Interview: Paul Feig (director of Bridesmaids)

Interview: Paul Feig (director of Bridesmaids). By Simon Miraudo.

Everyone’s familiar with Judd Apatow’s magic touch; he famously discovered Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel and many more at a young age, and mentored them into superstardom. But where is the credit for unsung hero Paul Feig, who created the short-lived (yet still very much loved) TV show Freaks and Geeks alongside Apatow (the very show where Rogen et al cut their teeth)? Although that program didn’t survive past its first season (ironically, it would today be considered a ratings hit), Feig went on to direct a number of episodes for similarly beloved TV shows, such as The Office, Arrested Development, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, as well as channeling his personal stories that were used as a basis for Freaks and Geeks into two separate memoirs, Kick Me and Superstud. Perhaps his credit comes now, as director of the Apatow-produced comedy Bridesmaids, which has become a surprise box office hit. We spoke with Feig about working with writer and star Kristen Wiig, taking credit for the “female comedy comeback”, his new project with Jon Hamm and Melissa McCarthy, and whether he would ever return to the world of Freaks and Geeks with a reunion movie.

SM: You’ve got a history of working on very personal projects. You’ve written a couple of memoirs and of course, created Freaks and Geeks, which certainly felt personal.

PF: Very much so.

SM: Bridesmaids was written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. Was there something in particular about that script that you connected with on that personal level, and made you want to come and direct it?

PF: Yeah. I, first of all, I really just connected with the story of a person who is going through a bad time in their life, and is just trying to figure out where they are in the world, and figure out their place in the world. It’s exactly the same theme of everything that I kind of write. It’s not about someone on top of the world and living the high life, and suddenly things go bad. It’s that thing that we all can relate to, of trying really hard to do your best, and it’s just not working out. “Oh my God, what am I doing with my life? Am I doing the right thing?” And also this idea of your best friend, who you think is at the same level as you are, suddenly has an upgrade in their life, and it puts into focus that your life isn’t good. How do you deal with the jealousy of that? Does it make you crazy? Your decision making; how it puts your life into focus. I find that all very relatable and honestly something I could have written. It’s out of my playbook of stuff that I’m interested in, so it was a no-brainer to me.

SM: I’ve read that the film’s centerpiece, if you will – the food-poisoning scene – was not in the original script but suggested by Judd Apatow, the producer. Were there any other scenes that weren’t in the original script that you or Judd gave your input into?

PF: Originally, the girls actually did go to Vegas in the script. Judd and I … it was just driving us crazy, in the sense that we were like, “Oh, The Hangover did it so well; why would we take that on?” It was me who kind of went, ‘What if they just don’t get there? What if it all blows up on the airplane?’ I wanted more scenes that would showcase Kristen as a comedic performer. She had written so much great stuff for her going through this hard time, and had written really funny roles for everyone around her, but I wanted her to not be so selfless, and really showcase her comedy. And it just seemed like, “What could be better than having her drunk on an airplane?”

SM: Getting her drunk and drugged certainly does get her crazy characters out into the forefront.

PF: Yeah, because she still gets to be a grounded, real person, but in an extreme situation, and that to me is my favourite kind of comedy, because it’s all very truthful. You can relate to it. The other scene that wasn’t in was when Megan [Melissa McCarthy] comes over and kind of beats her up on the couch. Because that was originally going to be an Indian woman who kept calling from a debt collection center in Mumbai or wherever – actually no, she was based out of the U.S. – driving home that Kristen had no money and was in debt, and finally at this point in the movie, she gave her the hard life talk; “get your act together”. We were kind of like, “I dunno, here’s a third party character that we have no investment in”. We have this great character of Megan – it was very clear during rehearsals how funny Melissa was – and it was like, “You know what, Megan should be the one to do this”. We switched it up. Kristen and Annie did the writing on it. I’m so happy we did that, because it makes Megan’s character such a fully-rounded, three-dimensional person.

SM: Absolutely; she’s definitely one of the richest characters in the film. You’ve obviously done a lot of TV work recently, and that’s a very fast moving medium, but I understand that Judd encourages lots of takes, and plenty of reels of film to be used. Can you tell me a little bit about working in those different mediums? Is it freeing to have that leeway?

