It ain't easy being green. Just ask Connor Barwin, defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles. On the heels of their second losing season in a row, complete with two different starting quarterbacks and head coaches, it must be tough for the Philly football team to keep a positive outlook. Barwin, a driving force on and off the field, however, is the epitome of a morale booster. That is just one reason why he has signed onto a project called Super Mario Bros. XXXI (formerly known as Super Mario Bros. 30).
The project began as a nostalgic tribute to the classic video game, which marked it's 30th anniversary in 2015. It was initially set to run as an ad during Super Bowl 50 and would star A-list celebrities such as Channing Tatum, Matt Damon, and Amy Schumer, with Hollywood' s"hitmaker" Rob Schneider signing on for his directorial debut. But delays in production were quickly caused by Schneider's lack of vision and leadership. "They were all disappointed with my presence and I didn't know how to handle being the happiest guy on the set" confessed Schneider.
He decided to shelf the project and rethink his approach. "To be honest, I was rushing the process and I wasn't getting what I needed out of the cast," informed Schneider, "so I decided to clean house and start from scratch."
Schneider would spend the next few off-season months laboriously piecing together the perfect cast. "I was selling a product after all, and I knew the audience would have to buy into the performances if they were going to buy into the product." After attending a motivational dissertation featuring Connor Barwin, Rob had an epiphany and decided to cast only members of the NFL family. After convincing Barwin to help produce the project, the two set out to fill the bill.
"We had a few ideas for some of the supporting cast," recalls Barwin. "The first one to catch our eye was Jimmy Graham, who was a perfect fit for the role of the Goomba." Graham, a half-black-half-white TE for the Seahawks, had fortunately been looking for a way to bridge the gap between his nerdy black fanbase and his nerdy white fanbase. "It just seemed like a good career move," Graham noted. "Besides, Rob's a hero of mine. I loved him in that one movie he did with Adam Sandler. I forget which one, but it was pretty funny."
By the time preseason rolled around, production was picking up speed, and most of the cast had been set in stone. The role of Bowser had been filled by Cincinatti QB Andy Dalton. "Yea I guess it's my intensity on the field that really captures the essence of the character," says Dalton. According to Barwin, "It was mostly the red hair and angry eyebrows."
Additionally, play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough scored the part of Koopa Troopa. "I felt that it was a good opportunity for me to exhibit my goofy side," said McDonough, "Jon Gruden and the ESPN staff don't seem to get my sense of humor." Rob Schneider saw comic genius where nobody else possibly could. "Nobody thought I could pull off playing a dolphin or a hot chick, but sometimes you just have to trust your gut." declared Schneider. "Sean can literally hear what his gut has to say, and I admire that."
When it came to the role of Princess Peach, Schneider and Barwin were careful to cast the right person. "It had to be somebody who was not only beautiful, but somebody who could be a symbol for female empowerment," stated Barwin. "Clay Matthews was a no brainer."
Perhaps the most important characters to bring to life were the two eponymous ones, Mario and Luigi. "It's called Super Mario Bros., so obviously, we needed to get these ones right," Schneider recalls. They caught a break upon hearing news of the firing of 49ers' head coach Jim Tomsula. A jack-of-all-trades, Tomsula was their first choice to play the plumber-turned-hero. "He was above our pay grade," admitted Schneider, "but his schedule was suddenly wide open and I promised him the best Craft Services that Hollywood had to offer."
Soon after, Giants' QB Eli Manning accepted an offer for the part of Mario's younger, inferior, and less respected brother, Luigi. When asked about his method of preparation for the role, Eli replied, "Well, I'm pretty familiar with the character. Peyton never let me be Mario."
It was all coming together, but Rob Schneider and Connor Barwin were missing one vital piece of the puzzle. Who was going to play Yoshi, Mario's green dinosaur sidekick? "We thought long and hard about that one," Barwin recalls. "We auditioned dozens of players and coaches and we just couldn't seem to find the right fit." Then one day, while visiting Barwin at an Eagles practice, Schneider saw his producer for the first time wearing his green helmet. "There was something about the way that his helmet smushed his face forward," said Schnieder, wearing a sentimental smile. "It had to be him."
With Super Bowl LI just days away, fans of both football and video games wait patiently to experience what many anticipate to be the start of a new era in sports entertainment. "I have high hopes for my future in film production," explains Barwin. "Rob showed me that it's okay to take risks in life. I've spent my entire football career avoiding losing streaks. After meeting Rob, I'm finally starting to embrace 'The Schneid'."
Tatum, Damon, and Schumer were reached for comment. They denied any affiliation with the project.