Go Balls Deep: The Oral History of ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’

Rawson Marshall Thurber has held on to a pet theory for a while.

“When you say ‘dodgeball’ to someone, they either break into a smile or break into a sweat,” the filmmaker says.

As a kid, Thurber mostly smiled. The first time he played was in physical education class at Orinda Intermediate School, just outside his native San Francisco. There, he chucked red rubber balls across the gymnasium, ducked opposing lines of fire, and occasionally hit friends in the head or in the groin. The rainy-day activity often felt like teacher-sanctioned warfare, but it catered to Thurber’s developing athletic gifts and emerging sense of humor. “I loved dodgeball,” Thurber says. “Always, always loved it.”

The self-proclaimed “sports dork and comedy nerd” grew up playing baseball and football and memorized a string of classic ’70s and ’80s movies that featured one or both of his passions: Hoosiers, Rudy, Wildcats, Major League, and his all-time favorite, Bull Durham. Upon enrolling at USC’s film school in the late 1990s, he aimed to channel those sensibilities into a screenplay but was hesitant to try his hand at a genre he adored. “If I wrote a bad comedy, I think that would have really shaken me to my foundations,” he says.

Two years after graduating from the Peter Stark Producing Program, he finally worked up the courage to give it a shot. While living in his East Hollywood duplex, the young writer revisited the visceral memories of his childhood and fleshed out an absurd idea: adults playing dodgeball. “It just made me laugh in a really silly way,” he says. Thurber knew that the American sports landscape—filled with improbable stories, hypercompetitive athletes, and excitable commentators—was ripe for satire. But he was just as eager to highlight his own bent and slapstick humor. “I thought that no one could ever take this movie seriously,” Thurber says. “It would just allow me to do strange jokes and be weird in a fun way.”

Numerous rewrites and rejections later, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was born. Released 20 years ago today, the comedy follows a group of underachieving misfits who enter a dodgeball tournament to save their local gym from being taken over by a neighboring health and fitness chain. True to its extended title, the movie embraces and sends up its underdog clichés, pitting the weak-armed timidness of Average Joe’s (led by the complacent Peter LaFleur, played by Vince Vaughn) against the crotch-pumping vulgarity of Globo Gym (captained by Ben Stiller’s White Goodman). In the process, Dodgeball resurrected an obscure recreational sport, inspired new vocabulary (a “two-on-one switcheroo,” for starters), and rode its pair of comedic tour de forces to improbable box office success.

“Rawson writes a script for the first time, gets two major movie stars, a studio to sign on, accomplishes it with a small budget, and makes a huge amount of money,” says executive producer Mary McLaglen. “I mean, is there a greater story than that?”

Maybe not in retrospect. But getting Dodgeball to become one of the most rewatchable sports comedies of all time was never going to be a smooth process. After all, “it wasn’t like everybody was clamoring for a dodgeball movie,” says Stiller, whose production company, Red Hour, shepherded the project from beginning to end. Below is the story of how a resilient filmmaker and a committed cast and crew introduced audiences to the five Ds of dodgeball, rubber burns, flying wrenches, strategic forfeits, and a crucial thumbs-up from Chuck Norris.

Part 1: “Some People Think It’s Funny. Other People Don’t.”

In April of 2001, Thurber started writing a 154-page first draft of Dodgeball called Underdogs while working as an assistant to screenwriter John August. Later that year, after editing the story and finding an agent, Thurber began his bid to sell the spec script.

Rawson Marshall Thurber (writer, director): This is back when specs could sell. At the time, I bought 20 red rubber balls, hand stenciled “Underdogs” on each one, and sent them out around town with the script. I’d drive my crappy Toyota Corolla to the Big Five studios, and they’d go, “We love the script. It’s so funny. Let me tell you why it’s never going to get made …” And also: “We don’t validate [parking].” It would cost me like eight bucks every time I was told “No.” I just got very frustrated about being told no in the same way over and over.

I had written the villain role for Ben Stiller, and I’d written the hero role for Vince Vaughn. Swingers changed my life, and The Ben Stiller Show was my all-time favorite sketch show. My agent’s like, “If you want Ben to play it, send it to his company, Red Hour.” So we sent it there, and the receptionist gave it to their junior executive Rhoades Rader.

Rhoades Rader (executive producer): I had been working with Ben and Stuart Cornfeld [a Dodgeball producer who passed away in 2020] for almost four years, around the time Ben was really beginning to blow up. The script was one of the first flags that I planted and said, “This is genius; we need to do it.” It had some really clear meta-comedy and really in-your-face dumb comedy, but there were some elements that weren’t [fleshed out].

Ben Stiller (producer, White Goodman): We had an office in Beverly Hills, and you would get an actual script. It wasn’t emailed or texted. I remember Stuart saying, “This script is pretty funny. It’s about dodgeball.” It was following all these sports movies tropes, yet it had such a clear voice to it.

Thurber: They’re like, “OK, we want to meet this guy.” I was so beaten down by being previously told no that I launched into this kind of frothy jeremiad with them: “Nobody understands!” It was a little bit unhinged. I remember Stuart going, “We really like it, and we want to make it.” And I was just like, “Oh, can I start again?”

Rader: The rules of dodgeball weren’t really in the script, and if you’re going to have a tournament, there need to be rules. So we went and got friends together and played dodgeball at the YMCA in Hollywood for months, kind of inventing the rules.

Thurber: We also played at an abandoned tennis court in Runyon Canyon. It’s amazing how [dodgeball] all comes back to you. You remember how much fun it is.

Stiller: I think the development process was a learning curve for [Rawson].

Rader: When I first got the script, my feedback [to Rawson] was like, “How married are you to directing this thing?” Rawson didn’t have a lot of tape at that time. I remember saying, “We need some stuff that shows your visual command of comedy.”

The request came at a good time. Thurber had recently written and directed a short film called Terry Tate Office Linebacker, a mockumentary about a football player enforcing rules in a modern office.

Thurber: The short film was making the rounds in town, back when there were VHSs. You’re like handing tapes out and stuff. It was critical because it proved that I could do physical comedy, knew where to put the camera, and could direct a little bit. I think it was easier for people to make a connection between the short I’d made and a feature film of adults hitting each other with balls.

Rader: It was easier for me to get all of Red Hour on board. I remember Ben being more confident in backing the whole project once we had Terry Tate.

Thurber: Red Hour had just made a first-look deal at DreamWorks. Underdogs was the first script they sent in under that new deal. They agreed to option it for the WGA minimum, which at the time was basically like a chicken sandwich. Then I spent the next 18 months rewriting and rewriting from Ben and Stuart’s notes. The script kept getting better.

Rader: Ben wasn’t on board to star in it until the script got cracked a little further. He was like, “Can I play the villain?” He asked permission, which was a dream come true for everyone involved.

Thurber: Rhoades called me outside the Vista Theater in Los Feliz. I was like, “Oh my God.”

Stiller: Part of it was “This is my opportunity to do a sports movie” and to really dive into it, knowing it’s silly and ridiculous.

Rader: We were working with [filmmaker] Todd Phillips quite a lot at that time. Todd was like, “You know who would be great for this? Vince Vaughn. He’s killing it in my movie Old School right now.” We asked Rawson, “Hey, what do you think about Vince?”

Thurber: It’s who I wrote it for!

Vince Vaughn (Peter LaFleur): I remember reading the script and thinking, “Wow, this is really well done.” What I really liked about it was it was treated like Chariots of Fire or any sort of legitimate sports movie. Except it was a sport that was played by kids in school. That initially was funny to me. I liked that it had this underdog Bad News Bears DNA of a bunch of forgotten folks that come together, with dodgeball being a vehicle into self-discovery or growth.

Thurber: It went up the ladder at DreamWorks to [cohead of motion pictures division] Laurie MacDonald, but the response from them was “We don’t make dodgeball movies at DreamWorks. We make Academy Award–winning movies at DreamWorks.”

Stiller: DreamWorks didn’t want to do it. It [became] this sort of “little engine that could” movie.

Rader: We got rejected by a lot of places when we first went out. Sony was really interested in making it as, like, a $3 million nonunion movie if Rawson would step aside and let somebody else direct it. Their people were like, “Well, can you just change the sport to soccer?”

