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'Bruce Almighty's now-iconic teleprompter sequence was not in the original screenplay
"I do da cha-cha."
"My tiny little nipples went to France..."
The story of Bruce Almighty (now streaming on Peacock) begins over two decades ago at the turn of the millennium. Screenwriter Mark O'Keefe had just been fired from a spinoff of Friends when he and next-door neighbor Steve Koren (a fellow writer in film and television) decided to go out for some grub at one of LA's late-night eateries frequented by champions of the pen hoping to make it big in Hollywood.
"Mark was talking to me about transformation movies and we were batting around [ideas] like, ‘Man turns into a dog’ and ‘Man and God,'" Koren recalled during a Zoom interview with SYFY WIRE in late 2022. "I was like, ‘Yo, that's good,' and we started going back and forth on [that one] ... We started screwing around with this idea and came up with this story. There had been stuff done in the past, like, Oh, God!, but this was different. Like, why would God give his powers to a man?"
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O'Keefe and Koren began chipping away at the screenplay while the latter was still a writer for Saturday Night Live. "The real writing on this started [when] I was flying to New York and Steve was also flying to New York," O'Keefe revealed. "I talked about this idea that was just a little germ and we decided to write it together. The rest is history. So we broke it in his offices at NBC."
With that said, the original script the duo ended up selling on spec to director Tom Shadyac was very different from what finally made it onto the screen in May of 2003. The original piece was set against the backdrop of New York City and modeled, as Koren notes, after "the style of the Farrellys," because raunchy comedies (think There's Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene) were so hot at the time. "We had a lot more boob jokes in the beginning of the first draft," he confessed.
"[Bruce] was much more of an idiot," O'Keefe said of that early version, stating that they did "a profound rewrite" once Jim Carrey began circling the project. Bruce Nolan then went from a bumbling buffoon to "a car salesman" navigating a "competitive workplace dynamic."
They also moved the action from Manhattan to a smaller town, but things would shift yet again once Steve Oedekerk (a friend and colleague of Shadyac and Carrey) was brought in for another pass on the screenplay. Bruce then went from car salesman to Buffalo-based newscaster with a serious vendetta against his irksome workplace rival, Evan Baxter (an up and coming Steve Carell). "I think Jim wanted to be a reporter or something. Then it was him and Oedekerk, who brought that home, which was hilarious," O'Keefe said.
In one of the film's most iconic sequences, Bruce uses his divine powers to write his own teleprompter script and embarrass Evan on live TV. "All the stuff with Steve Carell was incredible," O'Keefe continued. "Our Steve Carell part was basically the manager of the car sales place. So the dynamic was there; he was getting the guy to say stuff just like on-air and was f***ing with him like that ... We had something analogous but again, they did it brilliantly ... I also think Steve Carell improvised some of that."
"You’ve gotta give those guys credit," echoed Koren.
Bruce Almighty is now streaming on Peacock.