A few days ago at CinemaCon, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy showed some footage from director Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids) upcoming buddy cop comedy The Heat. The film is a standard buddy-cop formula where a straight-laced cop (Bullock) is teamed up with a shoot-from-the-hip partner (McCarthy), and they learn to overcome their differences and become BFFs on their mission to bring down the bad guys. The plot is secondary to the chemistry, and judging by the trailer, Bullock and McCarthy look like they’re going to be a great comic duo.
Shortly after they took the stage, I participated in a small press conference with Bullock and McCarthy. They talked about improv versus sticking to the script, the impact of Bridesmaids on female-driven comedies, funny moments on set, filming in Boston, the stunts, working with Paul Feig, Bullock’s improv skills, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either listen to or read what they had to say.
Click here to listen to the audio of this interview. Otherwise the full transcript is below.
Question: I have a question for you both regarding the interaction of your characters in the film. How many of the things that we see in the movie were actually written in the script, and how many were created in the spur of the moment? I’m asking you this because I would like to know ultimately if you think comedy should be like a living thing, like something organic.
SANDRA BULLOCK: That’s a great question.
MELISSA MCCARTHY: That is a good question. I do think comedy needs to be a living thing, but I think without a great script and fully realized characters, you cannot keep it living. Otherwise it just becomes long and rambling indulgent. So I think you need both, frankly.
BULLOCK: I agree. If you’re gonna tell a story from beginning to end, I always think you have to have a great structure in a script, and Katie Dippold, our writer, wrote something that we both immediately got excited about, and we could see the characters. As Melissa says, once you’re starting to tweak and futz with a character, you know you’re on to something. If it gets you excited and it’s something you’ve never read before that’s another plus. I think also with improv and that whole world of stand-up, that’s a whole other organism of comedy that still needs a story, but it’s more free-form. On the set, it was the combination of both those worlds coming together: a great script and an allowance to play with it.
MCCARTHY: ‘Cause you’re never, at least for how I’ve always worked and we worked in this film, you improvise a little bit in a lot of places. You’re never veering off and taking the story off, and you can’t play crazy. You can have a strong point-of-view, but once you play crazy you’re not accountable for anything. You just kind of shake the line a little bit.
It just looks so hilarious. It looks so fun and exhilarating, watching what we just saw in the presentation and with you two presenting it. Obviously you got on really brilliantly. I would just love to know something about your rapport with each other. And Bridesmaids has become a cultural reference point every time you meet any women. They just say, “We want more of that!” So what has that led to, and you know how important and valuable is it to have such fantastic, fun comedies featuring women?
BULLOCK: I think there are three question in there. Okay!
Three good ones!
BULLOCK: The first one?
MCCARTHY: About our rapport.
BULLOCK: As you can see with the way we look at each other, there’s a connection.
MCCARTHY: When we slowly blink, we mean it.
MCCARTHY: This one is.
BULLOCK: I would say it’s the rare happening when actors get together and you have chemistry, connection, just something that works, that’s bigger than what’s on the page. And I think that we luckily had it, on an acting level and a comedic level. Her style and my style are very different, but they always met in the middle and were absolutely appropriate for what was needed to happen on screen. Bridesmaids, cultural phenomenon now.
MCCARTHY: I think it was just overdue. I think making a movie, most of us in that movie had been such good friends for so long, and that’s what we had been doing in a little theater on Melrose in Los Angeles forever. We didn’t think much of it, it’s just what made us laugh. Luckily, Judd [Apatow] gave Kristen [Wiig] and Annie [Mumolo] the chance to write what they thought was funny. Then we had someone amazing like Paul Feig directing it, and I think a lot of women related to it. I think it’s something in The Heat that when the first time Sandy and I spoke, we said, “This is so funny, but these women have to be as flawed and socially inept as they are, but they have to be real. Even push it as far as you can, but they have to stay real. They’re police officers and they have to stay within that realm. If we can do that and push it as far as we can, we’re onto something. We had no interest in making two wacky cops that are bad at their job and they’re fighting over lipstick in the car. We chose a real federal agent and a real cop and they didn’t like each other, and it’s been done before, but I think any time you can do it and stay within the realm of reality, people respond to it.
