'Shrek' at 20: How Chris Farley's death forced filmmakers to cast Mike Myers as green ogre

Chris Farley was the original voice of Shrek
Chris Farley was the original voice of Shrek

Aside from an unbilled cameo in the Norm Macdonald vehicle Dirty Work, Chris Farley’s last movie credit is the Western comedy Almost Heroes (1998) with Matthew Perry. But he technically had one more movie in the can at the time of his death — and it would become one of the biggest animated films of all time.

Farley was originally cast as the titular green ogre in the 2001 blockbuster Shrek, which arrived in theaters 20 years ago on May 18, 2001.

As Chris’s brother Kevin Farley told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2015 interview, the Saturday Night Live and Tommy Boy star had recorded nearly all of Shrek’s dialogue before he died of a drug overdose in 1997. And Farley’s version of the character would have been markedly different from the one we all know, ultimately voiced by his SNL costar Mike Myers, who gave the character a distinct Scottish brogue.

“Originally the Shrek character was a little bit more like Chris, like a humble, bumbling innocent guy,” said Kevin.

At the time of our interview, Kevin Farley told us he had never gotten to hear the audio Chris taped for Shrek, which remained locked in the DreamWorks vaults.

However, just days after our interview with Kevin in 2015, footage of Chris voicing the character appeared on YouTube. (As we noted at the time, the leak likely came via a development producer on Shrek.)

Farley is heard voicing Shrek in a storyboard scene opposite Eddie Murphy, who memorably played Donkey.

“I understand why [they replaced him],” Kevin said when asked it if was disappointing for the Farley family when they couldn’t salvage Chris’s original recordings. “They probably wanted to make Shrek 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so…”

That especially became true after the fairy-tale-skewering Shrek became an instant mega-hit for DreamWorks. The film earned $42 million in its opening weekend on its way to $267 million in the U.S. and $484 million worldwide. It also became the inaugural winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature category. That success led to the sequels Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010), as well as the 2011 spin-off Puss in Boots and several TV specials and shorts.

“The studio needed to do what they needed to do. It was a bad time, bad timing … a tragedy,” Kevin told us. “Mike did a great job with Shrek. He knocked it out of the park.”

Stream Shrek on Amazon.

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