25 Trivia Tidbits About ‘There’s Something About Mary’ on Its 25th Anniversary

The movie that almost starred Courteney Cox and... Bill Murray?
25 Trivia Tidbits About ‘There’s Something About Mary’ on Its 25th Anniversary

While family-friendly fare dominated theaters through most of the 1990s, a Farrelly Brothers movie would bring back comedies of the naughtier kind and simultaneously boost Ben Stiller’s and Cameron Diaz’s careers in 1998. There’s Something About Mary may elicit a few groans today (as so many late 20th-century films do), but no one can deny it had heart. That, and a bunch of viciously gross body gags. 

For the film’s 25th anniversary, we’ve gathered some trivia and tales about the one where almost every guy is somewhere on the douche spectrum, and the sweetest girl ends up with one of her lesser troubled stalkers who once had a terrible encounter with a zipper…

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The ‘Frank and Beans’ Gag Was Inspired By a Real Incident

Bobby Farrelly told Variety that their younger sister once had a group of eighth graders over at their house to hang out in the basement and listen to some music. “My parents were upstairs,” Farrelly remembered. “One of the kids went up (to the bathroom), and he zipped himself up. He was in there for a long time. My dad, who was a doctor, actually had to go in and say, ‘Hey, kid. You alright?’”

Mary’s Stepdad Was Based on the Farrelly Brothers’ Dad and Keith David’s Stepdad

The Farrelly Brothers didn’t plan on casting a Black actor as Mary’s stepfather, but Keith David managed to bowl them over. “It just kind of changed the dynamic (casting a Black actor),” Bobby Farrelly explained. “We had auditioned a bunch of guys, and when Keith came in, he just blew us away.”

Meanwhile, David said that he thoroughly enjoyed doing the movie, with a lot of his ad-libbing making the final cut. “One that I remember most vividly is ‘Are you yelling at me in my own house?’” He also shared his inspiration for his character: “Sometimes a stepdad comes in at the right time in everybody’s life. It’s not about who sired you, but who raised you and how they raised you. My stepfather was an extremely lovely man. I based some of (my character) upon him because he loved his wife, and when your wife comes with children, you love them, too.”

A Western Inspired the ‘Greek Chorus’ Joke

Throughout the movie, singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman is implemented as the movie’s version of the Greek chorus, as he either sings or plays the movie’s titular song somewhere in the background. The inspiration for the singing narrator came from the 1965 Western comedy called Cat Ballou featuring troubadours Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole.

The Farrelly Brothers Were Ready to Cut the ‘Hair Gel’ Scene

While alluding that the famous scene in which Diaz thinks she’s putting gel in her hair also comes from a real-life incident, Bobby Farrelly did say that they weren’t sure if the gag was crossing the line. “We were like, this could definitely be way over the edge,” he said. “If it doesn’t get huge laughs, we’re not going to leave it in. We’re not doing it to just shock people. We were trying to make people laugh.”

Markie Post Was Cast to Shock America

At the time, the actor was regarded as one of America’s sweethearts due to her work on Night Court. Post said that was precisely why she got cast as Mary’s cursing mom. “They just wanted the shock value,” Post explained, saying she didn’t even have to audition for the part. “I’m easily offended. I had read the script, and I thought, ‘I can’t possibly do this movie.’ But I went in to meet them, and they were just wonderful. Of course, I did it, and I’m very glad I did, but my first impression was, ‘I can’t even let my parents see this,’ which they never did.”

Even the Dog Went Off-Script

It turns out that Puffy, Magda’s dog, wasn’t supposed to go to town on her face like that. Magda actor Lin Shaye said, “It was 7:30 in the morning, which means I had to get into makeup four hours earlier. We started the scene, and Pete (Farrelly) came out and says, ‘Come on guys, let’s get this cooking.’ To elevate the energy, I picked up Slammer (the dog who played Puffy) and held him up in the air above me. And the dog just started kissing me. My job was to stay in the scene, so I stuck with it. When Pete yelled cut, he called it a fantastic moment. Slammer did love me — he would come look at me, look at his trainer and then crawl over into my lap.”

Chris Farley Was Considered for the Role of Mary’s Brother, Warren

William Earl Brown told A.V. Club that when he auditioned for the part of Mary’s brother, the filmmakers had reportedly already seen quite a few actors. However, none worked for the role. “I was the only person to play it straight,” Earl Brown said. “They were bringing in comics. Chris Farley was one of them — Chris died while we were shooting the movie. The studio wanted a name and a face.” 