Thurber: One thing about comedy is it’s so subjective. Some people think it’s funny. Other people don’t.

Despite getting Terry Tate into the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, Thurber pulled it from competition when Reebok offered to expand it into a six-episode branded series. Eventually, Reebok instead produced Terry Tate as a two-part commercial that aired during Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. That year, in a Wall Street Journal poll, it was voted the most popular Super Bowl ad. With Thurber a hotter name, Red Hour made its next play at 20th Century Fox.

Debbie Liebling (Fox executive in charge of production): I’d known Ben since I worked at MTV in the ’80s. We were friends way back. They gave me the script and I was like, “OK, this is fucking hilarious.”

Thurber: She had just come over from Comedy Central, where she developed South Park and discovered Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Liebling: I had been recently hired to prove to Fox that I could navigate their comedy business. I had read all the comedies that were in development at Fox and honestly didn’t really care for any of them. I said, “This is the one I’m gonna lay down on the road for.”

Thurber: There was sort of a litmus test in the script. If you understood why Steve the Pirate is funny, then you would understand why the movie would be funny. I walk into Debbie’s office, and she hugs the script to her chest. The first thing she says is “I love Steve the Pirate.” I was like, “I have found my home.” Debbie totally got it.

Rader: The [higher-ups] wanted to be in business with Ben, but they were like, “This is like BASEketball.” We’re like, “Well, this isn’t a fake sport—everyone in America remembers dodgeball. It’s a different thing.”

Liebling: My whole job at Comedy Central was to push the envelope. I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing, but people didn’t understand it when they read it. I remember saying, “How many movies have you offered Ben Stiller this year that he passed on? Well, here’s one that he wants to do …”

Thurber: She had to make a case for why this corporation should invest in a very silly, dumb movie.

Liebling: There was definitely some pushback. Vince was not a slam dunk to be in the movie.

Thurber: At one point, [Fox chairman] Tom Rothman suggested Ashton Kutcher for Peter LaFleur. With all due respect, I wanted somebody who was a little older. You need for that character somebody who’s had a chance to fail, as opposed to someone who’s on the come-up.

Vaughn: I had done mainly dramas after Swingers. I had sort of avoided larger studio films, and I just didn’t get any comedies sent to me that I was thrilled about. I was sort of known for Return to Paradise or Clay Pigeons. There was support from the creators, who felt I could be comedic, obviously, after Swingers.

Liebling: Vince came to my office, and I forced Tom to meet him. We all wanted him to do it. The timing of Old School [February 2003] helped a lot. I think people just forgot how funny he is.

Rader: Todd had hired him on Old School and put him right into Starsky & Hutch. The comedy intelligentsia knew that, but the studios are more conservative.

Liebling: I think all of us on the creative side—Stuart, Rawson, Ben, Vince, myself—were pretty confident in what it could be. I had a lot of campaigning to do internally. I just knew it was gonna be funny. I just knew it in my bones.

Part 2: “It Was Like a Rounding Error for Them”

Even with Stiller and Vaughn on board, Fox hadn’t committed to bankrolling Thurber’s debut. In an effort to convince the studio’s higher-ups, Liebling organized a table read, which involved bringing in a variety of future cast members and comedians so that execs could hear the comedy out loud.

Liebling: I kept saying we needed to do a table read for Tom, [Fox president of production] Hutch Parker, and the marketing people because some people really have a hard time reading it.

Thurber: Sometimes you call in favors: “Hey, come read.” Usually people will do it because it’s an audition, in some senses. You’re not green-lit yet, so you can’t really pay anybody. They call it soft prep. You’re doing a little bit of casting, you’re budgeting, and that table read really puts it on its feet.

Liebling: There’s so many ways to make people laugh—a person’s expression, how loud they say it, how soft they say it, how long they wait to say it. All those things have an impact.

Christine Taylor (Kate Veatch): It was Vince, Ben, myself, Justin Long—he was so good.

Justin Long (Justin Redman): It was so exciting I couldn’t believe it.

Gary Cole (Cotton McKnight): My agents over the years were pretty good about finagling me into some good projects at the table. I read the Patches O’Houlihan part, and then eventually I wound up reading Cotton.

Thurber: We had about 80 percent of our eventual cast.

Christine Taylor: Patton Oswalt read the stage directions, and he just was so funny. He felt like a character in the movie. I think that’s why he ends up voicing multiple parts in the film.

Patton Oswalt (uncredited voices): I’d been friends with Ben for years and had done [script] punch-ups on some of his other films. I’d been to so many other table reads where people would do the stage directions like, “interior, warehouse, day.” I was just trying to liven it up a little bit. “OK, we’re in a warehouse and BAM.”

Stiller: I remember the read-through being really, really fun and feeling like, “OK, this thing feels like it works.”

Thurber: I’d never been to a table read before. That’s how green I was. We start reading the script, and people are laughing. Hutch Parker was at the far end turning red laughing. I didn’t know that this was unusual; I just thought everyone was being polite. I remember somebody said, “That’s one of the best table reads I’ve ever been to.”

Oswalt: It was a very infectious table read. I just remember thinking, “Wow, if it’s killing like this at the table, it’s gonna be amazing to see what it does on the screen.”

Liebling: There’s always that possibility that it doesn’t land and that [the studio] doesn’t wanna spend the money. But it sealed the deal.

Thurber: Had that been a clunker, I think the movie doesn’t get made.

Liebling: Somehow, I succeeded, and they decided to make the movie for a pretty low budget. That was a big, big part of getting it to go. They were making Master and Commander and Fantastic Four, and Dodgeball ended up being a bargain.

Thurber: It was like a rounding error for them.

With the official green light, the production began an extensive search to fill out the remainder of the cast.

Thurber: We saw a ton of people.

Missi Pyle (Fran Stalinovskovichdavidovitchsky): When I first got the script, Fran was supposed to be a robot and have a really hot, sexy body—and then you see her face. I put on my biggest push-up bra and squeezed my boobs together. I put on some really nice lipstick, drew in a big unibrow, put braids on the top of my head, and tried to look as creepy as possible. I was really happy I didn’t have to valet park or share an elevator with people. I did a vaguely European accent. I’ve always felt way more comfortable playing outside of normal.

Thurber: Jason [Bateman] came in and read a deleted scene called the Cardio Cowboy class. It was the funniest. Then he read for Pepper Brooks. I wanted him in the whole movie.

Brian Taylor (production assistant, Christine’s brother): Patches O’Houlihan was gonna be Brian Cox for a while.

Thurber: We met with Roy Scheider for it. We met with Bruce Dern for it, but Rip [Torn] was great. He was a handful, especially for a first-time [director].

Chris Williams (Dwight Baumgarten): I was the designated reader for the Dwight role. They had me come back to audition other people opposite the Owen role. I read with Joel [David Moore], Rainn Wilson, and Jason Segel.

Joel David Moore (Owen Dittman): I was doing my test with Vince Vaughn. One of the execs was like, “Vince loves to kind of riff.” I’m just sweating. We start going through the scene, and Vince is like, “Hey, what are you looking for?” And I was like, “Oh, I was just looking for a … way out.” And he died. Ben starts laughing from the crowd. I felt pretty good walking out of there.

Thurber: Steve Carell read for Gordon and was deadly funny, but there was a sweetness to Stephen Root that I really wanted for Gordon, who gets henpecked and berated by his wife. There’s the turn at that critical moment where he becomes angry for the first time, and I just liked the idea of this sweet optimist becoming that thing.

Stephen Root (Gordon Pibb): I had played Milton [Waddams in Office Space] and a bunch of other bent characters at that point, so I wasn’t completely sold that I could do this without becoming typecast. But when I asked if I could do a tribute to Rick Moranis, they said yes, and that’s what I did.

Thurber: Nick Offerman came in to read for Steve the Pirate. But there was something behind Alan Tudyk’s eyes where I just believed that he believed it. It couldn’t be somebody playing dress-up.

Liebling: I had a big board in my office moving all the faces around trying to get everybody approved, and I remember being told that nobody was good-looking enough. I was like, “Have you seen Stripes?” These don’t have to be beautiful people. They largely were not, except for Christine.

