When Universal Pictures first announced they were going into production on Ted, I wasn't the only person who read the synopsis and thought it had to be an April Fool's Day joke or that we were all just being punked. However, Ted is a real movie and after seeing it on the big screen, it's easy to suspend disbelief and embrace the idea of a teddy bear who was wished into being real and 20+ years later has turned into a raunchy pot-smoking talking bear.
The brainchild of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane (who wrote, directed, and provides the voice of 'Ted'), Ted stars Mark Wahlberg as the lifelong buddy of the bear and Mila Kunis as his girlfriend of four years who loves her boyfriend but really wants him to grow up and stop spending all of his time with a stuffed bear. Together for a press conference to discuss the R rated comedy, MacFarlane, Wahlberg, and Kunis talked about the logistics of having a teddy bear as a lead character and what they admire about each other's sense of humor.
Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, and Mila Kunis Ted Press Conference
Seth, did the special effects turn out to be more of a pain than you expected, and did you rewrite a lot of Ted’s dialogue in post?
Seth MacFarlane: "No, the special effects were surprisingly a smooth part of the process. We were trying a fairly new technique of doing it all live on set, to get a sort of improvisational feel, but it went surprisingly smooth. We had two great studios, Tippett and Iloura, that just knocked it out of the park for us. And yeah, we had a little bit of liberty to do new Ted lines in post, in case something didn’t work. That was kind of a luxury that we took advantage of. We would screen the movie and if something didn’t work, we’d try a different line at the next screening. That’s one of the good things about an animated character."
Mark and Mila, when you initially signed on, were you worried about co-starring opposite a bear and how it would work in terms of looking at the eye-line and the stuff you’d have to do with him?
Mark Wahlberg: "I was a little nervous at first, but once we started getting into it, I felt comfortable pretty quickly. It was more of a problem working with Mila. She’s a tough cookie, as you can see."
Mila Kunis: "You know what? It actually wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have very much physical interaction with the bear. Mine was very circumstantial, where the bear was to the left of me, to the right of me or in front of me or walk through. I think Mark had it really 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. There’s not a question in my mind that MacFarlane can do that, and do it incredibly well."
Mark Wahlberg: "They had done the test, too. 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, would it translate when you’re putting the bear into the actual scenes?"
Seth, what took so long for you to make your first movie? And there are a lot of references to Alien, what did you think of Prometheus?
Seth MacFarlane: "I’m pretty sure there’s only one reference to Alien in the movie. Are there others?"
Tom Skerritt, the robot...
Seth MacFarlane: "Oh, you’re right."
Mila Kunis: "Call him out on it. Call him out on it. Put him in his place."
Seth MacFarlane: "Ted cut in half, yeah. All right, Tom Skerritt, okay. That’s tangential but you win. Family Guy had that little cancellation thing happen to it, and I wanted to make sure that it was fully on its feet after coming back before I stepped away to do a film because it did mean stepping away from the show completely for at least a year, and that was something that I hadn’t done yet. This was an idea that had actually been floating around in my head for a while. I had originally conceived it as an animated series idea and for a number of reasons shelved it. And when it came time to do my first movie, it seemed like a story that would make a much better film than a series."
Seth MacFarlane: "You know, I haven’t seen it yet."
What do you want college students to take away from the film?
Mark Wahlberg: "Well, go back and smoke another joint and go see it again. It’s always better the second time around. You were so wasted the first time, you probably missed some jokes."
Seth MacFarlane: "That answer works for me, too."
Mark, your comic timing is just so impeccable. Who were comic idols, growing up?
Seth MacFarlane: "You said you were a Gallagher guy, right?"
Mark Wahlberg: "Yes. Were they twins? No, that’s the other guy. That’s the guy who smashes the watermelons, right? He’s pretty funny. I just grew up watching a lot of old television with my father, whether it be F Troop, Barney Miller. Probably Wojciehowicz would probably be the best description of one of my comic idols. Does anybody know who Wojciehowicz is besides the guy who asked the question? I just grew up watching TV, but it’s all in the material. I approach a comedy the same way I do a drama. I try to make it as real as possible. Thankfully, Seth was into that. I was worried that maybe he’d want me to do a couple pratfalls and stuff like that, and that’s not really my thing."
