Ted (Seth MacFarlane) and friends as seen in TED, a film by Seth MacFarlane. Picture © 2012 and courtesy Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.
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Opened: 06/29/2012 Wide
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: R for for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, and some drug use.
For more than a decade, SETH MacFARLANE has stretched the envelope of comedy about as far as it can go as the visionary behind the hit television shows Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show. Now he brings his boundary-pushing brand of humor to the big screen for the first time as writer, director, producer and voice star of Ted.
In the live-action/CG-animated comedy, MacFarlane tells the story of John Bennett (MARK WAHLBERG of The Other Guys, Contraband), a grown man whose simple childhood wish brought his cherished teddy bear to life. Almost 30 years later, the fairy tale is very much over. Ted is reluctant to leave John's side...to the increasing annoyance of John's only-so-patient girlfriend, Lori Collins (MILA KUNIS of Friends With Benefits, Black Swan).
Though Lori's displeasure with John is exacerbated by his dead-end career and days spent smoking weed and drinking beers with Ted, she's not the one who is the most frustrated with him. As John struggles to figure out a way to navigate this thing called adulthood, it will take the unexpected help of his boyhood toy to make the leap from man-child to a grown-ass man.
Directed by MacFarlane from a screenplay he wrote with ALEC SULKIN (Family Guy, The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn) and WELLESLEY WILD (Family Guy, The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn), Ted co-stars an impressive comedic lineup that includes JOEL McHALE (TV's Community, What's Your Number?) as Rex, Lori's very rich and even more lecherous boss; Donny (GIOVANNI RIBISI of Contraband, Avatar), a guy who wants to fulfill his childhood dream and have a Ted of his very own; and PATRICK WARBURTON (Rules of Engagement, Family Guy) as Guy, John's fight-club-loving co-worker at the rental-car counter.
The cast of Ted is supported by a number of Family Guy regulars that include JESSICA BARTH as Tami-Lynn, Ted's fellow cashier and non-ursine girlfriend; JOHN VIENER as Alix, John's clueless co-worker; and ALEX BORSTEIN and RALPH GARMAN as young John's loving-yet-befuddled mother and father. Joining them is newcomer BRETT MANLEY, who portrays 8-year-old John, whose Christmas wish starts this whole friendship.
Multi-Grammy-Award-winning recording artist NORAH JONES (My Blueberry Nights) appears as one of Ted's exes, while SAM JONES (Flash Gordon) cameos as the living embodiment of all that John and Ted hold great and true, their hero Flash Gordon. Acclaimed performer PATRICK STEWART (X-Men series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Family Guy) serves as the film's narrator.
Joining MacFarlane as producers of the comedy is Bluegrass Films' SCOTT STUBER (Safe House, Role Models), along with JOHN JACOBS (Blades of Glory, Beverly Hills Chihuahua) and JASON CLARK (Stuart Little series, Act of Valor).
Ted's behind-the-scenes creative team is led by director of photography MICHAEL BARRETT (You Don't Mess With the Zohan, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas), production designer STEPHEN LINEWEAVER (Blades of Glory, Role Models), editor JEFF FREEMAN (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Just Friends), costume designer DEBRA McGUIRE (Bad Teacher, Knocked Up) and composer WALTER MURPHY (Family Guy, American Dad!).
JONATHAN MONE (Your Highness, The Wolfman) serves as the comedy's executive producer.
About the Production
A Bear Is Born: Meet Ted
Although MacFarlane originally conceived of Ted as an animated series, he soon realized the story would lend itself better to a motion picture, especially with enormous advances that have been made in CG imaging and VFX technology over the past several years. He enlisted fellow Family Guy writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild to help develop the story of the magical stuffed teddy bear and the owner whose development has been officially arrested.
Together, they created the tale of a lonely boy whose 1985 Christmas wish is miraculously granted and whose beloved bear creates a worldwide sensation when he comes to life. Young John's headline-grabbing teddy is famous across the planet and routinely takes bookings such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. But as the decades pass, a grown-up John finds that his once cherished toy has become his worse-for-the-wear, foul-mouthed, cynical companion. And as much as John loves Ted, John's starting to feel the effects of spending the majority of his time with him.
MacFarlane walks us through the screenplay's genesis: "Alec, Wellesley and I have worked together for years. I met them when Family Guy got canceled 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."