Christine Taylor: Even having done Zoolander, I think Dodgeball was the film that had people starting to think, “Oh, she only does movies with her husband [Stiller].” I had no reservations whatsoever when it came to this.

Williams: They kept auditioning me. Almost everybody was cast—and then I got a book from Rawson, and it said, “Welcome to the club.”

Long: I think the studio wanted someone younger. I was, like, 23, and the character was a 15-year-old kid. I was being offered another movie, and I called Rawson and he said, “I can’t tell you not to do that, but I’m fighting for you.” He wrote that part with me in mind and encouraged me to roll the dice and turn this other movie down.

Mary McLaglen (executive producer): After everybody loves the initial script and it gets the green light, gets cast, it’s quite common to bring in other writers to do the punch-up.

Oswalt: A punch-up room is to hear the script out loud one more time. Are there dead spots? Are there little places we can liven up with jokes? Can we trim dialogue?

Thurber: People I worshipped were shredding my script in front of me and saying it didn’t make sense—that Average Joe’s should be a doughnut shop. It spun me out.

Rader: I think Rawson was just new to the idea.

Thurber: I left the meeting and I was driving home in a daze, like maybe I’d written the worst screenplay of all time. Then I had dinner with Vince at Lucy’s El Adobe that night. He put his hand on my shoulder, and he’s like, “Rawson, you wrote a great script. I love it. Ben loves it. We’re gonna go make a great movie. Fuck everybody else.” At that point, I was like, “Let’s go.”

Part 3: “We Were Literally Sweating Our Balls Off”

Before production started, the cast convened on a Hollywood soundstage, where stunt coordinator Alex Daniels put together a two-week dodgeball boot camp to get everyone into proper playing shape.

Vaughn: It was a little bit like: “Let’s play dodgeball so that when you get to set for the first time, you’ve tried to catch or throw a ball.”

Alex Daniels (stunt coordinator): We did a bunch of exercises based on “duck” and “dodge,” running up to a mark and dodging a ball that’s thrown at you. There were a lot of quick skills involved that they could apply.

Thurber: The rules of dodgeball were all taken from my PE class.

Root: None of us were in super athletic shape.

Moore: We did rigorous training. It was no joke. There were people that were hurt, there were ankles that were twisted.

Williams: We were literally sweating our balls off.

Long: They said, “Make sure you stretch.” I was like, “That’s for the older guys, that’s for Stephen. I don’t have to stretch.” It’s dodgeball, you know? I went like gangbusters, and the next day I woke up and I could hardly get out of bed. I was walking like Frankenstein. The second day was brutal. I showed up to set, and I had to sit on the bench. It was really humiliating.

Christine Taylor: I just remember saying, “Everybody’s got to take it easy, I just had a baby.” And I remember the joke was “Yeah, isn’t she like a year and a half old?” It was shocking how exhausting it was.

Pyle: We were the only women there, and everyone’s just banging these dodgeballs, throwing them against the wall.

Daniels: I remember being impressed with Missi’s coordination and timing and rhythm. She’s just kind of good at everything she does.

Pyle: I was supposed to be a really great dodgeball player, and I am an athletic person, but I’m a terrible thrower. I remember feeling like my whole back just seized. I was like, “Oh!”

Vaughn: I was fairly athletic. Even running to get the ball, I would get there quickly. I didn’t mind it. It was fun.

Rader: The worst thing that could happen is if Vince pulled a fucking leg muscle and couldn’t walk. People are running, jumping, dodging, ducking, and diving.

Daniels: We did drills after drills after drills. Ben called me the “Dodgeball Nazi” for making them do all that work. Their reflexes were better for it.

Stiller: When you’re making a movie like that, you have to take it seriously because it’s a low-budget movie that you have to get done on budget. But it was just such a ridiculous subject matter.

Root: We called it “murder ball” in grade school because, whenever it would rain, you’d get in the gym and it was just an excuse for all the big kids to throw really hard balls at the nerds. That’s pretty much what the movie’s about anyway.

Christine Taylor: It was traumatic. Like, every worst nightmare of my elementary school years. All the girls were picked last, of course. And then having the fear of God when the guys threw the ball with all of their strength.

Williams: We learned techniques of how you would want to play. Vince is kind of the guy who lays back a little bit. I always wanted to come with my arms flailing, like to scare someone off from the ball. In the movie, every time at the beginning of the game, I will always be like, “Ahhh!”

Christine Taylor: We worked as the Average Joe’s team, and then they brought in the Globo Gym team.

Kevin Porter (Lazer): Average Joe’s are on one side, Purple Cobras are on the other. I’m lined up right in front of Vince Vaughn, so I’m thinking, “OK, great, cakewalk.” I’m pretty athletic. But he beat me there, grabbed the ball, started getting right back, and threw it at me. I turn to Rusty Joiner [who plays Blade]: “I can’t believe that Vince Vaughn is beating me.” And then Vince is like, “Maybe I should trade with a girl, so that way Vince Vaughn doesn’t beat your ass every time.”

Rusty Joiner (Blade): We played hard, to the point where Justin, Christine, everybody’s getting hit in the face by balls. There were no names or titles in there. We were just playing ball.

Long: One of those days I went temporarily blind. I drove home and had blurry vision. I took a nap and woke up, and I couldn’t see. It was really frightening.

Porter: We were rehearsing against the Girl Scouts. Somebody smacked one of them right in the face, busted their glasses, they’re bleeding down their nose. You have all of these meatheads. We just felt so freaking bad.

Rader: We had ice, we had a massage therapist out there, 24/7.

Christine Taylor: Ben came in, day one of our training, no-aim throw, he hits me right in the face. This was real dodgeball.

Brian Taylor: I remember Ben just going, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, are you OK?”

Stiller: I definitely remember hitting her in the face. It’s not a pleasant memory. There’s no good version of that. It was totally accidental, of course. It was a weird sort of dynamic, having to do that with your wife. I felt awful.

Christine Taylor: When you get hit with one of those balls, the slow-motion memories of my childhood in my gym uniform come back.

Pyle: I think I got hit in the face in practice by Justin Long. I was like, “Wow, why does anyone play dodgeball?”

Root: You can’t really grip the dodgeball with your hand, unless you’re Shaquille O’Neal. Your rotator cuff kind of gets sore, so people would have to start throwing with their left.

Williams: Instead of throwing overhand, I was doing this slingshot approach that would let me spin the ball off of my fingers.

Christine Taylor: I had to work separately with Alex a few times because I did not have a good throw. I didn’t look cool doing it, and the whole point is that Kate has this underhand throw and she’s the ringer. So he worked really hard with me to get that underhand.

Vaughn: I do remember at some point during the filming kind of tweaking my shoulder because I was trying to overthrow it.

Moore: The reason why I thought the boot camp was so beneficial is because there’s so much comedy that came into the visual aesthetic of dodgeball. It was really a way for us to kind of all get in there and figure out what was funny.

Joiner: By the time we had finished and we went to go shoot, we were awesome. We were like a Super Bowl team.

Part 4: “If You Can Dodge a Wrench, You Can Dodge a Ball”

Shooting began throughout Los Angeles in September of 2003 and lasted about three months. As in the boot camp experience, the entire cast leaned into the movie’s physical comedy and learned how to become a unified team under Thurber’s playful direction. Well, except for one cast member.

Thurber: I would say 80 or 90 percent of the time, I was throwing the balls off camera and hitting somebody.

Rader: Rawson was very natural about it. None of the actors flinched because they had a JUGS [pitching] machine, too.

Thurber: That was super fun. We shot a bunch of balls at Justin over and over and over and over and over.

Daniels: His personality sort of lends itself to that—just throw Justin in there!

Vaughn: This pitching machine was jacked up to the highest level, that the ball stung a little bit. I said, “What is going on? Why do you guys have this thing? Someone could get hurt.” If it was only going 40 miles an hour versus 60, it wouldn’t change how it reads on-screen.

Long: Vince was like, “The fuck was that? Turn that thing down.” He’s gotta be able to catch it and make it look like the training is working.

