Seth MacFarlane made his first trip to SXSW this year, and he brought a surprise with him: his Ted star Mark Wahlberg, who somehow came off as beleaguered and charming in equal measure at a Q&A Sunday. During a 90-minute conversation at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center during SXSW, MacFarlane ranged over his remarkable animation and singing career, artfully cut down hecklers, previewed never-before-seen footage of his new Universal comedy and fawned over his star. The event was a definite highlight of the weekend thus far.
Moderator Eric Moro from Wikia walked MacFarlane through the beginnings of his prodigy-like television career, the evolution of his signature show, Family Guy, and his Grammy-nominated jazz standards album from last year, Music Is Better Than Words. But the real surprises came when the topic turned to MacFarlane’s feature directing debut, Ted, which hits theaters this summer. In it, Wahlberg plays a man whose lonely, childhood Christmas Eve wish to have his teddy bear come to life is still in effect 25 years later. MacFarlane, who also co-wrote the movie, does the voice of the grown-up version of Ted, and the two of them try to navigate adult relationships as Wahlberg’s character gets close with a woman played by Mila Kunis.
Unexpectedly, MacFarlane treated the audience to the first showing of the opening eight minutes of the movie, which unfurls with a fairy tale voice over (by Patrick Stewart, perhaps?, having great fun with the occasionally profane role) and the ’80s imagery of Flash Gordon, Nintendo and Star Wars action figures. The jokes come pretty quickly, but the prologue has a real sweetness to it — until it cuts to present day, where Wahlberg and Ted slouch on the couch, the bear taking hits off a bong, making plans to go to a Bruins game and throwing out a comment about anal. So yes, this is very much a Seth MacFarlane joint.
There are other great gags, and a Forrest Gump-ish segment where Ted is cut into a segment with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, but what brought down the house was a scene MacFarlane showed a little later of a hotel-room fight between Wahlberg and the stuffed animal after a falling-out. Let’s just say that the spectacle of watching the buff Fighter star getting his ass kicked by a two-foot teddy bear in realistic, Bourne-style fashion is worth the price of admission alone. It is hilarious, violent (great sound design!) and seamlessly real looking — and even more remarkable given that Wahlberg actually acted the scene — smashing himself against everything in sight — opposite nothing.
Unlike many films that require outside voice work, MacFarlane did all of Ted’s lines in the room with Wahlberg during shooting, and the naturalness of the human actor-CGI rapport certainly stood out. The filmmaker also showed the red band trailer for the movie before the end of the event, which had a packed house with overflow sitting on the floor up front.
During the discussion afterward, Wahlberg lamented the difficulty of the fight scene and another sequence where he apparently was forced to sing and dance, but he stated emphatically that working against empty space was actually a dream. “I absolutely fell in love with not working with actors,” he said. Only half-joking, he added that as a producer, he has grown tired of dealing with Oscar-winning thespians and other irritating actor-related issues. When an audience member asked if he could visit the set of the upcoming Entourage movie, Wahlberg said, “Sure. You can take my place.”
MacFarlane’s dead-on impression of Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly in Back to the Future: “Doc, you don’t just walk into a store and buy plutonium.”
Wahlberg admitted that he hadn’t seen Family Guy until MacFarlane sent him some episodes that he then watched with his kids, then 4- and-6-years-old. That was until his wife walked in and turned off the TV, finding the material “inappropriate.”
MacFarlane said that he thinks of the frequent cutaways that have become such a signature style of Family Guy as one-frame Far Side cartoons.
As executive producer of an in-the-works Flintstones series reboot, MacFarlane said that he’s rewriting the pilot now and that while the show will stay true to the original show visually, its substance, storylines and edginess will be “shooting for mid-’90s Simpsons.”
Moro prefaced a transition during his interview with, “Let’s talk about the evolution of the show…,” to which MacFarlane quipped, “I don’t think you can say that word in Texas” to big laughs from the audience.
In terms of the raunchiness of what the writers and animators can do on Family Guy, MacFarlane claims that the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl and the subsequent FCC fracas has genuinely curtailed what they can now do on the show, particularly as it pertains to “shit jokes.” “They somehow translated Janet Jackson’s breasts to shit,” MacFarlane lamented quizzically.
MacFarlane said very positive things about George Lucas and LucasFilm’s willingness to let them parody Star Wars to such a large extent on Family Guy, complimenting the company’s “progressive” embracing of parody to help keep the brand relevant. Asked by Moro if he would make parody movies of the Star Wars prequels, as he did with the original trilogy, MacFarlane said, “Maybe in 30 years.” He said it would be too expensive for TV to get the effects right and that fans haven’t lived with Phantom Menace and the others long enough to have the “deep knowledge” required to get the jokes. [xx]