Paul Feig is a long way from his days playing small roles in TV shows like "Dirty Dancing" and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." The "Bridesmaids" director and creator of "Freaks and Geeks" is now a singular force in Hollywood, serving up majorly funny (and majorly successful) comedies that are slowly convincing studios to give female audiences a break.
Feig's latest movie, "The Heat," stars Sandra Bullock as an FBI agent and Melissa McCarthy as her street detective foil. Though it's the filmmaker's first foray into action, there's still plenty of room for hilarity between Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) and Shannon Mullins (McCarthy).
We caught up with Feig the day of the movie's New York premiere, where he graciously spoke about his love of female comedies and why Hollywood has been stubborn about making more. He also dished about his upcoming female James Bond flick, "Susan Cooper."
I was a little bit surprised with the action in "The Heat." Are you worried people are going to come in expecting a "Bridesmaids" and be like, "Oh wow, Sandra Bullock's getting stabbed!"
You know, "Bridesmaids," we didn't hold back on, like, the bathroom stuff. I think people expect at least bodily fluids from my movies [laughs]. You can't control the expectations people come in with, and for me, I think it's a great follow-up because it's still the same humor of "Bridesmaids." It's just kind of funny, character-based conflict. But then, you know, I like no-holds-barred comedy, and I think that's what the R-rated comedy gets you. And I feel like with ["The Heat"], you go, OK you know there's going to be something kind of outrageous.
What I don't like are those kind of movies or action movie parodies where the bad guy's silly, because then there's no stakes and you're just going joke to joke, and that's very hard to sustain. People have to care about the character, and then once they care, then the comedy becomes better because they're your friends all of a sudden; you're worried about them.
I love the female friendships in your movies.
That's the thing that appeals to me most, and that's why I really latched onto this one when it got sent to me, because I don't like any movie that kind of scolds women about, like, "Your job's too important to you and so you're cutting off this other part of your life, of a husband" and that's always the romantic comedies, like the Ice Queen. No, I like professional women. I like women who've decided they want to do this thing, and they're dedicated to it.
I feel like you've become the de facto feminist filmmaker. You're out there making movies for us and representing the ladies, and also lifting up upcoming writers and comics. Did that happen organically, or are you suddenly getting a lot of scripts from women?
For me, it's kind of what I always wanted to do. You know, starting with "Freaks and Geeks," Lindsay was always my favorite character. Then over the years, I'd just try to develop things or pitch ideas that were female-based, and just be shut down so fast. I had this period where you're like, "OK, I guess we just can't do things with women because there's a business model." And then suddenly I started going, Well, no, that's not cool. So as I'm working with more and more funny women and then I'm watching these movies where women who I know are hilarious have these terrible roles where they're being just mean and they're not being funny, you're like, "Well, why can't she be funny?" [laughs]
And then "Bridesmaids" kind of came along out of nowhere for me... There was a lot of pressure because you really did feel the town kind of going, "Well, let's see. It's a movie starring women. We don't know." And it's like, come on, really? Did they do that for "The Hangover"? Like, if that doesn't work, men can't be in comedies any more? It's dumb. So I loved doing that, and I felt so comfortable in it, too, because ever since "Freaks and Geeks" I got sent movie scripts, but they're always kind of bro-heavy. They're always like, guys trying to get laid, or one of the friends, he's a p***yhound, and I was just like, Ugh. I don't like those guys. I don't enjoy their exploits at all. I can't relate to that. None of my friends were ever like that.
"Bridesmaids" was really successful but Hollywood is still hesitant on making female films -- the numbers are still bad.
Oh, it's terrible. We're the only studio release this summer with women in lead roles. My fear was that after "Bridesmaids," there was going to be an onslaught of all these movies starring women that weren't good, so then it would be like, they all lose money. And then that didn't even happen. What I don't want is like, well, Paul Feig does these. It's not just me. It should be female directors out there doing it. And I'm thrilled that I get to be the guy who's doing it, but yeah, if it's all going to fall to me, I can't make that many movies. There's way more talented women then there are time that I have to [make movies]. [laughs]
Let's talk about "Susan Cooper," your female James Bond comedy. Is this going to be action-y too?
Yeah, it is. I'm a big James Bond fan, and always wanted to direct one, but I was like, "They're never gonna let me direct a James Bond movie!" [laughs] And then I was like, "Well, why don't I write my own?" And I love working with women so much, it's like, I want to have a female James Bond. It's not one of those ones where she can beat up guys [that are] 300 pounds. No, it's like a real person getting put in this situation who just happens to be kind of good at it.
So I'm really excited about it, because... one of the things you always hear [about] is [audiences] don't like to have women starring in movies because they don't do well internationally -- like there's many countries that just kind of don't embrace movies with women in the lead roles, which is ridiculous. But my feeling was like, if we can get something that kind of goes over that hump where you go, "Oh my god, look, there's action, it's cool, that looks like fun," then maybe we can break... I just want to start chipping that wall away so we can kind of reeducate all the people who see a poster with women on it and go, "Ugh! It's a chick flick!" or "Ugh, I don't want to see that" to go, "Oh, cool, that looks like a good movie."
As a working journalist and a fan of Melissa McCarthy, I just want to thank you for speaking up against Rex Reed's comments about her weight.
That was easiest thing I ever did in my life -- defend her. [That review] is everything I hate in life rolled into one, which is bullies and name-calling and judging people based on physical attributes. That's the stuff we left behind in high school... I thought we were all out of that. You're an adult, right? That's why I get nervous around teenagers, because a teenager can completely excoriate you. Around adults, you go like, OK, at least adults, we all know you're not supposed to do that. And he had this public forum and does it.
Look, I like Rex Reed. I've always been a fan of his critiques. It's just, don't be mean, and don't try to then bury it under, "Well, I'm concerned about... " -- whatever, there's a way to do that. I just want to get past all that. I thought we were! That name-calling sort of phase of life, it's just so counterproductive. You know what? Life is perpetually high school, I always say.
This interview has been edited and condensed.