Seth, you’re used to a TV-14 constraint. Did you find yourself pulling back with that and now that you had the freedom to push yourself forward more?
Seth MacFarlane: "Yeah. You’re not dealing with the restrictions imposed by the FCC. They’re self-imposed, so 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. I don’t think of it as a hard R movie. It’s a fairly moderately R movie. There’s no graphic sex, there’s no 'heavy' drug use but it’s language. 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 f*ck, 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 you can’t do something."
What is your interest in the clash between youth and adulthood in both this and your TV shows?
Seth MacFarlane: "You know, adults acting like children and children acting like adults is generally a pretty reliable comic device. 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. It’s a fairly reliable comic device. 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."
Was the motel room fight an homage to Peter vs. the Chicken? And was it difficult to prepare?
Mark Wahlberg: "I didn’t have to do anything to prepare other than just trust Seth. I just felt so ridiculous flopping around this by myself. But I was wrong. He was right. Everybody loves the scene."
Seth MacFarlane: "The chicken fight was very cartoony and broad in a lot of ways. This was supposed to be something very different. The whole joke of this was that we wanted to play it as realistically as possible. We wanted it to feel like a fistfight in The Bourne Identity, except one of the characters happens to be a teddy bear - and I think we pulled that off. I mean, 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 sh*t kicked out of him by this invisible adversary, it actually still kind of works. Hopefully we made it painfully realistic."
For the actors, what do you think is unique or special about Seth’s humor, both in cartoons and this movie?
Mila Kunis: "I’ve done so many interviews about Seth it’s kind of redundant for me to say this, but over the years, from Family Guy to this, I think that Seth’s humor is incredibly socially relevant. It’s not humor for the sake of being humor. And I think that there’s a certain linear story to his humor. It’s very consistent. It’s smart. It doesn’t make you feel dumb. It’s like lowbrow/highbrow humor, the two terms people use the most. I’ve always said that he’s brilliant at what he does because he sets people up in lowbrow situations with highbrow humor, and I think that’s one of the hardest things to do. That, and also all of his humor is rooted in truth and honesty. From Family Guy's flashbacks to the songs that some of the characters break into to the fact that there’s a movie coming out about a talking teddy bear that nobody seems to be questioning, it’s because it’s all rooted in truth. It’s very grounded humor. I think that nowadays it’s very rare to get that."
Mark Wahlberg: "That was good. I was just going to say he’s the funniest mother*cker I’ve ever met."
Mila Kunis: "I mean, I could have said that too. F*ck!"
When it comes to certain racial stereotypes like the Asian neighbor, how do you draw the line?
Seth MacFarlane: "Well, in a movie like this, we adhere to the same rule as we generally do with the animated shows, that if you’re going to make fun of one group, you’ve got to make fun of them all. Of course, the cliche is equal opportunity offender. In this movie, pretty much every religion, race, creed is poked fun at. The white trash name alone is the white folks taking it. Of course the guy that brings the duck to a party is our little friendly jokey jibe at our Asian friends. It’s all across the board so I think that if you’re going to make fun of one group of people, you’ve got to go all across the board."
"As far as something going over the line, the systems that are in place as far as the screenings and audience testing, it’s 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, no, that’s way over the line!' If you’re getting enough laughs on the way there, then it’s probably okay. If even your friends are telling you that it’s offensive, then they’re probably right."
How many gasps made you take jokes out of Ted?
Seth MacFarlane: "There was only one that I can think of that I won’t repeat here because it didn’t work. For the most part, by the time it got to the test screenings, we had excised most of that material. There was one that we pulled out because the audiences just thought it was too over the line."
Mark Wahlberg: "And every time I did a take, if this makes you feel any better, he said, 'Action, honky.' Three weeks in I was like, 'All right, dude, it’s too much,' and he stopped."
Seth MacFarlane: "And I insisted that he watch Game of Thrones as all white people do."
Why do you love Sam Jones so much, and why do you hate Brandon Routh?
Seth MacFarlane: "I don’t hate Brandon Routh. The jokes at the end of the movie are probably the closest things to what people may expect from me because of shows like Family Guy. It’s a satirical jab. I’m sure he’s a very, very nice guy.
Did he have to approve his image?
