Most people are not aware that the lovable ogre Shrek was originally voiced by SNL funnyman Chris Farley, but he sadly died before the animated film was completed. The dialogue for the 2001 DreamWorks movie was actually 80-90 percent complete before Farley passed away from a drug overdose on December 18, 1997 at just 33-years-old. The comedic actor was still working on the film just a week before his untimely death.
The plot for the movie was different for Farley’s version than the finished product.
Of course, back then, “Shrek” was supposed to have had a very different storyline. It wasn’t a movie about an ogre who just wanted to be left alone in his swamp. But — rather — it was about a teenage ogre who wasn’t all that eager to go into the family business. You see, young Shrek didn’t really want to frighten people. He longed to make friends, help people. This ogre actually dreamed of becoming a knight.
Once the grim reality set in that the movie’s main character would not be able to finish the film, there were talks of having a vocal impersonator brought in to record the remaining lines. However DreamWorks execs reportedly attempted to go for a huge star to replace Farley, and tried to recast the role with Nicholas Cage, Tom Cruise and Leonardo Dicaprio. They ended up hiring fellow Saturday Night Live cast member Mike Myers. Because the original character was written explicitly with Farley in mind, they decided to rewrite the script.
They even recast Fiona, who was originally Janeane Garafalo. They believed that Garafalo’s version of Fiona was too downbeat for the new version of the film. Garafalo’s abrasive, sarcastic comic persona would provide a perfect counterpoint to Chris Farley’s sweet, more naive Shrek. Instead they went with a cheerier Fiona, casting Cameron Diaz.
The setback cost DreamWorks $4-5 million in production costs, but in the end all of the changes would be worth it as the film raked in $484.4 million at the worldwide box office and won an Academy Award.
Audio of Farley as everyone’s favorite ogre has recently leaked online and it gives you a glimpse of what could have been. “Originally the Shrek character was a little bit more like Chris, like a humble, bumbling innocent guy,” Kevin Farley recently told Yahoo!.
The rare audio comes just in time as the I Am Chris Farley documentary is set to be released. Directors Brent Hodge and Derik Murray pay homage to the comedic actor’s triumphant to tragic career with hilarious, sorrowful and nostalgic footage, plus interviews with his A-list friends. I Am Chris Farley airs on August 10th on Spike.