IAR PRESS CONFERENCE COVERAGE: 'Ted'

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 10:25 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR PRESS CONFERENCE COVERAGE: 'Ted'

The new comedy Ted, hitting theaters this Friday, June 29th, starts out very much like countless family-friendly wish-fulfillment stories.  It begins in Boston suburbs circa 1985, as an ostracized young man who can't make friends receives an adorable fluffy teddy bear, which the lonely little tyke wishes would come to life and never, ever leave him.  A bit of magic later, the bear has indeed begun thinking and speaking for himself.  When we cut to now, though, we see that the boy has grown into a pot-smoking misanthrope, accompanied constantly by his inseparable BFF Ted, a booze-swilling, expletive-spouting, sex-obsessed sentient stuffed animal.

Ted himself is exactly the sort of creation you'd expect from Seth MacFarlane, the creator of animated Fox series Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show.  No stranger to voicing characters on his television shows, MacFarlane provides the Bostonian tenor of the bear, and in addition to directing, co-writing, and producing Ted, he also provides the motion-capture performance for Ted.

For his feature directorial debut, MacFarlane surrounded his titular digital creation with live actors like Mark Wahlberg as Ted's "Thunder Buddy" John Bennett and Mila Kunis as John's longtime girlfriend Lori Collins, leading a cast of comedic ringers that also includes Matt Walsh, Joel McHale, and Patrick Warburton.  At the Los Angeles press day for Ted, IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was on hand to talk with stars Walhberg and Kunis, along with one-man comedy empire MacFarlane about acting against an imaginary teddy bear, Family Guy connections, why Kunis had the most difficult role, Boston, brutally fighting a teddy bear, and earning an R rating the right way.

Wahlberg has proven his ability as a leading man in drama, action, and comedy, but working on a set where the director was wearing motion-capture gear and pretending to be a furry munchkin to be created through CGI was new for him.  "I was a little nervous at first, but once we started getting into it, I felt comfortable pretty quickly," he said before joking, "It was more of a problem working with Mila.  She’s a tough cookie."


The intricate visual effects didn't present a major problem for Kunis, either, as she explained, "You know what?  It actually wasn’t so bad.  I didn’t have very much physical interaction with the bear.  Mine was very circumstantial, whether the bear was to the right of me or to the left of me or to the front of me.  I think Mark had it the hardest.  For me, it wasn’t so frightening.  You have a stick and two eyes.  As far as the animation or the look of the bear, I was never too concerned with that.  There’s not a question of why MacFarlane can do that, and do it incredibly well."

"The special effects were surprisingly a smooth part of the process," MacFarlane agreed.  "We tried a fairly new technique of doing it all live on set, to get an improvisational feel, but it went surprisingly smooth.  We had two great studios – Tippett and Iloura – that just knocked it out of the park for us."

While a proof of concept test assuaged many concerns, there was still some nervousness as to just how the performances would come together onscreen.  Wahlberg said, "They had done a test, too.  We got to see a little bit of the bear, before we started shooting.  There was a concern of whether it would go into the scene seamlessly with the chemistry, even though Seth and I were having a great time acting opposite each other, and whether it would translate when you’re putting the bear into the actual scene."

In order to ensure that Ted himself was a convincing comedic foil, the director drew upon his experience in animation with the expensive digital creation, saying, "I wanted to keep the bear’s design very simple.  There’s a style of 2D animation that The Simpsons employs and that Family Guy employs.  When Homer Simpson is being addressed and he’s just sitting there listening, it’s just a blank, wide-eyed stare.  There’s something 100 times funnier about that, then if there were a series of Disney-esque, subtle reactions.  Each audience member can imprint what they think is going on inside his head, based on their own bullshit, and I wanted to do the same thing with Ted.  Oftentimes, CG characters are so humanlike that they come off kind of creepy looking.  Have you ever seen Jack Frost, that movie with Michael Keaton, with that terrifying snowman that just gave you nightmares?  That would be an example of CG gone wrong, and they all acknowledged it, after that movie.  I wanted to keep Ted simple.  His eyes are very blank.  There’s a little expressiveness with the eyebrows, but it’s a pretty simple design and that was deliberate.  I wanted to leave enough to the imagination that what that expression is or what that thought process is would be maybe a little different for each audience member."