"Seth had the idea for Ted for a long time," recalls Wild. "I remember him saying that he was waiting for the technology to get to the point where he could make it look like a real teddy bear." He laughs, "It was Seth's concept, but he didn't have time to write it with his 20 shows on television, so he sent us off to write a rough draft. We continued to work with him on weekends, changing it and punching it up."
"Seth said he wanted it to be a very R-rated comedy," adds Sulkin. "The bear comes to life with a little child's wish, and then you cut to almost 30 years later and it's the roommate who won't leave. They have a sweet beginning; then Ted becomes this national sensation and ultimately turns into something like a former child star. He's somebody who was famous, is still alive, but not famous anymore. People continue to recognize Ted when they see him walking around with John, like when the pair is on their way to smoke pot in the park and run into some girl fans who recognize him and want to be photographed with the cuddly guy."
MacFarlane agrees that he was most interested in the humor that occurs after the boy and bear grow up and Ted is no longer considered to be special. "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," the director says, "a point it would naturally get to in real life. So once that big moment has passed, what's the other 95 percent of your life going to be like? That was part of the comedy in Ted."
The project came over to Bluegrass Films and had producer Scott Stuber and executive producer Jonathan Mone laughing within the first several pages of the script. They were not only impressed with how clever and unique the screenplay was, but also that it still contained classic storytelling elements.
Stuber reflects that it was the writers' ability to blend their voices into a singular one that interested him: "Alec, Wellesley and Seth have a great shorthand and feed off of each other. In comedy, that's important because not every great joke starts as a great joke. They protect each other and are on each other's side, so they give each other the creative freedom to try different things and then find the right answer. They do this continually in their work."
While it was critical to the filmmakers to bring bawdy comedy to the R-rated Ted, they knew the film would never work without a good deal of honest emotion. Explains Stuber: "Seth's point is that he tries to offend everyone and not single out any group.
However, he brings heart and comedy and absurdity to this story that's ultimately about growing up and leaving an icon of your childhood behind. He was able to mix in so many things. There's some crazy stuff in this movie that makes you drop your jaw in the best of ways and say, 'I can't believe they just did that.' But at the end of the day, he never lost sight of the heart, and the best comedies have that."
Producer Jason Clark, a motion-capture veteran, was brought on to help oversee the production. "I had done Stuart Little and had worked before with a CG character in a live-action world," he relays. "I'd also done Monster House, which is one of the first movies to employ the motion capture of a performance. With Ted, we move to the next level, creating a leading performance in a comedy, which requires great immediacy to capture the humor and repartee between the performers. It was not something that could be recorded in a booth outside of the production experience; it needed to be recorded live on the set. On top of that, we added another level of complexity, since the director is playing that lead character."
Having compiled a long list of credits over the years creating and overseeing the production of many projects (including three shows currently running on FOX), MacFarlane brings experience and maturity to his debut as a feature-film director. "Seth understands the process and is such an incredible leader," commends Clark. "He has a way of giving clear indication of what he's going for and, at the same time, allowing everybody to bring their expertise."
Adds fellow producer John Jacobs, who has worked with MacFarlane for years: "First-time directors often need 20 different choices for everything and can be indecisive, but because of Seth's incredible instincts and experience in animation, he's amazingly tuned in to what he wants and has been able to command three challenging roles: directing, acting and overseeing the VFX work for Ted. As well, his comedic timing, irreverent attitude and keen visual sense are like no one else's, as Family Guy fans know."
Jacobs credits MacFarlane with "being able to play animated characters in a completely real way. This is as far away as you could get from the Walt Disney style. This bear could just as easily be the guy sitting next to you at a bar or driving down the road with you to a bachelor party. I can guarantee that people have never seen a character like this and they are going to love this bear!"
Thunder Buddies for Life: Casting the Comedy
From the moment they find each other, young John Bennett and Ted vow to be best friends, forever and ever. Their shared childhood joys include time go-karting, making snow angels, watching Flash Gordon, dressing in costumes for the local opening of Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (as Darth Maul and Yoda), getting high...and watching Flash Gordon. As kids, their shared fear of thunder bonds them as "Thunder Buddies," and the phobia follows them into adulthood. Nothing scares away thunder more than a shared song to embolden their spirits.
