'Bridesmaids' Director Paul Feig On Melissa McCarthy's Improv and More BTS Secrets From the Movie
You can join him for a charity watchalong of the 2011 blockbuster this Thursday.
Being a part of a wedding party—usually a high-stakes melding of people who might not have ever hung out otherwise—is one of the many social situations we’ve sacrificed to the pandemic. Fortunately, if you’re missing the experience, there’s a movie with two Oscar nominations and almost $300 million in box office receipts that can make you feel like you’re there. Rewatching 2011’s Bridesmaids is the next best thing to boarding a party bus with your best college friend’s second cousins, which is why director Paul Feig is hosting a virtual watchalong of the comedy classic on Sept 24.
On Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, Feig will be re-visiting Bridesmaids along with fans while dropping some new behind-the-scenes tidbits from the film. The self-described “mediocre bartender” will also be teaching attendees how to make Bridesmaids-themed cocktails using his own Artingstall’s Brilliant Dry Gin. (The “Fritz Bernaise,” for example, is a food-sick green, a callback to the movie’s unforgettable scene in which the ladies’ lunch catches up with them while they try on dresses.) Not only is the event free, but for every RSVP, $1 will be donated to Family Promise, a non-profit that helps families experiencing homelessness. And ahead of the Zoom reception, Feig reminisced with HelloGiggles about the making of the groundbreaking blockbuster.
“I remember when I was going in to doing this movie, some very successful male producer friend of mine was like, ‘Oh boy, get ready. This is gonna be a really tough movie, because you’ve got all those women on that set, there’s gonna be a lot of fights, there’s gonna be a lot of conflict,’ and I was like, ‘What?’” Feig says, speaking over the phone. “And then I get there, and it was the most happy, fun, supportive set I’ve ever been on. All anybody wanted to do was make the other person look great.”
With a cast including co-writer Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Ellie Kemper, and Wendi McLendon-Covey, Bridesmaids tells the story of a relationship that’s tested when bride-to-be Lillian (Rudolph) makes a new, annoyingly perfect friend (Byrne) just as her lifelong BFF and maid of honor (Wiig) is hitting a serious slump in her personal and professional lives.
If the film’s casting feels particularly spot-on, it’s because the actors started shaping their characters even before shooting began. Feig recalls that the team met for improv rehearsals that armed him with plenty of alternative jokes to throw into scenes and revealed new sides to the movie’s characters. Oscar-nominated McCarthy’s Megan, for instance, the supremely confident and mysterious sister of the groom who memorably seduces an air marshal on their unsuccessful flight to Las Vegas, was apparently even more intense, especially when it came to her ideas for Lillian’s bachelorette party.
“[McCarthy] had come up with so many outrageous things that were so funny about everybody getting kidnapped and thrown into a van and driven out to the desert and buried up to their necks in sand that it was just...you never knew what to expect,” Feig remembers with a laugh.
Search “Melissa McCarthy bloopers” on YouTube, and you’ll find countless other examples of her cracking up consummate professionals like Paul Rudd and Kristen Bell in the middle of a scene. Among the Bridesmaids cast, Feig notes, Byrne “was a very easy mark” for McCarthy’s antics—always the first to laugh, as her co-star caught early and was happy to exploit. “I’ve got so many outtakes of Rose starting to laugh because Melissa just hits her with some weird thing that she didn’t expect,” says Feig.
Of the main ensemble, Byrne was also the only actor not already known for her work in comedy. She’s since gone on to star in funny flicks like the Neighbors series, Like a Boss, and Spy (which reunited her with Feig and McCarthy), but at the time, the Damages actor’s fish-out-of-water quality made her the “the perfect foil” for the rest of the group, Feig remembers.
“She’s very similar to Steve Carell...where they explore and create the character so thoroughly, that once they inhabit it, they just become that character and they don’t necessarily try to be funny,” the director explains. “Honestly, I can’t imagine anybody else having played that role.”
Meanwhile, Jon Hamm, who has a very memorable cameo as Ted, the world’s worst fuck buddy, was first thought of for another part. Having fallen “head over heels in love” with Hamm while directing a Season 1 episode of Mad Men, Feig’s initial impulse was to cast the actor as Officer Rhodes, the sweet cop who’d end up being played by Chris O’Dowd. But scheduling issues precluded Hamm from taking on a role of that size, so he was cast as Ted instead. “It was just like, who could be funnier than him being this asshole guy who is weirdly charming, and he’s so gorgeous of course you put with more than you might normally?” Feig says.
The director adds that Hamm was game for everything, including the memorable opening romp between him and Wiig, which Feig reveals was choreographed in the style of a fight rather than a love scene.
“That’s how we staged it,” he explains, “Like a professional wrestling scene where it was just like, ‘What are the most ridiculous positions you guys can be in?’”
Following its release, Bridesmaids was an unqualified hit with both critics and audiences, proof for Hollywood decision-makers (not that it should’ve been needed) that women were funny and could lead big movies. Unfortunately, despite the film’s success, the ensuing years didn’t bring an influx of comedies featuring the same wealth of talented women or that spoke directly to a female experience.
“It was nice that we were able to have our moment, but it felt like it both cracked the wall and it also sealed the wall up again in a weird way for a while,” Feig says.
Rather than capitalizing on the clear “appetite” for smart, funny movies about women, he adds, the industry response was to produce female-led projects missing “the heart and the soul that these movies need” or to release films originally written for men that were just blindly gender-swapped.
In recent years, Feig has helped bring several high-quality female-led projects to life, such as The Heat, Spy, Ghostbusters, and A Simple Favor. Movies like these and Bridesmaids, along with the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s investigation into allegedly discriminatory hiring practices for directors, have worked together to gradually give women more opportunities both on-screen and behind the camera. It’s these changes, Feig hopes, that will lead to the creation of many more female-led stories that actually resonate, as Bridesmaids still does.
“It was a story about a woman trying to save a friendship, [so] that we in the audience go, ‘Oh, I love that friendship so much, I’ll do anything for them to be friends again,’” the director says. “And I think that’s the core of the movie, even more so than all the hijinks.”