Green Book director Peter Farrelly didn’t watch the Golden Globe nominations on Thursday morning. “I didn’t want to jinx it by watching it,” he says. “It’s like if I bet on a football game, I try not to watch the game, because if I do that, good things don’t happen.”
Looks like the strategy worked. Green Book, his first drama and his first film to be nominated for a Golden Globe, landed five nominations, which have only further catapulted the film into serious awards contention. But despite being well-received by some critics, the film has experienced backlash from others, who found the story — about an Italian-American driver (Mortensen) developing a friendship with a black concert pianist (Ali) while touring the Deep South in 1962 — to be an example of the “white savior” trope that furthers racial stereotypes.
In response, Farelly says that he, along with Mortensen and Ali, went into production aiming not to portray the cliche, but he’s “glad” the film has inspired such a discussion. Below, Farrelly delves deeper into the criticism and the film’s Golden Globes nods.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Five nominations in total. How are you planning on celebrating?
PETER FARRELLY: Well I have to work tomorrow, so I’m probably going to lay low tonight, but tomorrow night I’m going to get hammered. [Laughs]
After a long career making comedies like There’s Something About Mary, you decided to make this, your first drama. Did you ever think it would enter the awards race?
No, that’s not something that occurred to me while we were making it fun. When we started showing it around, I started realizing, “Oh, this is that kind of movie.” Toronto [International Film Festival] was the turning point. It wasn’t just winning [the People’s Choice Award], it was the feeling of playing it there in front of 1,500 rabid film fans — to see the reaction, it brought us to tears. That’s where we realized we had something real special.
How does it feel, personally, to be nominated for Best Director for the first time after so many years handling comedies?
It feels really, really good. When I looked at the group of directors I’m with… that’s quite a line up. It’s just nice to be included with them, particularly Spike [Lee]. Spike is a national treasure. To be on a list with him makes me really happy.
Now, the film has been getting criticized for telling a white savior narrative. What’s your response to that? Did you ever talk about that with Viggo and Mahershala on set?
Yeah, we were quite aware of that trope before we ever started shooting. We had long discussions with Mahershala and Viggo, and with [executive producer] Octavia [Spencer] and Kwame Parker, my line producer. We wanted to avoid it, and personally, I think we did. I don’t think we fall into any of those tropes. It’s about two guys who were complete opposites and found a common ground, and it’s not one guy saving the other. It’s both saving each other and pulling each other into some place where they could bond and form a lifetime friendship.
I hear about [all the criticism], but I also hear, you know, nine out of 10 of the stories I’m hearing are just positive. I’m glad, though, that there’s discussion about race. I like that there’s discussion about all this. I think anytime there is, it’s a good thing. People have their opinions about it, but my goal in making the movie was bringing people together, and that’s it.
Anything else you want to add?
I’m so happy [about the nominations] because honestly, people know about this movie in New York, L.A., and Chicago, but I want Mrs. Cornbluth and Duluth to find out about it… To tell you the truth, the main thing about all these awards for me is that it’s getting the word out to Middle America. This movie’s for Middle America.