Peter Segal, The Director Of ‘Tommy Boy,’ Reflects Back 25 Years Later

Peter Segal doesn’t use revisionist history when discussing Tommy Boy. There’s no inkling of, “No one believed in us but we knew we were making something special,” or anything like that. No, instead, Segal admits he first tried to quit the project, then he grew a beard while directing the movie so, later, maybe he wouldn’t be recognized. Yes, he thought he was working on a no-doubt-about-it disaster. The fact here we are 25 years later and we are still talking about Tommy Boy proves, well, Segal was (happily) a little off base about his initial predictions.

Ahead, Segal shares a bunch of behind-the-scenes memories of directing Chris Farley and David Spade (in celebration, a new Tommy Boy Limited edition steelbook is being released on March 31st), and reveals that he and Farley had a falling out after the movie because he didn’t want to direct the pair’s follow-up, Black Sheep. (Thankfully, the two reconciled before Farley’s death.) But, first, Segal gives us an update on his latest film, the Dave Bautista vehicle My Spy, which is currently sitting in limbo because of the current health crises. Though, Segal thinks if it went straight to video on-demand, it might be pretty welcome for parents with kids at home right now.

Before we get to Tommy Boy, our current situation has affected your new movie, My Spy. Do you know what the plan is for that as far as if it will be released at home?

No. Ironically, just a quick thing about that. STX domestic was fortunate enough and smart enough to push My Spy at least a month, but international did not. The news was changing hourly and it still got released in 17 territories, and got shut down within 20 hours. So, yeah, we got our foot caught in the bear trap in parts of Europe. Fortunately, we have not released here yet, but when we do, I’m not sure.

The industry seems to be changing by the hour. I just watched Bloodshot on VOD, which was released in theaters a week and a half ago.

There’s a chance that could happen to us too. We were supposed to open on the 13th against Bloodshot, we called an audible and pushed. And I don’t think April 17th is going to be enough of a push.

What would you prefer if it was up to you? I suspect if it were on VOD, people would watch it.

Yeah, especially people with kids who are all in the house sort of homeschooling. It’s bizarre. Yeah, it might be the perfect time to release this to a streamer so that the fanbase can see it because, quite frankly, I analogize the going back into the theaters the same way as people on the beach in Jaws went back into the water after the shark attack. You’re not all going to hear the whistle blow and just charge back into the theaters. It’s going to be very tentative, so even if you are the first one out, if we were brave enough to plant our flag somewhere in the middle of July, who’s to say if people are going to trust that and really think it’s safe. Plus, you have to trust your leadership, that you’re being told the coast is clear for the right reasons. Not just the economy, but your actual health.

On to Tommy Boy, well, what haven’t you been asked about Tommy Boy over the last 25 years? I feel, no matter what movie you are promoting, Tommy Boy comes up.

One thing I’ll just tell you, I got an invitation to the town of Sandusky, Ohio for August – if the coast is clear with our health crisis right now – to celebrate the 25th anniversary. Spade is going to be doing a comedy show. They are having bands and unveiling a piece of public art in the town square. And I had to say to the person who contacted me, I said, “We never actually shot a frame of the movie in Sandusky.” They said, “We don’t care,” because we put them on the map, which I can’t wait to go and celebrate with them in August.

I’m guessing no, but when you were filming this were you thinking there was any chance we’d be talking about this movie 25 years later?

I remember hearing a story about Mike Nichols and someone came up to him and said, “Oh, The Graduate is one of my favorite movies.” And he got little annoyed and he said, “I have made about another 20 movies since then.” But, I guess if you’re fortunate enough to have one of those stick, just accept it and just enjoy it, because I think it really is random. There’s no way in hell that we could have predicted any of the staying power that this little movie would have. As a matter of fact, to prove it I grew that beard…

Oh yeah, I noticed that in the behind the scenes features.

I grew that beard to hide because I didn’t want to be recognized because I thought the movie was going to be an absolute disaster. Because we had no script in the beginning! We just had to start shooting because we were on a break, in the hiatus for SNL, and it was overlapping with the SNL season. And so, we had to begin shooting and I thought, “Oh, my God.” I felt like literally I was driving a car with my hands tied behind my back and I just hoped we didn’t hit anything. And so, we got through it, we stitched it together. It seemed to resonate. And how much it resonated, I wouldn’t really know for the next several years.

Well, what was your mindset at the time? You wanted to hide because you thought it would be a disaster, but you just came off of directing Naked Gun 33 1/3 and I have no idea if that was a good or bad experience.

Naked Gun 33 1/3 was my first movie. I never thought I would be a film director. I was in television and just having fun. And I had just finished a comedy special, several, that had the Chris Farley and Ben Stiller and Jim Carrey in them, and that’s actually what David Zucker saw. And he then began interviewing me for Naked Gun. And when that was a success, I thought, “Oh my God, does that mean I’m a movie director now or do I go back to television? I don’t know what I am.” And this script came across my desk called Billy the Third, a Midwestern, and that was the original title of Tommy Boy. And it was starring Farley; Spade wasn’t attached yet. And I thought, “Oh my God, I had worked now twice with Chris. Once in the HBO special and then on an episode of The Jackie Thomas Show, which was a spinoff of Roseanne with Tom Arnold.”

Oh, I remember that show.

Oh my God.

Tom Arnold, he had a run then with True Lies and everything. He was on a hot streak.

Yes, he was. And I remember saying to James Cameron at a party for Tom, I said, “Hey, you and I are both the guys trying to introduce Tom Arnold to the world, you on a much bigger scale.” But, so anyway, Tom and Chris became good friends and Chris was actually the Best Man at one of Tom’s wedding. And I thought, okay, I definitely want to take this leap of faith with Chris and do his first starring role in a movie. He had been in a few pictures up until that point, like Coneheads and the Airheads. And then I opened the script and realized, okay, well that was a good idea except there’s no real script here. It needed a lot of work. So I was taking a big leap of faith.

