The Gentleman Behind ’The Heat’ :: Feminism (with Potty Humor)
Paul Feig is a gentleman. No, really. The man who filmed Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph shitting in their wedding dresses - the man who managed to do that and be acclaimed as a feminist at the exact same time - is downright dapper.
Walking into the room to interview him, I expected a man who looked like he'd hang out with Judd Apatow and Greg Mottola; I expected a member of the Frat Pack. But Feig, rocking his suit with aplomb, pocket square perfectly placed, looked - and talked - more like a wise veteran.
Actually he is, in a sense. Though best known for "Bridesmaids," and "The Heat" - already a smash hit in its own right - Feig has been cutting his behind-the-camera chops for decades. He's responsible for classic episodes of "Arrested Development," "Freaks & Geeks," "Community," along with many more entries of your favorite shows. True, his early features were ignored - does anyone recall "Unaccompanied Minors"? But by the time the first frame of "Bridesmaids," was shot, Feig had his cinematic voice defined as clearly as his fashion sense.
The suit, the voice, the genre-reliant films; Feig feels like he walked right out of the old studio system. It feels like nowadays everyone has to be an 'auteur,' or a hack. Yet Feig is playing by the old rules; working his pet themes - feminism, potty humor, and a not-inconsiderable amount of regional specificity - into otherwise anonymous commercial exercises. Now he has the massive audience to match.
Making summer releases
EDGE: So what’s it like, after a long career, getting to play around with a big-budget; making a very populist summer release?
Paul Feig: It’s fun. I like it. I had that period of my life - ’I just want to do indie films, small movies.’ What cures you of that, very quickly, is when nobody comes to see your movie. Like, not having a marketing budget. You’re only good if people know you exist. There’s nothing worse than being a hidden gem.
EDGE: Indeed. So you’ve carved out a pretty distinctive style for your films - they run close to two hours, and I would say they ’breathe.’ A lot of our acclaimed comedic filmmakers seem to still be going after the rapid-fire screwball tradition - and I dig that - but you seem more interested in these almost real-time set pieces.
Paul Feig: All I care about is that it feels real. There are people we know who talk fast, and some people talk slower. But I need everyone to be on some sort of level. Look, one of my favorite movies ever made is ’His Girl Friday.’ I mean, it couldn’t be faster. But that’s the tone of it, and they set it in the beginning; so then I’m in, for the whole time. But that’s not the world I’m creating - that’s a potentially heightened reality, one that you might not even [be able to] tap into today. Anything that distances an audience, at all, I get nervous about.
What grabbed him?
EDGE: So when you read this script, was that the element that grabbed you?
Paul Feig: Well I was just laughing, the entire time. And I was told Sandra Bullock was interested in doing it, so that was a perk right there. It made me read it faster, you know, sometimes scripts stack up, you think, ’I’ll get to this next week...’
EDGE: But with a star attached, and all that, you know that if you don’t get to it right away, then [’Superbad’ director and fellow craftsman-for-hire] Greg Mottola will.
Paul Feig: Amen to that! I’m not letting Mottola take this one [laughing.]
So I read it, and Melissa and me were trying to figure out something else to do together, and then once I heard her voice in the second-role, it was a no-brainer.
EDGE: ’Bridesmaids’ earned you a lot of acclaim, but it also sparked a lot of feminist support, a lot of critical writing, a lot of quote-unquote ’social media discussion.’ ’The Heat,’ I think, is even more explicitly feminist. Did you feel obligated to follow up on said support, or is this just where you’re coming from as a filmmaker?
Paul Feig: It was something I always wanted to do; but that [outpouring of support] made me realize what an important goal it is. I always felt like women were underserved in comedy, but then you just go, ’oh that’s just me, I’m overreacting.’ And then you realize ’oh wait, it’s actually true, and there’s, like, physical evidence.’ So yeah. It is a mission to me. Selfishly. Because women make me laugh.
I know so many funny women, but for a while, they weren’t getting those lead roles. Nothing makes me more crazy than seeing a women I knew was hilarious be in a funny movie, and still not get to be funny. I saw it, I see it, a number of times. They’re stuck playing these ultra-bitches. And it’s like, ’why are they having her be so mean? She’s funny!’
EDGE: Right. Like, I’ll only mention the movie because I sincerely love it, but you watch ’Midnight in Paris,’ and you think ’Jesus, Woody Allen, the best character you could write for Rachel McAdams was this shrewy bitch?’
Paul Feig: Totally, totally. And like, I love ’School of Rock,’ but there’s Sarah Silverman, like the funniest woman on the planet, and she’s just stuck yelling at Jack Black the whole time.
"The Heat" is in theaters.