MacFarlane discusses casting the role of the man who just can't grow up: "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."
While Wahlberg has only appeared in a handful of comedies, his skills wowed the director. "His ability to do physical comedy is incredible," continues MacFarlane. "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."
Wahlberg admits that he usually selects the role opposite in character from the one he last filmed. He says: "I went from doing The Fighter press to shooting Contraband in New Orleans during award season and going back and forth. Then I got a copy of the script, and when I read it, 30 minutes into it I completely forgot about the bear, and I thought, 'Wow, what a great buddy movie with this dilemma in the middle of it with the girlfriend.' Then I met Seth, and I was campaigning to get the part."
As he read the screenplay, Wahlberg says he was quite impressed by the comedy: "People will not be disappointed. It's Seth on steroids. When I first saw Family Guy, I couldn't believe that he was getting away with some of that stuff in a cartoon. But now with this rated-R feature film, he really pushes the envelope. There's nobody that he doesn't offend, either. Across the board, everybody's fair game."
Wahlberg introduces us to his character: "John works at a rent-a-car place and has a beautiful girlfriend, Lori. He doesn't want to let go of his adolescence, but his girlfriend wants him to step up and be a man. He's enjoying life and couldn't be happier with his girlfriend and his best friend; they make the most of every moment together. But that becomes a problem because Lori wants a bigger commitment."
His first blended animation film, the actor wanted to make sure that he did the part justice. He says: "My only concern was that I wanted to play everything as real as possible. I wanted to play it completely straight and let the laughs come from the craziness of the situation. That was exactly what Seth was looking for." So intense was his preparation to ready himself for the scene in which John rattles off a number of potential names to Ted, Wahlberg wrote out each girl's name hundreds of times.
Stuber knew that the man they cast had to implicitly believe that his director wouldn't lead him astray. He explains: "Trust is a big word, and Mark had to go there with Seth. He had to sit on a couch next to a kickstand and hope that the animation and the personality of that bear would feel like two guys on a couch having fun and having real camaraderie. Mark was unbelievable; he gives such a great performance." The producer acknowledges that their lead gave them his all: "The irony is that if you watch the dailies of the movie, there's nobody playing against him. If you watch the movie just from Mark's perspective, he's getting his bare ass whipped, has to get up and sing poorly and is beat up by a bear--all kinds of indignation for his character. He just never complained, and he did everything we asked of him."
Cast opposite Wahlberg was Mila Kunis as Lori Collins, John's formerly patient girlfriend and a rising public relations executive. The actress, who has voiced the role of Family Guy's Meg for almost 13 years, grew up with her director. Says MacFarlane: "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."
Discussing Lori's part in the comedy, MacFarlane shares: "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."
How did Kunis feel about tackling the project? "I've known Seth since I was 15," she says. "If you can work with your friends all the time, you can't ask for a better work environment." Plus, she deadpans, "It's a movie about a talking teddy bear, and I would expect nothing less from Seth, Alec and Wellesley. It all made sense to me, and I didn't question it at all. I'm on a cartoon with a talking dog. Like I'm going to question a bear?"
Nonetheless, Kunis still found the experience working with MacFarlane directing "a little strange." She offers: "On Family Guy, I'm in one booth. He's in another booth, and normally he has to explain to me what's happening because you record Family Guy a year before anything's drawn. Seeing him as the director explaining scenarios and characters and visually setting up shots has been great. Seth gets so giddy when he gets a take that he likes."
Kunis explains that Lori is none too happy with the odd triangle in which she finds herself embedded. The actress says: "Ted is a roommate who gets in the way a lot. Lori is a hard-working girl who loves John for being a child at heart, but she also wants to settle down and have a sense of security that he's not capable of giving her. He is a sweet, beautiful soul, but he's like a stunted 15-year-old boy who means well but doesn't have the drive to go past a certain point. All he does all day long is smoke weed and get high with his teddy bear. Lori tries to get John to get Ted to move into his own place so that the two of them can start their life together."
Ted isn't the first time the two actors have performed with one another. Kunis shares: "Mark's very present, and he's a comforting actor to work with. Just knowing that there's somebody who is looking out for your best interests and that you can trust is very rare."
