Three Great Things: Bobby Farrelly

The legendary comedy director, whose new sports dramedy Champions is out now, shares what gives his life meaning.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the March 10 release of Bobby Farrelly’s new comedy drama, Champions, starring Woody Harrelson, Katilin Olson, Cheech Marin and Ernie Hudson, the legendary comedy director opened up about some of the most important aspects of his life. — N.D.

Living in a Ski Town
I live in Sun Valley, Idaho. It gets cold and snowy and icy here, so it’s not for everyone, but I like to be in the mountains and I particularly love living in a ski town. There are a lot of people who live here who are a little bit older, but when I look at them, I always think, “These are my kind of people. They didn’t go to Florida and play shuffleboard, they came up here to ski.” I tell you, Sun Valley is up there in altitude, so they’re hearty people. And I just never come across anyone who’s in a bad mood. They don’t whine, they don’t complain – they’re troopers. Sun Valley is just my cup of tea, much more so than where the snowbirds go, to Arizona, Palm Springs or Florida, where my friends go to play golf. Maybe it’s because I have Irish skin, which means I can’t be in the sun all year long. (I get sunburned a lot.) But I love to ski and have been doing it for years and years. It’s a fun sport for kids and even for older people – it’s really great exercise. A little anaerobic, but good for your legs.

I’ve been in Sun Valley on and off for about 25 years. There was a time when I was just coming here when I had free time, for a vacation, but as I get older, I actually want to be here all the time. There’s something about it. When I am here, I almost immediately get in a good mood. I don’t know if it’s the fresh air or the mountain living, but it’s just one of those happy places. It’s like a positive energy vortex. You basically can’t be here and have a bad time.

Watching Golf on TV
I love watching golf on television. It’s the most soothing, relaxing thing I can possibly do in the world, particularly when the majors come around, like the Masters and U.S. Open. For me, it’s like listening to a symphony – the sounds of it and the competition. I can watch it for four days in a row and it just soothes my soul. I don’t know why, but I would rather watch a major golf competition on TV than play golf, and mind you – I love to play. On those days when the majors are on, I just love siting down on the couch and saying, “This is what I’m doing. I’m going to watch this tournament from start to finish.”

I love going to golf events in person, too, but I really enjoy watching them on TV. It’s something I’ve done almost all my life. My dad was an avid golfer, so when I was growing up, he would put the golf on at home on a Saturday afternoon, and I just kind of started getting into it. It’s the flow of the announcers, the way they talk. When the Masters comes around in April and I see those beautiful flowers down there in Augusta, Georgia, it’s like being at a museum and looking at fine art. I just love it. And there’s something about watching that event every year; it has such history, it helps me with the passage of time. I would never ever consider missing a Masters telecast.

It is the competition that really pulls me in when I’m watching golf, particularly on Sundays, when it’s getting closer to the time when someone can either win the tournament or blow it. When I’m watching, I’ve actually got sweaty palms. It’s very visceral for me. I feel the pressure they’re under. At a golf course like the Augusta National, everyone’s quiet. All those players are under a great amount of stress, as you can imagine. They handle it well, but there is so much pressure – it’s palpable. You can feel it, you can sense it … you can almost smell it. It’s there. I love watching sports in general, but I don’t really feel that connection to what’s happening with football, basketball, hockey or other sports. But in golf, I can feel that pressure and am engaged with the questions of how you manage it and perform your best, even when you’re under this vise grip of pressure. It’s something I really enjoy.

The Andy Griffith Show
My brother Pete and I absolutely love The Andy Griffith Show. At one point in our career, every day when we got together to write, we’d take a break around two in the afternoon to watch an episode or two of The Andy Griffith Show on TV. It was just a soothing thing to watch life in Mayberry, to see a simpler time with Andy Griffith, Don Knotts and Ron Howard, and all the characters in that town. When you watch it every day, it’s one of those shows where you believe the characters; it feels real and you almost wish you lived there. When we watched it, we always marveled at how beautifully they blended comedy with dramatic stories and issues like father-son relationships. When you watched an episode, you didn’t know if it was going to be all goofy, zany and comedic or if it was going to be serious.

Pete and I love that formula for our own movies, where you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to get; you keep the audience just a little bit off balance, not knowing what’s coming next. Everything works better, whether it’s the drama or the comedy. We have always used The Andy Griffith Show as a template, because we thought they did that so well. My new movie, Champions, with Woody Harrelson, is more of a dramedy than any of the other movies I’ve made. Woody plays a basketball coach who ends up coaching a team of people with intellectual disabilities. He doesn’t know anything about that community, but he ends up learning a lot. Of all my movies, I think this is the one that’s most set in reality. From the start, I felt like the whole story was going to be a lot better if we really grounded it and audiences actually believed Woody’s character was a real guy and that all the basketball players he meets are real people too. I didn’t want to make it broad or goofy or feel too much like a movie. I wanted to make it so you really believe these people, like I believed in the characters in The Andy Griffith Show.

Featured image, showing Bobby Farrelly (far right) on the set of Champions, is courtesy Shauna Townley/Focus Features.

Bobby Farrelly is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer whose new film, the sports comedy-drama Champions, starring Woody Harrelson, Kaitlin Olson, Cheech Marin and Ernie Hudson, is now in theaters through Focus Features. Along with his brother Peter, the Farrelly Brothers are known worldwide for their iconic comedies, including Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself and Irene, There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin, and Hall Pass, among others. Their films have grossed well over $1 billion at the box office. Farrelly also produced the award-winning documentary The Lost Son of Havana, and has directed many hit TV shows, including Loudermilk, The Now, and Trailer Park Boys. (Photo by Marion Curtis / StarPix for Focus Features.)