segunda-feira, agosto 01, 2011

Paul Feig

It's safe to say that Paul Feig changed my life. I was 14 when I first saw Freaks and Geeks, ten years ago, when it was shown on Portuguese TV. I loved it automatically and it subconsciously made a comedy geek out of me. Three years ago, when the New York Times profiled him, I was so sad that someone so great and so important to me was by all acounts a failure. Now, with the success of Bridesmaids, I'm happy for the guy, although I never met him and only talked to him on Twitter and 40 minutes on the phone. As the already published Portuguese version of this interview is short, I thought I'd post this, a somewhat more complete transcript.

Before Bridesmaids came out in the UK, you told the Guardian you still felt like a loser. Isn’t it getting harder and harder to maintain that perspective, what with all the box office success and critical acclaim?

It’s definitely more difficult. Yeah, I feel less like a failure. It’s been really nice and exciting. You go into every project hoping you’ll have an outcome like this that it’s always very shocking and demoralizing when it doesn’t.

Because stuff like Freaks and Geeks, although it’s loved but many people, failed.

A lot failed. The whole reason you make stuff is that you hope many people like it. People loved it, but audiences didn’t really find the things I did. It’s built into a much bigger thing. Sadly, at the time my things didn’t make it. I lost people money. It’s expensive, you have to make people a profit or they are less likely to hire you again.

You have two books about your own adolescent pains and you’ve written about fictional character’s adolescences in Freaks and Geeks. How do you feel that adolescence shapes people?

My adolescence certainly made me more supportive of the underdogs of the world, the ones that don’t normally get noticed. Regular movies tend to be about beautiful people going through problems or more successful people. They tend to focus on people we aspire to be. Movie stars are all very attractive and appealing. For me things have always been about being kind of an outsider. I’m not in tune with the popular, beautiful kids. My background has put me in tune with the people who were regular people, who did interesting things but nobody cared as much. To balance out all the beautiful people.

Your work seems to be grounded on a uncommon, even painfully honest sort of realism. Is that conscious?

That’s the kind of stories I want to tell. I just like to tell real stories in which things happen that don’t make you ever go “oh, that’s fake!” We relate to those stories more. I don’t find life is like the movies a lot. Rarely the things that happen are giant good things. I like smaller stories about what people are going in their lives and then making it funny.

I heard Annie Mumolo on The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast talking about how she and Kristen Wiig, who hadn’t written a feature film before, spent years going back and forth with Judd Apatow with the screenplay. Were you, as a director, part of that process?

They were doing that for a few years before I came on. I came on four or five months before shooting. We got into breaking the script down, brainstorming on that, with some of us taking a crack at things, but always giving it back to Annie and Kristen for them to putt their stamp on them. We were hard on every scene and point of the story. Many things don’t work because people aren’t hard enough, or they’ll fudge something. That’s how you get those moments when the audience doesn't believe it.

You always seem to avoid clichés, like the girls not going to Las Vegas. Is that conscious?

Judd and I have always been obsessed with that. How do you not do what all the others do? We all fall victim to this. It’s hard to separate what you’ve seen in movies and what happens in real life. You have to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing something because you’ve seen it before or if it would happen in reality. For me, the test is asking “what would I do in that situation?” The Vegas sequence was also a function of us saying that The Hangover had done Vegas so well, so why would we take it on? We needed Annie to do her last big screw up that gets them fired. So I asked: “what if they never get there?” It allowed her to be funny. It’s that great kind of moment where everybody lets their guard down, and usually behave poorly or weirdly. And there’s alcohol involved.

A lot seemed to go into the casting of this movie. There’s all sorts of silent roles filled with familiar faces from TV and comedy.

I don’t like wasted roles. I like when the “they went that way” roles – when people ask someone where another person went, and they say “they went that way” – are funny. Why not make them weird or interesting?.

You yourself seem to have cornered the market on this year’s 5-second comedy movie cameo. You were on Bad Teacher and you appear at the end of Bridesmaids.

My friend Jake Kasdan did that movie and he tends to put me in his work. In Bridesmaids I was playing Rita’s husband, the guy who’s a sexual dynamo. But then we decided to not ever see the guy. I cut myself out.

Is that the comedy geek in you showing off? The cast comes mainly from a varied selection of TV show. Like Chris O’Dowd is from the British show The IT Crowd and Melissa McCarthy does Mike & Molly, which doesn’t necessarily have the same fans as many of the shows that people in the movie do.

