Tommy Boy director Peter Segal talks anniversary, Chris Farley and modern comedy

David Spade and Chris Farley in Tommy Boy / Paramount
David Spade and Chris Farley in Tommy Boy / Paramount /

On the 25th anniversary of Tommy Boy, director Peter Segal talked with FanSided about Chris Farley, David Spade and the making of the comedy classic.

The history of film is loaded with iconic comedic duos but there are few pairings more perfect than the genuine, full-hearted physicality of Chris Farley and the acerbic sarcasm of David Spade. And their complementary talents never had a more perfect vehicle than Tommy Boy.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release, Paramount Pictures is re-releasing the classic on digital and in a brand new Limited Edition Steelbook, arriving March 31, 2020, exclusively at FYE.

Director Peter Segal spoke with FanSided about the Chris Farley experience and why this movie has held up for more than two decades.

FanSided (Ian Levy): How you do feel like the landscape of feature comedies has changed over the last 25 years? Is Tommy Boy a movie that could still be made now?

Peter Segal: That’s a good question. Probably not. I think going the way of the dodo are the mid-range comedies that are PG-13. I think now all budgets of comedies are being squeezed down but I think you’ll see more R-rated comedies in that space than PG-13. So, yeah, I don’t know if you’d see this being made today.

Chris Farley was such a force of nature at that point. Not everything he was in worked out the same way. What was it about Tommy Boy that really made the most of what he could do?

Well, I’d worked with Chris a couple times before Tommy Boy — once an HBO special and once on an episode of The Jackie Thomas Show, because he was friends with Tom Arnold and Tom was involved with both of those. But I saw something in Chris that I thought was something beyond what he had been displaying on SNL as Matt Foley. There was a sweetness to him and there was real talent in his acting chops. I thought, okay, I definitely want to appeal to his base and have a couple of scenes where he’ll scream and fall through a table and give you the Farley you know and love, but I thought there is an opportunity here to show another dimension to him. And I think maybe that’s why, that sweetness that resonates with audiences.

It’s heartbreaking that he’s not still here. But if things were different and he was still alive and making movies, what do you think he would have been doing for the past 20 years? What would be the Chris Farley movies that are coming out now?

I would have loved to see [Farley’s] version of Uncut Gems down the road.

Well, I have to say, he and Sandler were really good friends. You saw the tribute Adam did in his Netflix special and also on Saturday Night Live. I think he might have borrowed a page from Adam, in that, you know, when I worked with Adam, I always used to say he would do one for commerce and then one for art. He went from doing Anger Management with me to Punch-Drunk Love with Paul Thomas Anderson. Then back to 50 First Dates with me, then Spanglish with Jim Brooks. I was trying to find that next project for Chris and maybe it was too soon in his career to be trying to do a drama after Tommy Boy but I think within the next few pictures I saw him experimenting. I would have loved to see his version of Uncut Gems down the road.

Is there anyone working today that you’d compare to Chris Farley? Not just in terms of the physical comedy he used to excel at, but just his commitment to those bits and putting it all out there?

I think of Melissa McCarthy, especially, doing her Sean Spicer. You know, she was just so fearless and so relentless and just ratcheted up the energy to that level that people often saw Chris perform at. And so she reminded me a little bit of him. And you, know someone actually pitched a version of that if there was ever going to be a part two of Tommy Boy, it would actually be Tommy Girl and she would play a long-lost relative. He’s a hard one to duplicate, so there’s not a lot out there.

I’ve read that you thought the movie was going to be a disaster as you were working on it. What was it that you thought wasn’t going to work?

Well, we had no script! We started with 66 pages and those were pretty rough. We went back and forth … you see originally when Lorne [Michaels] pitched this movie idea to Sherry Lansing, the head of Paramount, it was more about stepbrothers. It was more about Chris’ character and Rob Lowe’s character. And I was like, you know I really don’t see this that way. I see it more like Chris’ and David’s characters — two unlikely employees at this company who did not get along, having to work together to overcome these obstacles to save the factory and save the town.

That caused a lot of logjam at the beginning of this and we lost our hiatus from Saturday Night Live. And we drifted into the fall and now we were splitting time between the movie and SNL and the guys were just run ragged, going back and forth from Toronto where we were filming to New York. But it gave me a chance to write with Fred [Wolf] long distance, him in New York and me in Toronto. And ironically, that saved us, that little bit of extra time. But sometimes it still felt like a newsroom, you know, rip the copy out of the typewriter and just race it to the set.

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Did the creative chemistry between David Spade and Chris Farley help? Letting them breathe life into the ragged script?

Absolutely. Fred and I were desperate for material on this, once we knew what the basic vision of the story was going to be. We said, okay, we know the beginning, the middle, we don’t really know the end but let’s just start coming up with ideas about the road trip. And we just started putting our own experiences into it. Hyper-extending the car door, that was something that happened to me. The oil can under the hood was something that happened to Fred. The dead calm on the lake, on the water, with the kids heckling him, that was something that happened to me on a date in high school.

And then I just said, “Dave, Chris, anything you got!” Fat guy in little coat was a bit that Chris would do at SNL in the writer’s room, okay, that’s in. And then it was just observing them. One time Chris came out of the wardrobe test and said, “Hey, Dave does this new suit make me look fat?” And Dave said, “No, your face does.” In it went. And so we were like a dry sponge, anything we could get our hands on to put in this caesar salad, any ingredients we had in the kitchen.

Do you have a favorite scene from the movie?

I think the final scene in the movie, which we did not know how to end the movie. I actually called in the help of an acquaintance, a writer named Len Blum who wrote Stripes and said, Len, I have this idea where maybe Tommy talks to the spirit of his father but I don’t know how to nail this and I’m so exhausted. Could you take a look at the assembled footage and see if you have any ideas?

And he went back and saw the first sailboat scene with Julie Warner and he said, “why don’t we reprise that and have Chris out in the lake and talk to the spirit of his father and he finally gets the gust of wind he needs to move on, and it’s his father communicating with him?”

Genius! The only problem is now we needed to go ask mother nature for another perfectly calm day with not a breeze, not a ripple in the water, which is kind of hard to predict. But we got it, and I think the Film Gods may have been smiling on us that day.

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Tommy Boy is available now on digital, DVD and in a brand new Limited Edition Steelbook.