For his feature film directorial debut, Seth MacFarlane didn’t play it safe with a “Family Guy” movie; instead, he wrote an R-rated, live-action-cum-animation hybrid about a man and his talking teddy bear. In the packed Vimeo Theater inside the Austin Convention Center at SXSW on Sunday morning, MacFarlane and surprise-guest Mark Wahlberg unveiled the first public look at “Ted.”
Out July 13, “Ted” follows John Bennett (Wahlberg), a Boston-bred man who, as a kid, wished that his teddy bear, Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), would come alive. Surprise! He did, and — when the initial shock wears off — he and John grow up to be besties-in-arms, smoking pot and watching “Flash Gordon” on the regular. Unfortunately, John’s girlfriend (Mila Kunis) isn’t pleased with their co-dependent relationship, and John must mature — much to the consternation of Ted.
MacFarlane and Wahlberg debuted the first eight-minutes of “Ted,” which sets up the initial premise: that Ted can walk and talk. The funny prologue — featuring “Family Guy” star Alex Borstein as John’s mom — wisely puts “Ted” in the real world; the living teddy bear is featured on news broadcasts around the country and even makes an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” When things shift to the present day, Wahlberg has an easy rapport with his foul-mouthed furry friend, something made all the more impressive since he was mostly acting to nothing.
“It’s a very challenging role, in a lot of ways,” MacFarlane said. “It’s a comedy, but you’re interacting with empty space. One of the great things when we finally got [the effects done], was that Mark was so good and so convincing. When we finally put the bear in, it felt so organic and so real. It would sink or swim on whether you believe these two guys were together.”
MacFarlane would run lines with Wahlberg off-camera — which no doubt helped the star get comfortable — but no amount of line-reading could make a scene like John’s hotel-room brawl with Ted work. The second clip of the presentation highlighted this scene, which comes across as all the more impressive when you consider Wahlberg was fighting himself, a la Edward Norton in “Fight Club.”
“The goal with that fight from the start was to make it as real and as raw as if two guys were fighting in one of the ‘Bourne’ movies,” MacFarlane told Moviefone after the presentation. “Whatever Mark was tapping into, performance wise, while we were shooting this movie, is in full-force in that scene.”
As for Wahlberg — who said he would act opposite either a stuffed bear or “a stick with two dots on it” — he welcomed not having to deal with any other co-stars.
“I absolutely fell in love with the idea of not working with actors,” he said to laughs during the panel. “I just did a movie with a bunch of Academy Award winners, and I was like, ‘These guys are so overrated.'”
MacFarlane and Wahlberg also debuted the red band trailer for “Ted,” which does a great job of setting up John’s romance with his girlfriend. It also features plenty of heavy-duty wordplay, something that will immediately please “Family Guy” fans.
“He memorized all that,” MacFarlane told Moviefone when asked about a scene where Wahlberg is forced to rattle off dozens of names in rapid succession. “I would be dead if I tried to memorize all that. He was like, ‘Oh, no. I got it.'”
As for why MacFarlane decided to make “Ted” his first feature, instead of a “Family Guy” film, the director says it was a matter of needing a little repose from the characters.
“I thought a break from ‘Family Guy’ would be a good thing,” he said after the panel. As for when fans can expect to see Peter Griffin and family on the big screen, MacFarlane says “eventually.”
“We have an idea,” he told Moviefone, “but it’s sort of on the back-burner.”
For more from SXSW, click here.
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