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Seth MacFarlane’s new comedy ‘Ted’ is out in cinemas on June 29 and tells the tale of a boy and his friendship with a toy. From the moment they find each other, young John Bennett and the cuddly bear Ted vow to be best friends, forever and ever. Their shared childhood joys include time go-karting, making snow angels, watching ‘Flash Gordon’, dressing in costumes for the local opening of ‘Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ (as Darth Maul and Yoda), getting high…and watching ‘Flash Gordon’. As kids, their shared fear of thunder bonds them as “Thunder Buddies,” and the phobia follows them into adulthood. Nothing scares away thunder more than a shared song to embolden their spirits.
MacFarlane discusses casting the role of the man who just can’t grow up: “Mark Wahlberg was the perfect fit because he can be hysterically funny, yet he’s also able to deliver genuine emotion and realism. When he talks to the bear, you believe that bear is sitting there. The way he could sit there and show such genuine emotion over the prostrate body of an inanimate stuffed animal was pretty impressive, and that is going to be a very big reason why the audience is invested in this.”
While Wahlberg has only appeared in a handful of comedies, his skills wowed the director. “His ability to do physical comedy is incredible,” continues MacFarlane. “That loveable, gullible character he plays in ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘I Heart Huckabees’ was something we saw as a jumping-off point for John: the sweet and funny guy who is susceptible to Ted’s urgings.”
Wahlberg admits that he usually selects the role opposite in character from the one he last filmed. He says: “I went from doing ‘The Fighter’ press to shooting ‘Contraband’ in New Orleans during award season and going back and forth. Then I got a copy of the script, and when I read it, 30 minutes into it I completely forgot about the bear, and I thought, ‘Wow, what a great buddy movie with this dilemma in the middle of it with the girlfriend.’ Then I met Seth, and I was campaigning to get the part.”
As he read the screenplay, Wahlberg says he was quite impressed by the comedy: “People will not be disappointed. It’s Seth on steroids. When I first saw “Family Guy,” I couldn’t believe that he was getting away with some of that stuff in a cartoon. But now with this rated-R feature film, he really pushes the envelope. There’s nobody that he doesn’t offend, either. Across the board, everybody’s fair game.”
Wahlberg introduces us to his character: “John works at a rent-a-car place and has a beautiful girlfriend, Lori. He doesn’t want to let go of his adolescence, but his girlfriend wants him to step up and be a man. He’s enjoying life and couldn’t be happier with his girlfriend and his best friend; they make the most of every moment together. But that becomes a problem because Lori wants a bigger commitment.”
His first blended animation film, the actor wanted to make sure that he did the part justice. He says: “My only concern was that I wanted to play everything as real as possible. I wanted to play it completely straight and let the laughs come from the craziness of the situation. That was exactly what Seth was looking for.” So intense was his preparation to ready himself for the scene in which John rattles off a number of potential names to Ted, Wahlberg wrote out each girl’s name hundreds of times.
Producer Scott Stuber knew that the man they cast had to implicitly believe that his director wouldn’t lead him astray. He explains: “Trust is a big word, and Mark had to go there with Seth. He had to sit on a couch next to a kickstand and hope that the animation and the personality of that bear would feel like two guys on a couch having fun and having real camaraderie. Mark was unbelievable; he gives such a great performance.” The producer acknowledges that their lead gave them his all: “The irony is that if you watch the dailies of the movie, there’s nobody playing against him. If you watch the movie just from Mark’s perspective, he’s getting his bare ass whipped, has to get up and sing poorly and is beat up by a bear—all kinds of indignation for his character. He just never complained, and he did everything we asked of him.”
Cast opposite Wahlberg was Mila Kunis as Lori Collins, John’s formerly patient girlfriend and a rising public relations executive. The actress, who has voiced the role of “Family Guy”’s Meg for almost 13 years, grew up with her director. Says MacFarlane: “It was a logical choice to bring her on board, given my relationship with her combined with the fact that she is just blowing up right now, and deservedly so.”
Discussing Lori’s part in the comedy, MacFarlane shares: “As with Mark, we had the same set of needs.
This role had to be played with believability, despite the outrageousness. Her relationship is hampered by the fact that this guy’s teddy bear is hanging around and keeping him from evolving and allowing their relationship to evolve. To play that real is asking a lot of an actor, and she pulled it off with flying colors. You believe that she’s genuinely distraught that this stuffed animal is dominating their life. In many ways, that was the key to the recipe for the comedy. Since the premise brings its own comedy, the trick for mining it is to play it straight at the core.”
How did Kunis feel about tackling the project? “I’ve known Seth since I was 15,” she says. “If you can work with your friends all the time, you can’t ask for a better work environment.” Plus, she deadpans, “It’s a movie about a talking teddy bear, and I would expect nothing less from Seth, Alec and Wellesley. It all made sense to me, and I didn’t question it at all. I’m on a cartoon with a talking dog. Like I’m going to question a bear?”
Nonetheless, Kunis still found the experience working with MacFarlane directing “a little strange.” She offers: “On “Family Guy”, I’m in one booth. He’s in another booth, and normally he has to explain to me what’s happening because you record “Family Guy” a year before anything’s drawn. Seeing him as the director explaining scenarios and characters and visually setting up shots has been great. Seth gets so giddy when he gets a take that he likes.”
Kunis explains that Lori is none too happy with the odd triangle in which she finds herself embedded. The actress says: “Ted is a roommate who gets in the way a lot. Lori is a hard-working girl who loves John for being a child at heart, but she also wants to settle down and have a sense of security that he’s not capable of giving her. He is a sweet, beautiful soul, but he’s like a stunted 15-year-old boy who means well but doesn’t have the drive to go past a certain point. All he does all day long is smoke weed and get high with his teddy bear. Lori tries to get John to get Ted to move into his own place so that the two of them can start their life together.”
‘Ted’ isn’t the first time the two actors have performed with one another. Kunis shares: “Mark’s very present, and he’s a comforting actor to work with. Just knowing that there’s somebody who is looking out for your best interests and that you can trust is very rare.”
Though the crux of the comedy is Ted, John and Lori, it was crucial to the filmmakers not to support the main characters with stock ones. Stuber offers: “We wanted to fill out our characters’ lives. One of the mistakes we sometimes make in filmmaking—whether it’s a comedy or a romantic comedy—is that we tend to never show that our main characters have diverse lives. It was important to dimensionalize Ted, Lori and John’s work lives and make sure that you knew these characters. Plus, across the board, we were able to get the kind of supporting actors that we wanted.”
Image Courtesy of Ted