Tammy, the feature directorial debut of Ben Falcone, follows Tammy Banks (Melissa McCarthy), a woman on the edge who has lost her job, her husband and her car, all in one day. She wants out of her small town existence, but with no money or transportation, the only way to do that is with her hard-partying grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), who leads them into a string of misadventures that neither of them will soon forget. The film also stars Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Sandra Oh, Toni Collette and Nat Faxon.
During a conference at the film’s press day, real-life husband and wife Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone talked about their dream of telling this story together, the idea coming from a dream, how growing up in Illinois has informed their comedy, getting this talented cast involved, giving mouth-to-mouth to a deer, what their own road trips are like, whether Pearl is anything like their own grandmothers, and the physical comedy. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
MELISSA McCARTHY: We had been working on it for years. We just thought, “What if?,” and “Can you imagine?” I don’t know how concrete we ever thought we could actually take the next step. And then, when that was happening, it all came in stages. When people started actually reading it and I found out that certain people had it, I had a weird moment.
BEN FALCONE: We were whispering to each other like, “I think Kathy Bates has got the script? Did you know? I think she’s reading it.”
McCARTHY: I was literally coming apart at the seams. I was like, “I don’t know if she’s ever going to read it, but the fact that it’s in her house is making me have weird breakdowns, all throughout the day.” Every step of it is still dreamy to me.
FALCONE: The whole thing was a delight for me. It was great to work with Melissa. We’d worked together before, but we got to spend a lot of time together. And then, when you add in all the great people [in this cast], it was so fun to work with everybody. So literally, I can honestly say that, at the end of every day, I was honestly disappointed that the day was over and hopeful that they’d let us keep shooting tomorrow.
What did this script start with? Was it a character idea, or an idea for where the story should go?
McCARTHY: Ben came downstairs, just having woken up, and literally said, “I had a weird dream, and I think I have to write it. You go on a road trip with your grandmother, and she drinks and sleeps around. I’m going to go write that movie.” And I thought, “All right. Why don’t you do that?” So, he had it in a dream, and that was about six years ago. That began the whole thing. He says things, and I say, “That sounds great!” I just agree with him, and it all works out.
Melissa, can you talk about growing up in Illinois and how that has informed your comedy?
McCARTHY: Ben and I both grew up in Illinois. That’s why when we started writing it, Ben said, “I think this woman is from where I grew up,” and that’s also where I went to college. We had to base it on real people we know, and what it’s like if you feel stuck. I think there are people who really love the comfort of their small town, and there are people who feel stuck by it. That’s where our jumping off place was. If you’re really stuck in this rut, and you’re just stuck in this whole little, tiny world of things that you don’t like, how hard do you have to get hit to bump you out of your vicious cycle?
FALCONE: It’s a love letter to Illinois. Although, it’s a little ironic that the whole love letter involves someone who’s desperate to leave.
What was Susan Sarandon’s reaction when you asked her to play your grandmother?
McCARTHY: Well, one of her first questions when we were first meeting on the phone was, “Are you seeing a little, old granny with glasses and a crocheted sweater and updo bun?” And we were like, “Oh, god, no. She has raging problems with alcohol, and she sleeps around.” And then, it was like, “Okay, we’ll be fine. We’re in a real realm here.”
The Lenore (Kathy Bates) and Susanne (Sandra Oh) relationship was so great because the fact that they’re lesbians is a non-issue. What was it like to write that relationship, and then go to Kathy Bates with the role?
McCARTHY: Well, we wanted to have somebody in their lives that was the goal. We wanted somebody to be like, “Oh, they’re in a great relationship.” Lenore has made it out and become really successful. We needed somebody to be the strong, successful one that wasn’t also coming down on anybody or making anybody feel guilty. I loved all of the stuff between Pearl and Lenore so much because Lenore is not making all these bad choices, but she never makes Pearl feel guilty about it. I just thought that was necessary to have in the film. And I thought, “Well, if I can get Kathy for any part, I’ll take it.” Her and Sandra just seemed right, even right away. They did actually know each other. I think [Kathy] directed Sandra in things, so they were just comfy. It just all really felt right. They’re a great couple that you look at and just think, “What’s that magic?,” because they just feel right together.
Melissa, what made you decide to give mouth-to-mouth to a deer?
McCARTHY: That just shows that I’m not very bright. If she really hit a deer, she would feel horrible, like you would, and she would do whatever it would take. I said, “If she’s really down there with it, would she actually try to resuscitate it, and would it work?” It was my own weird idea to get that close.
McCARTHY: No, but thank you for asking because, for a long time, it was just the puppet version of it. Every time we would show it to people, people were like, “The deer looks horrible!,” but it wasn’t done.
So, it’s a digital deer?
McCARTHY: It’s a digital deer. I did not actually run down a deer for Tammy, I promise.
FALCONE: No deer were hurt.
Have you had a memorable road trip that inspired this film?
FALCONE: [Melissa] falls asleep immediately when we get in the car because she’s no longer able to do all the stuff she wants to do. She’ll be like, “Oh, my gosh, we have to call the painters. We’ve got to paint our hallway.” I’m like, “All right, we’ll call the painter.” Once the last person has been called, we’re usually at the 101 and Sepulveda, and she’s out, so I just drive the rest of the way.