Earl Brown further revealed that there were only stand-up comedians at his callback audition: “I could hear them in the room, and I just knew that’s not the way. Because I played it straight, that’s why it was funny. You couldn’t goof on that and amp it up to play funny because it was a commentary on the character instead of being honest. So that was how it came about. It was the last time I think I was giddily excited when I left. I remember in the elevator afterward I was like, ‘Fuck yeah!’ That’s not happened to me since.”

Ben Stiller Wanted a Backstory for That Man Juice Dangling From His Ear

“My big thing with that scene was that I argued with the Farrelly Brothers all during the shoot, asking how he could not feel it on his ear?” Stiller told the New York Times. “I was lobbying them to have a backstory that the character had somehow, like, lost sensitivity in his ear, like he had gotten hit as a kid or something. They finally told me it doesn’t matter and I should quit thinking about it.”

Jon Stewart and Owen Wilson Were Up for the Part of Ted

Before Stiller was cast as the leading man, the talk show host and Wes Anderson protégé were both up for the part. “It came down to three people,” Peter Farrelly said in an interview with The Telegraph. “There was (Stiller), Owen Wilson and Jon Stewart. It was a big debate, but obviously, we went with the right guy. And we got to work with Owen on Hall Pass.

Chris Elliott Didn’t Want His Kids to See the Movie

During an interview with Vulture, the actor who played “Woogie” said that he didn’t think the movie would be appropriate viewing for his kids. “I had this stupid idea that, ‘Oh, it’s too raunchy for them, and they’re too young to see that kind of humor yet,’” Elliott said. “But then they’d go to school and every kid in their class had already seen it and wanted to talk to them about it. And they had to go, ‘Well, we haven’t actually seen it yet.’ So, I finally showed it to them. And then I realized — I hadn’t been keeping up with what was on TV at the time — that they had seen far worse things on cable than Something About Mary.”

It Wasn’t the Farrelly Brothers’ Original Idea

The script was originally written by Ed Decter and John J. Strauss (friends of the Farrellys) long before the movie was given the green light. The premise was simple: A guy uses a private eye to track down the girl he had a high school crush on, only for the private eye to fall in love with her too. The Farrellys read the script and thought it was a neat idea, but they were doing Kingpin at the time. “The project had gone into development hell at the studios,” Bobby Farrelly revealed. “When we finished Kingpin, we called them up and asked if we could take their idea and run with it. It was a collaboration.”

Warren Was Based on a Guy the Farrellys Grew Up With

20th Century Fox

“We know in our hearts where we’re coming from, and we’re coming from a loving place; that’s the truth,” Peter Farrelly has said about the character of Warren. “He’s based on a guy we grew up with named Warren, who lived on our street who was intellectually challenged. He hung around because he was our friend’s older brother. He was several years older than us, but he’d play hockey with us, and he would hang out, and we loved Warren, and we’d joke around with him. So nobody who knew Warren in our group would ever in a million years think that there was anything insulting about it. The people who complain about this sort of thing are the people who would rather never see them. We’re like, ‘Well, they’re real people; why not put them out there?’ And in fact, I’ve read things in the press about how people were offended, but we never, ever got one letter from anybody that was offended by it; in fact, all we got were letters saying, ‘Hey, I have a brother who’s intellectually challenged, and I saw your movie, and it made me want to hang with him more.’”

Brett Favre Wasn’t the First Choice for the QB Cameo

The Farrellys said that Drew Bledsoe was their top pick for the ending’s cameo. Unfortunately, the mosh pit incident happened. “He was a single guy, went out with his pals, they went to a club, he dove into a mosh pit, and someone kind of tweaked their neck, nothing serious, but it was in the news,” Peter Farrelly has remembered. “So he called us up and said, ‘I can’t come do your movie in Miami because if they find out I did a movie after that they’re going to run me out of town.’”

They tried getting Steve Young next, but he apparently didn’t want to corrupt Mormon kids, telling them, “That’s the funniest script I’ve ever read. But I cannot do it because if I do it, it’s R-rated, and I know all the Mormon kids will be sneaking in, and I wouldn’t feel good about that.”

The Legendary Makeup Designer

Tony Gardner worked as the makeup effects designer on There’s Something About Mary, and his impressive filmography includes The Addams Family, Zombieland, Hocus Pocus and Darkman, to name a few. He’s also won awards for his work in Army of Darkness as well as Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.

Courteney Cox Was Up for the Role of Mary

While the Farrellys rewrote the script with Diaz in mind, Cox made a massive impression on them during auditions. They ultimately stuck with their original choice, saying that Diaz “just had that glow.”