Root: They were trying to throw the balls as hard as they could with the machine, which was funny and frightening at the same time.

Vaughn: Come to find out that Justin Long was on the full speed and taking a ton of hits.

Root: Justin could make wonderful reactions to it. I think I just frowned and fell over.

Long: At the time, I would just do anything for a laugh. As long as it was real, I would really go for it. I don’t know how many brain cells I ruined. I’m kind of paying for it.

Vaughn: I think they were nervous to let him drive home because he was just taking so many hits to the head.

Long: Rawson would call it the comedy zones—your head or your crotch. The head was usually easier to make it look like it was real. The crotch was hard to get. I just kept doing it over and over.

Alan Baumgarten (editor): We did a lot of work on the sound, making sure that the ping of a rubber ball would come through as well.

Rader: Rawson was like, “I just want a supercut of Justin Long just getting hit by balls, just getting pummeled. That’s all it is, and then … Dodgeball.” Everyone was like, “That’s genius, but the marketing department will never go for it.” And they did.

Thurber: When I saw that montage—I think it’s on the DVD—I was like, “This should be our teaser.” Everyone thought it was crazy to put out 60 seconds of some kid getting hit with a ball.

Moore: It was so brilliant to just have a little sizzle of like, “What is dodgeball?” This is how it works …

Baumgarten: The instructional video with Hank Azaria was a really fun part—the five Ds of dodgeball. There’s one version where Timmy gets to smoke the opium pipe. I think it was a ratings issue. You can’t have a kid smoke.

Monica Levinson (production manager): The quote that I hear all the time is “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.”

Thurber: I was the guy throwing the wrenches. They’re soft, so you could almost squeeze it like a sponge in your hand. Although, I hit Justin between the eyes, right on his eyebrow, and one of the wrenches wasn’t all the way clipped out of the mold, so it had a slightly harder section to it. I think it actually cut him.

Long: I have a pretty high threshold for pain. It just opened up this cut that happened to be a vein. They would pat it and wash it up, but it wouldn’t stop bleeding. I was bummed because I think we only got one take.

Thurber: I felt terrible, but he kept going.

Daniels: The only way to sell the hit to the face is, really, to hit the face.

Carol Ramsey (costume designer): Rip Torn as Patches O’Houlihan was a wild card on so many levels. He was so perfect as this crusty, cantankerous, old, tough guy.

McLaglen: It was a brilliant combination of bringing this gruff, veteran actor into this group of comedic guys.

Christine Taylor: He’s so good in the movie, but you really got the impression that he didn’t quite get the movie the way we all got it. It’s sort of like someone talked him into doing it. He would question lines, like, “Why am I saying this?” He didn’t seek this project out. Let’s put it that way.

Williams: I get hit in the head with a wrench, and he yells, “Wake up, Smithy.” I don’t know where “Smithy” came from.

Thurber: The wheelchair was very finicky for him, and he would get very frustrated and sort of curse a blue streak at it, which I can understand.

McLaglen: I’m sure there were times when Rip was like, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

Long: We were shooting him throwing the wrench. They had a cushion to throw the prop wrench against. I was right next to it thinking, “I’m going to give him exactly what he needs off camera.” So I was on the ground, pretending like it hit me. I could hear him forgetting his lines, and he started addressing me: “What are you doing? He’s dancing around like a goddamn monkey!” I look at him like, “Oh, fuck, is he in the scene now, or is it over? Is he mad at me?” Rawson tried to put out the fire.

Thurber: Rip took particular notice of Justin, and not in a good way.

Long: Afterwards, I’m feeling so bad about this. I’m like, “How do I make this right?” Vince was like, “Be honest with him and address it.” I said, “Mr. Torn, I’m so sorry.” And he turned toward me and he said, “Let me tell you something, son. When you talk over another actor’s line, it means I’ve got to loop the whole goddamn thing.” I said, “Oh, no, I wasn’t talking.” He kind of wheeled toward me and went, “Are you calling me a liar?” That’s a real crossroads.

Williams: I was already in awe of [Rip], but he wasn’t very friendly to people. He just didn’t give a shit about anything except going and doing the work. It was perfect for Patches O’Houlihan. He kept that visceral edge.

Moore: There’s a scene in this movie where I go to celebrate with him, and he shrugs me off because he just didn’t want me around him.

Brian Taylor: Ben sort of made me like the Rip Torn wrangler on set because we didn’t want him drifting off. For some reason, Rip did not like me.

Stiller: His job was just to stay with Rip.

Brian Taylor: We were shooting at the Rose Bowl, and Rip was gonna have like four hours off. Rip said to his driver, “I know this fishing area. I’m gonna go fishing, and then I’ll come back.” And Ben’s like, “Yeah, he can’t. If we lose him, he’s gonna be gone for the day. Take the radio with him.”

Christine Taylor: My brother felt like it was the hardest job in the world to keep Rip in one place. We didn’t have smartphones, and texting wasn’t happening a lot. You really needed a direct line.

Brian Taylor: He’s getting in his car, and I yell, “Rip, hold on a second. Ben wanted me to come with you.” I thought Rip said, “OK.” The SUV door was open. But as I’m trying to get into the car, he goes, “Get the fuck out of here.” He starts kicking me out. He tells the driver, “Drive, drive, drive!” As he’s peeling out, he rolls down the window, sticks out his hand, and gives me the finger. The whole cast got a big kick out of that.

Long: He had struggles. He had things in his life that he was dealing with, but it doesn’t justify the way he behaved. I had a real sense of respect, but also real trepidation. I didn’t have to act [intimidated] at all. Then one day he came up to me. Some woman had walked by, and he said, “Hey, kid, look at her, she’s nice looking.” I said, “She is nice looking, right?” And he goes, “Yeah, man.” We started talking and had a real connection. I was so excited.

Part 5: “My Face Would Hurt From Laughing So Hard”

Over the course of filming, Vaughn proved to be a dominant comedic force, leading a mostly green group of actors around him and fostering an improvisational and laid-back environment that served their scenes together.

Thurber: Vince was the captain of the ship.

Long: We were like the island of misfit toys, and he was the one non-misfit. He was our leader.

Stiller: When I saw Swingers, I just thought this is one of the funniest, most unique, engaging personalities I’d ever seen on film. He’s incredibly good-looking and cool. He was just everything. I remember thinking, “I’ve never seen anybody like this guy.”

Brian Taylor: He’s so quick and funny and witty—even in casual conversation, it was hard to keep up. He definitely can take over. He’s running the show when you’re in a circle with him.

Williams: His right thumb got crushed in some sort of accident, so it’s bigger than normal and the nail is split. And he would pinch people with his “claw.” That was his thing at the beginning of a scene. He’d pinch you. You’re like, “What the …?”

Rader: When he wasn’t filming, he was just doing pranks. I’d be sitting in my office, he’d come in, and he’d just pick up my phone and dial a random number and just start talking to people, the funniest things you could possibly imagine. He’s like, “Who is this?” And then he’d be like, “What’s your relationship like with so-and-so?” He was just doing that with people everywhere. He was always on.

Christine Taylor: He comes up with these Vince-isms. Nobody talks the way he talks.

Williams: He had a phrase: “Out of respect.”

Thurber: He’d be like, “Let’s do another one, out of respect.” It was a catchall. It was like saying, “Forget about it.”

McLaglen: That’s part of his shtick. “Come on, man, really? Can we just do another take … out of respect?”

Long: My wife, Kate [Bosworth], loves saying “out of respect.” It’s a Vince thing. It doesn’t really make sense. I don’t know why it’s so funny, but it made me laugh every time.

Vaughn: I always come up with different things or ways of saying stuff that I find funny or make me laugh like they were some profound kind of connective moment. I like to have a good experience on stuff. We could say anything like, “Hey, I’m gonna get some water.” “Would you grab me one … out of respect?”

Long: One scene I was like, “I think we’re gonna win. You think we’re going to win, Peter?” And he would say to me, “Now, keep it sexual, out of respect, keep it sexual.” It didn’t mean anything. My face would hurt from laughing so hard at the end of those days.

Rader: They become little inside jokes.