McCARTHY: One time, I did have to pull over. I was like, “I’m driving this time. That will keep me awake.” If I’m caged, I immediately go out. It was before the 405. I just remember Ben going, “Oh, my go, you’re swerving!” We did not make it 15 minutes from the house, and I had to pull over so that we could switch. I’m good for the first 10 minutes, and then I’m out, so I’m super helpful. After we shot this, we drove all the way back to Los Angeles from Niagara Falls, with our kids. That was a doozy.
FALCONE: About six or seven long, long, long days. I thought they would enjoy looking out the window at the country, but they really didn’t.
Did you go to Mount Rushmore?
McCARTHY: Yeah, we went to Mount Rushmore.
FALCONE: We’d also never seen Lake Tahoe.
McCARTHY: We went to a weird water park slide at 9 o’clock at night.
FALCONE: It was the most dangerous water park I’d ever seen in my life. But, I said, “Well, all right, let’s give it a shot.”
McCARTHY: It had big, high metal slides in the middle of Utah.
FALCONE: It was somewhere not too far from Mount Rushmore. It was one of those things where everything was very sharp, so we just waded around.
What were your actual grandmothers like?
FALCONE: The parts of my grandma that I used were the parts where she’s really smart, really fastidious and precise. That was all stuff that Susan was able to play so well. And then, she brought the boozy, wild part to it.
McCARTHY: There was nothing of my grandmother in Susan’s character, in terms of the drinking or the men stuff. I loved that, no matter what, even if they weren’t meshing up at that moment, the bottom line was that she loved Tammy and she loved her daughter. Even if she was like, “I really don’t want to be here right now,” she would still say, “But, I love you.” I was not at odds with my grandmother, even if I got in trouble with her and she might have scolded me when I was little, but I knew she loved me. That was a big part of it, to me. There was nothing you could do to make the love go away, even if they were at odds.
This is not really your typical Hollywood comedy. Was there any pressure to try to make this a more mainstream type of movie?
FALCONE: I think we were just trying to figure out the best characters we could write and that we thought would be the funniest and the most affecting, in some way. And then, we got really lucky with the actors that we got, which are certainly very-known actors in this world. I never thought, “Oh, let’s make a subversive movie.” I just thought, “Let’s do a funny movie.” I don’t think, in any of the movies that have been commercially successful, that she ever thought, “I’ve got a really commercially successful idea for a character.” I think she just said, “Oh, I think I want to look like this and be like this because that means something to me.”
McCARTHY: We worked on this script a long time before we actually got the chance to show it to people and make it. By the time we were ready to show people, we’d had it for years, and we knew these people. I felt protected with them. So, if somebody wanted a bigger scene or a bigger trailer moment, we just knew that that person maybe wouldn’t do that, or that it didn’t have to be bigger or flashier. It just had to stay in the right realm of the story. More eccentric characters can push pretty far, but if you stay on the side of reality, it’s always funnier. We tried to let all of these people push as far as they could, but keep it real. Hopefully, the story has more impact that way.
FALCONE: I’ve definitely learned that, if you cast really funny actors, like these people, it makes it a lot easier to do a comedy.
What was it like to work with pyrotechnics?
FALCONE: There was always a storm coming, where we were shooting, and there was literally always a producer going, “Hey, Ben, we’ve got to get this. There’s a hurricane, nature storm, or tropical something.” I was like, “All right.” W had to blow up a jet ski, so we told Kathy, “Okay, it’s no big deal, but it’s super important that you do this because lightning is about to strike us all.”
McCARTHY: Kathy’s got a weird arm. Every time, somebody was like, “Hey, you know, if it’s too far, somebody else can do it.” And she was like, “Or I could do it.” Every single time, she would get it, and it really was farther than it looks on film. That was a throw, and she nailed it, every time.
FALCONE: She hit it and it didn’t ignite, the first three or four times, but she hit it, every single time. She had to redo it. We were like, “Okay, this time it will work.” It was just so wet.
Do you have to be super coordinated to do physical comedy?
McCARTHY: No, I think I pretty much prove that you do not have to be. You just have to be willing to basically really bruise yourself, and I have bruises. I’m just covered, really.
What’s the worst thing you’ve done to yourself, trying to get a laugh?
McCARTHY: The worst fall that I took during Tammy, we weren’t even shooting. I did a test run on the jet ski, and I have only been on one, one other time, 10 years ago, on our honeymoon. I was going about 40 mph, which I now realize may not the best idea for someone who really doesn’t know how to drive one. And the lovely man that was teaching me said, “Really dig into it.” He meant, “On your big, wide turn, once you slow down, turn into it.” But, I just heard, “Turn into it.” So, I cranked it up to 40 mph and I thought I was supposed to do these S-curves, and I flipped myself off it, so hard.
I lost our first wig, and we had a very tight budget. They’re like $7,000. And I didn’t know I was off the jet ski. I didn’t know that I had fallen. It was that fast. It just flipped the whole thing, and I was underwater. The first thing I went for was the wig. And we were doing camera tests, so I was in full costume. I came up, and once I figured out which way was up, because I didn’t even know that I was underwater, I said, “At least, we got it!” And they said, “We didn’t turn the camera on yet!” I was like, “No!!!”
Tammy opens in theaters on July 2nd.