There were a string of great comedy movies released when we were in our teens, some stuck with us more than others, and There’s Something About Mary certainly left a lasting impression. It had some great scenes that made us laugh out loud, a fantastic cast that worked perfectly together on screen and it had that scene with the “hair gel”!
Unbelievably, There’s Something About Mary was released 23 years ago this year. Let’s take a look back at this classic with some facts about the film you may not have known.
20. The narrator is a punk rock pioneer
One of the quirkiest elements of There’s Something About Mary is its singing narrator, appearing unseen alongside the characters throughout the movie. You might not have known that this is Jonathan Richman, a major musical figure in his own right. After forming his band The Modern Lovers in the early 70s, Boston-born Richman’s back-to-basics rock’n’roll style helped pave the way for what became punk rock.
Jonathan Richman’s best-known songs (aside from those he composed and performed for There’s Something About Mary) include Roadrunner, Pablo Picasso and Egyptian Reggae. Writer-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly were inspired by the movie Cat Ballou to give their own film a ‘Greek chorus’ of sorts.
19. Magda is also a horror movie icon
One of the most memorable characters in the movie is Magda, Mary’s heavily tanned next-door neighbour. The part was played by actress Lin Shaye, who had made appearances in all the Farrelly Brothers movies up to that point. However, prior to her association with the Farrellys, Shaye was best known for her supporting roles in such horror movies as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Critters.
In a major subversion of most Hollywood career trajectories, Shaye didn’t reach full-blown leading lady status until her 70s, as the main recurring character in the Insidious series, and soon the reboot of The Grudge. But of course, she still gets recognised as Magda.
18. Chris Farley came close to playing Warren
One of the most controversial aspects of There’s Something About Mary was its representation of Mary’s disabled brother Warren. Things might have been different if Chris Farley had been cast in the role, which was considered early on. As Farley was one of the biggest names in comedy at the time, his casting would have made sense from a business perspective.
However, perhaps owing to concerns that Warren could too easily be considered an offensive caricature, W Earl Brown was cast instead. Sadly, Chris Farley died whilst There’s Something About Mary was in production.
17. One location asked not be named in the end credits
Much of There’s Something About Mary was shot on location in Florida, including the early scenes featuring Ted, Mary and Warren in high school. However, rather than shooting at an actual school, the city hall of Plantation, Florida was used and redressed accordingly. Plantation City Council were paid a reported $2,500 by the production for this.
However, once the film was completed, city officials requested that Plantation, Florida not be mentioned in the credits. The city council at the time did not want to be associated with something that was considered lewd and offensive.
16. Actor Chris Elliot made Dom/Woogie even weirder
One of the biggest surprises in There’s Something About Mary is the revelation that Ted’s good friend Dom is in fact Woogie, Mary’s dangerously obsessive ex-boyfriend. It’s a great bad guy role, and contributions from actor Chris Elliot made the character even creepier and weirder.
Elliot suggested that Woogie have a progressively worse skin condition as the film went on – and the Farrellys, eager to push the boat out ever further, went with it. The Farrellys were also receptive to Elliot’s suggestion that Woogie have a shoe fetish. And as we’ll see later, Elliot wasn’t the only cast member to bring up ideas which the writer-directors were happy to incorporate in the movie.
15. Brett Favre was the third NFL star asked to play Mary’s boyfriend
American Football player Brett Favre has a funny cameo in the film’s climax, playing himself as the man who might be Mary’s true love. In fact, he was the third person asked to take the role. Initially, the Farrellys wanted Drew Bledsoe, then quarterback of the New England Patriots, who decided to pass owing to a recent scandal where he was accused of injuring a woman in a rock concert moshpit.
The Farrellys’ second choice, Steve Young of the San Francisco 49ers, felt that the content of the film was inappropriate to his faith as a Mormon. But third time’s a charm, Favre accepted, and the rest is history (though it’s not surprising it didn’t launch the sportsman into an acting career).
14. 20th Century Fox wanted a sequel
No one expected There’s Something About Mary to be a hit – but once it was, there was unsurprisingly demand for more. Studio 20th Century Fox asked Bobby and Peter Farrelly to make a sequel – but the writer-director duo declined. Bobby Farrelly says that, while they gave the matter some thought, they ultimately decided There’s Something About Mary was “a movie we just wanted to play by itself.”
However, the writer-directors announced in 2018 that they do have plans to turn the film into a stage musical. To date the Farrellys have made only one sequel, 2014’s Dumb and Dumber To.
13. The Farrellys took extreme measures to get one reaction shot
One among many wonderfully staged comedy set pieces in the film is the battle between Ben Stiller’s Ted and Magda’s dog Puffy. However, the directors weren’t quite getting what they wanted out of their cast whilst shooting the scene. After Puffy goes flying out of the window, the Farrelly brothers didn’t feel they were getting a strong enough reaction from Cameron Diaz and Lin Shaye.
And so, when the actresses look out of the window, they were taken aback by the sight of their directors mooning them in the street below. It seems this did the trick, as that take made the film.
12 The ‘hair gel’ scene almost got cut
It’s the most iconic image in There’s Something About Mary, but it came very close to being left on the cutting room floor. The studio were concerned about it, as was Cameron Diaz – and the Farrellys have admitted they too were unsure if this particular joke was going just a little too far. Bobby Farrelly explains, “We were like, ‘This could definitely be way over the edge. If it doesn’t get huge laughs, we’re not going to leave it in.'”
Of course, it absolutely brought the house down, so they kept it – and, despite fears to the contrary, it most definitely didn’t hurt the careers of anyone involved. Although in years since, Ben Stiller has glibly questioned just how accurate the film is in depicting the effect of the fluid in question on hair.