Williams: We put it on the back of our Dodgeball T-shirts.

Thurber: I made the shirts. It says Average Joe’s on the front and “Out of Respect” on the back. My mom still has a dozen of them.

Moore: The early hangout scenes were fun because Rawson’s script was almost like a blueprint, and you got to kind of build the bible on top of that.

Thurber: I would say the movie is 90 percent written and 10 percent improv, which is about normal for me. But it’s that 10 percent that makes 100 percent of the difference. It’s such an outsized effect when you get a comedian. It would be directorial negligence to say, “No, no, no, just what I wrote. Thank you. No more.”

Christine Taylor: Vince is one of the smartest people. He is so sharp and so quick. And working with him was like a master class.

Root: That’s the thing. He’s mentally quick and he can improvise, which is something I couldn’t really do back then. I was really jealous that he could do that. If I had any improv lines, I would write them the night before [laughs].

Long: It was such a great lesson because he would really pass the ball. He’d set us up.

WIlliams: “You had me at blood and semen.” That was all Vince. There were a lot of little nuggets that elevated the script.

Moore: The performance, the cadence, the rhythm to Vince’s comedy is unmatched. I don’t know that we have comedians like him anymore.

There is also no Dodgeball without White Goodman, the ridiculous-looking, fitness-obsessed owner of Globo Gym. Like all of Stiller’s ludicrous characters, Goodman is a sight to behold—a toxic, insecure, and neurotic yin to Peter LaFleur’s even-keeled yang. The unique dynamic blended well with Vaughn’s understated approach and created comedy gold.

Thurber: When you create a character like White Goodman, you have to ask: Why would somebody be like that? There has to be a deep psychosis or deep trauma to have that perspective.

Stiller: I couldn’t tell you where White Goodman came from. I played a similar kind of jerk in Heavyweights. When I talked to Rawson, I did that Tony Perkis voice. It just felt right for this guy. He had a slightly different look, but it just emerged out of what [Rawson] had written.

Thurber: I’d never seen Heavyweights, but it was a great color for him. He’s an incredibly talented comedian and leading man, but when he gets to play “funny mean,” he’s really good.

Stiller: White was so self-involved, not that smart, but wanting to seem smart. So much of what Rawson wrote was so specific, and I could riff off that.

Thurber: I thought we should base his look on Patrick Swayze’s hair in Road House and make it feathered and lethal. That was my pitch. And he’s like, “Perfect.” We just sort of went full Swayze with it.

Lisa Layman (makeup designer): I would watch [Road House] as I was styling the wig for inspiration. I’d split it down the middle, blow-dry it, and then I would curl it with the iron. Ben really had a look that he wanted, even down to his tan and his hairless body. He wanted to be like one of those competitive gym guys.

Christine Taylor: I remember thinking, “Are you going to have white hair for this?” And he’s like, “No, where did you get that?” I just felt like that’s where his nickname came from.

Layman: When we first were trying it on, [Ben would] make this little smirk, and you knew that he liked it. He could totally get into character from that point on.

Maher Ahmad (production designer): I probably looked at 40 to 50 locations for Globo Gym. We landed on the Nikken Corporation building, one of these pyramid scheme companies selling magnetic doodads for your health. The lobby was pretty much empty, and it had that shiny granite marble floor.

Layman: The scene in the office between Christine and Ben, where he’s sitting on the desk and he’s got that pump in his pants. You’re dealing with husband and wife right there.

Ramsey: The props people were coming up with all these weird long things to make his crotch big, and it just wasn’t funny. So we did this bladder thing and ran this hose down his leg out the back and around the furniture. The props guy was back there with a pump so he could just control it up and down whenever we needed to.

Christine Taylor: And [Ben’s] reading the dictionary. That’s the way he works. He loves to just come up with something funny in the moment, try things. It’s really difficult to not lose it and ruin a take.

Stiller: It was really fun to work with her in those scenes—the ridiculous stuff like the pizza scene.

Levinson: Everything about Ben’s character, with the nipple clamps and eating pizza and putting it down his pants. When Ben wants to commit to a character, there’s nobody that does that better.

Thurber: I’ve read Fast Food Nation, and I’m sure it had influence on White Goodman’s issues, but I think it was more about just tracking someone who has such an emotional connection to—and shame of—eating.

Ahmad: There was this artist that did these ridiculous kinds of images. So we contacted him and we said, “We’d like to put Ben Stiller’s head on this bull illustration that you have,” and we paid him something. We took a photograph of Ben at the right angle and made it look like a painting. It was kind of perfect.

Stiller: For years it used to be up on the wall at Red Hour, right across from Stuart’s office. It’s still alive somewhere.

Rader: I’ve known at least three people who put their own face on that. So that guy’s just been getting work out of this movie.

Christine Taylor: I remember the porch scene being very tough to not break. It was a stunt. Ben hits his head against the wall. They put a piece of foam that looked like wood paneling on the side of the house, but he was wearing so much orange makeup that every time he got slammed, the makeup would get on the foam.

Layman: We darkened him so much. The way he was slammed into the wall, I think they were cleaning it up a couple of times.

Christine Taylor: I remember I had the giggles through most of that scene because he was getting so close to me when he goes, “I can be real naughty” and does these, like, snarl faces. His nose and lip would quiver. It was so hard to get through.

Long: It was the funniest character I’d ever seen. I’d never seen someone take a swing like that and play it so real in person.

Liebling: The way he commits to a character is astounding. He creates real emotional truth out of what other people would call cartoons. That’s so much of his brilliance.

Christine Taylor: As big and as broad and as silly as it is, you still have to believe them.

Stiller: Vince’s approach was he was going to play his character very real. “I need to ground it in reality so that the audience can believe what’s going on.”

Long: Vince needed to be Bill Murray in Meatballs.

Vaughn: Everyone’s character was kind of over the top. There was some pushing, like, do you go further? Do you go broader? It’s just not my tone or taste for that movie. You need a narrator, a sane man to walk through an insane world, a way for the audience to connect with someone that was a little more relatable. I was never in competition. Ben is going to be this outlandish character, which is super funny, but you each have a role to play in the tennis match.

Stiller: I think it was a really smart choice.

Porter: When Ben and Vince were going at it with the insults, I’m just watching it and getting carried away, going, “This is freaking beautiful, this is brilliant.”

Joiner: I was right over Ben’s shoulder when he’s saying, “I don’t think I’m a lot dumber than you think that I thought I once was.” When I say I was biting the inside of my cheek—there were blood marks so I would not laugh.

Rader: Vince is off the cuff, by the seat of his pants, and just going at it. Ben is cerebral, he’s thought about it, he’s run 20 models in his head, and then finds the one that he likes. They’re adversaries, and they get to the same place through a completely different process.

Stiller: I was a little bit concerned that I was doing this ridiculous, over-the-top character that might’ve been in a totally different universe. I had moments of insecurity. I was like, “Oh man, Vince is being really serious and cool, and I’m really going here.” That was kind of the undercurrent of what was going on, but it worked.

Long: When they’re really in the zone and they’re riffing, it’s so fun to be near their brains. But you have to have a balance, and Vince was smart enough and good enough with storytelling to recognize that. I love being around people like that.

Part 6: “There Were All Sorts of Colorful People There”

To pull off the American Dodgeball Association of America tournament, the production migrated to Cabrillo High School in Long Beach. Turning the space into the “Las Vegas University Learning Annex” required lots of extras and choreography.

Levinson: The night before shooting, we all walked through the gymnasium, and Ben basically said, “Don’t you think the court should be painted black? Our crowds are probably gonna be small, and it should all fall off visually.” So we spent like 50 grand to have a night crew go in and redress the whole dodgeball stadium in black, which was the right call.

Thurber: In the morning, we’d all get together on the court and go through the beats from a 10,000-foot view. Here’s how it starts. Here’s the ending. Here’s the resolution. We would just take it piece by piece.

Moore: I’m pretty sure that we rehearsed throughout the shoot, just to make sure that we were fresh. Early on, they made the decision to pare down how many people were in the actual competition, so I became an assistant coach. It actually worked a lot better.

Levinson: We also had sports camera operators that came in that were very used to shooting football and basketball.

