Back in 1996, in-between the career-making success of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary, Bobby and Peter Farrelly directed a weird little movie about a rubber handed downtrodden ex-bowler, an Amish wonder, and the epic sport of bowling. Rejected by audiences at first, Kingpin found its people with its subsequent release on home video, launching it into the cult classic stratosphere.
Let’s take a look back at some of the behind the scenes of the Farrelly Brothers movie that didn’t quite make it until after the fact.
Different Levels Of Bowling Talent
While they played closely matched rivals in Kingpin, Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson were not exactly equals on the lanes in real life. Harrelson was a notoriously terrible bowler, so bad that a bowling coach had to be brought in to change his game. However, this attempt was to no avail, so stand-ins were used.
On the other side of the coin, Bill Murray had a natural knack, and the three strikes that he bowls in the final showdown at the million dollar tournament were actually real. While the crowd was supposed to be for Big Ern, they were really for Murray. Understandably.
The Roommate Connection
While Harrelson was working on Cheers, he and Kingpin co-director Peter Farrelly were actually roommates. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Farrelly was hilarious open about his first impression of Harrelson.
“”I remember when I met Woody, I thought, ‘Poor guy, he’ll never work,’ ” Peter said about Harrelson.”
Luckily for fans of Harrelson’s work, this pessimistic view of his talent and longevity proved to be incorrect.
Looking The Part
Roy Munson is the consummate sad sack, and Woody Harrelson was willing to destroy his movie star looks for the role, to a degree. Harrelson was willing to shave a bald spot into his thick hair and even grow out a wispy combover, but gaining weight to sport a believable beer belly was a bridge too far. So, the belly was a prosthetic and Harrelson, a famous vegan, didn’t have to destroy his body for the role. Harrelson even abstained from unhealthy foods like burgers and fries onscreen — when Ishmael and Claudia eat burgers in Reno, Munson is seen chowing down on a salad.
Chris Farley Was Almost Ishmael
The sheltered, Amish Ishmael had to embody a sort of manic sweetness as someone who gets a taste of the world a little too fast. There has never been a comedian more able to combine innocence with a ribald sense of humor than Chris Farley, and he was initially offered the role of Ishmael right after his hysterical role in Tommy Boy. However, he was contractually obligated to Paramount during that time and had to turn down the role in favor of Black Sheep, leaving the door open for Randy Quaid.
Randy Quaid Brought Bill Murray Aboard
However, the inclusion of Quaid ended up being a blessing for the project. Bill Murray is notoriously difficult to nail down, and agreeing to work on Kingpin was no different. Murray had initially turned down the role of megalomaniac and blowhard Ernie McCracken, but Quaid (who had worked with Murray in 1990 on Quick Change) managed to talk Murray into turning that no into a yes. Murray only agreed to work on Kingpin two weeks before shooting began, so the man knowns how to inspire a mad scramble to make it work. Once they found Big Ern’s iconic rose bowling ball in a Pittsburgh pro shop (true story), a classic Murray character was born.
For The Love Of Blues Traveler
Peter and Bobby Farrelly are apparently serious harmonica jam fans because they decided to bring their love of the band Blues Traveler to Kingpin. Not only was John Popper, the lead singer of the band, the announcer during the finale tournament, but the whole band donned Amish beards and costumes to play over the final scene at Ishmael’s farm.
Working with Bill Murray is always a challenge as the famed comedian is known for ad-libbing many of his lines. While many directors have found this frustrating in the past, the Farrellys rolled with it and were even thankful for his input. In the Kingpin DVD commentary, the Farrellys stated that they were “very glad that he did, because his lines were funnier.” Even Murray’s lines in the hilarious commercial “for the kids” were ad-libbed.
The Cheers Foreshadowing
A full decade before Kingpin was released, an episode of Harrelson’s sitcom, Cheers echoed elements from the film. In the season four episode, “From Beer to Eternity,” the gang is looking to compete in a local bowling competition but Woody is haunted by a former traumatic bowling incident and refuses to participate. Sure, on Cheers it was because he accidentally struck a bystander with an out of control pin instead of having his hand chopped off in the ball machine, but the hilarious bowling trauma remains.
In order to add some credibility to the “bowling is a real sport” narrative of Kingpin, the Farrellys enlisted some famous faces for cameos in the film. MLB legend Roger Clemens shows up as Skid Mark, the boyfriend of the woman who teaches Ishmael how to dance, and pro golfers Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon can be seen in the crowd of one of the earlier bowling scenes. Additionally, pro bowlers Mark Roth and Randy Pedersen can be seen competing against Big Ern and Munson in the final tournament.
The Sound Of Silence
While many were understandably grossed out by Munson’s sex for rent deal with his landlady, but Paul Simon was a fan of the scene. Apparently, iconic singer-songwriter thought the scene was so funny that he personally approved the use of the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence” to play over the aftermath. Is there a better song to inspire reflection as you’re heaving over a toilet? No, there really isn’t.
This is an updated version of a post that originally ran on July 26, 2016.