As Americans await this week’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages, gay-rights supporters have an unlikely ally out of Hollywood: the foul-mouthed, coke-snorting, decidedly un-PC talking teddy bear of Ted 2.
Power A-lister Mark Wahlberg reunites with writer-director Seth MacFarlane for a sequel to their surprise 2012 bromantic comedy Ted, Universal Pictures’ $549 million hit about Boston everyman John Bennett’s BFFship with his magically sentient childhood toy.
“I wasn’t going to make another one unless we could make it different, and make it better than the first,” Wahlberg told The Daily Beast via phone one recent afternoon, headed to the Louisiana set of the true tragedy drama Deepwater Horizon. “When he finally pitched me that idea I was like, now we’re onto something.”
“That” idea is a doozy for an R-rated studio comedy. This time around, Ted the abrasive teddy bear ditches the hookers and blow to marry his human girlfriend, Tami-Lynn. After a disastrous attempt at conceiving via sperm donor—Ted is made of stuffing, not flesh, after all—the couple try to adopt only to be told that the federal government does not recognize Ted as a person, or their union as legal.
With his life, family, and identity on the line, Ted turns to a bong-ripping lawyer (Amanda Seyfried) to fight The Man and take his cause all the way to the Supreme Court.
Call it Mr. Ted Goes To Washington. Ted 2 delivers an unexpected and unexpectedly unsubtle civics lesson on American civil rights battles from the slave era to the present hidden beneath its bro-baiting R-rated semen gags, weed sessions, and nerd-niche Comic-Con references.
The idea struck MacFarlane while the Family Guy creator was making his 2014 Western A Million Ways to Die In The West and found inspiration in the Dred Scott case. Wahlberg, one of Hollywood’s most vocal celebrity Catholics, welcomes the controversy the film might stir even as he predicts it might not register with some moviegoers in Ted 2’s young male demographic.
“Some will and obviously some won’t, and it’ll go right over their heads, but the fact that it’s there for the more aware and more conscious viewer makes it great,” said Wahlberg, cautiously deflecting any deeper political agenda to MacFarlane.
“I’m not trying to offend anybody,” he said. “We’re bringing up these issues but at the same time trying to make a movie that’s entertaining, with people leaving the theater feeling happy but also a little bit more aware that not everybody is being treated equally, and that’s not right.”
That’s not to say Ted 2 isn’t as deliberately offensive and vulgar as its predecessor, or that exploiting gay panic for laughs and letting its teddy bear protagonist, voiced by MacFarlane, drop the F-word—because that would certainly invite outrage coming out of a human character’s mouth. A shot at the transgender community (“There are no chicks with dicks, Johnny, only guys with tits”) drew fire when it was revealed in the Ted 2 trailer and remains in the film, but it remains to be seen if audiences will embrace Ted 2 as progressively subversive or aggressively insensitive.
The Oscar-nominated Wahlberg mostly leaves the offending to Ted, but submits himself to a few cringe-inducingly vulnerable situations himself. In one scene, the stoic thespian endures a slippery situation in a sperm donation clinic he admits he thought twice about.
“I read the script, and I was laughing hysterically at that scene and continued to flip to the next page and the next and the next,” Wahlberg recalled. “Then I froze, like, ‘Oh, shit, this is going to happen to me.’ I thought, ‘Well, it could be worse.’ I don’t know too many ways to make it worse, but it could be worse. The only thing I could think of was in Slumdog Millionaire, when those guys jump into the poo, or in Headhunters when the guy’s hiding in the outhouse and has to use a toilet paper roll to get oxygen. But it was just such a funny moment, I thought, ‘Okay, I can let go of my own insecurities and just go with it.’”
Another memorable Ted 2 scene was made possible when the Boston native pulled a few strings to get New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the film, right before the start of his Super Bowl-winning 2014 season run.
Ask Wahlberg about his pal Brady and his Pats passion takes over. “The first great thing to happen to the Patriots was Bob Kraft buying the team. The second greatest thing to happen to the Patriots was Bill Belichick coming to coach. And the third and finally the most important piece of the puzzle was Tom Brady coming in for a hurt Drew Bledsoe and becoming the starting quarterback,” Wahlberg declared.
It was Wahlberg who was tasked with explaining a subplot in which Ted and John plot to break into the NFLer’s house to steal his sperm.
“Seth had written the scene and felt the best way to approach him would be through me, because we have a great friendship,” said Wahlberg. “So I called him, and after he stopped laughing hysterically for I don’t know how long he said, ‘Of course, I’d love to.’”
Brady’s scenes were filmed “before he went on to win the Super Bowl and claim his spot at the top as the greatest quarterback of all time,” Wahlberg said, with a laugh. “I gotta slip that in every chance I get.”
Universal execs dated Ted 2 for a June 26 release, opening near the same Fourth of July frame that turned the first raunch-fest into a surprise No. 1 hit. The film also comes just three weeks after the Wahlberg-produced Entourage movie bombed, falling far short of box office expectations and tanking with critics. A two-film hit summer wasn’t in the cards for the actor-producer.
“I was a little bit surprised at the backlash,” admitted Wahlberg, who also cameos alongside Brady and dozens of celebs in the movie adapted from the HBO series based on his own life. “But you know what happened? We were a critical darling and a little guilty pleasure, and all of a sudden when it became hugely popular, people began to turn on it—people in the media.”
“But we made it for fans of the show, and for a movie to get that bad of a review and still get an A- CinemaScore tells you something. There’s a lot of hate out there. We were hoping to capture a whole new slew of fans we could introduce the show and the guys to, but, you know, you take a shot. We took a shot. I had enough people coming up to me saying the show ended too soon and that they wanted more, and I was able to give them what they were asking for.”
After starring in last year’s blockbuster fourquel Transformers: Age of Extinction, Wahlberg says his future with the robot megafranchise is uncertain: “I’d be hard pressed to do it without [Michael] Bay, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, the father of four and exec producer of The Rock’s new HBO series Ballers reunites this Christmas with his The Other Guys co-star Will Ferrell in family comedy Daddy’s Home and is currently working with his Lone Survivor director Peter Berg on Deepwater Horizon, about “the people who risked their lives to provide the oil that we use in our daily life.”
He’s also cooking up a film about the Boston Marathon bombing, although “we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to get that movie made. But my reasoning for wanting to be a part of it is to show how strong, how resilient people can be. Like Lone Survivor, we’re paying tribute to the people who are affected by these horrible tragedies.”