Thurber: You need it to look like it’s a fluid game. So we always just played a game and set up some longer-lens cameras off court. And then we had to get these storytelling beats that were more managed and designed.

Christine Taylor: I was like, “What’s the three-player swing?” You read about it on the page, but how is that going to work? Alex had it all choreographed of where we’d be standing, how to come running in …

Thurber: At lunch, the grips were playing dodgeball, and we had to ask them to stop because the courts were getting torn up.

Root: There were a couple of balls that they used for close-up hits that were softer, but not that much softer.

Thurber: We had two or three different versions of the balls. We had like the standard one, we had a much softer version, and then we had essentially a pillow.

Rader: They were designed specifically to not injure people, so you could chuck them really hard. But we had problems early on because foam balls don’t fly like the rubber balls do.

Moore: They were just painted on the outside, but the ADAA sticker that was put on had sharp edges. I don’t know why they didn’t just print it on the actual ball.

Levinson: We couldn’t get them manufactured with the ADAA logo on them, so we glued these logos sticking off of the ball. We tried so many different versions trying to make a ball that wouldn’t kill our actors. But it proved very difficult.

Moore: I get hit with the ball in the face when it’s that defining moment between me and Missy. I was like, “I think I just got smacked.” And they looked and were like, “Oh shit, you have a big cut under your eye.”

Pyle: Joel’s the best. We had to really work on my look to make me as hideous as they wanted. I had to dye my hair black. I had big teeth, a butt pad. I remember it being kind of hard on my ego. I was in a new relationship, and I wouldn’t let my boyfriend come visit me on set. It was hard to keep my teeth in when [Joel and I] were making out. It was a lot of tongue acting.

Moore: We were doing that shit in front of, like, 30 people. I smoked cigarettes at the time, and I was shoving in breath mints. We were like, “We’re just gonna fucking go for it because it’s funny.”

Pyle: I think we were just licking each other at one point. The two most awkward humans on the planet.

Rader: We needed to show Globo Gym taking people down and moving up the ranks—and then you’ve got to show these other teams to [play against] Average Joe’s. You have to create a real sports bracket that makes it feel lived in. We were missing these elements [at first].

Baumgarten: To show the tournament progression, we picked up inserts of the signs and the placards being changed from Skillz That Killz or the Lumberjacks.

Thurber: The bracket board that you see is from The Karate Kid. The Average Joe’s jerseys are 100 percent Hoosiers. And then the Globo Gym Purple Cobras just made me laugh. It was the dumbest thing I could think of.

Ramsey: We started out with really tight purple Under Armour shirts for the Cobra uniforms. They did a really big promo for us, so that saved some money. And then I started looking at dirt bike armor because it looks pretty badass.

Porter: They were the coolest suits I could have ever imagined. Initially, [during the Globo Gym introductions], we were gonna be called out individually. “Lazer!” “Blazer!” and come running out.

Brandon Molale (Blazer): We’re the biggest, baddest team. [The production] had the fog machine. We gotta do something that’s cool.

Stiller: I literally just flashed to the memory of having to figure out something to do before we went on.

Molale: One of us said, “We gotta do the hand slap on our pads like we do in football, and then into a clap, like ‘We will rock you.’” Somebody capitalized on it: “We gotta do a cobra hiss.”

Joiner: I was a college cheerleader, and I taught gymnastics to high school kids. I’ve coached the creative side, coming up with team slogans and team mottos and team chants and all that. I was like, “Guys, we’re gonna make that snake with our hand.” It probably happened in five minutes or less. And then Ben adopted it very quickly. He got it down pat.

Molale: We instantly were like, “Yes, that’s awesome!”

Joiner: Ben got in terrific shape. He saw me with my shirt off and came running. He was like, “Dude, look at those. Oh my God.” I became his BFF, and we started doing ab workouts.

Pyle: We were there for probably two weeks, and there were a bunch of different extras to fill out the crowd.

Levinson: We would have our regular SAG numbers, and then we just kept getting different church groups. But you can only do that for a few days until you start getting people that you don’t want in your audience.

Long: There were all sorts of colorful people there. I think a lot of the seat fillers were on a work release or halfway program.

Pyle: People came from, like, 12-step programs. Every day there was a whole new group.

Root: I think we had a reform school come in once. We had some people off the street. We had some inmates as well, which only added to the fun. If you slow down those scenes, you can see who’s who because they look like they’ve been haunted for a little bit.

Long: One day they had to send people home because they found needles in the extras holding line.

Molale: There were marines that had just finished basic boot camp at Pendleton, and they would bus them up from San Diego. This is right before the Iraq War, so a lot of these kids were so excited just to be there to watch a movie being filmed.

Levinson: By the last couple days, I just said, “You know what, I’m gonna give you guys all lunch,” and we just rush called in some extras. We also sprinkled cutouts and inflatable people throughout the crowd.

McLaglen: That’s what you did in those days. You didn’t need to feed them.

Levinson: We had to keep making announcements to the crew: “We know that it’s a long ride from Long Beach and you need somebody for your carpool lane, but please don’t take the inflatable people.”

Christine Taylor: I think Rhoades put one of those dolls in the shotgun of his car to ride home. I think he actually got pulled over for it.

Some of the most memorable and quotable parts of Dodgeball came from the movie’s unique and unlikely group of actors and cameos.

Long: Al [Kaplon] was a real referee. He was really authoritative but not obnoxious. He was perfect.

Al Kaplon (ADAA tournament referee): I’m the only serious character in the entire movie, and I’m glad they did it that way. It kind of legitimized the dodgeball scenes—that’s how I kind of looked at it. I needed to be a real character.

Baumgarten: He was great at seeding the basic rules. Things like “sudden death” that he delivered perfectly when we needed to get that information.

Kaplon: On the first day of shooting, I just sat there on the dodgeball court coming up with calls. Rawson said, “I always kind of envision some sort of a chop [when calling a foul]. What have you got in the arsenal?” I showed him a few things. “I love that, how about this for that call?”

Moore: Midline infraction, that’s great.

Kaplon: About a week into shooting, Stuart Cornfeld walked up to me and he said, “Hey, I just want you to know that everybody in video village is really impressed with you and really having a good time with where you’re taking the character.” I started off with 10 pages and ended up with close to I think 18 pages of dialogue. Every time I came back, I would have new sides.

Thurber: Those scenes don’t have the authenticity, the verisimilitude to them without Al.

Stiller: Gary Cole and Jason Bateman are great comedic actors, but also incredibly great dramatic actors. I really appreciate guys who can be funny but understand the reality level.

Cole: I’m a huge sports fan. I’ve heard plenty of play-by-play. So I kind of got what they were going after. I was channeling a little bit of Al Michaels, a little bit of Vin Scully, but the point was to make it as important and weighty as any historic World Series or a Super Bowl call. “I’ve even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel …” If I do get tracked down for Dodgeball randomly, that’s one of the lines that’s repeated.

Thurber: Cotton and Pepper helped the narrative, but every time you cut to them, they were gold. I grew up watching sports and listening to absolutely inane sports color commentary, and they were sort of a love letter and middle finger to that vocation.

Cole: Jason and I shot everything in four or five hours. It was done before lunch. All they did was lock the camera off in front of us and then a couple other angles to the side. We weren’t watching any game at all.

Root: It was amazing that they were that good, just by themselves. Jason stole the movie with that character.

Thurber: The idea for the color guy was he was incredibly confident and always wrong. Like, they’re going to forfeit the final match: “Bold strategy, let’s see if it pays off for them.” It’s like the most inane thing you could say. It was just my own frustration with hearing color guys say, “They really want to win this.” Yeah, no fucking shit!

Williams: The amount of memes and GIFs of “bold strategy, let’s see if it pays off.”

Thurber: I thought they would both be wearing blue shirts and ties. But then Jason brought in this X Games vibe. He’s like, “What if I had a fireball tattoo?”

Ramsey: He had this green satin bomber jacket with a big dragon embroidered on the back, which you didn’t really get to see. But the thing that really helped were those stupid wraparound sunglasses on his head in that wild hair.

