While much of the conversation surrounding Friday's genuinely brilliant "Bridesmaids" focuses around its superstar producer, Judd Apatow. And while Apatow had a guiding hand, with the film initially sprung from a development deal the producer struck with co-writer/star Kristen Wiig after her scene-stealing turn in the Apatow-directed "Knocked Up," the man behind the camera is none other than Paul Feig. Feig created "Freaks and Geeks" and has been responsible for a number of memorable television episodes in recent years, helming installments of everything from "Arrested Development" and "Bored to Death" to "30 Rock" and "Mad Men." (He's also directed more than a dozen episodes of the stateside "The Office," including the recent departure of Steve Carell.)
We recently spoke to Feig about striking the right tonal balance in the female-centric comedy "Bridesmaids," adding the right amount of emotional complexity to a broad comedy, and how they have to do the DVD special features really fucking early.
How are you?
Paul Feig: I’m good, it’s the week of release so it’s starting to get nerve-wracking now. I’m just having drinks with Melissa McCarthy at the moment. We’re recording the commentary tracks for the DVD tonight, so everybody’s in town. Yeah, it should be fun.
Oh wow, I thought that kind of stuff was done after-the-fact.
Well, now the window is so small between the release and the DVD coming out, once we’re done with this track the DVD is finished with all the extra materials, the deleted scenes, they’re all done.
Is there going to be a different cut of the movie on the DVD?
Yeah, there’s a theatrical and then there’s an extended cut that has about six or seven more minutes of stuff in it. There are a few restored extra bits of dialogue. We’re really happy with the flow of the theatrical cut, we didn’t want to just dump everything in. But there’s a couple of scenes that we always thought were really funny that we were on the fence about cutting out, so we’ve thrown them back in and hopefully people will like it.
What was it like being a male director and directing a very female oriented and centered film?
I loved it. I have no issues with that whatsoever, because I’ve worked with a lot of actresses. I’ve worked on some great female-centric shows like "Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie," and "Freaks and Geeks" was, you know, Lindsey’s character was always sort of my favorite, definitely my favorite one to write, so I had no issue with it because while growing up most of my friends were girls. I grew up next to a family of eight kids and six of them were girls and they were all kind of my age and were really my best friends. Then when I got to high school, I was in drama club and all that and so many of my friends were girls and some of the funniest people I’ve known in my life, back then and now are all women. I guess I’ve always weirdly been a little more comfortable around women anyway so it’s really what drew me to this project.
I mean Kristen initially drawing me in with the script was another thing, but the idea of getting to work with all of these women was extremely appealing to me because I really have felt that in general women don’t get the roles they should get in Hollywood, especially in comedy, so it’s really exciting to do a big ensemble with really just the funniest ladies we could find. It was easy. I mean it may sound like bullshit but it could not have been a more pleasant experience.
Some people may have assumed the opposite?
It’s funny, chauvinistically some people are like, you better watch out with all of those women it’s going to be a crazy set, they’re all going to be fighting or whatever, but that’s not true at all. They were wonderful, but it helps…anytime you get six actors together it can possibly be volatile depending on the kind of project, but the great thing about comedy, especially when we get people based on their improv skills as well, people that have an improv background tend to be much more… just much cooler because you can’t work in a vacuum, you’re so dependent on the people you’re working with, that you can’t be like an asshole or if you’re doing an improv scene with somebody the dynamic doesn’t work. And a lot of them had worked together before so it was just one of those projects where when you’ve wrapped you’re kind of sad that you’re not going to get to see everybody every day.
Do you think audiences are going to respond well to this type of material? It’s an R rated comedy but it tackles some serious emotions and gets nice and difficult to watch at times.
I hope, I mean all I can go off of is what we’ve experienced already and from the test screens we were doing to all of these previews that they’re doing. All the word of mouth screenings, all of them are in the past month and just outrageously growing responses from 99.9% of the people. I mean whenever we have one of the screenings I’d just go to Twitter and type in "Bridesmaids" and hundreds and hundreds of tweets come up. That’s the problem with the internet -- it sometimes feels like oh everybody’s talking about it, and then it’s like 1% of people.
But there seems to be a genuine excitement about it just because there hasn’t been a movie like this. And my favorite poll is whenever I talk to anyone about it or see if they’ve heard of it, they not only really want to see it but they’re always like, "oh yeah, we have a group that’s getting ready to go see it!" They’re all putting together groups of their friends to go see it and that, to me, is what's exciting. Because at the end of the day you just want to, you want to do something that generates excitement because we haven’t seen it.
It is pretty fresh given what's out there.