BULLOCK: What just came to mind is that Bridesmaids felt like it had absolutely no censorship. It didn’t say women only speak like this, women should behave like this, so let’s stay within the confines of what we know women do, and they blew that apart. You didn’t go, “Oh, a bunch of women experiencing…” It was a bunch of funny people having awkward life moments, and it takes the sex out of it — there’s no sex in our film — but it takes the gender out of it, and it just replaces with everyone has awkward moments. Everyone’s struggling to do a good job and be recognized in their job and tries really hard, and when that doesn’t happen it’s frustrating. Un-censoring I think has led to more fun on screen. You know, we curse. I talk like a truck driver. Yeah, I do. There’s the thing where they go, “Oh, women don’t do that!” I’m like, “They fucking do! They do! We fucking do it all the time!”
BULLOCK: Well, it’s true. We’re not.
MCCARTHY: Good point.
BULLOCK: It’s effects and lights and a lot of good music and a lot of wacky clothes.
MCCARTHY: I’m so busy brushing my hair, I don’t know what I think.
The film is set in Boston, and obviously it’s been a very tough week for Boston. I wonder if you have any plans to do a screening there, and if you have any words for the folks there?
BULLOCK: We just heard mention today from Paul about a screening. I mean, we fell so in love with our crew. I’ve shot there a couple times and have friends from Boston. There’s a tight knit community that exists there, and I don’t know why it is that way, but it has always been that way since I’ve gone there. It is profound to see the amount of help and chivalry and heroism that has happened in the last few days when the incident happened. The amount of people that ran into the fray to help people they didn’t know. Those are the people that we met, and we know.
MCCARTHY: It shows the best of what Boston is. There’s a warmth there, and there’s a tight knit community. Even when something as jarring as that happens, I think they rally, and that’s what we’re seeing. It’s inspiring. It’s unfortunate, but it’s inspiring.
Did you receive any type of specific training for your police roles, and did you perform any stunts on your own?
BULLOCK: We did our own dancing, if that’s what you’re asking.
MCCARTHY: We did do our own dancing.
BULLOCK: That was us, all us.
MCCARTHY: We did. That was us.
Lots of practice.
BULLOCK: No practice whatsoever! That was a day of just pulling it out of your butt.
MCCARTHY: We were just like, “Let’s not rehearse anything!” To look just as terrible as we’re capable of. I trained, I went to a shooting range with an officer from Boston and trained for a while, and went over quite a bit. Less of the firing, because I wasn’t actually going to fire it, more of the handling it. I wanted to make sure I looked like a very competent police woman that handles a gun every day of her life and has for fifteen-something years. Sandy has a lot of experience in films, and she was really good about the beginning. Until it becomes muscle of where’s your finger, how are you holding it, which direction are you, if I’m going left and she’s behind me. So many little intricacies of how you really handle weapons.
BULLOCK: The people in law enforcement have an instinct, that was so much training and respect for the firearms. You don’t instantly get that just because someone puts a gun in your hand on set. Everyone has a different style. A different type of weapon, the way they handle it is completely different. The nice thing was that we were so respectful of the firearms on set. We didn’t take a gun until they showed us that the barrel was clear. The bullets, we looked at every single bullet to make sure. I think sometimes you can get lax, oh, this is really cool, we’re making a movie. It’s a firearm, it’s a weapon. You have to respect and understand how it works. I don’t think anybody should put a weapon in their hand on a set unless you have some understanding of how dangerous this thing is, and have fired it in a controlled situation and know the damage it can do. I think we had a really healthy respect for what was being to us as a tool for a movie.
Have you ever thought that you ever would like to become a cop and what was very funniest moment on set?
MCCARTHY: Did you ever think that you were going to be a cop?
BULLOCK: No. I don’t have the gift. It takes… I think it requires an extraordinary human being to be in law enforcement or in… a fireman or a first responder of any kind. It is a gift and it’s…
MCCARTHY: It’s a calling.
