Spy director on Jason Statham’s silly streak and why women are funny
Paul Feig is the funniest man you’ve probably never heard of. He created the cult TV comedy Freaks and Geeks (watch on YouTube immediately if you’ve never seen it). He’s directed episodes of some of America’s most essential TV shows (Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation and The Office. More recently, he’s become fairy godfather to Hollywood’s funniest women as director of Bridesmaids, The Heat and the upcoming all-female Ghostbusters reboot. His new comedy is Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy as a frumpy CIA desk agent who gets her big break undercover posing as a cat-loving housewife from Iowa. A hilariously meat-headed Jason Statham tags along. Here, Paul Feig – who would win the Oscar for best-dressed director – tells us what he’s learned along the way.
When in doubt, conga ‘There was one key moment when I decided I wanted to do comedy. I was six or seven and there was a choir. We were singing in front of the whole school and they gave me maracas. So I started doing this little conga dance. The place just went crazy with laughter. The more I danced, the more they laughed. It was like a religious experience. I never got over that.’
Comedy has become too male-dominated ‘Women have had so many bad roles over the past 35 years in men’s comedies. I would see all these funny women I know in movies not being funny – just being these caricatures of what men think women are. And it bothered me. I don’t have a take on men’s comedy as much. I love working with funny women. They make me laugh more. Melissa is a powerhouse. It’s ridiculous that “women being funny” was even an issue. It’s racism, practically.’
Make it your way ‘I’m a fan of spy movies, but I realised nobody was going to let the guy who directed Bridesmaids do James Bond. So I came up with Spy.
Jason Statham is very funny ‘Jason has a sense of humour about himself. In Spy I asked him to play it dead serious. Most of my direction for people who aren’t comics is “take it down” or “do less”. When actors come in like: “I’m going to be funny,” it’s what we call in the business “sweaty”. You go: “That joke is so sweaty.” What it means is that they’re working too hard.’
Hollywood was wrong about female comedy ‘Before I did Bridesmaids, everyone told me it wouldn’t work. And they sounded compelling. I’m thinking, these people are in showbiz, they must know something I don’t know. Then I started to go against it a little. There were all these romantic comedies that were so overwritten. Bridesmaids worked because it was honest.’
Go for a more radical reboot of Ghostbusters ‘I got the call while shooting Spy. It felt weird. Harold Ramis is gone, Bill Murray doesn’t want to do it. They kept on at me. So I thought, how would I do it? Then I had an idea: what if I could cast all the funny women I know? The backlash? A lot of people are angry that we’re touching the franchise. I get that. But when it’s, “How dare you put women in!” That’s just misogyny.
An Oscar for comedy ‘That would be great. I’ve met with the head of the Academy about it. But as corny as it sounds, hearing an audience laugh for two hours is greater than any award. You know, comedy is very hard to do. It has to look effortless.’ Spy is out now in cinemas across Dubai.
Feig The World: Paul’s gifts to us all
Freaks and Geeks (1999) Feig teamed up with producer Judd Apatow to create this hilarious, insightful coming-of-age TV comedy series, which kick-started the careers of Seth Rogen and James Franco.
Bridesmaids (2011) After a decade in the TV wilderness, Feig landed the perfect assignment. Bridesmaids rebooted his career, made Kristen Wiig a huge star and revitalised female-fronted comedy.
The Heat (2013) This goofy buddy-cop romp starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock revealed Feig’s masterplan: to create smash-hit comedies centred on complex female characters.