As a matter of fact, we started working on the script and we realized we were running out of time and I tried to quit the project before it started. Because I said, “This is a runaway train. We’re never going to make this deadline. We don’t have a script!” And I was told quite forcefully by the head of the studio, leaving is not an option. So, as the old saying goes, sometimes you do your best work with a gun to your head. And I packed up, left my very young kids at the time, and I was thrown into the snake pit and forced to figure it out. And we did, but it probably aged me by 10 years just making Tommy Boy.

I think for a lot of people, Tommy Boy is the perfect encapsulation of Chris Farley, and it’s a bittersweet movie to watch knowing what happened. Do you think about it similarly?

Well, I do because it showed a couple of other sides to Chris that weren’t just screaming and falling through tables. Of course, we had that in our movie, too. I saw the potential for him to become more like John Candy in Uncle Buck, which was a different kind of movie for John Candy. And I really saw a potential for quite a big range for Chris that, of course, unfortunately, he never got a chance to fulfill. But I think that maybe why that it resonates with people, this movie, because there’s a sweetness to his character that you don’t see in a lot of the other movies that he had in his short career.

So why is Rob Lowe uncredited? I’m not sure I buy the version on the internet…

What is the story?

If you Google it, it basically says he was contractually obligated to do Stephen King’s The Stand, but he was buddies with Farley. So, he agreed to do it uncredited.

I don’t really know. That’s the first time I heard that, but I think he did it as a favor to Lorne Michaels because Rob had already been in Wayne’s World. And that might’ve been it. There’s always the chance that Rob also thought that if the movie turned out to really suck, that he might protect himself by not having his name on it. I don’t really know. I never asked Rob that.

Both of those things can be true.

You’re right! Both could be true. So, we can go with either one depending on what you want to hear.

I doubt today that he’s pretending he wasn’t in it.

Exactly, I have a feeling you’re right.

I have no ill will towards Black Sheep. And I think Penelope Spheeris did such a terrific job with Wayne’s World. But when Black Sheep came out, were you just like, “What the heck, this is almost the same movie?” They try the same dynamics.

Well, yeah, they asked me to do Black Sheep and I turned it down because the birthing process of Tommy Boy was so difficult that I didn’t want to experience that again. And I didn’t think that that same experience would benefit by having me do it twice in a row.

Do a lot of people think you did both? Because I bet they do.

I haven’t had a lot, maybe a couple of times people said, “Did you do Black Sheep as well?” But I do remember though, Chris was a little upset with me that I didn’t do it. Because after Tommy Boy, we got a lot of offers to do things together and I of course was dying to find another project for us. Because, again, I took the leap of faith with him after working on two different television projects with him before Tommy Boy. And then, I did offer him a couple of things. He, by the way, almost did Shrek.

I think there’s dialogue of him, right?

Well, Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, who wrote Shrek, I met with them years after Shrek came out and they said, “You know who we patterned the donkey and the ogre off of? As far as their relationship? That was Spade and Farley in Tommy Boy. That’s why we wanted Farley.”

I didn’t know the Spade part.

Yeah, I had no idea. Ironically, a few months before Chris passed, I ended up writing him a six-page letter and I sent it through his mother to get to Chris because I told him I wanted him to know that I wasn’t turning movies down because I didn’t love Chris. It was the opposite. So much that I wanted to make sure that the followup to Tommy Boy, that if there was one that we worked on together, was going to be something special. And I adored him. I just didn’t want him to keep accepting the paydays that he was being offered. Because I said, quality is going to win out over quantity. And he experienced… If you read a lot of his biographies, he was a little displeased with a couple of the efforts that he made after that. And himself. He knew he was working on stuff that was not quite up to par. And, so, I just wanted him to know that. And then he understood. And he wrote back and told me he understood, that meant a whole lot to me, that we did that.

I get how he might think that you were rejecting him, but that was good advice and I’m glad you reconciled.

Oh yeah, absolutely. He was like family to me and sometimes you grumble with your brother and your pop and your mom, but you love each other. And it was a crazy time after Tommy Boy, because suddenly his salary was going from hundreds of thousands to several million. And you don’t exactly know what to do. You feel like a kid in a candy shop and you want to just say yes to everything because you think maybe it’s not going to last. How long are those offers going to be around? But it’s a Faustian bargain, because you have to be careful what you say yes to.

We all know the scenes people love, but is there one you love that people don’t talk about as much?

Well, gosh, there are so many. A lot of them were based on things that happened to me and Fred Wolf. But I think the final scene, we had no idea how this movie was going to end and Len Blum came in and I said, “Dude, I don’t know how to end this movie. I’m shooting my guts out. I’m exhausted. Take a look at the assembled footage of what we have and tell me if you can come up with something.” And he goes, “Oh, well that scene that you have with Julie Warner and Chris on the lake in the early part of the movie, that was so sweet and so nice. Why don’t you do a callback and have that be where Chris talks to the spirit of his father?” And I’d always wanted to do something with Chris talking to the spirit of his father, but I originally tried to do it on the water tower above the Callahan factory. And that always felt corny and not right. And then Len found a way to place it. The lake had to have a dead calm, no breeze at all for this to work a second time. So, we felt like we were asking mother nature for a second favor and it worked out beautifully. We went back to the lake on a different day, shot an ending with a dead calm scripted into it, and it worked really well. So, I have to say that one was a very special scene that stands out.

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