I start off talking to Paul Feig about his latest movie as a producer, Snatched – you know, that one starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn as a mother/daughter duo kidnapped in the Colombian jungle – by telling him the glass of wine I had while watching it helped make the movie funnier. I realize after saying this out loud, it sounds less like a compliment to the brilliant marketing strategy of Fox – note, every studio should serve alcohol at screenings from now on – and more like a dig at his latest female-driven comedy.
The thing is, Snatched is funny, sober or otherwise, as most of Feig’s comedic ventures are. The man whose career includes creating the cult TV series Freaks and Geeks and then segued into directing films, developing a speciality in helming female-driven comedies like Bridesmaids, The Heat, and last year’s Ghostbusters remake.
In Snatched, directed by Jonathan Levine from a script by Katie Dippold, Schumer and Hawn star as a feuding mother and daughter who spend most of their time nagging each other until they’re taken hostage by a group of criminals and forced to find their way to safety by trudging through the Amazon. It’s a lot of Schumer doing her thing and Hawn reminding us why we love seeing her on screen but it’s also a testament to Feig’s fight for more women in film. Below, Feig talks about why we need female comedians pushing boundaries in the Age of Trump, his hate for the term “chick flick,” and how he practices equal opportunity shit takes.
It was so nice to see Goldie Hawn back in a movie. What kind of groveling does it take to get her to sign on to something like this?
Amy was the one who was really bent on having Goldie play her mom. I was working on a pilot for HBO a few years ago with Goldie that didn’t end up going but I really loved her and thought she was so great so when Amy brought it up we were all like, “Wow, that’s an amazing idea.” The first time that they actually read together as mother and daughter it just blew our minds how hilarious they were.
As someone who started out in TV, what’s the switch to film been like?
It was always what I wanted to do. The first thing I ever wrote was a feature film that’s never come out that I funded out of pocket called Life Sold Separately that hopefully will come out someday. But that was always the track I was on was to direct movies, in my head at least. After I created Freaks and Geeks and got to direct the finale of that, more and more TV work started popping up. It was fun, but the difference between movies and TV is, with TV, you’re always the new kid coming in and you’re in service of the show. I love doing movies because you’re the captain of the ship.
You’re just saying you like to be the boss. That’s what I’m hearing.
Exactly. That’s exactly it.
When Bridesmaids came out it kind of blew people’s minds to see all these women shitting themselves and throwing up on each other. I can’t imagine you began your career thinking, “One day I’m going to shoot Melissa McCarthy crapping in a sink.”
It’s been this long slow boiling point of seeing women not being portrayed in movies that well, especially in comedy. I grew up watching a lot of old movies with my mom from the ’30s and ’40s that had really great female characters. They were the equals of the men in those movies. And then suddenly, I had so many women friends and to see them being portrayed as so subservient to men or as these overbearing foils who were emotional punching bags, it just bothered me. I didn’t relate to these heavy-duty male-driven stories about guys trying to get laid.
When Bridesmaids popped up, Judd called me three years before when they were going to do a table read of very early drafts of it. He just called and said, ‘You should come see the reading of this. It’s loaded.’ And getting there and seeing a table full of all these actresses, I was just sitting there going, “Oh my God, this is exactly what I want. To be able to cast all the funny women I know that are out there.”
But the scary thing about it was there was a lot of pressure being put on it by the industry because it was a female-led comedy that was R-rated. Honestly, they were in an absolute holding pattern on ordering any other scripts in that world until they saw how we did, which is ridiculous when you think about it because men aren’t put to that same litmus test. Nobody’s saying when they’re making The Hangover, “Well, we’ve gotta wait and see if a movie about guys going out is going to be funny.” It was the biggest relief of my life when that movie did well because the whole time there was this absolute fear that I was going to somehow fuck it up for …
All women everywhere?
Yeah. One day they’d ask, “Well why don’t we make those kind of movies anymore?” And they’d say …
This guy named Paul Feig screwed us.
Yeah. Blame it all on him.