Seth MacFarlane: "Uh, no. No, he did not."
Mark Wahlberg: "Do you think he would?"
Why isn’t Sam here today?
Seth MacFarlane: "My guess is he probably is here somewhere."
Mark Wahlberg: "And he’ll force you to do a lengthy interview with him."
Seth MacFarlane: "The Flash Gordon idea was just it’s a cult movie that a lot of people know and it’s ridiculous and absurd and it seemed like a funny piece of pop culture for John and Ted to bond over. It was something that worked as their movie that was kind of the symbol of their friendship. We just looked up Sam Jones and asked if he wanted to come do it, and he was very enthusiastic."
In this film, Mila's character isn't the nasty, mean girlfriend. Can you talk about her character and choosing Mila to play her?
Seth MacFarlane: "Yeah, I will say nine times out of 10 in a movie like this you do see the image of the hands on the hips, 'Oh you. Stop this nasty behavior,' kind of tone. That’s one of the reasons we wanted Mila for this. We tried to make sure it wasn’t that on the page, but even where we missed spots, Mila was there to very shrewdly, with laser-light precision, make sure that that did not happen. And the character has a very valid point. In a lot of ways, she had the hardest job in the movie, but in a lot of ways, it’s the character with the most realistic goal because she has this guy who’s very childish and she likes those things about him. She likes the fact that he’s not perfect. She likes the challenge of maybe having to fix this guy a little bit. But, at the same time, in the higher part of her brain, she wants the stability, she wants the responsible boyfriend who’s going to step up. That’s very, I hope, very relatable. I think her beef with him is legit in the movie."
Mila Kunis: "Everything that Seth said is correct. It was a hard thing to do because you want to play the fine line of not having to be too cool because then that’s not realistic, but you don’t want to be the nagging girl in the film because then you’re stuck being the nagging girl in the film. Seth was very responsive to anytime that there was an argument that I had regarding the character’s dialogue when the response wasn’t justified. To his credit, in all honesty we had many discussions on set over it, and it was always because I was like, 'This is coming across too bitchy. It’s not how a woman would react. This is not how a woman would fill in the blank.' He, more times than not, was like, 'Okay, how do you propose we fix the problem?' It was actually awesome because it allowed me to help make the character be what I wanted her to be, but with Seth MacFarlane’s voice. So it was very collaborative and he was very open-minded to the idea."
"It’s a hard character to write, especially for a man because I wouldn’t even know where to begin, and I’m a female. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. You’re stuck in this weird limbo."
Ted seems to be very influenced by Boston. Was that Seth or Mark?
Mark Wahlberg: "The movie was already written taking place in Boston. I don’t know if Seth even trusted that I could do a Boston accent. Nobody was really doing the accents. Everything that has to do with the movie in Boston is Seth. It was already on the page."
Seth MacFarlane: "That pretty much covers it. The comparison I always make is to Ghostbusters, as weird as that is because to me, one of the reasons that movie worked was that you had this ridiculous fantastical element to the story, but it was set against not just a realistic city but a city we all know. You had ghosts running around, these exterminators who had to eliminate them, but New York is the very familiar, very real New York with all of its warts that we know and it kind of grounded everything and kind of earned you the rest of the stuff. That was kind of what I wanted this movie to feel like. You have a talking bear. The rest of the movie should be as real and grounded as possible to earn that, and one of the things that you can accomplish that with is by setting it in an actual city with an actual regional flavor."
Seth, how did you choose the music and did Ted always look like he does now?
Seth MacFarlane: "Well, with the music, they’re song choices that fit with the movie. I’m a film score junkie. I’m the world’s biggest John Williams fan. I wanted this movie to have a classic film score because I felt like what it would do, it would play against the edginess of the comedy and earn you some of the harder jokes. You kind of have to have that to balance things out. With Family Guy for years that’s what we’ve done is we’ve got these hard-edged jokes but we have a pretty serious musical style. I think it works in tandem with each other."
