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Melissa McCarthy was virtually unknown until she evacuated her bowels on a bathroom counter in “Bridesmaids,” Paul Feig’s mega-comedy that turned big box-office numbers and even bigger laughs. The director promotes McCarthy to lead in his gritty girl-power flick “The Heat,” in which the comedian plays dirty-dealing Boston detective Shannon Mullins who’s not so keen on her new by-the-book partner, Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock).
During a visit to Feig’s hometown of Royal Oak, the director – along with Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block, who also stars – chatted about working with women, Melissa’s lesbian inspiration for her character and the man jokes that Sandra Bullock didn’t mind.
Were you worried to make another female buddy comedy after “Bridesmaids”?
Paul Feig: No, no. If I make movies only with funny women for the rest of my life, I will be very, very happy. I love working with strong, funny women. I think they haven’t gotten their due in comedy for a long time. I really want it to get to a point where it’s not about women or men in a movie and it’s just about funny people. Break down the gender barrier.
The gay community is obviously drawn to strong females, and both Melissa and Sandra play them in this movie. They stand their ground, but they’re also both outsiders. Why do those kinds of character appeal to you?
PF: I like to work with women. I like to do projects about women. I always look for the projects that have really strong women roles and aren’t the “I’m looking for a man” types, so this was really exciting to have that. It passed the Bechdel test.
They’re two professional women whose biggest goal is to find a common friend, because they’re both so dedicated to their careers and they don’t want to compromise, and I love a movie about women who don’t comprise. I grew up with a lot of women and all my friends were women and the funniest, most self-assured people I knew were women – and they were really able to make me laugh but in a really strong way. They were just cooler than the funny guys I knew. I’d see all these movies over the years with funny women stuck in really shitty roles and being like the bitchy girlfriend and they’re just mean; it’s like, “What’s going on? Why can’t they be funny?” So I wanted to do movies with strong, funny women and show the world what we all know: that those are very funny people.
Joey, how did you get involved?
Joey McIntyre: I play one of the crazy Mullins family characters. So two of those characters – Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin, great Boston actors and friends of Paul – we did this spoof of “Mad Men.” We called it “MA Men” – a filthy parody that was on Funny or Die. You never know in this business. You could do all these guest spots on TV shows, but I got more heat off of that … no pun intended.
PF: (Laughs) Nice plug! I saw that video and I was like, “Is that Joey McIntyre? He’s hilarious.” And it was a done deal. He was in the movie.
JM: When I got the call from the casting director, I said, “They probably saw that parody.” It was a blast to be involved (in “The Heat”). We just had so much fun being in my hometown with all these funny, funny people. Just great people.
PF: Yeah, no divas on the set.
What’s the most fun you had on set with Sandra and Melissa?
PF: I just really enjoyed how much they got along. You hire two great actresses but there’s no guarantee they’re gonna be friends. Sometimes you’re like …
What if they don’t click?
PF: Yeah, totally. This is the first time where I did something where I didn’t audition the actors, because they’re two big stars. So we got them and we were so happy, and then when I was going to the first rehearsal, I was like, “What if they have no chemistry?” But fortunately, the minute they met, their chemistry just went through the roof.
But my favorite thing about doing this movie is just that I got to work with so many funny people. Melissa and Sandy, definitely, but we had an amazing supporting cast of people who just came in and killed it. We’d play around on the set and a lot of the time we’d improv; then somebody who had no lines or one line in the script will suddenly have a bunch. It’s a meritocracy – whoever’s funny is in the movie. (Laughs)
How much improv was happening?
PF: We had a really solid script. I never go into anything without making sure the script is rock solid, that all the emotional underpinnings are there, the character arcs are there. Sometimes the improv is just them playing with the written lines, other times it’s just “go crazy” – and we had great scenes with the Mullins family. The whole thing where they’re fighting in front of the house, when Gina (played by Chaffin) is coming down the stairs so slow, that was just great.
That was all improv?
JM: Yeah, a lot of that stuff was. It was just so much fun. We would do a scene and then Paul would come in with notes that he and Katie (Dippold, the writer) worked on. We would laugh at those ideas before we did them and then try not to laugh. I just tried to keep a straight face.
PF: Joey, who I’ve always been a fan of, is one of the best improvisers I’ve ever worked with. And I’m not just saying that ’cause he’s sitting here.
JM: Get out!
There’s the scene when Sandra’s character first meets the Mullins family and they joke about her looking like a postop female. How did that come about?
PF: It started with Jamie Denbo. She’s another improv genius and she will look for weird windows; for her, it’s almost like she’ll find a nonsensical thing. Sandra Bullock is one of the most beautiful women in the world, and so since she’s wearing a suit, (Denbo) focuses on, “Are you a boy or a girl?” Then everybody starting riffing. Bill Burr came up with the “from the get-go / no operation?” line. But Sandra Bullock is so game. She just sat there and went with it. I’ve worked with plenty of people who will come over to me and be like, “Can you make them stop doing that?” But she was just having the best time.
How did Luther Vandross’ “Dance with My Father” become part of the bar scene?
PF: That was Melissa’s idea. I was like, “You should be dancing with two old guys from the place,” and Melissa was like, “We have to use ‘Dance with My Father’; it has to be that.” I had never heard that song. She knows it so well – that’s why she’s singing along to it.
What’s the trick to directing Melissa?
PF: You get out of her way! (Laughs) With somebody like Melissa, both on “Bridesmaids” and on this, she came in and I just knew she’d be right for it. She’s too big to audition. I let her create the look for the character with both of (the movies). Having been a character actor myself, you’re so dependent on not only what’s internal but also the external. She was like, “I want ’80s woman rapper to be my style,” but then she got these pictures of Patti Smith with her hair like that. It was fun to watch her build that character. With “Bridesmaids,” she wanted to wear a wig and I didn’t let her.
Yeah, she’s pretty hardcore in “The Heat.” Was she at all inspired by lesbians for this role?
PF: Well, I think some of that might’ve gone into it, too. (Laughs)
Do you know for sure?
PF: (Laughs) She has a lot of sources, let’s just say that.