BULLOCK: I don’t have that gift. I will be the first to respond, but I don’t think I have those instincts. What do you think? I mean you’ve got… she has family members…
MCCARTHY: I have a lot of police officers in Chicago, so I have a lot of law enforcement in my family. So I was very aware to try to do everything right to make them not call me and say, “What are you doing?” So I have immense, immense respect for anyone that their chosen profession is to be in service to protect people. Oh my God, funniest moment, that’s a hard one. I mean the dance, was that one day, was that fourteen days?
MCCARTHY: It was so fun. It was just so dumb. At one point we were just unglued. I mean there’s something that happens when just you’re like… because all it said was… I think it just said “they get drunk.”
BULLOCK: And “they dance.”
MCCARTHY: And “they dance.” But there’s nothing else and then poor Paul said he turned around and we both had our faces taped and he was like “What’s happening?” So it just was kind of a weird descent into, like, controlled madness? It was really funny.
BULLOCK: Yeah. The things that you think you would find really funny when you’re reading it often become those thing that aren’t on set because you’re concentrating so hard to make it funny for the audience. When you think it’s funny and you’re laughing, you’re not making it funny for the audience. The day… that same scene but when we were playing with my jacket and I had to lean in and we thought – I don’t know how – but where I said “I’m just going to say ‘Hey.'” And she kept going “Oh God!” but with my breath being really bad and we were laughing so hard ’cause we just had to play that…
MCCARTHY: There was a lot of ruined takes. I just couldn’t…
BULLOCK: And the tears, and just… it’s the stupidest things that we find funny and the crew doesn’t. We’re laughing and they’re like “oh my god, they’re wasting half a day with this stupid joke” and we’re like “I’m sorry, I’m sorry we’re trying to get it together.” And they’re just literally going “you know we’re going to be in here until midnight because you guys cannot pull it together.”
BULLOCK: I wasn’t blowing in your mouth.
MCCARTHY: You were going “Hey!” and you were like this… when I would turn around you were this close and it’s like that’s really hard not to… it’s hard to keep it together.
Melissa, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you’re experiences on this film and you’re other recent work, like Hangover 3, may influence or have influenced your own directing projects moving forward.
MCCARTHY: Well, I think I try to just steal every good idea and smart technique that I’ve seen people use. I mean I’ve gotten to watch Judd and Paul and Seth Gordon. I mean it’s just…
MCCARTHY: You, the smartest one of all. If I don’t say that, it’s a nightmare. You know it’s just you hope you learn a little bit on each thing and then also go in knowing you know nothing. Just try to do the best you can, do as much prep work as you can and, you know, do a lot of this.
Can you talk about Paul Feig and what makes him such a great director of females and comedies as well?
MCCARTHY: I think Paul loves women and he thinks they’re really funny and that’s an awfully good place to start. And that he’s very smart and very funny. All of those things… there’s not a bad… there’s nothing bad in any of those items so you start from a very good place and he’s open and collaborative. I don’t know that you can have a better set-up.
BULLOCK: No, I agree. He loves women and wants to tell stories that involve women without making them “women’s stories.” They’re just a human being’s journey that happens to have breasts so…
BULLOCK: I doubt they’ll ever be improved to the level that she is, but the nice thing is that, you know, working in an environment where this one comes through the door and improvs the way that the she does, and you have a director who comes from that world, and everyone he cast was from that world pretty much. In the world of comedy that I was familiar with was very controlled – these are the scripts and you have to go through 27 people at the studio before you can change a line – and I always wanted t do it and I did it in real life and I did it, you know, when I had sort of a free form but I was never really allowed to experience what it was like. And walking on the set it took me a couple days to realize I’m allowed to do it to so it was very liberating. And it’s just… yeah, you can’t not be around a gift like that and not take it all in and want to improve your game. But it is a muscle that you have to exercise, and if you hadn’t had much time exercising it, it’s stale. And watching these people work, and this one right here, it’s exciting and inspiring but daunting sometimes.
MCCARTHY: She also happens to be bizarrely good at it. Like, I’ve done it and a lot of people in the movie – we’ve done it for 15-20 years, but then, you know, of course Sandy walks in and is like “I’ve never done this” and is, like, great at it and we’re like “Bluh.”