MacFarlane isn't the only one with a history in animation.  Kunis has voiced Meg Griffin in no fewer than 176 episodes of the creator's Family Guy since 1999. "I’ve done so many interviews about Seth that it’s kind of redundant for me to say this, but over the years, from Family Guy to Ted, I think that Seth’s humor is incredibly socially relevant," she said of her director.  "It’s not humor for the sake of being humorous.  And I think that there’s a certain linear story to his humor.  It’s very consistent and it’s smart.  It doesn’t make you feel dumb.  I’ve always said that he’s brilliant at what he does because he sets people up in low-brow situations with high-brow humor, and that’s one of the hardest things to do.  Also, all of his humor is rooted in truth and honesty.  From Family Guy’s flashbacks to the songs that some of the characters break into to the fact that there’s a movie coming out about a talking teddy bear that nobody seems to be questioning, it’s all rooted in truth.  It’s very grounded humor.  Nowadays, it’s very rare to get that.
 
"That was good," Wahlberg said of her thoughts on MacFarlane's humor, adding, " I was just going to say that he’s the funniest motherfucker I’ve ever met."

Despite some clear similarities, Ted isn't merely a cinematic version of Family Guy.  Instead, of piling familiar jokes on top of one another, the movie keeps its story of arrested development and friendship front and center.  That said, some jokes definitely feel like the series, particularly a few notable late potshots, as well as John and Ted's reverence for 1980's Flash Gordon and its star, Sam Jones.  "The jokes at the end of the movie are probably the closest things to what people may expect from me because of shows like Family Guy," MacFarlane explained. "It’s a satirical jab.  The Flash Gordon idea was just because it’s a cult movie that a lot of people know.  It’s ridiculous and absurd, and it seemed like a funny piece of pop culture for John and Ted to bond over.  It was something that worked as their movie that was the symbol of their friendship.  We just looked up Sam Jones and asked if he wanted to come do it, and he was very enthusiastic."


Ted himself anchors the comedy in the movie, but the emotional story is incited by Lori's frustration with the immature John, whose loyalty to Ted holds him back.  As such, Kunis's character could have become an unsympathetic nag with the sole function of motivating the protagonist, but MacFarlane specifically wanted an actress of Kunis's caliber in order to avoid that, saying, "Nine times out of ten, in a movie like this, you do see the image of the hands on the hips and the 'Stop this nasty behavior' tone.  That’s one of the reasons we wanted Mila for this.  We tried to make sure it wasn’t that on the page, but even where we missed spots, Mila was there to very shrewdly, with laser-light precision, make sure that did not happen.  The character has a very valid point.  She had the hardest job in the movie, but in a lot of ways, it’s the character with the most realistic goal.  She has this guy who’s very childish and she likes those things about him.  She likes the fact that he’s not perfect.  She likes the challenge of maybe having to fix this guy, a little bit.  But, at the same time, in the higher part of her brain, she wants the stability and she wants the responsible boyfriend who’s going to step up.  I hope that’s very relatable.  I think her beef with him is legit in the movie."
 
"Yeah, everything that Seth said is correct," she agreed.  "It was a hard thing to do because you want to play the fine line of not having to be too cool because then that’s not realistic, but you don’t want to be the nagging girl in the film because then you’re stuck being the nagging girl in the film.  Seth was very responsive to anytime that there was an argument that I had, regarding the character’s dialogue, when the response wasn’t justified.  In all honesty, we had many discussions on set over it, and it was always because I was like, 'This is coming across too bitchy.  It’s not how a woman would react.'  More times than not, he was like, 'Okay, how do you propose we fix the problem?'  It was awesome because it allowed me to help make the character be what I wanted her to be, but with Seth MacFarlane’s voice.  It was very collaborative, and he was very open-minded to the idea.  It’s a hard character to write, especially for a man.  I wouldn’t even know where to begin, and I’m a female.  You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.  You’re stuck in this weird limbo."

