Hollywood has embraced him. Paul Feig’s rom-com Bridesmaids, with its bawdy entertainment in Hangover mold, proved such a blockbuster that its director has been chosen to produce a new Ghostbusters reboot. Before that, however, he has a new genre in his sights: spy films. With the mighty Melissa McCarthy playing the lead, he has thoroughly stirred and shaken up the classic Bond movie mix. Notwithstanding temperatures hitting 90 degrees in the shade, the lanky 52-year-old turns up for his interview in a pinstripe suit. His silver-handled walking stick is purely decorative, Mr. Feig assures us.
- Jory Lee Cordy
- Eva Munz
BMW Magazine: Mr. Feig, you have hidden your affinity for British culture rather well in the past.
Paul Feig: I’m a big Anglophile, actually. My mother’s side was British, and I’ve loved wearing three-piece suits since my teenage days, and still get a lot of them on Savile Row in London. I’ve gone “in for a penny, in for a pound” on the British look. Here in L.A., it’s considered quite odd to wear suits – which has always been my problem with this city – too casual for my taste.
Your latest movie, "Spy", is set in the world of international spies. That definitely suits your Savile Row aesthetics more than your previous films, "Bridesmaids" and "Heat".
Feig: Yes, everything I’ve done so far tended to be a little more Midwestern American, with people dressing the way people do. But I’ve always been a James Bond fanatic. I think "Casino Royale" was the perfect tone, the darker kind of Bond character. For ages, I’ve been trying to get an opportunity to direct one. I think you can’t direct a Bond movie unless you’re British… also, it doesn’t really help to be known for directing comedies.
But there have been exceptions – for example a Swiss director.
Feig: That’s right, Marc Forster did "Quantum of Solace". As long as it isn’t an American! I just thought, I like the genre so much, I’ll write my own spy movie and put a funny woman in the lead. That’s how "Spy" came about. I’ve worked with Melissa McCarthy a couple times before, but I just assumed she wasn’t available to do it. But then she heard about the script and was very eager to come on board. Of course I was delighted!
What else interested you about the genre?
Feig: I wanted to do a movie that was international, something that appeals to other cultures, which can be hard with comedies. So you have to make a film that doesn’t rely too much on language and translation, but is more physical and has more action. Then international settings and locales help. That dovetailed into what I wanted to do, because my wife and I are obsessed with travel.
You chose Budapest as the location for shooting "Spy". What did you like about the place?
Feig: In "Casino Royale", Bond goes to Montenegro, and I remember that felt so jet-setty, romantic and glamorous. Originally, the movie was supposed to take place in Venice, Capri and Paris. When I arrived in Budapest, I really fell in love with the city and decided I’d just change the main location to Budapest. We stayed at the Gresham Palace, which is one of the top five hotels in the world. They had never let anyone shoot anything there – but in the end, they even gave us permission.
So you first chose a location that would suit a Bond sequel and then totally shook up the genre?
Feig: Yes, starting with the main character, Susan Cooper, who Melissa plays. She´s a Midwestern kind of woman who works in the basement of the CIA as a secretary: a normal person who gets into an extraordinary situation. She has an unrequited love interest for the suave spy that Jude Law portrays. She’s the brains behind him. But he’s too well-known in top spy circles, so they need someone invisible to avoid a nuclear bomb getting into the hands of terrorists. A regular woman in an exotic, dangerous place – a nice juxtaposition.
“I get more excitement out of witnessing how much people are into the movie: their clapping and laughing is priceless.”
You spoke about action elements as being important for the genre. How do they pan out in "Spy"?
Feig: There’s one big story point in the form of a dynamic car chase centered on the bad guy’s car: a Rolls-Royce Wraith. He’s the only one who knows where the nuclear bomb is.
What’s more fun cinematically: to glorify cars or destroy them?
Feig: I’d say both. BMW was kind enough to loan us a bunch of amazing cars knowing that we were not just showing them off, but were actually going to smash a couple of them. There are two moments in the movie where BMWs are destroyed. It was definitely kind of horrifying to say, “Oh my god, we’re going to crash these awesome cars!” There’s another scene where Susan tries to break into a really crummy Trabant. She’s trying to hotwire it when she sees this beautiful BMW sitting there. She goes for the BMW, and then you see her tearing down the street in that. That was fun. We have another scene where the BMW cuts off some other cars and they all end up in a major accident. But the nice thing is that BMW went and repaired the cars, so they came back in perfect condition!
Despite the risks, you wanted to do proper car chases and crashes with stunt drivers instead of CGI?
Feig: I’m pretty immature when it comes to that stuff, so yeah, it’s all real! There’s so much planning that goes into a scene like that. There’s a real juice that you get when you’re about to do a stunt. I really like it. Some people are just terrified. But I know we’ve done all our due diligence to make it safe. So then you become a 12-year-old boy – “I get to smash a car! Yay!” Then you destroy another one.
You grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. I grew up in the suburbs of Munich. Cars were kind of a religion in Bavaria. What was it like in Detroit, a big car-manufacturing town?
Feig: It was a religion there, too. In the ’70s, Detroit hit a really low point because foreign cars had taken over and rightly so. I think the industry got a little lazy – it wasn’t keeping up. People wanted smaller, more efficient cars. The result was a warlike attitude in Detroit, because people were being laid off by the factories. If you were driving a foreign car, many times truck drivers would drive you off the road. Foreign cars were often vandalized.
Feig: Oh yeah, it was considered a big betrayal. Treason. My father owned an army surplus store, and a lot of the people who shopped with him were people who’d been laid off in the car industry. It was cheap. My mom wanted a Cadillac, but my father wouldn’t buy it because he was afraid that all his clients would think he was charging too much. He wanted to keep a low profile. I didn’t know anyone who owned a foreign car until I moved out to L.A. The first car I ever owned was the Plymouth Fury, which was the biggest car in the world – just an enormous sedan, a four-door beast. It was my grandmother’s. I hated it… I was terrified of it!
You have an incredible gift for making people laugh.
Feig: Actually, it’s way harder than making them cry, but comedy directors just don’t get the credit for that. Strange as it may sound, though, I get more excitement out of witnessing how much people are into the movie: their clapping and laughing is priceless.
So you attend test screenings yourself?
Feig: I sit right in the middle of the audience with my editor and a microphone. We record the reactions, then we take them to the editing room. When you’re back in the editing room, you can check if the jokes worked. We hear which scene or line got a small or a big laugh.