CS Interview: Director Peter Segal on Tommy Boy’s 25th anniversary
It’s been 25 years since the cult classic road comedy Tommy Boy starring former Saturday Night Live performers Chris Farley and David Spade hit theaters and to celebrate its quarter-century anniversary, ComingSoon.net got to have a chat with director Peter Segal (My Spy) to reflect on the highs and lows that came from making the now iconic film. Check out the interview below!
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film, Paramount Pictures is debuting a limited edition Blu-ray SteelBook of Tommy Boy, which is set to hit shelves exclusively at FYE on March 31! Click here to purchase the new Blu-ray and a digital copy of the film can be purchased here!
Farley stars as Tommy Callahan, a socially and emotionally immature man who is forced to grow up quick when his industrialist father dies from a sudden heart attack and he’s left with his family’s company’s future in his hands as the bank backs out on a loan agreement to keep the company afloat. Tommy makes a deal with the bank that if he can sell, accordingly, enough brake pads to prove his company’s new division’s viability they will deliver on the loan, so he hits the road with his father’s sycophantic assistant Richard Hayden (Spade), leading to a series of hijinks.
The film received mixed reviews from critics upon release, with most praising the comic chemistry between the SNL leads while most criticized the ambling and joke-a-minute screenplay, but it was a modest box office success, grossing over $32 million on a $20 million budget and became a smash hit with audiences on home video in the years since its release.
Upon hitting the 25th anniversary of his cult classic, Segal describes the feeling as “strange,” as he’s watched it go through multiple generations of viewers but still being surprised when he finds some kids who have no awareness of the movie.
“For the 20th, there was a celebration at USC, my alma mater, and some of the kids had never heard of the movie,” Segal said. “I’m like ‘Really? Oh wow, it’s getting that old.’ The adults who were kids when it came out, now their kids are quoting it and now it’s sort of seems to have regenerated and found new staying power.”
The two-decade celebration at his alma mater also brought with it a surprise revelation from Oscar-winning writer/director Quentin Tarantino, who was hosting a special screening simultaneous to his showing at USC.
“At his theater, the New Beverly in West Hollywood, Quentin had a screening of Tommy Boy and I said, ‘Wait a minute, how did he get a print?’” Segal recalls. “Because we sent the print to USC and it was a really scratched up, not great print. But Quentin had a pristine, 35-mm print that was gorgeous and I thought ‘I don’t even own a 35-mm print of my own movie!’ But he does, so that was cool. That theater was packed, and recently the town of Sandusky, Ohio said that in August, if all goes well with quarantining, that they’re doing a 25-year celebration. Spade’s doing a comedy concert, they’re screening the movie, they’re unveiling a piece of art in the town square. All this for Tommy Boy, and I said, ‘I have to tell you the truth, we never filmed one foot of film in Sandusky, it was all in Toronto.’ And they said, ‘We don’t care, we don’t care, you put us on the map.’”
Prior to directing Tommy Boy, Segal had made his directorial debut on the the third and final installment in the Naked Gun franchise but would go on to work with more SNL alums on other films including Adam Sandler in Anger Management, 50 First Dates and The Longest Yard and Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Having begun his work with stars from the long-running variety sketch series with Farley and Spade, Segal described it as a “real bucket list thing,” having grown up with and loving SNL.
“I dreamed of one day working on it and, although I didn’t, I felt like I was a part of the team, because I would go and hang out with Lorne in New York under the bleachers while watching the show being taped live,” Segal warmly recalls. “Then I would fly back to Toronto with Spade and Farley and I felt like a part of the team. But it was real trial by fire, because like with the real Saturday Night Live, which starts with a blank page on Monday and ends with 90 pages of live material by Saturday, we started with a very work-in-progress script for Tommy Boy, and we started filming with only 66 pages, because we threw most of it out. Even of those 66 pages, about 60 were fresh, only about two scenes from the original script were made, so it aged me a good 10 years just in the one year I worked on this movie.”
When heading into the film, there was a period of time in which Segal didn’t think he could work with the original script from Bonnie and Terry Turner and had tried to leave the project, only to be told “forcefully” by the head of the studio at the time, “That is not an option” and that he’d need to come up with a solution to salvage the “untenable” script, which resulted in turning to Fred Wolf, who was an uncredited hero on the project.
“I called Fred and said, ‘Dude, we just have to start from scratch,’ and he came over to my house and we got a stack of index cards and I said, ‘Let’s start at the beginning, this basically is a road trip, let’s pitch ideas, funny thing that happened to us with our cars,'” Segal described. “Then I started, ‘I was just at the gas station the other day and didn’t quite make it close enough to the pump and I reversed and my car door hyperextended.’ Okay, we put that on a card. Fred told a story about the oil can under the hood and the hood flew up on the freeway, that happened to him, and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good, let’s put that on a card.’ I put down that I was on a date in Scottsdale, Arizona out on a lake in a boat and I was in a dead calm and there was these kids heckling me from the shore and thought, ‘Maybe there’s something we could do with that.’ That’s literally how we started and then we got together, with Spade and Farley, and the idea for The Carpenters song came up and we combined that with Fred’s story about the hood flying up and literally we glued this together with mailing wire and it was quite scary.”
In looking back at bringing much of the humor to life, Segal found the funniest line to be the most “happy accident” with the iconic “Fat Guy in Little Coat” moment, which Segal reveals originated from his time in the writer’s room at SNL.
“He would go down to different people’s offices and take their coats off the rack and do that joke, but it was never a song, he just said, ‘Fat Guy in Little Coat,’” Segal said. “So we shot it that way on the set, but because Saturday Night Live was not a movie, he wasn’t used to necessarily, ‘Now we have to turn the camera around on David and we have to do it all over again off camera.’ He got kind of bored, so he started goofing around and I didn’t realize this at the time that he sang it, because he was just feeding David his lines. We got the dailies back and my editor said, ‘Oh my god, listen to this off-camera thing that Farley did, you’ve gotta go back and get this on camera.’ I said, ‘I didn’t even really hear him doing that, because I was focused on Dave,’ so we went back and shot it again and it became iconic. It was really almost an accident.”
Despite a lot of the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants work Segal had to do early on into production, he fondly remembers the first day of principal photography in which he was given a good omen and learned a valuable lesson he’s carried with him on future films.
“I literally just finished a movie with Dave Bautista called My Spy where I shot at the same building that was Callahan Auto, it’s called the Gooderham Whiskey Distillery, which at the time it was this historic landmark,” Segal describes. “These empty warehouses were just rat-infested that were slowly being gentrified and turned into office space and that was our production office for Tommy Boy and I went back recently and it reminded me of day one was driving on those streets and the M&Ms rolling out of the bag into the Plymouth GTX’s air vents. The special effects guy tried to rig the bag so that it would work just properly, but I said, ‘Let’s just see what really happens with gravity as you go around the corner,’ and the M&Ms rolled out right down the vent as they were supposed to and I thought, ‘Is this a sign? The first joke went without a hitch.’ Even though we had half a script, maybe that’s a good omen. We laughed, and we moved on, and I just learned that day in particular, even though it was just my second movie, just go one joke at a time, one moment at a time. When all else seems insurmountable, just take a breath and focus on what’s right in front of you and I thought that was a nice moment in the beginning of that movie.”