Toronto: Peter Farrelly Reveals Why 'Green Book' Drama Almost Never Got Made

Green Book and Peter Farrelly_INSET - TIFF Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of TIFF; Jemal Countess/Getty

The movie's director told a TIFF presser that his screenwriter, Brian Currie, narrowly missed boarding flight 11, which crashed during the 9/11 attacks.

Green Book director Peter Farrelly on Wednesday revealed why his Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali-starring period drama nearly never got made.

"This film almost didn't happen, because Brian was supposed to be on flight 11 on 9/11, and he showed up at the airport in Boston and was late, and they didn't let him on the plane," Farrelly said of his screenwriter Brian Currie, who also appeared at a Toronto Film Festival press conference for the film from Participant Media and DreamWorks Pictures.

The veteran comedic director pointed to the irony of his serious drama playing to a TIFF audience on Tuesday night, on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

In Green Book, Mortensen plays an Italian-American bouncer hired to chauffeur a black classical pianist (Ali) on a concert tour through the deep south in the 1960s. On the road, they must rely on “The Green Book,” a guide book to the few hotels and restaurants that accept African-Americans.

Mortensen told the TIFF presser he was nervous about playing an Italian-American character from New York City, even though in real life he was born there. "I'm aware of the fact that there's some pretty good Italian-American actors out there, and there's some pretty good Italian-American portrayals, iconic really," he declared.

"But as soon as they saw me eat — sold!" Mortensen recalled of the casting process. For Ali, a key challenge came in learning the role of a classical pianist, down to his fingering and posture when seated at the instrument.

"Chopin is fairly difficult, and people go to Julliard to learn that. And in two months, I wasn't going to do that," Ali said. He received guidance on where to place his fingers on the keyboards, but Ali wanted his musical performances to be entirely believable.

"I just wanted to make sure musicians knew real music was being played," he said. That attention to detail wasn't lost on Farrelly. "I'd see him play and say, that's great, let's move on," the director recalled. But Ali, being a perfectionist, would ask for more takes, for example when he felt he hadn't been seated properly.

"I'd say, no one is looking at how you're sitting, but he was looking at how he was sitting. He was looking at things that even I wouldn't know to think about," Farrelly said.

The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 16.