There’s something about the Gesners

With family ties to leading lights in both the comedy and architectural worlds, Malibu native and ‘Sinbad’ actor Zen Gesner and wife Cindy Farrelly Gesner form a unique partnership.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

By sheer happenstance, actor/producer Zen Gesner and wife Cindy Farrelly Gesner found themselves talking to the press last Sunday. Not the usual way to spend one’s 17th wedding anniversary. Then again, this Malibu pair is no ordinary couple.

Gesner, who portrayed the titular character in the television series “The Adventures of Sinbad” in the late ’90s, is married to the youngest sister of outrageous comedy kings Peter and Bob Farrelly, whose controversial gross-out comedies, including their hit debut, “Dumb & Dumber” (starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels), the cult favorite “Kingpin” and the signature blockbuster “There’s Something About Mary,” dominated American comedy throughout the late ’90s. Cindy Farrelly Gesner, an entertainment attorney at Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler and Feldman, Inc., has long represented her brothers.

The Gesners get a little sheepish when asked how they met—line-dancing at a now-defunct country and western bar in Santa Monica called Denim and Diamonds. (Both swear they don’t even listen to country music).

But considering their wildly interesting backgrounds, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. The son of influential Modernist architect/inventor Harry Gesner and late actress Nan Martin (“The Drew Carey Show”), Zen Gesner grew up in Nicholas Beach. It wasn’t long before Gesner followed his mother’s footsteps into acting.


Cindy, meanwhile, grew up on the opposite side of the country, the youngest of five children (her brothers and two sisters) of an obstetrician and nurse in Cumberland, Rhode Island. The family spent their summers in Cape Cod, and New England features prominently in many of the projects her brothers, Peter and Bobby, later went on to make.

Growing up Farrelly meant growing up laughing.

“They were very, very funny, no question,” Farrelly Gesner said of her brothers. “We had a lot of laughs. They weren’t particularly driven or focused and they didn’t do that well in school. I don’t think anyone would have thought they would amount to anything.”

“They work so well together,” Farrelly Gesner said. “Bobby is hysterically funny. It’s a different style then Pete’s. Bobby is a little more slapstick.”

After pairing up in Santa Monica, the Gesners moved to South Africa in 1996, where Zen spent two years filming 44 episodes of “The Adventures of Sinbad.” As the iconic sailor, Gesner did his own stunts (swordplay, trampolines, flips) and met predecessor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

Being related to the Farrelly brothers, both routinely get bit parts in the brothers’ movies.

Gesner has enjoyed small roles in all of the Farrelly brothers’ flicks: an FBI agent in their 1995 debut and in 2000’s “Me, Myself and Irene;” a bartender in “Mary;” Gwyneth Paltrow’s goofball boyfriend in 2001’s “Shallow Hall;” and in 2005 Katherine Heigl’s jerk fianc/ in “The Ringer” and Ione Skye’s train-obsessed hubby in “Fever Pitch.”

For “Kingpin,” the 1996 bowling comedy starring Woody Harrelson and Bill Murray, Gesner fervently studied Amish dialect, only to find he was the only one employing a German accent in the movie.

“Anyone who comes to a set finds themselves in the movie,” Farrelly Gesner said of her brothers’ fraternal shooting protocol. Even the attorney, her sisters and her parents–none of whom are actors–have bit roles in their films.

In 1999, the Gesners relocated from New York City, where Zen was playing an evil twin brother named Grayden Lavery on the soap opera “All My Children,” to the Malibu-Pacific Palisades border.

Today, Zen Gesner has transitioned into more of a producer role behind the camera with his Good Surf Productions co-founder Rob Moran. A third-generation surfer, Gesner has passed on that torch to his sons, Finn, 15, Rory, 11, and Tuck, 9. Gesner filmed a handful of five-minute behind-the-scenes featurettes for the Farrelly brothers’ latest film, “The Three Stooges,” an homage to the iconic slapstick trio that is currently topping the DVD and Blu-ray charts. Gesner and Moran also created the just-released shorts (narrated by the brothers) with a skeleton crew, capturing the behind-the-scenes craft and chaos.

Long a Farrelly Bros. passion project, “Stooges” was not a slam dunk in Hollywood. As well documented by the entertainment press, Benicio del Toro was originally earmarked to play Moe with Sean Penn as Larry. However, the project encountered difficulties, forcing a casting overhaul.

While the comedy of “Stooges” may be over-the-top, its success was not. The $36-million-budget comedy grossed only $44-million domestically. Yet despite its current home-video release, the 2012 film has just begun opening in foreign markets. Most importantly, “they were really happy with the way it turned out,” Farrelly Gesner said.

“We worked on getting that movie made for 13 years,” she continued. “Everybody was so gun shy about green-lighting it. Fans of the Stooges were angry it was getting remade. My brothers don’t make choices based on commercialism. They love the Stooges.

“They wanted to show how they influenced comedy. They left such an indelible mark on comedy.”

Cinemaphiles, no doubt, will one day say the same about her brothers.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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