On the heels of announcing that he would make three films out of J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic fantasy novel The Hobbit, Peter Jackson revealed today that his upcoming Jack Sprat series had been stretched to four movies.
“I mean, we always wanted to do it as much justice as we could, you know? Really capture all the nuances and subtext,” Jackson said in an exclusive phone interview. “But originally we could only get the budget for three films. I’m happy to say we convinced the investors to back a fourth.”
The Jack Sprat series, based on the classic nursery rhyme of the same name, will follow a man and his wife – and their hilariously cross-purposed diets – through a fast-paced gastronomic adventure. Zac Efron and Melissa McCarthy are slated to star. Jackson will executive-produce the series and direct the first film, Jack Sprat: Eat No Fat, which is being penned by Night at the Museum screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant.
“You see, the original plan was to cram it all into three films of maybe about two and a half, three hours each,” said Jackson. “The first film would follow Jack through his college days and really show us who he is, you know, and why he just refused to eat anything that had fat in it. That’s a big problem, of course, because of his dad.”
“It’s kind of breaking free of his father, right?” added Efron. “It’s showing he doesn’t want to live a life like Senior’s, that he’s defining his own path and being who he chooses to be. It’s totally different than anything I’ve done before as an actor.”
John Sprat Sr., to be portrayed by Will Ferrell, is conceived in Eat No Fat as a major barbecue enthusiast who loves lots of marble in his steaks and forces his son to conform to his dietary preferences. Ferrell, who refused to be interviewed for this piece, has said in the past that he sees Senior as “a very Bush-like figure” and believed the film, with its anti-fat message, would be a good influence on family diets.
Asked why a nursery rhyme needed a four-film screen adaptation, Jackson stuck to his creative vision. “It just wouldn’t work with three. The first film has to be about Jack, and the second about his wife Doris. But then the third film, we were just trying to do too much. Having a fourth film lets us show these two characters together, fighting and eventually bonding at the end. ‘Between the two of them,’ the rhyme says, and that’s what we’re gonna show in number three. So then in the fourth film, we’re just gonna cut loose with an orgy of eating.”
Though McCarthy has only a small part in the first film, she is looking forward to her expanded role in the second. “It’s gonna be a showcase, I think,” she said. “Just a really meaty role that I can sink my teeth into. Doris will be the core of the whole series, you know, because she’s going to be the person who shows the audience why someone would fall in love with this skinny geeky Jack.”
Jackson dismissed Internet criticism that the real reason for the expansion of the franchise was to get another admission ticket out of committed fans. “Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous,” he said from atop his favorite armchair over-stuffed with hundred dollar bills. “It’s necessary for the integrity of the franchise, just like three films are necessary to bring The Hobbit to the screen. And I don’t know why anyone would accuse me of that anyway. I mean, it’s not like there were multiple DVD releases of the Lord of the Rings films or anything.”
With the expansion of the Jack Sprat series into four films, Jackson’s next project – a series of films based on the letters of the English alphabet – has been pushed back. But he is still very committed to pursuing it, calling it “an epic on a grand scale. It was just gonna be twenty-six films at the beginning, you know? But some of those letters are really important. And then there’s all the common symbols. You could do three films just on the ellipse.”
Jack Sprat: Eat No Fat is slated to hit theaters worldwide in fall 2013.