"As far as the bear’s design, I wanted to keep it very simple. There’s a style of 2D animation that The Simpsons employs and that Family Guy employs. I use Homer as an example. When Homer Simpson is being addressed and he’s just sitting there listening, it’s a blank stare. It’s just a blank, wide-eyed stare and there’s something 100 times funnier about that than if there were a series of Disney-esque subtle reactions because each audience member can kind of imprint what they think is going on inside his head based on their own bullsh*t. I wanted to do the same thing with Ted, and oftentimes CG characters are so humanlike that they come off kind of creepy looking. Did you ever seen Jack Frost, that movie with Michael Keaton, that terrifying snowman that just gave you nightmares? That would be an example of CG gone wrong, and they all acknowledged it after that movie. And I wanted to keep Ted simple. His eyes are very kind of blank. There’s a little expressiveness with the eyebrows but it’s a pretty simple design and that was deliberate. I wanted to leave enough to the imagination that what that expression is or what that thought process is would be maybe a little different for each audience member."
Mila Kunis: "Somebody yesterday was like, 'After Black Swan, we didn’t really expect you to follow this up with Ted? And I literally went, 'Why, because it’s funny?' So being funny somehow takes away from the quality? It doesn’t. I’ve had this argument with Seth many times, I don’t think I’m funny. I really don’t."
Seth MacFarlane: "I disagree."
Mila Kunis: "Thanks, but I don’t. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love comedy. I just would never be able to go on a stage and do a roast. I would never; I think I would panic. That being said, I love comedy when it’s written well. When someone like Seth MacFarlane gives me dialogue to say that I think is brilliant, I will say the sh*t out of it, okay? And I will make it work to my best ability. But I will not go and do something that I don’t believe in, whether that be comedy or a horror or a sci-fi or action or whatever genre. It doesn’t matter. It’s about quality. So if I love Ted and I think that’s a good movie, I don’t care if it’s funny or sad, as long as it’s good. It’s just entertainment. So, I will go in whatever direction I’m drawn to."
"After Ted, I went and did Great and Powerful Oz. I am dying to know what genre people are going to put that movie in. And then after that one I went and did Hell & Back, which is a stop-motion animation R-rated movie. Then I went and did Blood Ties, which is a cop drama, and none of this makes sense. If you look at my movies, they all look like a crazy person chose them who’s erratic and has no lineage whatsoever, but I choose the work that I believe in."
Seth MacFarlane: "It’s worth saying too, coming out of animation, you bring in A-list actors to an animated show and it separates the men from the boys instantly. You see who is a pretty face and who actually has the chops. We’ve had plenty of A-list people who have come in and we’ve seen the Emperor’s clothes. For all these years, we’ve thrown really a lot of very, very subtle comedy at Mila for the role of Meg, and you’re not seeing her lovely face, you’re hearing her voice. All you’re getting is her ability, and it’s tremendous. That, to me, is the best example of all. You are hearing her voice, you are hearing her skill, her comedic timing, and she’s getting laughs and has been for 10 years. So that’s worth noting."
Mila, how do you stay grounded and what makes you happy in life?
Mila Kunis: "I don’t know. I guess I’m very honest and I speak my mind at all times. I think that that, if anything, helps me stay grounded because I will say what I think, but I don’t expect the yes in return. If you ask a question, there’s always two answers, a yes and a no. You’re not always right but I will fight to prove that I’m right, but I will accept being wrong."
"I have an amazing family. I have an incredible group of friends, truly, truly and incredible group of friends that I can count on one hand. These two included. Look at it this way. MacFarlane I’ve known since I was 13 and I’m so blessed to be, and lucky, in the position to work with people, Mark included for the second film, that I respect and look up to and admire and actually want to show up to work with. So I think a lot of that speaks for itself. You are able to do the job that you love and surround yourself with the people that you like to go to work with and work for for 17 hours a day and people whose opinion you trust and people whose outlook you respect. So I don’t really know how to answer that question because I’m sure many people would disagree and tell you that I’m a horrible human being. But I do believe that it all depends on who you surround yourself with and what you put out is what you get back in return. I work hard. I work my ass off, and I have worked that way for 20 years. But me working hard, I don’t have to show you how hard I work. As long as I know how hard I work, that’s all that matters. And I think people get so caught up in trying to prove to everybody else how hard they work that they lose all sense of what they do and why they do it. So as long as I do my homework and I know I did and I show up to work and do my job, end of day, that’s it. That’s all that matters - and then I can have a life."
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Ted hits theaters on June 29, 2012.