Ladies Are Funny: Talking with The Heat’s Paul Feig

The Heat hit shelves in DVD form last week. Just before, I got to chat with director Paul Feig about the movie, upcoming projects and why he’s making such great lady-centric films.

The Heat stars Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. I laughed a lot watching it. It was the funny and the sass of Miss Congeniality meets Bridesmaids. Yes, I know that those two movies star those two ladies. But think of how happy those movies made you? That’s how happy The Heat will make you.

Feig created the beloved series Freaks & Geeks and has directed episodes of The Office, Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and Mad Men. He’s also super nice and super smart, and he gave us Bridesmaids a few years ago.

Here’s our chat:

What you are hoping audiences will get out of such female-lead films like The Heat and your previous film, Bridesmaids

“I hope they’re entertained and that they’re feeling it’s great to see women up on the screen in lead roles. But it’s also…the hope is really to break down the wall – less for the women in the audience and more for the men in the audience and more for Hollywood who, for whatever their business reasons or their math, have told themselves that somehow women won’t show up to these movies. We’ve proved them wrong twice. I really wanted to break that wall down because the reason I think that women have been stuck with “chick flicks” and romantic comedies is because men have seen posters with women on them and just gone “oh that’s just for women” and so the studios have gone and made those movies hyper feminine. They’ve made it so those movies become poison to men. And for me it’s like no, I love funny women, and I know so many funny women, and there are great characters they can be playing that aren’t strictly love stories, and I can just keep – and the industry can keep – making movies that are filled with funny women that can make an audiences laugh.

For me it’s about making sure women in the audience are just getting more product that they like that is more diverse roster, and not just a steady stream of fantasy fulfillment love stories.”

The friendships represented in your “buddy cop” film The Heat and your “romantic comedy” Bridesmaids are both strong and distinct. Are there any other tight female friendship representations you might be looking to do next?

“I love the theme of female friendship. I’m fascinated by it because, when they work, they are the strongest friendships, even stronger than between two men, and I feel like I never really see it portrayed in that way that I enjoy. And you know, I have a lot of female friends, and when I hang out with ones who are “best friends” I find it’s the most fun I ever have because there’s just this fun bond between them that’s infectious.

That’s what I really responded to in the original script of The Heat. It just felt like another chance – different than Bridesmaids – to show two professional women who are dedicated to their jobs, and it never seemed like they were missing out. Like no, you should be awesome at your job. And do it well, but then how do you find your support group? And how do you find your like-minded friends? So that’s what I really responded to – and the next movie I’m going to do is a female spy movie. It’s basically a – Melissa McCarthy is basically going to play a female James Bond and there is a friendship in this one too, but to me this one is more about a woman discovering, well rediscovering, her skills after losing her confidence and getting it back.

There are a lot of themes that I want to portray that women go through simply because they haven’t been serviced. It’s been very under serviced on the screen. And I think that’s why women feel underserved or at least I think women have gotten to a point where they’ve had to force themselves to go “Oh okay I like this” with all the movies they have had to go to with their boyfriends and watch these male-dominated stories. Yes, they are into it. There’s nothing wrong about that, but at the same time I have to imagine – because as a man who likes women’s stories, I feel underserved – I feel like just watching movies where the women are objects or the drag ruining the guy’s good time or the wife wringing her hands saying “Stop saving the world and get back to your family.” Well we all in the audience are “boo her” because he’s got to save the world, and she just wants him at home, but that’s a shitty role to put women in all the time.”

How much do you as a director say to your actors “put your personality into this” and let the actors put character and spirit into the words you wrote even when it sometimes makes them go off script?

“I have learned over the years – you know, I used to be very precious with my writing, right before Freaks & Geeks, and you just learn the hard way/easy way that higher grade comedic actors have their own voice and personality and are able to improvise. And to say “Do this just the way I wrote it”? Well, you’re cutting yourself off from such great comedic humanity, and you’re shooting yourself in the foot really. I look immediately to them to make it their own because the way that I word a joke is not the same as it comes out of Melissa’s mouth or Sandra’s mouth or any of the hilarious supportive cast we have. So I try to be very non-precious about that and then we get a lot of extra material, and that’s why I’ve always loved DVDs. Because it’s the place where you can showcase all that stuff. You want to put it all in the movie but you can’t. It’s much easier to not put it in when you can put it on a reel and people can still see it.”

Did you get any kickback from the Boston community for the portrayal of Bostonians in The Heat?

“Not that I heard. I mean, I’m sure someone is offended somewhere, but people have been very supportive of it. The people of Boston have been so cool. We did a special screening of it just for them before the movie came out for a lot of our law enforcement and FBI and the people who worked on the movie. It was good because even though we’re having fun with this…everybody who’s doing this is a Boston native. I mean, the Mullins family – those are all Boston natives. So they were doing what I consider to be very honest – very honest fun with the Boston thing. It wasn’t like a guy from England coming and doing his Boston accent. This is all vetted by Bostonians.”

Featured image via CinemaBlend; article image via ThinkJam PR

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