It’s been a long time coming, but with Bridesmaids finally hitting big, Paul Feig has a significant hit to his name. It’s well deserved, too, and follows the likes of the mighty Freaks And Geeks earning massive acclaim, but promptly being cancelled, by people time has proven should have known better.
As Bridesmaids finally arrives in the UK, we caught up with Paul Feig to ask him a few questions…
I’ve followed lots of your stuff over the years, and I think it’s fair to say that you’ve never had anything that’s come close to doing $136m at the US box office?
No, definitely not! I’m not used to it at all!
Is it an odd feeling now, and is that commercial success important to you? Or is it a case of this is the nice bit at the end?
It’s definitely a nice feeling, because it’s been very hard for me to get things made. More often than not, I seem to do well critically, which is fantastic. But unless you’re making people money, they’re not happy to have you do stuff.
For me, it hopefully will give me the freedom to get other projects made, more than I have in the past.
Have you got a 15-20 year bucket list of films you’ve been dying to make, but couldn’t?
[Laughs] I’ll pull out everything I’ve ever tried to get made! No, there’s some pet projects that I’ve wanted to get done. But what I don’t want to do is dive right into one of my small, pet project films.
It would be nice to do something a little bigger in scale, hopefully to lock in the feeling that what you do is more financially viable. I’ve got a couple of projects I’m really excited about.
There’s one that’s been doing the rounds in the trades, with Judd Apatow?
Yeah, and that’s a real pet project of mine. So, hopefully, I can shoot that the following summer. There’s still a lot of development to do, and there’s actor availabilities. So, finger’s cross.
One thing that’s got me about Bridesmaids, is that a lot of the press seems to think it’s a surprise that women can be funny. As if lots of people went to see Romy And Michelle’s High School Reunion in a bad mood all those years ago, didn’t laugh, and reached their conclusions. Did the gender angle particularly matter to you?
Honestly, it did. You talk to Judd and Kristen and they don’t feel that swayed them at all. They just wanted to make a funny movie. For me, I came in a little bit later in the process, and I watched Judd get falsely accused of writing terrible female movie characters, and all that.
So, a) there’s a part of me that thinks we can make this film to dispel this myth about him, and also b) I’ve worked with so many funny women over the years, and I’m friends with so many funny women, that I felt when I watched those movies where women don’t get to be very funny, or they’re the nagging wife, or needy girlfriend, I’m thinking, “Fine, those parts are there, but is that all they get to play?”
So, it was a bit of a cause for me, to get in there and reinvent the wheel a little.
There’s a performance in the film that I don’t think has been talked about enough. I don’t think that Rose Byrne has got the amount of praise she deserves for this. I thought she was outstanding.
I one hundred percent agree with you.
I really thought she was going to be the one that people were clambering about. She does such an amazing job, and it feels so effortless. What she did is really hard.
She’s a woman who wants to do comedy, who is really excited about doing comedy, but isn’t known for doing it. And in some ways she has the hardest role, next to Kristen, because she has to be very grounded.
Going into this film, the thing I was preaching about was that you can’t have the villainous woman in this. You can’t have the ‘she’s terrible’, ‘she’s a bitch’, ‘she’s plotting behind her back’, because that’s what you’ve seen so many times. And it turns it into one of these soap opera-y cat fight female films. It’s one of the reasons why none of us like “chick flicks”.
We saw so many funny women for this role, but they all carried that archness to it. And we said that we need to get a real actress. And that’s right when Judd had done Get Him To The Greek with Rose, so I took a look at her scenes. And I was, “Wow, this woman knows what’s funny.”
She really surprised me, as she’s the kind of improviser that Steve Carell is, because what people do is find the very grounded centre of the character, and are able to talk like that person. She did a lot of improv in this film, and was able to keep up with the girls. That scene where she has a breakdown in the car was a masterful bit of acting.
You mentioned Get Him To The Greek, and what Judd Apatow did there was take characters from another film into a non-direct sequel. I’d quite like to see the women of Bridesmaids again. Are you tempted to go back and explore them further?
