Seth MacFarlane talks about new film Ted
August 02, 2012
From the brains behind television shows Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show comes Ted, a film about a a man and his talking teddy. Seth MacFarlane talks about adapting his boundary-pushing brand of humour for the big screen.
You work alongside fellow Family Guy writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild on Ted, how did that come about?
Alec, Wellesley and I have worked together for years. I met them when Family Guy got cancelled in 2002.
They were working on a FOX sitcom called The Pitts, and I got hired to consult. We found that our comedic voices were very similar and that we worked well together, so I hired them on Family Guy when the show was brought back. They’ve been writing superstars since then and seemed an eminently logical choice.
They have a great sense of the blend of story backbone, heart and, of course, jokes. They are two of the best joke writers that I know.
The story is about a boy who wishes his bear would come to life, it does and ends up staying with him as he grows up. How did you turn it into a comedy?
A big part of the comedy comes from the fact that years after the bear came to life, people have gotten used to it and nobody cares anymore, a point it would naturally get to in real life.
So once that big moment has passed, what’s the other 95% of your life going to be like? That was part of the comedy in Ted.
Mark Wahlberg is someone you would probably associate with action films rather than comedy (although he is appearing in more comical roles). Why did you cast him as the main human character, John Bennett?
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.
His ability to do physical comedy is incredible. 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.
Mila Kunis stars opposite Wahlberg as John’s formerly patient girlfriend Lori Collins. I suppose this was an easy choice seeing as she has voiced the role of Family Guy’s Meg for almost 13 years.
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.
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.
And of course you voice Ted but you also had to be filmed wearing a motion-capture suit for the role. Did that interfere with directing at all?
It was necessary to have the suit there every day and for me to do a lot of the directing work with it on.
So it had to be something that was comfortable. Jason Clark found this company that had a unique technology called Moven, and there are straps that go over your everyday clothes.
There were days when I had to have it on the entire day, so it had to be something that was going to capture the data that we needed but wasn’t going to be constrictive or distracting.
How did you make it appear that it was two actors being filmed rather than one actor and a cartoon?
In a perfect world, the performance of Ted is the same as everyone else’s performance.
It’s the same level of reality. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a great film and many of the techniques utilised in that movie are utilised in this one, but we didn’t want to create the scenario in which there are the people and there are the cartoons.
We wanted them all to be people, one of whom happens to have the body of a teddy bear. The trick was to treat Ted the same way as we treated everyone else. We avoided anything that would remind you that he’s just not another person, like having anyone have to lift him up to get to a high place.
The guy I look to as the epitome of doing that right was Jim Henson. The Muppets were real people; in that world it was normal for Muppets to be walking around. In The Great Muppet Caper, Kermit and Fozzie work at a newspaper and Jack Warden is their boss. They have the same relationship that newspaper-men and their boss have in any movie, they just happen to be puppets. That was what we wanted.
Ted is in cinemas now, certificate 15.