Credit: Everett Collection; Inset: Glenn Harris/PR Photos

Image Credit: Everett Collection; Inset: Glenn Harris/PR PhotosRemember how Curly from The Three Stooges would get really frustrated, scrunch up his face, and start barking? That’s kind of how the Farrelly brothers feel after all the erroneous reporting about their long-gestating film based on the three classic knuckleheads.

The latest rumor — that they’ve cast Jackass star Johnny Knoxville as Moe and Saturday Night Live’s Andy Samberg as Larry — is untrue. And annoying. “You don’t want people to think ‘they already cast that thing,’ because we haven’t,” Peter Farrelly tells EW exclusively. “It’s wide open to everybody.”

Peter and his brother Bobby have been developing the project for nearly a decade, and for a while Sean Penn was interested in a role, along with Benicio Del Toro and Jim Carrey. “That was real. Sean Penn wanted to do it and when Sean wanted to do it, everyone wanted to do it. But he is extremely involved in Haiti right now,” Farrelly said. “We heard that if we waited a couple years, we could probably get him, but we’ve already waited a few years.”

Now the Fox project is aiming toward a mid-April start in Atlanta. Once Penn was out, Farrelly says, Carrey — who worked with the brothers on Dumb & Dumber and Me, Myself & Irene — also left the film. Farrelly says he likes Knoxville and Samberg, but they haven’t auditioned, and the Internet rumors that they’ve already landed the roles are false. “Right now, I don’t know. There is no leader in the clubhouse,” he says.

The Three Stooges movie they envision would be a fictional comedy — not a bio-pic of the original actors (if anyone still thought that). Instead, they intend to take the Moe, Larry and Curly personas and place them in a new story. “It’s The Three Stooges just like the [old shorts],” Farrelly says. “They’re going to look the same, dress the same, sound the same, act the same, with the same sound effects.”

The film will be structured in three acts, each a stand-alone story like the original episodes, but loosely connected. Most of it will be set in the present day, except for the first act, which begins 40 years ago. “A car whips by an orphanage, throws a duffel bag out its window and keeps going,” Farrelly says. “A nun sees the duffel and opens it up, and a little baby hand comes out and — Boink! — hits her in the eye. So that first episode is them growing up in the orphanage.”

The second act picks up with them as adults, in their early 40s, leaving the orphanage and heading out on the road together. After various misadventures, the trio splits up and the third act starts with them alone — and finding that all the slapping, eye-gouging, and head-bonking isn’t a useful way of dealing with the outside world.

“Suddenly, when Moe hits somebody he doesn’t know, that’s assault and battery,” Farrelly says, laughing.

Despite the brother-on-brother-on-brother violence, the Farrellys will aim for a PG rating by keeping the smacks and pokes “cartoony.” As for casting, they want actors who are willing to give themselves over to impressions of the numbskull characters created by Moe Howard, Curly Howard and Larry Fine.

“I don’t want ‘somebody’s version of Moe,’” Farrelly says. “It’s not like Batman where you can have your own take on Batman.”