Vince Vaughn Was Up for the Role of Pat Healy

Before Matt Dillon ended up playing the sleazeball private investigator, the Farrellys considered Vince Vaughn for Pat Healy. Other names floated around included Cuba Gooding Jr. and Bill Murray.

It Was the Third Highest-Grossing Domestic Movie of 1998

The film came in third at the box office in 1998, losing only to Saving Private Ryan and Armageddon. After eight weeks in theaters, it beat out Blade (and Saving Private Ryan at the time) to finally claim the top spot over the Labor Day weekend.

Sully’s Disappearance Was Explained in a Deleted Scene

The theatrical release didn’t give a reason for the sudden disappearance of Sully (played by Jeffrey Tambor). A deleted scene, however, showed that Sully was a former cocaine addict who relapsed and eventually got eaten by his neglected pet python. The scene where the guys find Sully in the bowels of his snake was added back in the film’s extended cut.

Roger Ebert Liked the Movie

While many critics panned the comedy, Ebert gave it three out of four stars, writing, “I love it when a movie takes control, sweeps away my doubts and objections, and compels me to laugh. I’m having a physical reaction, not an intellectual one. There’s such freedom in laughing so loudly. I feel cleansed.”

Diaz Was Worried About the ‘Hair Gel’ Scene

20th Century Fox

At first, Diaz was game to do the scene that saw her hair turn into a fountain sculpture, but on the day of the shoot, she had second thoughts. The actress was specifically worried that the way-out gag might ruin her career. “At first, I had questions because you never know how something like that can go since it had never been done before,” Diaz explained. “I trusted Bobby and Peter, obviously, because they are so hilarious, but when we came up with the visual to the joke, it made me realize how right they were.”

Elliott Ended Up in the Movie Because He First Turned Down ‘Dumb and Dumber’

The Farrellys sent Elliott the script for Dumb and Dumber while he was filming Cabin Boy, but the actor wasn’t interested in the movie at all. “I remember thinking, ‘No, this is not for me. I don’t do that kind of stuff. I am like Noel Coward,’” the actor once said. Cabin Boy, of course, ended up bombing, and Elliott phoned the brothers back to try and rectify his mistake. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels were already cast by then, but the Farrellys eventually gave Elliott a spot in Kingpin and cast him as the guy with the shoe fetish in There’s Something About Mary.

The Farrelly Brothers Wanted to Bring R-Rated Comedy Back

When There’s Something About Mary came out in 1998, most comedies were of the PG-13 variety. That’s exactly why the Farrellys set out to make their raunchy romp. “There hadn’t been an R-rated comedy in a long time,” Bobby Farrelly told the L.A. Times. “We wanted to do something more for adults. We weren’t going to hold back. Animal House was a movie we loved growing up. The jokes those guys were willing to attempt is what motivated us.”

The next year, American Pie would enter the world, followed by the countless R-rated comedies of the early 2000s.

Keith David on His Most Horrific Scene Ever

The actor, who has starred in horror films such as The Thing and They Live, once told Yahoo! that the most horrific scene he’s ever done was the famous “Frank and Beans” scene. “During There’s Something About Mary, the first time that we saw the zipper moment, it wasn’t actually him; it was mounted on a piece of wood,” David revealed. “But when you look at it, it was like, ‘Ohhhhh!’ Any man over seven years old who has had that moment, the thought of it hurts. And I don’t know what hurts more, the actual catching or trying to get out of it.” 

The actor said he didn’t need to pretend much in the scene. “That would make a grown man scream, holler, cry. That’s also how you knew it was a comedy. Because he wasn’t sitting there bawling like a baby.”

Elliott Brought the Quirks to His Character

20th Century Fox

“I added the facial blemishes after I met with Peter and Bobby Farrelly, as kind of a running thing,” Elliott told A.V. Club. “So I guess I feel like I contributed something to it, but with or without the boil on the eyelid, it still was a character just funny on the page. I can’t take much credit for that.”

The Reasoning Behind the Choice of That Ending Song

The film famously ends on a high note with “Build Me Up Buttercup” by the Foundations blaring as the credits roll. “I think it was Pete’s idea to put a fun song at the end,” Bobby Farrelly said. “‘Buttercup’ was one of his favorite songs from our childhood. It puts everyone in a good mood. It’s got that ‘Sweet Caroline’ feel to it.” 

Producer Bradley Thomas remembers how the song would play after each day of shotting, with the cast being filmed singing and dancing before wrapping.

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