Though the crux of the comedy is Ted, John and Lori, it was crucial to the filmmakers not to support the main characters with stock ones. Stuber offers: "We wanted to fill out our characters' lives. One of the mistakes we sometimes make in filmmaking--whether it's a comedy or a romantic comedy--is that we tend to never show that our main characters have diverse lives. It was important to dimensionalize Ted, Lori and John's work lives and make sure that you knew these characters. Plus, across the board, we were able to get the kind of supporting actors that we wanted."
Joel McHale, familiar to audiences for his comedic roles on Community and The Soup, was cast as the lecherous Rex, Lori's boss at Plymouth PR. "Joel was an obvious choice for me," says MacFarlane. "I had tested him for a pilot for FOX. With Joel it was about an old-fashioned swagger. There's almost nobody in Hollywood who can do that now because it seems that everyone has a much more informal style. Joel was the only guy that I could think of who could pull that off."
Not used to being turned down, Rex mounts a merciless pursuit of his unresponsive employee. It's one that proves futile until she and John separate after a final Ted-precipitated disaster. Clark explains: "Joel, as Lori's boss, works a destructive wedge in her relationship with John, yet he is such an incredible comedic actor who brings so much humor and charm to the role that you just love to hate him."
McHale is the first to admit: "Rex is not the greatest guy in the world. Almost every time you see him, he is Olympic in his success; consider the amount of purple he wears. He is incredibly rich, drives a Bugatti, runs a PR firm and is living the good life, or he believes he's living the good life. He's nailed everything in the office, and Rex gets what he wants."
The actor appreciated the style of his director. "Seth is a rare combination in that he has talent and creativity pouring out of his ears," commends McHale. "He can do anything. I have seen him heal people, and he can lift large objects by just thinking about it. He has all that talent, and yet he's the most humble, self-deprecating person you've ever met. He is also open to messing around. After we did the lines, he would let us improvise and throw in jokes."
Giovanni Ribisi, recently seen opposite Wahlberg in the action-thriller Contraband and Emmy nominated for his role on My Name Is Earl, plays Donny, a man whose boyhood need for a friend like Ted has grown into a dangerous adult obsession. "I think Donny had a tough upbringing. He was the boy who never got a teddy bear, so there is a hole in his life," states Ribisi. "He wants Ted. When he gets older, he becomes a stalker who takes it upon himself to get what he never had. His life has been so destitute and downtrodden; he's looking for an opportunity to realize his dream himself."
The actor remembers "getting a phone call about doing the table reading of the script. The material was definitely off the beaten path for me. Seth called me up a couple days after the reading and said, 'I want you to be involved when we make the movie.' I was over the moon because I'm a huge Family Guy fan."
"Giovanni brought so much to this role that we weren't expecting," praises MacFarlane. "He's a great actor, but the form that greatness takes always remains to be seen. We don't see as much of Donny in the script. He was a little less fleshed out, and Giovanni came in and completely dimensionalized the role in ways that make the character a more memorable villain."
Along with the film's co-writers and Kunis, there are a number of other MacFarlane favorites in Ted. "Family Guy fans will be familiar with cast members Patrick Warburton, Alex Borstein [the inimitable Lois Griffin], Ralph Garman and John Viener, who play multiple characters on the show," notes Jacobs. "They all have a shorthand with Seth; some of them have worked with him for a decade, and they are his family. It ups the comedy when they get together on the set. It's magic to see."
Borstein, who plays young John's mom, reveals: "They were nice enough to say, 'Let's have a lot of our friends we've worked with for years do something,' so this was a gift." She dryly adds, "As far as a teddy bear coming to life? I'm a Jew, so there's no such thing as a Christmas miracle. In my house, I'd cut the bear open and throw it out. Hanukah bears don't talk, and they don't come to life. They sit and complain."
Rounding out the cast are BILL SMITROVICH (Iron Man) as Frank, Ted's demented supervisor at the grocery store; MATT WALSH (Bad Santa) as Thomas, John's Tom Skerritt-loving boss at Liberty Rent-a-Car; and LAURA VANDERVOORT (TV's V) as Tanya, John's oddly empathetic co-worker. Lori's catty PR colleagues at Rex's firm include JESSICA STROUP (Prom Night) as Tracy, GINGER GONZAGA (TV's The Morning After) as Gina and MELISSA ORDWAY (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) as Michelle.