CHRIS PIZZELLO, Invision/Associated Press
CHRIS PIZZELLO, Invision/Associated Press
LOS ANGELES – In the unlikely event that Seth MacFarlane comes looking to you for a job, it might be simpler to sort through his qualifications by asking what he can’t do, rather than what he can.
TV’s animation king with “Family Guy,” “American Dad!” and “The Cleveland Show,” MacFarlane adds to his renaissance man résumé as writer, director, producer and voice star of “Ted,” a raunchy but warmhearted tale of a grown man (Mark Wahlberg) and his best buddy, a talking teddy bear.
Leading up to his big-screen debut, the 38-year-old MacFarlane has been a TV hit-maker and animation voice star since his mid-20s, a career whose roots go back to when he started drawing at age 2. He’s done sold-out live musical comedy shows, which led to last year’s Grammy-nominated album “Music Is Better Than Words,” with MacFarlane crooning Sinatra-style orchestra standards.
He’s even a bit of a science nerd, growing up on Carl Sagan’s books and now overseeing “Cosmos: A Time-Space Odyssey,” a follow-up to the late astronomer’s documentary series about the nature of the universe.
So what can’t MacFarlane do?
“I’m a terrible tennis player – terrible, horrific,” MacFarlane said.
“I tend to like to try things that I haven’t done before, for better or worse. I go into new things not afraid to fail. I went into this project (“Ted”) with that in mind, I went into the album project with that attitude. I like things that scare me a little bit.”
Loaded with MacFarlane’s weird, irreverent humor, the potty-mouthed “Ted” has the ingredients of a sleeper hit amid the summer’s superhero flicks, action tales and animated family franchises.
The premise is clever and different, and Wahlberg and MacFarlane’s title character make for one of the freshest pairs ever in a party-boy buddy comedy. Ted’s a horny little hell-raiser, messing around with hookers, smoking pot, snorting coke and dropping F-bombs like confetti.
He’s basically the slacker roommate who won’t move out, mucking up the relationship between childhood pal John (Wahlberg) and his girlfriend (Mila Kunis, one of MacFarlane’s voice stars on “Family Guy”).
Rated R for its language, “Ted” allows MacFarlane to push beyond the limits of what he can do on network television while maintaining a twisted sweetness to the story. He likes to think of it as a family comedy for families whose parents don’t mind swearing around their kids.
“My parents were OK with me watching a lot of things when I was a kid because they were around to explain,” MacFarlane said. “They swore, and they were very clear about what was right and wrong, but they didn’t view bad language as the worst offense in the world. My mother would stub her toe and let loose a string of obscenities that you wouldn’t believe.”
MacFarlane’s parents hung on to his earliest artistic endeavors, copying recognizable imitations of Bugs Bunny and Fred Flintstone when he was 2. He jokes that he knew in the womb that he wanted to go into animation and entertainment, and he was drawing and performing in musical theater throughout childhood.
He studied animation at the Rhode Island School of Design before creating the “Family Guy” pilot for Fox in the late 1990s.
To pump up his performances for musical numbers on “Family Guy,” MacFarlane later trained with professional voice coaches. Kunis was floored at how well he sang the first time they were doing a number for “Family Guy.”
“I don’t think there is anything that he can’t do. I truly don’t. Of all the people that I know, he is one of the most-talented human beings, and not like, talented in the way that he’ll try anything. But he’ll try and succeed, he’s so good,” Kunis said.
Along with voicing Ted, MacFarlane provided the basis for the bear’s movements through motion-capture, his gestures and body language recorded digitally as a foundation that was layered over by computer animation to present a lifelike talking creature.
MacFarlane acted out Ted’s dialogue off-camera for his stars while he was directing the film.
“I’d actually love to see him in front of the camera, as well,” Wahlberg said. “He’s a really funny guy and an amazing actor. I was kind of surprised and jealous on a daily basis at what he is capable of doing and how good he does it.”
A fan of “talking creatures that have no business talking,” such as the cows in Gary Larson’s “Far Side” comics, MacFarlane originally conceived of “Ted” as an animated TV series.
As digital cameras and animation expanded the possibilities for film, MacFarlane decided to try it on the big-screen in a live-action movie instead.
“I had seen a lot of use of that technology in action movies and adventure movies but never in a comedy,” MacFarlane said, “and I wanted hopefully to break some new ground.”
And add a few more things to the list of things he knows how to do.