Oh, very much so. As actresses I love them, and I’d love to work with them in different plans. I’m planning on doing that. But yeah, even this group of characters I’d love to explore again.
Even though we ran for two hours, I felt we just scratched the surface of several of them. So, there’s always sequel talk, and there’s a part of me that would love to do that.
At the same time, though, this movie was driven by this relatable small story of a woman living her life, and sorting it out. The danger is that the second one is a crazy romp about a wedding. And you need to find a relatable story at the core that works dramatically, for the comedy to work.
Can’t you just do the same film again, but take them to Thailand? Isn’t that the done thing?
[Laughs] I thought about that, but somebody’s done it!
You drop in the name George Glass in the film. That’s surely a Brady Bunch reference? I remember it from A Very Brady Sequel?
Oh yes! It’s from an actual episode of The Brady Bunch.
A Very Brady Sequel is a massively underrated comedy. That’s where I got it from!
Oh yeah, I love that one! I was referencing the actual show, of which I’m quite an expert!
It’s clear you’ve got a very improvisational cast with Bridesmaids, and I can only imagine how much material you’ve got left on the cutting room floor. Are we likely to get an Anchorman-style extra movie, Wake Up, Annie Walker anytime soon?
Well, the DVD definitely has a lot of extra stuff on it. When you work with this many funny women, who are great at improv, the amount of material generated is mind-blowing.
Fortunately, I have a great editor, who can go through and sort through it first, and whittle it down. There’s definitely lots extra on the DVD.
And also, if you go to FunnyOrDie.com, there’s an outtake reel on there, which just scratches the surface of the funny stuff that happened!
I thought Bridesmaids also offered a lovely final role for the late Jill Clayburgh, and I don’t think much has been said about that. I wonder if you could just talk a little about working with her on this?
Oh, it was great. She was such a sweet person. With that, we were trying to figure out who to cast as the mom, and either her people contacted Judd, or Judd worked out she was keen to do a comedy, and really wanted to be in one of Judd’s movies. And I’ve been megafan of hers since I was a teen. I had a mega crush on her, so much so that I dated a girl that looked exactly like her. It was a nightmare!
It just seemed like a no-brainer. She just looked like she could have been Kristen’s mom. They had a very similar look. And she was just a joy.
We were doing a lot of insane stuff, some very dirty things, and we were all wary that the last movie she was doing had some very dirty stuff. But every time, all of a sudden, we said, “We’re sorry we keep making you do this,” she’d say, “I love it”. She just had the best time.
And it was so, so sad to me that she didn’t get to see the final product.
The last question I wanted to ask you about is Freaks And Geeks, which did sort of make it to Britain. A lot of us spent an inordinate amount of money to import the DVD boxset all those years ago.
I appreciate that!
You put so much bloody music in it that they couldn’t clear the rights to, that nobody will ever release it in the UK!
I think even their window on releasing in the States is winding down.
It’s a show, though, where I just wonder if the cancellation has turned into something of a blessing longer term. And, if we raise enough money, will you bring everyone back for a twentieth anniversary special?
[Laughs] I don’t think any of us can raise enough money to get that cast back together, because they’re all stars now!
They’d work for scale. I asked them all.
Oh good! That’s a very interesting thing you asked, though, because there is a part of me that does think we were better off getting cancelled.
That was the hardest job I ever had, doing Freaks And Geeks, because we were trying to make it so good. We were working every episode like it was a little independent film. It really took its toll on everybody, and when we got cancelled, I was just exhausted. But at the same time, I was very sad not to see those characters play themselves out.
People bring up whether we can do a sequel, or a reunion, but I’m very hesitant, because it might mess up what we had.
That said, if we ever came up with an idea that we thought was great, we might try and give it a shot.
I reckon it’s you who’s the expensive one now. After Bridesmaids, it’s your fee that will cripple the project.
Yes, exactly! I am the budget killer!
That’s what $136m at the box office does for you.
Yeah, that’s right!
Paul Feig, thank you very much.
Bridesmaids is out in the UK today. Our review is here.