Peter Farrelly On ‘Ricky Stanicky,’ How John Cena Is The Best Prepared Actor He’s Ever Worked With, And Why He Still Takes Reviews So Personally

One might think, by now, Peter Farrelly wouldn’t care about reviews. The movies he made in the ’90s with his brother, Bobby (you probably know them as “The Farrelly Brothers”), routinely irked the critical minds at the time, yet made a lot of money and have, since – namely Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary – are now considered comedy classics. And not to mention he’s directed a movie (Green Book) that won Best Picture. Yet, he does. And I witnessed this firsthand.

Back in 2022, I went to the premiere of The Greatest Beer Run Ever, a Vietnam-era comedy/drama starring Zac Efron, at the Toronto Film Festival – a movie I enjoyed quite a bit that got a great reception at the premiere. At the party after I was asked if I wanted to say hello to Farrelly. I’ve interviewed him numerous times now and he’s always a pleasant and gregarious raconteur, so I said yes. But this time something was certainly … off. Now, I am certainly open to the fact he just didn’t want to talk to me. (Trust me, many people fall into this category.) But, ahead in this interview, I asked about that night and, yep, turns out he had just been told about some early reviews. Farrelly seems like the kind of fellow who wears his heart on his sleeve, and he certainly was that evening.

Now, Farrelly reteams with Efron for the full-on comedy, Ricky Stanicky. In the film, a group of friends since childhood have always gotten out of all sorts of trouble by blaming everything they did on poor Ricky Stanicky. The thing is, Ricky doesn’t exist. Now, as adults, after skipping a baby shower to, instead, go to a concert in Atlantic City – saying, instead, they had to visit Ricky in the hospital – their friends and families are starting to doubt Ricky exists. So the only solution is to hire a pretty terrible actor, Rod (John Cena, who seems to be having the time of his life), to play Ricky. It turns out, Rod is really good at playing Ricky and starts enjoying the most success he’s ever had in his life, which creates a whole host of new problems.

Ahead, Peter Farrelly tells us how John Cena is the most prepared actor he’s ever worked with in his life. (Of course, the many, many actors who Farrelly has worked with come prepared, but Cena is on another level.) He explains why he takes reviews still so personally – and still remembers one specific review of There’s Something About Mary very well. He also talks about if he’d ever direct alongside his brother again. Which it sounds like, for now, the two still enjoy working together in other capacities, but like directing on their own.

Peter Farrelly: My first favorite catcher in the Major Leagues, Mike Ryan. Let’s talk.

You say that every time. Someone gave me his baseball card. I think it’s 1969 Topps. I still have it.

He wasn’t great, but we liked him because he was on the Red Sox. I think he was on the Impossible Dream Team, 1967.

I wasn’t alive then, but I’m very familiar with that team because I was born in St. Louis and they lost to the Cardinals in the World Series.

That’s correct. Yeah, that was a heartbreaker for us. I was 10 years old. That was my first year of really loving baseball. And I remember we had the transistor radios in the class and we were listening to it under our desks. The teachers were kind of looking the other way because they knew, they didn’t fight it, but you weren’t supposed to have them. Did I tell you? Stop me if I told you the one where I went to the 2004 game when the Red Sox won in St. Louis?

I’ve never heard this.

Okay. So it’s an unbelievable thing. The Red Sox win. It’s a sweep! We’re in St. Louis.

Oh, I remember.

But when we left the game, we’re loaded with Red Sox stuff. I’ve got my five-year-old son with me. We’re walking and everybody’s patting us on the back like, hey, thumbs up, smiling. They couldn’t have been nicer. They were the most generous, kind-hearted fans ever. And we’re walking towards the hotel and this car comes driving towards us. We’re stopped at the intersection about to walk and this car comes and starts cutting in front of us. And this guy is hanging out the passenger side window! And I pull Bob back and the guy goes by and he goes, “Congratulations!” It was like, oh my God, what a city. I was waiting for the worst and I got a drive-by congratulations.

It’s almost annoyingly friendly because I wish we were a little meaner to tell you the truth.

Nah, I’m telling you. I remember thinking, man, I wish Boston was like this.

No, you don’t.

But also, my whole life, everybody always said the two best baseball towns are St. Louis and Boston.

I agree with that.

And of course, I always argue it was Boston, but after that thing I was like, they deserve number one. It’s a great baseball town and they’re nice. So what’s up? How are you doing?

Well, you have a new movie out. They’ll probably get mad if we don’t talk about that.

Yeah. You can just say good things about it. We don’t have to say anything. It’ll be fine.

I know you probably knew this going in, but were you even amazed how good John Cena is in this? He is really going for it.

I’ve got to tell you, I expected a lot from him, but he blew my mind. I mean, when I saw him in Peacemaker? From the moment I saw him in that, I was like, oh my God, this guy’s funny. He commits. That was the main thing. He went for it. He wasn’t afraid to go for the joke or to embarrass himself. He went for it. But yes, he blew my mind. He’s the most prepared actor I ever worked with.

Wait, really?

He showed up on the set – and I’m not joking, this is the God’s honest truth – he showed up on the set and he had the entire script memorized, every scene. Not just the scenes we’re shooting that day. He had every scene.

I’m thinking of all the actors you’ve worked with. So he’s more prepared than Viggo Mortensen? He’s more prepared than Matt Damon? He was more prepared than anyone?

Nothing against those guys. Those guys are all incredibly well-prepared, but he takes it to an OCD level where he memorized the entire script. The entire script. I remember one day we got ahead and we shot a scene that we thought was going to take eight hours, but it took like four hours, so we would have been done for the day. But I thought, well, we could hop over to this other scene? And I came over to him and I said, “Hey, do you want to take an hour?” He goes, “I don’t need an hour.” I said, “Well, we’re going to skip to a scene like 40 pages later.” He started rattling off the dialogue.