Thurber: I’m a huge ESPN fan. They’d come out with ESPN2, “The Deuce.” And so then, the basic grammar of comedy, you just sort of extend it—what would be more ridiculous? Not three, not four, not five, but eight, the Ocho.

Brent Colborne (ESPN director of programming and acquisitions): At the time that we were acquiring all the sports for ESPN2 The Deuce, it wasn’t too dissimilar from the “Ocho” stunt. We have a new network. How do we populate it? We knew X Games and action sports would be a major part of The Deuce back in the day.

Rader: ESPN was 100 percent stoked. But the drama at the time was Fox was launching Fox Sports News. We had a Fox movie, a perfect opportunity to have Fox Sports News featured. We were on board with it—Rawson was really not. The executives were like, “It needs to be Fox Sports News.” There was a lot of tension around that. Rawson was like, “Rhoades, you’re an asshole, it needs to be ESPN!”

Thurber: I remember being like, “We can’t do FSN, the joke doesn’t work. The joke is ESPN2 The Deuce.” I definitely dug my heels in.

Rader: I just could not get anyone from Fox Sports to ever engage with me on it—and we had to print the banners. It was a whole thing that Rawson was very happy didn’t get resolved. Meanwhile, ESPN was so happy and gracious.

Levinson: ESPN got the joke and were willing to do it.

Rader: Dodgeball was also sort of the apex of stunt casting. Cameos were a big thing beginning to happen.

Moore: One of the funniest days on set was when David Hasselhoff was there. He was handing out headshots. He was just this consummate charmer and schmoozer. He knew exactly what to do and where to be.

Daniels: I met David on Knight Rider in the early ’80s. Then I became his stunt double for all of Baywatch and Baywatch Nights. We became buddies. Ben said, “Hey, you think you can get your buddy to come over and do a part?”

Williams: He signed an autograph for Justin or something. He was just very, very full of himself because he was such a huge star in Germany at the time.

Liebling: The thing that’s fun about cameos is once you start getting them, you can call the reps and go, “I’ve got this one, I’ve got this one.” Everybody’s playing in the sandbox.

Stiller: We got William Shatner, one of my acting heroes. I remember being so excited to actually just be in the scene with him.

Christine Taylor: There was the William Shatner scene in the locker room where he’s wearing the jeans and the blazer.

Long: He’d leave [the locker room] as [my character] came running in from the cheerleading tournament. I’m on cloud nine. A few times I almost hit him. I’d have to fly back into the wall to avoid him. I’d say, “I can’t believe it’s Shatner!” Just ad-libbing stuff. We stopped shooting, and Rawson said, “Shatner’s kind of upset. He doesn’t like that you keep referencing him as William Shatner. He’s not playing William Shatner.” It was one of the most surreal moments of my life where I had to apologize to William Shatner for calling him William Shatner.

Liebling: The Lance Armstrong one is my absolute favorite because it was like the apex of Lance Armstrong.

Rader: Ben was friends with Lance. I’d been in Austin and hung out with him a couple of times. It was like, “Who is the most incredible motivational athlete in the world that overcomes all the things?” Lance Armstrong!

Thurber: There was really only one person that could be in that scene with Vince.

Vaughn: I thought he played it really well. You meet a guy at the time who overcame cancer and still found a way to compete in his sport. And so it made Peter’s choices for quitting seem very small. There’s some emotionality and some stakes to it.

Baumgarten: [Lance] would keep checking to see if he got it right, and Rawson just kept reassuring him. “It’s great, it’s great.”

Rader: It’s funny at the time because he’s the perfect guy. Then in hindsight, 20 years later, it’s funny for a different reason.

Brian Taylor: We were all brainstorming about who could be the judge that gives the final thumbs-up.

Thurber: I’d written a bunch of different third judges. I thought it would be funny for Stephen Hawking to just go, “Thumbs-up.” Snoop Dogg was an option, and we talked about Shaq.

Brian Taylor: I just said, “What about Chuck Norris?” I remember Stuart Cornfeld going, “That’s genius!”

Thurber: The room stopped. And we went, “Do you think he’d do it?”

Brian Taylor: Stuart was calling him, but Chuck was hesitant because he thought, “Are they making fun of me as Chuck Norris?” We definitely were massaging his ego and were like, “No, dude, we all idolize you,” which was true.

Levinson: The only way we could get him is if we could helicopter him to the set in Long Beach. So that was that.

McLaglen: If that’s the way you’re going to get Chuck Norris, that’s the way you’re going to get Chuck Norris.

Rader: I think the route was San Francisco to Santa Monica, and then helicopter from Santa Monica to Long Beach to land on the high school track field. He does the thumbs-up and “Thank you, Peter.”

Root: Vince had to say, “Thank you, Chuck Norris,” and he could not say the last name. It took him many takes to say “Norris.” He would keep saying, “Thank you, Chuck Norse.” It took him maybe five or 10 takes to do that; it was a lot. It was very funny to watch.

Thurber: He was the nicest person ever, took pictures with everybody.

Rader: Then he just leaves, basically. Totally on brand for Chuck Norris.

Thurber: It was the most baller move of all time.

Part 7: “It Felt Like Being on a Real Team”

Although Dodgeball is filled with absurdist and slapstick comedy, Thurber remained committed to tracing the evolution of its characters and infusing the story with heart. In the true spirit of an underdog movie, everyone banded together and felt like a family by the time shooting ended in Las Vegas, where they partied one last time.

Vaughn: One of the things that makes Dodgeball work is not just the comedy, which is really good, but the real emotional satisfaction at the end of the movie.

Moore: An audience has to be endeared to the characters. Peter is an antihero. All of his bills are late, his rent’s late, he sleeps on the couch, he eats like shit, he’s lazy. How do you make him endearing? He supports his team members. He wants everybody to have a place to be. He wants Steve the Pirate to know that he can feel like Steve the Pirate.

Vaughn: They all have this obstacle in their lives. They’re not the winners. They’re struggling. They don’t have the answers. Through the course of playing dodgeball, they’re able to face some of these doubts or fears and overcome them. In the end, the biggest win for them is they have each other—they’re not losing their community.

Williams: It was a family of misfits, Revenge of the Nerds banding together to beat a larger entity that doesn’t care—and that’s the reason why they lost.

Rader: Dodgeball hit broad comedy, it hit physical comedy, it hit meta comedy. There is a smart comedy here that works on multiple levels. But the comedy engine is the underdog theme. That’s timeless.

Stiller: Rawson stuck to that framework. He was able to comment on the genre but also have it be true to the genre.

Liebling: They understood what movie they were making, and they knew how to make it.

Vaughn: Ben was really kind of a filmmaker with Rawson. He kept his eye on the overall picture of the film and was very helpful with how we were approaching our days. He was kind of a godfather of comedy filmmaking, a supportive mentor.

Stiller: I never lost faith that Rawson knew what he was doing.

Thurber: I never, ever would have made it through without Ben.

Pyle: Every single person on that Average Joe’s team was so happy to be there. Everyone was unencumbered. We all just kind of hung out and had a great time together.

Long: It wasn’t like one of those movies where most people go back to their trailers or go home. We’d all watch each other’s scenes. It was really communal. It felt like being on a real team.

Moore: Having done two more decades of movies, this was about as healthy of a set as you can get with so many different personalities.

Root: It was really fun wrapping the shooting in Vegas because it was completely the tone of the film. Nobody paid attention to us in dodgeball uniforms or S&M outfits. That’s the place you would wear both of them.

Long: Being with Vince in Vegas is like being with Mickey Mantle at Yankee Stadium. People would constantly yell Swingers things to him. “You’re money, baby.”

Christine Taylor: Vince was Mr. Vegas at that time.

Williams: He’s like, “Hey, let’s go to dinner.” So we go to this casino restaurant, and he’s like, “Let’s order everything on the menu.” We had a pile of food that was ridiculous, and it was free. Then he’s like, “Now we’re gonna go to the strip club.” We had to work the next morning, but a group of us went to the strip club.

Christine Taylor: Sadly, I didn’t get that invite.

Pyle: Vince bought me a lap dance. It was, like, the most ridiculous.