11. One painful scene was based on a real-life incident
However, there was a particular potency to this scene in There’s Something About Mary as it was inspired by real events. The Farrelly Brothers recounted that their parents once had to help a young man in just such a predicament!
10. The movie could have been the Farrellys’ last
Before There’s Something About Mary, the future of Bobby and Peter Farrelly in Hollywood was looking shaky. Their first movie, 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, was a pretty big hit thanks to the star power of Jim Carrey. However, their next, 1996’s Kingpin, was a major box office flop (although it’s since become a big cult favourite).
As a result, the brothers really needed There’s Something About Mary to be a hit in order to keep working in the film industry. Because of this they decided to make the movie as outrageous as possible as they thought it may be their last.
9. The movie actually saved the directors’ careers
Following the release of There’s Something About Mary, the movie was a huge box office success. Having cost $23 million to make, the film ultimately took over $369 million in cinemas worldwide – a very substantial profit margin. In fact, it wound up the fourth biggest movie of 1998, behind Godzilla, Saving Private Ryan and Armageddon.
While the Farrellys resisted studio pressure for a sequel, this success ensured their careers were safe to continue. The brothers went on to direct further comedy hits like Me, Myself and Irene, Shallow Hal and Stuck On You.
8. One critic criticised British actor Lee Evans for having ‘the worst fake British accent’
Stand-up comic Lee Evans got one of his biggest film roles in There’s Something About Mary. While Evans was a familiar face to British audiences in 1998 thanks to his comedy, clearly his reputation didn’t reach everywhere. One review blasted Evans for sporting “quite possibly the worst fake British accent in a movie.” (Take that, Dick Van Dyke.)
The critic responsible for this review was clearly unaware that Evans is, in fact, British! The irony is, this presumably means that critic thought the American accent Evans uses later was actually convincing…?
7. It’s Ben Stiller’s favourite of his own movies
Ben Stiller has made more than his fair share of funny movies over the years. As well as starring in Dodgeball, Along Came Polly and the Meet The Parents series, Stiller was also writer and director on two of his very best, Zoolander and Tropic Thunder.
However, the actor and filmmaker is said to hold up There’s Something About Mary as a particular personal favourite of his to this day. Not surprising, as it was this 1998 film which launched him as a bankable leading man in romantic comedies. Good job he likes it really, as it’s always going to be one he’s remembered for.
6. Keith David ad-libbed his lines
Keith David has played plenty of great tough guy roles over the years in such films as Platoon, The Thing, They Live and The Quick and the Dead. As such, he was a great choice for Mary’s intimidating stepfather. David more than proved his skill at comedy, giving a very memorable performance in There’s Something About Mary, and contributing a number of his most memorable lines.
One such ad-lib was the “can of whoop-ass” line, plus “Are you yelling at me in my own house?” However, David can’t take credit for coming up with the unforgettable “is it the frank or the beans?”
5. Pat Healy was almost played by Bill Murray
Matt Dillon was never the only actor in the frame to play the duplicitous Pat Healy. Bobby and Peter Farrelly were initially considering another actor with a more prominent comedy background – Bill Murray, with whom they’d recently worked on 1996’s Kingpin.
However, it was soon decided that Murray was too old for the role, clearing the way for Dillon. Coincidentally, that same year (1998) Matt Dillon and Bill Murray co-starred in madcap black comedy thriller Wild Things. Other actors also considered for Pat Healy included Cuba Gooding Jr, Hank Azaria and Vince Vaughn.
4. Producers wanted Jim Carrey for the lead role
Though Ben Stiller was the Farrelly Brothers’ first choice for the lead role, he had some stiff competition. Another contender for the role of Ted was none other than comedy superstar Jim Carrey. Carrey was not only the biggest name in comedy, but he’d also previously worked with the Farrellys on Dumb and Dumber, so he must have seemed a logical choice.
Other candidates for Ted included Jon Stewart – later host of TV’s The Daily Show – and Owen Wilson, a future frequent collaborator of Stiller’s on such movies as Zoolander, Meet the Parents and Starsky and Hutch. Eventually, the producers gave in to the Farrellys’ choice, and the rest is history.
3. One character was based on a Farrelly family member
The Farrelly brothers had a personal inspiration for the character of Mary’s stepfather in the film. Their own father would often pull pranks on their sister’s dates, and they drew on this for Keith David’s character. David, for his part, used his relationship with his own stepfather to inform his performance.
The actor said in 2018, ““It’s not about who sired you, but who raised you and how they raised you. My stepfather was an extremely lovely man. “I based some of [my character] upon him because he loved his wife and when your wife comes with children, you love them, too.”
2. Ted dropping from the stretcher was unscripted
Keith David’s witticisms weren’t the only unscripted things to make it to the final film. A happy accident of sorts occurred when filming the aftermath of the infamous zipper scene. While Ben Stiller’s Ted is being carried to the ambulance on a stretcher, he is accidentally dropped.
This was genuinely accidental, though thankfully Stiller was not harmed. They stopped filming just long enough to check Stiller was OK and kept the incident in the film.
1. Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillon were really together during the filming of the movie
Whilst filming There’s Something About Mary, Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillon were a real life couple. The actors began dating in 1995, not too long after Diaz first broke through in 1994’s The Mask. Dillon was the more established actor at the time, having made his name in acclaimed dramas like Rumble Fish, The Outsiders and Drugstore Cowboy.
By the time they worked together on There’s Something About Mary, Diaz’s star was on the rise, hence she got top billing above her then-beau. Not that we’re suggesting that’s why they split up shortly after the movie was completed.