Talking about how much hinged on Bridesmaids, does that carry on into your other films as well? You’ve done so many female-driven comedies, do you still have to fight to get them made at this point?
I don’t have to fight with the studios to get them made so much, I just have to fight to get an audience to go. The whole Ghostbusters backlash, you know, some people were just mad that we were doing a remake of a classic movie, but a lot of other people were mad that it was all ladies. I’m lucky though. It’s easier to do these movies. The hard thing for me is that there are so many great women whenever you do it, you want to hire everybody and there are only so many roles. That’s why I want more people to be doing them so that all of these talented women can start working.
Is there something different for you in working with a female comedian? Do they bring something more to the table?
Working with them is no different. A funny, talented person is a funny, talented person. I’m still a guy. I still have a male outlook on the world so there are things that will come up on set or in the script stage that I think will be really funny and whatever actress I’m working with will go, “Well, actually, we wouldn’t do that” or “That doesn’t seem real.” For me it’s like, “Oh good, let’s figure out what is real. What’s the right thing for a woman to do?” It’s that vetting by women of the material, that’s what makes it real. They’re doing it in a way that’s honest.
Sometimes it’s the wording of a joke or a reaction to something. Kristen [Wiig] was very nervous about the dress shop scene in Bridesmaids and rightfully so because on paper and in execution it could just be no dignity kind of thing where everybody just looks ridiculous but she trusted us and trusted me in saying, “Look, we’re going to shoot everything and we’re going to go for it but the goal is to never make someone look bad. The goal is to do an incredibly honest scene on what would happen in those circumstances and how would everyone handle it.” That’s the difference between good comedy and bad comedy. It’s “Oh let’s do something outrageous just because it’s outrageous,” vs. “Here’s a very real thing, let’s try to portray it in the most outrageous way that we can while still keeping it honest and real.” Maya Rudolph sinking down in the street, that plays very real. It’s just a horrific, over-the-top situation, but that’s pretty much the way I think it would go down. If that happened, you’d just sink down and sit there.
So the point is, women are just as capable of doing shit takes in the street as men are.
Amen. Equal opportunity.
Why do you think this distinction between female and male comedy exists? I look at a movie like Snatched and I don’t see much of a difference in the type of content but this is obviously going to be marketed to women. It’s a “female comedy.”
It’s been a bunch of little mistakes along the way by everybody: studios, marketing, audiences themselves just putting these things into boxes. Guys looking at things and going, “Oh, that’s a chick flick.” The term I hate the most in the world is “chick flick.” What does that mean? You don’t look at a movie with guys in it and go, “Oh, that’s a dude flick.” No. Everybody expects men and women will go see whatever superhero movie comes out but if something is all women it’s almost an excuse for guys not to go see it. What I try to do with all my movies is to make them about people with situations that you can relate to. A man or a woman can relate to having a mother that they don’t appreciate because they’re embarrassed by them and then being suddenly put through a situation with your parent and realizing they’re a real person, that’s universal. Bridesmaids, the idea that you might be losing your best friend to somebody else, that’s universal. It’s not a woman thing.
Melissa McCarthy recently did a Sean Spicer impression on SNL and our current president really had a problem with her, as a woman, making fun of a man. How important is it right now to have female comedians pushing boundaries and making people uncomfortable?
That’s part of breaking those walls down. There are plenty of examples of men dressing up like women and trying to be funny. But you know, backlash comes with that. You see it on the internet all the time. A strong, smart, funny woman who dares to not be a size-one supermodel is doing something funny, or smart, or outrageous, people get mad about it. Some people are threatened by it. It shows that it’s needed. The way of thinking that’s been around needs an update.
And maybe to teach some snowflakes out there to not be so sensitive?
Yeah. Stop being so threatened. Women are your equals and your life is so much better when you realize that. So many of my friends are women. I’ve found myself out at events or at dinner and I’m the only guy there and I don’t even notice because you’re just having a conversation with a bunch of other people who have the same interests as you or who are willing to challenge you. It’s a great thing.
Also you’re looking like a ladykiller because you’re out with all these women.
Yeah no, I always look like their lawyer or something.