Williams: I don’t really spend money in strip clubs. I’m making sure that I’m OK for work the next morning. I’m in the bathroom, and Vince is in there. I’m like, “Hey, I’m gonna head back to the hotel.” He’s like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “You know, we gotta work in the morning.” He’s like, “No, no, no, no.” He pulls out $400, gives it to me, and he goes, “You go back out there, and you make me proud.” So I was like, “OK, I guess I’ll stay for a little longer.” We had such a great time.

Root: You could go into a different strata of people with him.

Moore: We went and gambled. He would just sort of slip $100 or $500 chips underneath whatever our bet was. That was a lot to me. I maybe had the luxury of betting $5 at the time, and I think I ended up walking away with like $1,000.

Long: He was very generous. He’s like, “Joel, you gotta double down on that. You always split the eights.” That was such a playground for him.

Vaughn: I get along with most people and have fun. Thankfully, there was good energy with the team and people hung out. It’s important to be supportive and to be there for them off camera, especially with comedy. If you can find common ground, you’ll have a better project.

Long: At the end of that shoot, it was just the two of us. We’d stayed for a couple extra days to have a lost weekend in Vegas. He felt like a big brother. Vince really took me under his wing, and he just taught me a lot. I’ll never forget it. It was one of the most fun couple days of my life.

Part 8: “You Guys Saw Something Here That I Couldn’t Really See”

Dodgeball was released in theaters on June 18, 2004, the same day as Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Almost everybody had low expectations for its box office performance.

Liebling: The movie is called “An Underdog Story,” and it was an underdog story. We were definitely the ugly baby in the slate while the movie was being made.

Rader: The studio thought the movie was funny, it was testing well, but they didn’t have faith in it. That was understandable. It’s an $18 million comedy about a weird sport with a first-time writer-director.

Moore: No studio movie is made for $18 million these days. It’s just crazy how big this movie looks cinematically at that price point. It’s pretty staggering.

Thurber: When we first tested our trailer in theaters, I went and sat in the back row behind a couple people. It’s kind of a slow burn, and then it goes Dodgeball. And two guys in front of me turned to high-five each other. I looked at my editor and I’m like, “Maybe people might like this.”

Rader: I remember we were all worried because the overwhelming sentiment of everyone was “The Terminal is going to crush this weekend.”

Thurber: You’re like, well, maybe we can be a plucky no. 2. The tradition in town is you rent a car or van with all the people who helped you, and you sneak in the back and you watch how it plays.

Rader: We just drove all over L.A., popping into theaters that were playing it just to see people’s responses. Everywhere we went, people were fucking laughing, theaters were sold out, it was electric.

Thurber: Then I heard that theaters were taking The Terminal off of screens and putting on Dodgeball. I got a phone call from Stuart Cornfeld. He said, “Rawson, Dodgeball is going to make $11 million tonight and $30 million for the weekend. Congratulations, you’re going to have the no. 1 film in America.” It was a really special moment.

Liebling: Hutch Parker called me and was like, “I think we’re gonna do 35 at least this weekend. This thing is blowing up.” And then I remember calling Ben, and we were just sort of giggling.

Stiller: I was shooting a scene from Meet the Fockers where I walk in on Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand in bed. I remember telling the director, Jay Roach, who was a good friend, and it was just incredibly exciting.

Liebling: Remember, it was originally going to go at DreamWorks, who ended up passing on it. We blew their Spielberg movie out of the water.

Christine Taylor: I remember standing in the kitchen on a speakerphone and Vince and Ben were cheering, like, “Thank God,” the little movie that could.

Vaughn: I think we felt very confident that the movie would work because Rawson did a really great job of not only having this kind of relatable gym-class game, but took it seriously with characters that you could really invest in and care about.

Liebling: Tom Rothman would always drive this fancy car when he had a hit. And so when you drive up Monday and you see Tom’s got that car there, you’re sort of the hero of the day. To his credit, Tom said to Ben and me, “You guys saw something here that I couldn’t really see.”

Long: Because it did so well, as a thank-you gift, Ben gave us all Vespas. Like the one he scoots away on with Me’Shell. I was just in love with that thing. I drove it everywhere.

Root: I’ve kept mine in pristine condition. I ride it around Sherman Oaks with great pleasure.

Williams: I loved it so much, I have four Vespas now. I became a Vespa fanatic.

Dodgeball went on to make $168 million globally that summer and became one of the top-grossing domestic movies of 2004. In the years that followed, it became a DVD and cable staple, reignited dodgeball as a recreational sport throughout the country, and even inspired ESPN to create an “Ocho Day” in 2017, making Dodgeball one of the few sports comedies to transcend its era and leave a cultural footprint.

Rader: There are plenty of comedies that don’t have legs. You go back, and they feel very dated. And then there are some comedies that capture a particular time and place and, “Wow, that’s a joke that takes 20 years.” Dodgeball was that way.

Thurber: I think any filmmaker is utterly baffled by success. It’s so strange. It’s hard work and talent and luck in equal measure.

Moore: Sports comedies went away a couple years after that. If I went to make a Caddyshack now, I don’t think it would land for a theatrical audience the same way. I think Old School, Anchorman, and Dodgeball were examples of just putting a bunch of funny people together and creating a good, heartwarming story around it, but letting people just riff and find the best performances inside that.

Long: My life changed. People still mention it to me. I was shooting Barbarian, close to 18 years later, and I posed with a bunch of California Highway Patrol cops who were helping us out. They gave me a prop wrench. They were like, “Would you mind if you just held this wrench?”

Kaplon: I think it got adults to play dodgeball. I’m on Cameo, and I just got a request from someone asking to come out to their dodgeball tournament.

Porter: I can’t tell you the number of dodgeball tournaments that I’ve been asked to be a part of as their chancellor or as the grand marshal. It’s been such a gift.

Williams: Joel and I were flown to Las Vegas to judge a stripper dodgeball tournament. [The movie] really resurrected the sport—there’s all kinds of competitive leagues. There’s gonna be a pickleball movie at some point.

Moore: We were having to [judge] separate chicks that were in each other’s faces over calling out faults and crossing the midline. It was awesome.

Rader: I had some weird things happen after the movie. I went to a birthday party in Mexico, and we were driving back to L.A. We stopped in San Diego to get a coffee on the side of the road—it was like a diner bar. I was sleeping in the car, and someone woke me up: “Rhoades, you have to come inside.” I walk into this bar, and the entire inside was turned into this cage for playing dodgeball. They’re like, “It’s too bad you weren’t here last week. Our dodgeball team is playing in the finals in Las Vegas this weekend for the American Dodgeball Association of America.” I literally thought they were fucking with me. Like, I got kind of offended. I was like, “There is no such thing as the ADAA, we made that up.” They’re like, “No, there is!” It was bananas.

Levinson: I love that dodgeball has lived on and that it still has a real audience. ESPN has also advanced their programming into obscure sports a good amount. I mean, there are dog competitions and stuff.

Colborne: There were always jokes or discussions at ESPN around “What type of programming stunts can we do that pay homage to the film and create something that our fans would actually enjoy?” We eventually landed on “Ocho Day” to center it around “seldom-seen sports.” The moniker really built the foundation of what it is today—cornhole, axe throwing, dodgeball. Eight years later, and we’re still doing this programming. We even launched an Ocho-branded FAST channel with Ocho content.

Vaughn: After some time, there was an idea to come back and revisit the characters, but frame it around where the sport is today. There could be a really fun story to tell within that. If it doesn’t get to a place that feels stand-alone, then it would be better to leave it alone.

Long: Vince roughly told me about it. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. There’s the temptation to have more. It was such a special experience. I don’t know how much of the magic was just being of its time.

Root: I’m not sure Ben needs that to happen again. But I think it would work as a Vince vehicle. Maybe he’ll do it.

Stiller: It was a moment in time. It’s fun to be able to look back at something and not cringe and think, “That is actually, really funny.”

Christine Taylor: It just lives on.

Stiller: The fact that we got Chuck Norris to come in …

Long: Fuckin’ Chuck Norris.

These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Jake Kring-Schreifels is a sports and entertainment writer based in New York. His work has also appeared in Esquire.com, GQ.com, and The New York Times.

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