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“Phillip Morris” Director/Writer Duo: “We like to say two half talents make a whole.”

"Phillip Morris" Director/Writer Duo: "We like to say two half talents make a whole."

After a heavily reported delay since its premiere back in 2009 at Sundance, “I Love You Phillip Morris,” (aka the comedy in which Jim Carrey plays gay opposite Ewan McGregor) finally makes its way to U.S. theaters this Friday courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Based on a non-fiction book by former Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Steve McVicker, “Morris” chronicles the journey of Steven Jay Russell (Jim Carrey), an unbelievably charismatic con man who finds himself in prison, only to fall in love with a male inmate, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). Russell manages to con his way out, and sets out on a mission to free his lover.

“Morris” marks the directorial debut of writing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the men responsible for “Bad Santa.” Ahead of the film’s American theatrical bow, Ficarra and Requa sat down with the Lincoln Center’s Paul Brunick for a discussion following a screening of their film at New York’s Walter Reade Theater.

Directors/writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa on working together…

Ficarra: “We’ve been working together for 23 years. We went to Pratt University in Brooklyn, and have been making movies ever since then. We don’t split up the work.”

Requa: “We like to say two half talents make a whole.”

Ficarra and Requa on the film’s rocky journey, and on how Gus Vant Sant and Luc Besson came into the mix…

Ficarra: “Back when we premiered the movie at Sundance it was a really bad market. The economy had just tanked, all the mini majors had closed down, and nobody was buying that year. On top of that you have this incredibly risky subject matter. But we got offers at Sundance. We got into negotiations with this one company who made the best offer, but weren’t the best company. They took us down a path for a year, and didn’t meet their obligations and pay our vendors. So we went to another distributor this September.”

Requa: “We had originally set up the movie with a company called Wild Bunch, and we pre-sold it at Cannes. We had Gus Van Sant attached to direct because Jim [Carrey] was a bit nervous, us being first timers. We had Gus, but then Gus went off to make “Milk,” so Jim, without missing a beat, said ‘You guys are up!’ We had gotten to know him by this point. As soon as Wild Bunch heard about us they immediately disappeared, and we were kind of in limbo.

“It turns out that when Jim was making “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” in Miami he ran into Luc Besson, and they became good friends. So he called Luc.”

Ficarra: “This is a movie you could sell in Europe, because the subject matter doesn’t pose a problem to a European audience. So he [Besson] said yes, and gave us some money.”

Requa: “And that was all he did. Luc made no requirements of the movie.”

Ficarra and Requa on what attracted them to Steven Jay Russell’s story…

Ficarra: “We just thought it was the most extraordinary love story – a great examination of love, what stresses can it take, and the craziness and madness of love. It just really appealed to us.”

A scene from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s “I Love You Phillip Morris.” [Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions]

Requa: “We’re also really attracted to delusional characters. The more committed they are to some cause, it just makes it more inherently entertaining and funny to us. I think that’s true with most of things we’ve done.

“Steven was like that when we met him. The second we met him, you could see it in his eyes. He believes every word of his story. It may not be true, but he believes it to be the greatest love story ever told. We decided we were going to make a movie through his eyes.”

Ficarra and Requa on the real Steven Jay Russell…

Ficarra: “He’s a hard to understand guy. We just talked to an Entertainment Weekly journalist. She went and visited him. His name is Steven Jay Russell. You have to go online to visit someone in a Texas prison. She said there was no Steven J. Russell listed in the system! Even in prison he’s lying about his name. He’s a slippery guy, he’s a flawed character, and a character that is a victim of himself.”

Requa: “We went and visited him before we started writing, just to get a feel for him. Fascinating guy. We were there for an hour or so, and had to pose as his cousins to go there. You can’t sneak Jim Carrey into a prison, so we told him we couldn’t go. What we did have was a journalist go in with a bunch of questions and record it. That’s what Jim used as his basis for the character.

“I think you can’t deny he has a self destructive tendency. He wanted to get back to Phillip, but part of it was his desire to show them up. He shows off. He’s brilliant, he has a genius IQ. He’s his own worst enemy.”

Ficarra: “I think most hackers get off on that.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been edited since first published.

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