PF: Yeah, well honestly I do the same thing in television. On The Office, that’s the exact same way we work there. We do a lot of improv. Always start from a really well-written script, and then play. Because you have people … you know, Steve Carrell’s one of the best improvisers in the world. We roll a lot of film there. And honestly, on Freaks and Geeks, even though we didn’t do a ton of improvisation, we just tried stuff over and over again. We shot so much film we always got in trouble with the network for spending way too much money. You know what it is? We both like to have the acting be very natural, and what happens is when you do your first take, there’s too much pressure on it. So we love to just keep the camera rolling; “OK, try it again. Try this. Try that”. You’re just throwing stuff in so that people don’t have time to think. There’s something about, the lights coming up, and they do the clapboard, and “Action!” that creates this false moment of importance that you don’t want, because it makes it not real and not natural. For us it’s all about making people forget that the cameras are there, and to do that you need to get away from that moment.

SM: Going back to Freaks and Geeks, I’m sure that every Australian person you’ve spoken to today has said the same thing: that it’s a show we dearly love, even though it’s nearly impossible to get a hold of. Are you surprised that the show has such legs? That people are still discovering it more than 10 years after the fact, and love it so?

PF: I’m very surprised. I mean, I’m very happy about it; nothing makes me happier. I’m really surprised that outside of the U.S. it’s known, especially as you say, you can’t even get the discs here. That drives me crazy. I feel like I’m always calling them up and saying, “Why aren’t we out in other regions?” But, fortunately, DVDs will be gone in the next five years, and we’ll all be streaming in everybody’s houses. But it’s very nice. It’s nice to know that the themes that we wrote about and played on are so universal, that even though it’s kind of through a filter of a very reference heavy American period, that it’s not about that. It’s about these stories that we have all gone through as human beings, in that time of your life when you’re so insecure and weird and all over the place. It’s a very human thing; it’s not beholden to one country or people.

SM: In a fantasy world, where all the stars align, and Seth [Rogen] and Jason [Segel] and Linda [Cardellini] and James’ [Franco] schedules cleared, and you could bring the whole gang back together, would you do it, and make an anniversary movie, or are you happy to have that one season and leave that in the past?

PF: I’m kind of happy with where we left it. I would be nervous to return to it, just because I would want to ensure that what we did is great. It could be interesting, and it’s really exciting to sort of think about it. But I don’t know; my instinct is to step away and let it be what it was. It’s the same reason I don’t ever go to one of my high school reunions. I know all those people, but I’m not necessarily dying to know what they’re doing now. I would like to know that they’re happy, but I’d be sad to know that some aren’t. It sounds very condescending to say that. You know what? There are moments in your life where you say, “That was a great moment; let’s not deal with the reality that’s happening afterwards.” [Laughs]

SM: You’ll just have to deal with people sending you the fan fiction scripts for the reunion.

PF: [Laughs] Exactly. Those I can enjoy.

SM: I understand you’re teaming up with Judd again for a new film; it’s being described as an “unconventional love story” and the rumour is that it’ll star Jon Hamm and Melissa McCarthy.

PF: Yeah, that rumour just came out this morning, which I was trying to hide. I don’t mind that it’s out there. Nothing’s official; who knows if they’ll do it. That would be my dream, to have the two of them, because I love them as performers and I’ve always wanted to tell a love story about two people falling in love who Hollywood wouldn’t normally let fall in love.

SM: Interesting. And, Bridesmaids has been a massive success in the U.S., so people are obviously talking about a sequel. Is that something you’d even be interested in doing?

PF: If we could make it as good or better than the first one, than yeah, I’d definitely be into that. But, you know, it would just have to be good. I’m never happy when a sequel waters down the beloved memory of the first thing. But, if you can do The Godfather Part 2 [laughs], that would be great. So yeah, I’m definitely open to it.

SM: The film’s been heralded as a ‘comeback’ for women’s comedy, which is great and you should all be very proud of that. Is there a little part of you that thinks, ‘Hey, I’m a guy; I deserve some of the credit too!’

PF: [Laughs] You know what? I’m just happy to be in service to them; to help facilitate it, and whatever part I did. I’m just sad that female comedy had to be “brought back” in a good way. It’s kind of crazy. This is a great example; you see, look at these funny women – six hilarious women – and you know there’s more where they came from. There are people we auditioned who were fantastic, but we just didn’t have enough roles to get them in. So these women should all be working; they should not just be playing ‘the girlfriend who’s mean’ or ‘the wife who’s a drag’. They should be able to get to be themselves and bring their personalities and their funny personas to the big screen. I think TV is a much better place for women at the moment, because they tend to let women have better roles. For some reason, movies have not been doing that, and I hope that … actually, I think now we’ve definitely shown people that it can be done, so I hope they do it in a good way and keep it going, and don’t give Hollywood an excuse to say, ‘Well, they did it in that one, but normally people don’t want to see it’. We just want to ensure good ones keep coming out.

Bridesmaids is now showing in Australian cinemas.

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