Screenwriters-turned-directors Glen Ficarra and John Requa are building quite the eclectic resume. They co-wrote the 2001 kiddie comedy Cats & Dogs, followed by two raunchy Billy Bob Thornton flicks: Bad Santa and Bad News Bears. The duo make their directing debut with their latest film, I Love You Phillip Morris.

Based on real-life events, the quirky story (which Ficarra and Requa adapted from Steve McVicker’s book, I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks) follows a con artist, Steven Russell (Jim Carrey), who, while in prison, falls madly in love with a fellow inmate, the titular Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). After Morris is released from prison, Russell escapes four times in order to reunite with him. The result is perhaps the most offbeat love story of the year.

Glenn Ficarra

Despite its A-list cast (which also includes Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro), the film had an incredibly tough time finding a distributor. In fact, it took so long for the film to be released, that Ficarra and Requa already have another film in the can—Crazy, Stupid, Love—and set for release in April.

Just before the movie’s release, MM spoke with the moviemaking duo about how this unique story made it to the big screen and why it took so long to find its way.

John Requa

Kyle Rupprecht (MM): Why did you believe the wild true story as told in Steve McVicker’s book could be adapted into a film?

Glen Ficarra (GF): When a story comes along about a small-town Christian cop who comes out of the closet, becomes a con man and stages prison escapes to be with the love of his life, how can you say no? We knew it would be a challenge, but we also never thought anyone would actually make it, so we felt free to experiment. It was definitely difficult but we learned a tremendous amount in the process.

MM: What was the experience like working with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor? These are quirkier character types than they are usually known for playing. How did you work together during some of the more intimate scenes?

John Requa (JR): They are two incredible actors with two completely different methodologies—and it posed no difficulties at all. As writers we were used to having our work misrepresented, but we both commented almost daily that those two had an uncanny understanding of every nuance of every scene when they showed up. The intimate scenes were no different. They were treated as another day’s work and, because they were playing a couple in love, they were always keeping things giddy and light and fun.

MM: Since debuting at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, the film has had quite a long road to distribution. What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced along that road? What advice would you give to other moviemakers about the current state of theatrical distribution?

GF: In many ways we were the victims of a collapsing sector of the film business. Between the economy, shady speculators, companies unwilling to take a chance on a homosexual-themed project and, frankly, homophobia in general, we had very little room to maneuver.

JR: Independent film as we knew it is virtually dead. When the big studios took to the fad and gobbled up the independent companies (and then closed them), there was nothing left. Also DVD sales plummeting destroyed the financing model. The old financing structures and distribution—they are all in a precarious state of flux. However, in this world of 3-D and mega-budgets, it seems the market for small films may open up again. They are too small for the conglomerates but not for entrepreneurs. Here’s hoping someone figures it out.

MM: What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout the process of making this film—from conception to exhibition?

GF: Work with a French financier that happens to be run by a great filmmaker (Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp). They give you complete creative freedom! We kept thinking someone was going to tell us to change things and it just never happened.

JR: Secondly, the complete devotion and commitment of a mega movie star like Jim Carrey for no money doesn’t hurt either…

MM: Ultimately, what do you hope audiences gain from I Love You Phillip Morris? What’s your ultimate goal for the film?

FR: Put simply, we want people to enjoy it. It’s a bizarre and outrageous story about the power of love and that, in and of itself, is something to behold.