Seth MacFarlane delivers some of the most relevant and boundary-pushing humor every week on his animated show “Family Guy.” Now, the TV comedy vet extends his talents to the big screen with his first full-length feature Ted, starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and MacFarlane as the voice of the crude, but hilarious talking teddy bear from whom the movie is named.
“This was an idea that had actually been floating around in my head for a while,” says MacFarlane. ”I had originally conceived it as an animated series idea and, for a number of reasons, shelved it. And then, when it came time to do my first movie, it seemed like a story that would make a much better film than a series.”
The live-action/CG-animated comedy explores the story of John Bennett (Wahlberg), who as a child wishes his teddy bear was alive. Wish granted. But 30 years later, Ted (MacFarlane) has become a wedge between Bennett and his girlfriend Lori Collins (Kunis) with his constant beer drinking, pot smoking, and foul mouth behavior that he constantly drags Bennett into.
“Adults acting like children and children acting like adults is generally a pretty reliable comic device,” says MacFarlane. ”On ‘Family Guy,’ you have Stewie, who is a baby that acts like an adult and Peter who’s a man that acts like a child. This movie is a bit more textured and has a lot more shades to it, but in terms of the dynamic, we’re essentially playing the teddy bear as the physical manifestation – in a symbolic or literal way – of John’s inability to grow up and get on with his life.”
For the actors, it meant filming scenes opposite a stick with eyes that would eventually be converted into the animated bear in post-production.
“I was a little nervous at first, but once we started getting into it, I felt comfortable pretty quickly” reveals Wahlberg. ”It was more of a problem working with Mila. She’s a tough cookie.”
“You know what? It actually wasn’t so bad,” says Kunis. ”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.”
“They had done a test, too,” adds Wahlberg. ”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.”
The result is seamless. The chemistry between Wahlberg and MacFarlane, mixed with great CG-animation work, creates a realistic, humanized character. As an audience member, you find yourself immersed in the story and comedy, rather than being aware that you are watching an animated bear. That realism is never more evident than the scene where Wahlberg gets into a physical altercation with Ted.
“I didn’t have to do anything to prepare other than just trust Seth,” says Wahlberg. ”I just felt so ridiculous flopping around in that room, by myself. But, everybody loves that scene.”
“The whole joke of it was that we wanted to play it as realistically as possible,” adds MacFarlane. “We wanted it to feel like a fist fight 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.”
But regardless of fake fights with Ted, the humor is what can make or break a comedy. When it comes to Seth MacFarlane, his comedic flavor is not always welcomed by the masses.
“If you’re going to make fun of one group, you’ve gotta make fun of them all,” says MacFarlane. ”The cliche is ‘equal opportunity offender.’ In this movie, pretty much every religion, race and creed is poked fun at. I think that, if you’re going to make fun of one group of people, you’ve gotta go all across the board. As far as something going across the line, the systems that are in place, as far as the screenings and audience testing, make it pretty clear what’s over the line and what’s not. If something gets a gasp, eight times in a row, at eight screenings, you know it’s probably got to go. There’s been a couple of those jokes. Even on ‘Family Guy,’ we do screenings of each episode before it goes to full animation and our own staff is not shy about going, ‘No, no, no, that’s way over the line!’ If you’re getting enough laughs on the way there, it’s probably okay. If even your friends are telling you that it’s offensive, then they’re probably right.”
And when it comes to making that comedy leap from the small, very controlled environment of television to the more open field of features, MacFaralane spoke directly to The Seven Sees.
“You’re not dealing with the restrictions imposed by the FCC. They’re self-imposed,” he says. ”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.”
Also helping deliver some of the movie’s R-rated laughs are Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, “Family Guy” stars Patrick Warburton and Alex Borstein and a few great cameos. Ted is in theaters Friday, June 29th and runs 105 minutes.