Back in early 1998 a pair of young actors named Shawn Hatosy and Amy Smart were in New England, working on a little film called "Outside Providence," a bittersweet coming-of-age story written by two brothers named Farrelly who had earned themselves a reputation as ignoble goofballs with their envelope-pushing pictures "Kingpin" and "Dumb and Dumber."
At that very moment, those same two brothers, Peter and Bobby, were making a movie themselves -- a movie that would once and for all cement their names as being synonymous with shockingly low-brow, laugh-'til-it hurts, numskull comedy. It was called "There's Something About Mary." Perhaps you've heard of it.
Flash forward 20 months and suddenly Hatosy and Smart find themselves in an the awkward position seeing their small and surprisingly subtle (considering the source) teenage stoner story being billed as the follow-up to the movie that opened the floodgates for extreme, crass and gut-busting comedy.
With that in mind, its young stars admit to being a little worried about "Providence" living up to movie-goer expectations.
"It's not slapstick," says Smart, a slender, polite 23-year-old with the air of a rebellious debutante. "It has a lot more heart."
"It has the Farrelly brother's signature," offers Hatosy, poised for the inevitable comparisons and pointing to the movie's one-eyed, three-legged dog and some brazenly un-PC handicap humor, "so that will get (the audience) in there...(and) hopefully they won't be bored!"
If it weren't for an ad campaign playing up the "Mary" connection, he might not be saying such things. But Hatosy admits the movie isn't an easy one to market anyway. "I don't think they know what to do with it," he says. "They (Miramax, the movie's distributor) really like it..."
"...But they just don't know how to categorize it," Smart chimes in.
Which really comes as no surprise. The life-lessons story of a row-housing Rhode Island screw-up (Hatosy) packed away to boarding school by his roughneck, blue-collar pop (Alec Baldwin) in 1974, "Outside Providence" is part Cheech and Chong, part bittersweet Nixon-era nostalgia from the Farrellys' own childhoods, and part stock boarding school comedy (for instance, Smart plays the unattainable girl from the right side of the tracks).
It's a balance co-writer/director Michael Corrente ("American Buffalo") was determined to get just right, even if it meant shooting a new ending after some thumbs-downing from test audiences. But the movie's stars play down that fact.
"It was just a little rough around the edges," says Smart, "and they just kinda had to polish it up."
"Which today in films isn't unique," adds Hatosy with just a hint of dissatisfaction with the process. "They do these screenings and they're just trying to please the audience. I don't think that's necessarily a good idea."
Although the sleepy-eyed Hatosy doesn't look much like a career-minded movie star today in his San Francisco hotel room -- he's wearing a baseball shirt that should probably be retired and a pair of tan corduroys he nicked from his "Providence" wardrobe while he and Smart hang around his smoky San Francisco hotel room -- he has a resume that affords him a little leeway to sniff about Hollywood catering to the lowest common denominator.
In the four years he's been working in features, he's had the privilege of cutting his teeth on two of the best independent films made in 1997 ("All Over Me" and "Niagara Niagara") and since then has had small roles in movies with cast lists that read like a who's who of the industry's respected elite.
Jodie Foster directed him in "Home For the Holidays," starring Holly Hunter. He's in director Wayne Wang's upcoming "Anywhere But Here" with Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman. He plays a young Nick Nolte in December's much-anticipated "Simpatico" (also starring Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges and Albert Finney).
Even when he signs on for something a little lighter, he seems to fall in with the A-list crowd, like Kevin Kline ("In & Out"), director Robert Rodriguez ("The Faculty"); and Alec Baldwin (in this film).
Is such a track record intentional? Even though he's not yet a name player, does he go out of his way to work with such luminaries?
"What interests me first in a project is the director, of course. Then the script," he insists. "But yeah, it's a big pull. If I know I'm going to be working with Nick Nolte, I'll do a small part. I don't care. I mean, how can you not learn from these guys?"
"I'm so jealous of you!" Smart interjects with a half-serious smile.
But while she may not yet have the catalog of highly-respected co-stars Hatosy boasts, Smart can counter with box office bragging rights. She's been in two very high-profile hits -- "Starship Troopers" and "Varsity Blues" (no, she wasn't the girl in the whipped cream) -- in her first few years in the biz.
But both actors say they were presented with a special challenge in "Outside Providence." Smart had the unspoken tall order of fulfilling pristine memories of perfect girlfriends from the Farrelly's and director's pasts. And Hatosy was in the position of essentially having to play Peter Farrelly as a teenage dunce.
"I would say that 95 percent of the movie is (autobiographical)," the actor says. "Peter got kicked out of like four prep schools."
"Outside Providence" is based on a novel Peter Farrelly published in 1988, which Hatosy read before starting the picture. But other than that, he says he didn't feel the need for much preparation in order to play a '70s stoner.
"You know," he says seriously. "the way kids were thinking in the '70s and the way kids are thinking in the '90s, I don't think they're too different. It's just different clothes and cars and politics."
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