Some are like that. Chris is solely there because I’m a huge fan of The IT Crowd. And also because he came in and auditioned and was great. That’s the only way I knew him. I had never seen Mike & Molly, she got that after we did the movie. She had only shot the pilot then. Melissa had worked with many people in the before and they said she was hilarious. She completely got the role. I’d worked with Ellie Kemper on The Office, Wendi McLendon-Covey on Reno 911!, Maya Rudolph I was just a fan of and I had cast Kristen on Unaccompained Minors, her first movie. I’d also worked with Jon Hamm on Mad Men.

About Jon Hamm. How can a guy so conventionally handsome grow up to be so funny and also a comedy geek? Isn’t that weird to you?

I know. It’s a mystery to me. I’d have to say it comes out of personality. You just grow up liking comedy. He’s such a gregarious happy guy, he likes to laugh and to have a good time. The thing I love is that he’s so happy when he’s doing obscure things. He’s everywhere.

Yeah, he was doing a reading at Jon Glaser's book release party. Guys who look like that when they're young don't do that.

I love that someone like him is getting to do what he likes. He could have been a total nerd growing up. I don’t know, maybe he didn’t look like that in high school.

He did. I’ve seen photos.

Then I don’t know.

Is it true that the first time you showed up to direct a Mad Men episode you were mistaken for a cast member?

Yes, I lke that old style of dressing and the first day I showed up to the pre-production offices I was told that casting was down the hall.

I was looking at the cover of Superstud, where you’re awkwardly dressed in a Steve Martin-ish white suit and I was wondering how one go from that to being featured as a dapper gentleman in the pages of The New Yorker, GQ and Esquire.

Honestly, I always liked it back them. I liked Steve Martin’s style, the three-piece suit and all. I was just obsessed with men’s fashion, GQ always put out a compendium of how guys should dress and I bought that every year. I thought it was a great look, I was a big Groucho Marx fan and he was very judgmental against guys who don’t dress well. I personally think guys are funny when they’re doing things in a suit. It’s always funnier. John Cleese wouldn’t have been as funny if he weren’t wearing a suit.

How different was Melissa’s character on the page? I heard that she came and totally made it her own.

Melissa’s confident character used to be more nervous. People who were really good auditioned for it and played it weird, but Melissa came in and made it her own kind of weird, with that guyish attitude and liking men and being no-nonsense. It really appealed to us and made us laugh. It’s funny unexpected stuff. She’s a real master of improv and she elevated it to the next level. As soon as we had her on, we worked the script a little bit. The scene where she beats some sense into Annie was originally a debt-collecting Indian woman on the phone, giving her this hard talk about life. But why were we handing it off to a stranger? Melissa had to do it and I’m so glad we did it.

About the “are women funny?” question, don’t you feel you’ve been spoilt and sheltered from it by working with some of the funniest people alive who just happen to be women? You’ve directed Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling on TV, and you’ve worked with all these great people on Bridesmaids.

I never understand the question, I’ve known funny women my whole life. So many of my friends were really funny women. I can understand how it can happen, especially in the last 20 or 30 years, women haven’t been allowed to be that funny. They’re always stuck in the role of the nagging wife or girlfriend. It’s something that comes from the male perspective. “All my friends are really funny and our girlfriends and wives ruin the fun by making us be adults.” That is an experience, but it’s not the only experience. It’s just silly, though. I like women’s comedy ultimately more, because guy comedy is very confrontational, ugly and resorting to name-calling. The comedy of women tends to be a little goofier, sillier and very passive-aggressive. They aren’t going toe to toe, they like to pretend everything’s nice and then they go and discuss with their friends. It’s gentler, but sillier and funnier. Just being on set with those women, they’d make me laugh so much. On set, Maya and Kristen would do these weird dances and imitations that were just fun. There was no ugliness. The last scene, where they sing, that was them, I was just pointing the camera and just having fun. It came out of them knowing that song and being old friends and grabbing their boobs. I could never tell them to do that.

How about that feeling that if the movie didn’t make it, no women would ever be allowed to be funny in movies again?

It’s very weird. I became aware of it. I guess I went into the project with the knowledge that that might be the case. I put that pressure on myself. I had a lot of female friends with women-led projects waiting to be approved and they had to wait to see how the movie did. You have no idea if people were going to show up. The fact that studios were going to use as the litmus test added more responsibility. And it wasn’t fair. They don’t do that with guy comedies. It’s a crazy way to look at it.

How do you think Sam, Neal and Bill, the comedy movie-loving geeks from Freaks and Geeks, would feel about Bridesmaids?

I think Sam and Neal would like it, but I think Bill wouldn’t like it. He thought Groucho sucked, but he liked Stripes. He would think women weren’t as funny as guys. I’d have them do that if I ever wrote that scene.

Note: the long stretches where I couldn't remember how to speak properly because I was talking to one of my fucking heroes (and where I subsequently wound up praising him and telling him that he turned me into a comedy geek) were cut out.

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