Mike Fleming

20th Century Fox and Peter and Bobby Farrelly have set Sean Hayes to play Larry in The Three Stooges, the slapstick comedy that is slated to begin production later this month. He joins Will Sasso, who had previously been set to play Curly. The search is still on for the role of Moe, a role that has had a number of actors circling. Hayes has physical comedy chops and showed during readings that he had the ability to play a lovable simpleton, something that amateur boxer-turned-punching bag Larry Fine did so well. Many, including Peter Farrelly, feel that Fine’s understated work anchored the original Stooges shorts by creating a buffer between Moe’s stern persona and Curly’s manic physical comic energy. Hayes was last seen on Broadway in a year-long run in Promises, Promises, has starred in films that include The Bucket List, and of course starred in Will & Grace.

I’ve seen that Deadline readers are reluctant to embrace a Stooges movie, each time I write about it. I see it differently. I am eager to see what the Farrellys are capable of, after putting 12 years into this passion project and honing the script to the point where they feel they can retain the signature slapstick while delivering a PG rating.

I once wrote a Stooges biography (ABC turned it into a telepic), and a section of the book traced the profound influence the Stooges had on writers, filmmakers and comic stars. It also tracked the number of Hollywood filmmakers who tried to make Stooges movies after original performers Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly and Shemp Howard died.

Attempts spanned Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros, MGM and then Fox. The filmmaker that got closest was Mel Brooks, who told me he’d planned to play Shemp, with Marty Feldman playing Larry, and Dom De Luise playing Curly. Brooks turned it into the 1976 comedy Silent Movie. “It was just too hard to do a Three Stooges movie that was two hours or even ninety minutes,” Brooks said. “It’s such physical humor and so hard to sustain a plot that could withstand their antics for that long. I felt it was better to go with a simple story within a story, about a silent movie made to save the silent movie.”

No filmmakers have put more time into a Stooges film than the Farrellys. They’ve been working on script drafts for about 12 years, after employing Stooges-style slapstick in films like Dumb and Dumber with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels and There’s Something About Mary with Ben Stiller. The Farrellys feel they overcame the structural problems encountered by Brooks by breaking the film up into three 27-minute-long segments. The feature tells a single story, but the breaks give the audience a chance to catch its breath. The structure also lends the feel of the abbreviated running time of the original Stooges shorts, and gives the Farrellys the chance to use all three of the signature Stooges theme songs. “There will be non-stop slapping, more in the tone of Dumb and Dumber than anything else we’ve done,” Peter Farrelly told me recently. “Our goal is 85 minutes of laughs in a film that will be very respectful of who the Stooges were. It’s by far the riskiest project we’ve ever done, without question, but it is also the one closest to our hearts.”

If they succeed in creating renewed Stooges interest in kids the same age as those who raced home from school to watch the trio on television each day, the Farrellys could help keep the Stooges from being relegated to history’s dustbin. And if they deliver a PG film at a budget in the $30 million range, Fox has a shot at financial success. WME repped Hayes.

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