter) Fred Wolf put in all kinds of things from real life and all kinds of real interactions between Spade and Farley. For example, there’s a scene where Farley asks Spade, “Does this suit make me look fat?,” and Spade says “No, your face does.” That was a real exchange on set that we put into the movie.
When we shot “Fat guy in a little coat,” we did it just like Farley did back at SNL, as a line, not a little song. But neither of these guys had done a movie before, and with take after take and all the waiting around and coverage and all that, they would get bored. So in that scene, we shot Farley first, and then we shot Spade’s reaction. But when we were on Spade, Farley was getting bored doing the same lines over and over, so he started goofing around and he sang it — “Fat guy in a little coat” — just like you hear in the movie.
During filming, I didn’t really pay attention to it because I was focused on Spade. But the next day, I got a call from my editor, and he said that he fell out of his chair laughing at the song. Again, though, I didn’t get it. The camera was only on Spade, so we had to go back and get Farley singing it.
To this day, people still cite that scene. A buddy of mine from high school later became a Top Gun pilot, and he told me that they used to sing that song while getting into their flight suits. I’ve had NFL players tell me that they’d sing it while getting dressed in their uniforms. So many people have told me they do that bit.
The Cabin Scenes from Black Sheep (1996)
Penelope Spheeris, director of Black Sheep: I originally met Chris Farley when I directed Wayne’s World, so I knew him already and I think he was comfortable with me. I’ve sometimes heard through the grapevine that Chris was pissed that he had to do Black Sheep because that meant he missed out on Cable Guy, but he didn’t act pissed about it. In fact, he was a pleasure to work with.
Farley and Spade knew how to play off each other like any classic comedy team. During the scene in the cabin where they find the bat, there was a guy on the roof controlling a bat on wires while Farley and Spade trap it and catch it in the sheet. Most of that was scripted, but their delivery wasn’t, and the two of them were so comfortable together. Chris was a sweetheart and Spade was kind of a pain in the ass, but that’s what made them so funny together.
We filmed those scenes somewhere in the mountains of California, and we had to build the cabin on hydraulics because a boulder had to knock into it. In reality, when the cabin jumped forward, we had a couple of trucks with chains, and they pulled the cabin off its foundation. Then the two guys flew out of the cabin. Those were stunt doubles in that scene, but it was hard to convince Chris not to do his own stunts. He was pretty good at that stuff, too — though one time he knocked himself out by hitting the branch of a tree. It was the scene where he’s trying to get phone reception, and he hits this big branch. I told him, “We have a stunt double, let’s use him,” but Chris had to do it himself. He hit the tree branch so hard, he conked out for a little while. I was afraid we’d killed him.
Chris was always sober on Black Sheep, but when I went to New York for the ADR, I was standing in the recording room and he showed up an hour late and he was toasted. He was sweaty, and his eyes were pinned. We barely got through the ADR. I do remember on the set, Chris and I were talking about John Belushi one time, and Chris said to me, “I want to live like John Belushi, I want to be like John Belushi and I want to die like John Belushi.” I pushed him and told him to “shut up” because I thought he was joking. But he wasn’t, unfortunately.
The Hibachi Scene from Beverly Hills Ninja (1997)
Dennis Dugan, director of Beverly Hills Ninja: I’d go into Chris’ trailer in the morning, and I’d say to him, “Chris, who cares about this movie more than you and me?” And he’d say, “Nobody! It’s you and me, we’re the team!” Then we’d high-five, he’d give me a hug and we’d get going.
There’s one scene in the movie where he’s showing Nicollette Sheridan that he’s a real ninja, and he dives through the wall. On take one, Chris ran through the wrong wall! He hit a real set wall and knocked it off its foundation.
As for that hibachi scene, that was, I’d say, 90 percent improv — it was just him fucking around. He didn’t train for that scene, but we had real hibachi chefs in the background, and before we got started, Chris was studying them and what they did, like flipping the shrimp into their hat and into their pocket and things like that. Chris was an athlete and I’m sure he could have been incredible actually doing that stuff, but the scene was really about him doing it poorly, which took even more coordination, especially to hit the same marks over and over again. That’s the thing about Farley, he was completely chaotic, but totally cooperative and knew how to do his job.
That whole scene was amazing — from him crashing through the doors to him burning his face and using the steak to cool himself off, it was marvelous. There’s a bit in there when he takes the lady’s scarf and begins mixing it in with the food. That was an accident; the scarf was just hanging there, and he saw the opportunity and took it from her — while I’m sure wardrobe was shitting themselves over it.
That scene ends with him fighting with these two giant trouts. Now, we had like real ninja guys on that movie doing judo or whatever, and the one guy was the grandaddy ninja master that all the other guys looked up to. I had Farley hitting him in the face with a giant fish! Man, it was funny.
Speaking of which, about three months before we began shooting Beverly Hills Ninja, Farley went and worked with this real ninja master. He told Farley he’d only work with him if he was off drugs and alcohol, and Farley did get off drugs and alcohol. He was off during the whole prep and the whole shoot. He was clean with me for six months. But when we were done, with whatever happened in his life, he went back, and that’s what killed him.
Chris Farley v. the Bald Eagle from Almost Heroes (1998)
Tom Farley, Chris’ older brother: Chris was excited to take this movie and branch out because he was trying to break out of what he called the “Fatty falls down” movies. Tommy Boy was successful and it was clear after that that Chris was going to start making movies on his own, but Paramount had a two-picture deal with him and the studio really rushed Black Sheep through right afterward. It had such an effect on him that he relapsed.
I was with him at a sneak preview in New Jersey, and they were testing out a couple of endings for the movie. The screening didn’t go well. He knew it was a bad movie, and he was very nervous about the reaction. I went home after that, but I got a call from my father the next day saying, “What the hell happened last night?” It turned out Chris had trashed his hotel room — it was bad. He built an expectation that Black Sheep was going to suck, and so, he was going to drink.
The thing about Chris making movies was, that was game time; he never had a problem staying sober then. In fact, it worked for his recovery better than anything. But give him six months off in between movies, and that’s when he’d get into trouble.
Like I said, though, he was excited for Almost Heroes, which was originally called Edwards and Hunt, but they delayed the movie for a long time. Then Chris died, and they finally released it in May of 1998.
The studio treated our family beautifully. Instead of having a premiere, they did a nice screening at Planet Hollywood in Beverly Hills. My family flew out for it, and some of the cast was there. We dedicated Chris’ costume from the movie to Planet Hollywood. It was a wonderful evening.
I do remember thinking that the movie itself wasn’t great, but there is one scene that I absolutely love. It’s when Chris has to climb up into that nest over and over again to get the eagle eggs, and when he’s cooking up the bacon and just keeps looking over at the egg until he finally caves in and eats it. The way Chris did it all was so perfect. When he’s up in the nest for the final time and he keeps going for the egg — everything I knew about Chris and Chris’ humor came out in that scene. It was so Chris.