Director Paul Feig Takes ’The Heat’ (with McCarthy and Bullock)
Take the formula of a buddy cop movie, add two of Hollywood's funniest ladies, then find a director who loves to make comedies with women leads, and you have The Heat, what is likely, if the opening weekend grosses are to believed, to be to be one of the summer's biggest hits. (Its first weekend brought in $40 million, well above expectations.)
Critics have praised the inspired casting of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, which turned out to be a case of fortuitous timing. McCarthy had some time to fill between shooting "Identity Thief" and a new season of "Mike and Molly" and knew Sandra Bullock has signed on to the new Paul Feig ("Bridesmaids") comedy, so she jumped at the opportunity. Her work with Feig on "Bridesmaids" was her breakthrough role and got her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Unlike that ensemble comedy, "The Heat" relies heavily upon the chemistry between its stars; fortunately, despite never having worked together, they clicked during the first week of rehearsals.
Bullock plays Sarah Ashburn, a straight-laced, socially awkward FBI agent who has to track down a drug lord in Boston. To do so she must team up with Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), a foul-mouthed Boston cop with unorthodox methods, but a great success rate in tracking down criminals, which makes her equally unwelcome among her male peers. The laughs come from a combination of a witty script, physical comedy and clever improv. Rounding up the supporting cast are the under-utilized Demián Bichir ("A Better Life"), Marlon Wayans ("A Haunted House") and Michael Rappaport ("Boston Public").
A.V. Club's Ben Kenigsberg notes, "Part of the point here is to stake a claim on a genre that's traditionally been a boys' club, and in that regard, "The Heat" delivers."
Besides his brand of female-centric comedies, Director Paul Feig is known for dressing up on the film set and meeting the press in his smart and superbly color-coordinated suits. EDGE chats with him about carving out a special piece of the comedy pie.
Life after ’Bridesmaids’
EDGE: With the success of ’Bridesmaids,’ was it difficult to come up with a follow-up?
Paul Feig: I really want to make sure that I follow up with something that is in a similar tone to ’Bridesmaids’ but still was not repeating that. I looked for quite a while to try and figure out what that would be and out of the blue, Katie Dippold’s script for this dropped out on my desk. It was originally titled ’The Untitled Female Buddy Cop Comedy.’ The minute I read that I thought, I’m in. When they sent to me, they told me Sandra Bullock was interested in the role. When I read it, I thought no one else but Melissa McCarthy could have been in the other role.
EDGE: With ’The Heat,’ you have put a spin on the traditional buddy cop comedy. How do you know if it is going to work?
Paul Feig: When you are making a movie, there are times you are like, I hope this is working. All I know is that we were laughing on set everyday, which is always a good litmus test for me, but at the same time, I have done things occasionally when you are laughing all the time and when you put it together, you are like, urgh, something is wrong. The great thing is when you have two actresses that are this good, when you have a script that is so good, the infrastructure was there. So it’s up to me not to screw it up. I am pleased that it came out as good as it did.
Divas on the set?
EDGE: With the short window that you have to shoot the movie, have you ever thought about what if these two leads turned out to be divas and they didn’t have chemistry between them?
Paul Feig: The scary thing about this was this was the first time I have ever done a movie where I did not audition the two actors together. When you have two big stars, you are desperate to make the deal, when you have made the deal, it is like, we got them! I was flying down to Atlanta for the first rehearsal and had that moment on the plane when I was wondering what if they are not good together? What if they had no chemistry? Fortunately, the minute they got together, they bonded. They first bonded over the fact that they are both mothers of young children, and when they started reading, the comedy started flowing. They are still best friends.
EDGE: Before that, did you have a plan B?
Paul Feig: No, I had no plan B. We had Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Whatever happens, we will plough through.
EDGE: What is your inspiration for this movie?
Paul Feig: I love movies like ’48 Hours’ and ’Beverly Hills Cop’ that were comedies that were very funny but also had a sense of danger to them. They were not silly. The bad guys were really bad guys; our heroes could get killed. I really wanted to have that. I want to have high stakes in there. I think funny people in danger make them extra funny, and this has worked out perfectly.
EDGE: Were there lots of improv on the set?
Paul Feig: We do have a lot of improv on the set. Sometimes, improv is just taking the lines as they are and twisting them a bit; and other times, it is like, ’surprise me with something.’ We always have to have a very strong blueprint, which is the script. So we know what we have to accomplish in the scene, but then however we get there, we get there in the funniest way possible, I am all for that.
EDGE: Which is the biggest surprise that came from that?
Paul Feig: I think it would be when they were at the bar, they were on their drunken night, they suddenly had scotch tape on their faces. We had a scene where they were supposed to be just doing shots. I set up the shot and went away. I was working on the camera, and when we came back, they had scotch tape on their faces. Melissa had two forks taped to her hands. They were going to take this in another direction that I was not ready for, and that was hilarious.
The Boston thing
EDGE: Let’s talk about Boston as a character of the movie. Do you think Bostonians will see themselves in the movie or will they be offended by some of the jokes?
Paul Feig: I hope Bostonians will like this portrayal. We definitely have fun with the Boston accent, with just their characters in general. I love Boston so much and the people there. Bostonians are very funny people. They have a great sense of humor. I have to think that they are going to embrace this. I’d like to think of it as a comedy love letter to Boston. I hope they agree.
EDGE: You have got two great actresses with good chemistry and a good script. How much directing was there on the set?
Paul Feig: It is more my job as a director, once I have all the pieces and elements in place, is to create a safe environment where they can really thrive. Just kind-of steer it along, but also to encourage them to go further, to try different things. Then I just have to make sure that I capture it correctly so that all the hilarity that happens in the moment on the set makes it to the screening.
EDGE: Which is the most fun part shooting this movie?
Paul Feig: For me, it is just the relationship between the two women. I just thought they were so good together. They just made me laugh. It was fun to see them bonding the way they did, yet they were able to be adversarial and to find this comedy in this relationship. It was just a joy to work with them both. There were no divas on the set. Everybody was there to have fun.
EDGE: It seems that you have carved a niche for yourself right now for making comedies with strong female characters as leads?
Paul Feig: That is my goal. I love working with women, and if I do nothing but work with funny women for the rest of my career, I would be the happiest man in showbiz.
The Heat is in theaters.