LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Resurrect Curly, Larry and Moe? As any Three Stooges fan might say, that's soitenly sacrilege.
Casting new actors as the knuckleheads who specialize in slapping one another around and braining themselves with hammers would be like trying to redo the Marx brothers or Laurel and Hardy, right?
Yet the idea has been with Peter and Bobby Farrelly for 16 years, since not long after their early success with "Dumb and Dumber," and they wrote their first Stooges script after they really hit it big with "There's Something About Mary."
Stooges fans have scoffed at the idea and even cursed the Farrellys for tinkering with their slapstick idols, fearing the brothers would give the Stooges an R-rated, gross-out makeover in line with their hit comedies.
The thing is, the Farrellys never wanted to tinker with the Stooges, whom they've adored all their lives. They wanted to bring them back on screen as closely as possible to the nyuk-nyukking Stooges of the classic shorts from the 1930s to '50s. The Farrellys' PG-rated. "The Three Stooges" has the look, the voices, the sound effects and the maniacally paced cartoon violence that the filmmakers loved growing up.
"There were a lot of people who were like, 'The Farrellys are going to ruin it. The Stooges are not the Farrellys.' And we knew that," Peter Farrelly said. "This isn't 'Something About Mary.' This is the Stooges, and we didn't want to thrust our sensibilities on the Stooges. We wanted to adjust to their sensibilities. …
"What's sacrilegious to us is that so many kids today don't know the Stooges, and they're our favorite of all time. We love the Stooges, so we made this movie because of our love for the Three Stooges. We want to bring it back. We want their legacy to last."
There was a time in the movie's long gestation period that the casting alone could have messed with the Stooges' legacy. Distributor 20th Century Fox initially wanted big names, and at one point, the movie reportedly was moving ahead with Jim Carrey as Curly, Sean Penn as Larry and Benicio Del Toro as Moe.
Farrelly said he and his brother even met with such heavyweights as Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe as potential Stooges, but the problem with many superstars is that they wanted to do interpretations of Curly, Larry and Moe rather than re-create the characters as is.
After all, Olivier wouldn't want to copy Gielgud's Hamlet, so why would Carrey want to do the same Curly everyone knows so well?
The Farrellys cut a deal. They waived their usual salary in exchange for a cut of profits if the movie sells well and the chance to cast whichever actors were right for the parts, known or unknown.
After auditioning "over a thousand people, these were the three guys who were by far the best."
Sean Hayes (Larry) is the best-known, having co-starred as the caustic Jack McFarland on "Will & Grace." Will Sasso (Curly) spent five seasons on the sketch comedy series "MADtv." Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe) was utterly unknown to the Farrellys but is a Broadway veteran of such shows as "The Full Monty" and "Les Miserables," played Frank Sinatra in the TV miniseries "The Kennedys" and had recurring roles in such shows as "24" and "The Starter Wife."
"Pete and Bobby were really smart in that they had people come in who wanted to do the part, and they weren't going to cast somebody just because of their name," Hayes said. "If we're going to do this, let's get the people who can actually -- not patting ourselves on the back -- but people who can and actually want to try to fill the shoes of these three guys."
Diamantopoulos seemed destined for the Stooges, born just days after the death of Moe Howard in 1975 (brother Curly died in 1952 and was replaced by brother Shemp, while Larry Fine died a few months before Moe). As a kid, Diamantopoulos was such a Stooges fanatic that he memorized all three parts for 30 or 40 of the shorts to entertain his family, and he showed up for the movie audition in a body suit that gave him the stocky, short-necked look of Moe.
He's so knowledgeable he sounds like a Stooges scholar. Aware of the fan worries about new guys playing the Stooges, Diamantopoulos cites an interview Moe Howard did in 1966 in which he said "it would be great to find three young guys, teach then the moves and the timing and have them keep it going. That's an endorsement from the grave, essentially, as far as I'm concerned," Diamantopoulos said.
"Moe has said this and Larry said this. They were playing characters, and we're playing those characters. We're playing Moe, Larry and Curly. We're not playing Moses Horwitz, Jerome Horwitz and Larry Fine. ... We're playing their alter-egos. We're playing who they played in the shorts. This isn't an autobiography. It's an origin story. ... This is our 'Spider-Man' origin story."
Though set in our times, the Farrellys came up with a back-story to unleash the socially inappropriate Stooges on today's world. Abandoned as babies, Curly, Larry and Moe grow up in an orphanage, in seclusion and ignorant of the ways of the world, raised by nuns including the cruel Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David of "Curb You Enthusiasm," who's essentially the Stooges' mean and nasty surrogate grandmother).
The Stooges have to venture into the world to make money to save the orphanage. Without giving too much away, they get to bring the Stooges treatment to some very familiar faces on reality television.
Unlike the original Stooges, the filmmakers got to tell a full story with a beginning, middle and end, with heart and sweetness mixed in amid the nonstop physical gags.
The Farrellys and their actors now hope Stooges fans -- and even those who never liked the Stooges -- will give their Curly, Larry and Moe a chance.
"The Farrelly brothers grew up on the Stooges, Mike Cerrone, the writer, is a Stooge encyclopedia, and basically, this is their tribute, this is their love letter," Sasso said. "Like Pete has said, it's not about redoing their bits. It's about picking up where they left off and essentially doing, here's a Stooge movie. ... To play Curly, there's really no room for anything aside from the pure endeavor of bringing the man and what people love about him -- and for the three of us, what people love about the Stooges -- to life."