Thanks. I just want to show Hollywood that there’s a market for these kind of things, that a group of women can carry a movie. It doesn’t have to just be based on…you know like "Sex and the City," a popular TV show. The women are not giant movie stars yet, now they’ll all become that. Hopefully the audience will say oh good, let’s see more of them and give more women a shot. My goal is all the women from this become big movie stars and then they’re set and now let’s bring the next batch in. Because there were so many funny women we saw that we couldn’t even use in the movie because there weren’t enough roles. So they’re out there and we just need the good material. You know you just hope this does well, that people will do more of these movies and they’ll take the time to make sure the scripts are good and not fall back to the usual, you know the way that they sometimes do with women, just kind of make it outrageous or where women act like guys. You know you can’t just take a guys rompy comedy and say okay let’s make it with women and not substantially adjust the story so it plays real for everyone.
Could you talk about bringing the emotional angle into the project. How much was there in Kristen’s script and how much did you make sure was there when you filmed?
They definitely had a lot of it there. They had a very relatable story about this woman going through this hard time that’s exacerbated by being in this event, this high stress event, And Judd and I just went through making sure that the core was tracking in the way a movie has to track and in building upon other things, we were fleshing out exactly… you know the emotional core really. We just wanted to make sure that it played logically. You’re always on guard against any moments that suddenly feels faked or forced or like a movie turn versus a real life turn, but then honestly the script was great. It was literally just taking it to the next level and Judd’s so great at that.
You and Judd are definitely on the same page.
What he and I have always bonded over is just having a real story with real people acting in real ways. Once you have that base and that emotional core and it works believably, then you can start building up the comedy, you can start building up the set. It’s just the emotional base that we have to have and then now let’s piece it out. Then you can have fun and go, okay, well what’s the strangest thing that can happen, they can have food poisoning. We’re going to take Annie, who’s denying that anything’s wrong with the most overwhelming evidence ever in a comedy, that she’s pretending is not happening and then everybody else is in absolute hell. But it’s all building off of the solid emotional core. It’s not like we said let’s do a movie, it’s a crazy comedy, we’ll have this and that and then okay now we need a sad story in the middle so let’s jam it in, then it wouldn’t work. But if you draw off a very firm story base then you can play it. We never worry about the comedy because we know that we have Kristen Wiig already, who’s one of the funniest women on the planet, and then we’re going to hire the funniest people we can find, and they’re going to bring their comedy to it, on top of what we have, but they’re all going from a very solid base. Again, that’s why we never worry if there’s probably a big scene here, or where do you want your set pieces so that you’re between the character stuff and then hitting big moments, those kind of tentpole moments that drag you along in a commercial comedy.
Was that what made you want to do it? That mixture of the comedy and the emotional stuff?
Oh yeah definitely. That to me, that’s my favorite thing in the world, that’s why Judd [Apatow] is such a great producer. The studio was great, they never, they were always into it but they also trust him so much and they’re in synch with his style, whereas a lot of times studios tend to get nervous if the comedy starts shooting over the top. They want it to walk like a comedy, talk like a comedy and smell like it, and so it was nice to be able to go, no, this is…at its heart, what I love about it, it’s a very small story. If you really think about it, Annie’s arc is really before we met her, before the movie starts she had it together, and then it all fell apart, and so we’re meeting her when she’s a mess, and the whole story is kind of getting her back to who she was and a little bit better. So that’s not killing aliens or saving the world, or assassinating the bad guy, it’s a small, little emotional arc, but it’s told in a big way because it’s playing out on a big field, but in a very realistic way. So in a way it’s kind of like a big episode of "Weeds," at the end of the day.
Was it hard to balance the ensemble aspects of the movie?
You really want everybody to have their moment. You want to make sure everybody has some kind of an arc, even though once you get into the story with them you’ve just got too much material, certain arcs may get paired down a little bit. But as long as people aren’t just characters who stand there to deliver exposition, I’m happy with it. All of the girls, in varying degrees have a story. And then at the end of the day it’s Kristen’s movie, it’s written by Kristen, she’s in every single scene in the movie, because it’s what we call a POV movie, which is where it’s not that the audience is kind of the third eye, seeing what all the players are doing, and they don’t know what the other people are doing. We’re following one person and they’re in every scene and we’re there with her as if we’re following a friend around. But they were great, it was really fun to do the big scenes where they were all in it because their energy and chemistry was so amazing. You just kind of sit back and not get in the way and just make sure you’re setting up the situations in a way that allows them to play, allows them to bring their strengths to it, and you know just suddenly having rehearsals with the girls and putting their input and stamp on all the characters and then Kristen taking that material and adjusting the script to it, and doing that over and over again.
"Bridesmaids" hits theaters this Friday, May 13 in wide release. Read our review here.