I do wonder if with his background in wrestling, if he doesn’t know what everyone else is doing he could get hurt or die. So I wonder if that’s part of it. I think Dave Bautista also qualifies here.

Yeah, I think it is. I think you’re right. Because I’ve asked him how did this start. He did a couple of little parts and I said I’ve got to look at them. He goes, “No, no, no. Please don’t look at them. They’re just awful. I didn’t know what I was doing. And then I realized, okay, you’re a real actor, you better fucking get your shit together. Then I started working on my craft and learning how to act, and I got so much better.” It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger, for a long time had that insecurity, because he was mocked. He was mocked when it started, but then he went so far past that.

I think that the more the chip you have on your shoulders, the better you’re going to be. I was an accounting major in college. And when I got out I was a salesman for a few years. And it wasn’t until my mid-20s that I started writing. And I went back to grad school for creative writing and I remember I was embarrassed. I was feeling so behind everybody – because they were English majors, lit majors – they knew a lot more, they’ve done a lot more, and it drove me. I remember thinking, I do not want to embarrass myself, and I worked hard. I remember weekends I’d just spend in my room reading books that I should have read in high school or college and trying to catch up. And I think that’s what these guys did.

This is your second movie with Zac Efron. Is he becoming your go-to actor, like Jim Carrey was?

Yeah, I like him a lot. He’s a great guy, by the way. I met him years ago before we ever worked together. And having hung out with him for two movies, now he’s just top-notch human being. But more than that, he’s a director’s dream. A lot of actors are in their head. They’re doing the math themselves. They’re thinking, okay, I could have done this, I should have done. And you’re talking to them and you realize they didn’t even know you there. But, by the way, it’s sometimes a great thing, because they know what they’re doing. But you’re not as part of the process.

I really enjoyed The Greatest Beer Run Ever, your prior movie with Zac. I was at the premiere at Toronto and it got a great reception. I am wondering if something went wrong with how you wanted that released? Or something else? Only because at the party I was asked if I wanted to say hello to you and you didn’t seem in a great mood. And granted, it could be just that you had to talk to me. I am fully aware of that possibility. But it seemed like that movie left the conversation quickly…

Well, it didn’t go away quickly because it was on Apple and it was number one for quite a while, and it still comes back into the top 10 over there a lot. However…

When I say went away, I don’t mean on streaming, but the zeitgeist. And I felt it should have stayed around longer because I really enjoyed it.

Well, first of all, I apologize if I…

No, no, no. You were not rude, you just seemed distracted by something.

Well, I do remember that night getting a couple of people come up to me involved in the thing and saying, “Yeah, you got a bad review here.” The reviews started to come out.

Oh, I see.

And people started telling me. And if you look at it, that did not get great reviews. I mean, the thing is, honestly, I like the audience reviews and that’s the one I trust most. I pay attention to the audience. And our movies are almost always like that.

You’re not kidding. Even going back to movies we consider comedy classics today, like Dumb and Dumber, did not get overwhelmingly positive reviews.

I remember the first review that I saw for – not the first review but the one that stuck in my brain – it was Rex Reed for There’s Something About Mary. And I swear you could look it up. “Sewage.” He wrote, this is sewage from the idiots who did Dumb and Dumber or something like that. It’s like, man.

Well, I agree you do have a history of that.

Well, yeah, we get beat up a lot, but whatever. It’s part of the process. But that night, yeah, I do remember getting a couple of people saying, “Yeah, we just read this thing. It wasn’t good.“ I said, “Really?” I was shocked, because I thought… I love that movie. I’m always shocked when people don’t love my movies. But it happens all the time. Yeah, I was getting bad news. It was creeping into the thing. And I try not to… I don’t read reviews. But people will tell you. I’m like, “Dude, I don’t read them for a reason. Don’t tell me.” “Oh, man, you got crushed by The New Yorker.” Like, “Ah, don’t tell me that.”

That’s always fun to hear.

I know.

Now that you and Bobby are directing movies separately, do you look at his and look at yours and think things like, when we were together here’s what he brought and here’s what I brought? Does it work that way?

Honestly, this is what I always feel. I swear to God. And no matter what I do without him, I think it would’ve been a little better with him. That’s what I always say. And I really do. I know he would’ve come in and he would’ve had this, that, and this. But you get to a point where you want to run the show. And I understand that he just directed a movie, by the way, that I wrote with Ricky Blitt. And it was at Paramount that comes out at Christmas with Jack Black.

Oh, yeah, I read about this. Dear Santa. It’s about a kid who accidentally writes to Satan instead of Santa.

Yeah. And Jack Black’s sensational. And by the way, that’s Bobby’s movie. I wrote it, but he’s the director. I like where we are. I still reach out. I tell him, he sends me Champions and says, “Watch it.” And I give him notes. And I send him my stuff, he gives me notes. But yeah, certainly, I like working with him. But I like working alone, too. And I think he does, too.

Do you see a time where you’ll reunite? Or are you both just happy doing it the way you’re doing it now?

Absolutely. We could definitely do it again. You know, Loudermilk is a great example. Where we were alternating directing, but a lot of times when I was directing he was there. And when he was directing I was there. But we would just alternate. Somebody would run with it and take on the whole thing, editing it, do the whole thing. But it was a great process, and we’d get to hang out in Vancouver for a while. But that was the perfect example of what we’d like to do now.

When I last spoke to him I asked what it was like to watch you go solo for the first time, then your movie wins Best Picture. He said you also have a Razzie so it all works out.

Yeah, that’s true! That’s hilarious.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.