One might assume that the casting of Wahlberg, a Dorchester native, inspired the Massachusetts setting, it was a coincidence, as Boston had already been selected when he signed on to the film.  "The movie was already written to take place in Boston," he said.  "I don’t know if Seth even trusted that I could do a Boston accent.  Nobody was really doing the accents.  Everything that has to do with the movie in Boston is Seth.  It was already on the page."
 
MacFarlane made the decision to ground Ted in a familiar East Coast city not because of his star, but because of lessons learned from a modern comedy classic.  "The comparison I always make is to Ghostbusters, as weird as that is," he explained.  "To me, one of the reasons that movie worked was that you had this ridiculous fantastical element to the story, but it was set against, not just a realistic city, but a city we all know.  There were ghosts running around and these exterminators who had to eliminate them, but New York is the very familiar and very real New York, with all of its warts, that we know.  It grounded everything and earned you the rest of the stuff.  That was kind of what I wanted this movie to feel like.  You have a talking bear, so the rest of the movie should be as real and grounded as possible to earn that.  One of the things that you can accomplish that with is by setting it in an actual city with an actual regional flavor."


Between this film and his 2010 role alongside Will Ferrell in Adam McKay's The Other Guys, Wahlberg is successfully branching into broad comedies.  Asked who or what influenced his comedic timing, the actor responded, "I don't know.  I just grew up watching a lot of old television with my father, like F Troop and Barney Miller.  [Det. Stan “Wojo”] Wojciehowicz would probably be the one to best describe one of my comic idols.  Does anybody know who Wojciehowicz was?  I just grew up watching TV.  It’s all in the material.  I approach a comedy the same way I do a drama.  I try to make it as real as possible.  Thankfully, Seth was into that.  I was worried that maybe he’d want me to do a couple prat falls, and that’s not really my thing.

His aversion to physical comedy didn't stop Wahlberg from throwing himself into one the movie's most memorable sequences, in which John and Ted unleash on each other in an all-out brawl that destroys a hotel room.  "Well, I didn’t have to do anything to prepare other than just trust Seth," he said.  "I just felt so ridiculous flopping around in that room by myself.  But, everybody loves that scene.

That sequence is almost shockingly brutal, but MacFarlane conceived of it that way, saying, "The whole joke of it was that we wanted to play it as realistically as possible.  We wanted it to feel like a fistfight in The Bourne Identity, except one of the characters happens to be a teddy bear.  I think we pulled that off.  Mark just sold it, 150%.  Even without the bear in there, when you look at that raw footage with the sound effects and him getting the shit kicked out of him by this invisible adversary, it actually still kind of works.  Hopefully, we made it painfully realistic."

Finally, the move into moviemaking allowed MacFarlane, whose animated ventures are notorious for pushing the boundaries of broadcast television, to depict more bad behavior than ever before.  Still, though, Ted is doesn't aim at vulgarity for vulgarity's sake.  "You’re not dealing with the restrictions imposed by the FCC.  They’re self-imposed," he said.  "In a way, that does make it harder.  You actually have to think about it, as opposed to just taking for granted that you’re not going to be able to do this.  With a movie like this, most of it was language.  This movie’s been labeled hard R, but I don’t think of it as a hard R movie.  It’s a fairly moderately R movie.  There’s no graphic sex and there’s no heavy drug use.  It’s R for language.  So, if that doesn’t bother you, you’re fine.  The first cut of this movie had a lot more uses of the word 'fuck,' and we did cut that down somewhat because we found that, even though it’s an R-rated comedy and you can do whatever you want, it was starting to eat into the sweetness of the story a little bit.  So, you do have to impose restraints on yourself, and it is more difficult than just being told by someone that you can’t do something."


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