Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy Talk IDENTITY THIEF, Sympathizing with a Horrible Character, and How Far They Go for Comedy

     February 7, 2013

identity-thief-jason bateman melissa mccarthy

Identity Thief is the new comedy from director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) and screenwriter Craig Mazin (The Hangover 2), that follows what happens to a regular guy when he is forced to extreme measures to clear his name after a woman who loves to live it up steals his identity and ruins his life. When Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) is accused of a series of crimes, the innocent man realizes that a woman named Diana (Melissa McCarthy) is using his ID to do and buy whatever strikes her fancy, and decides to track the woman down and confront her, in order to get his life and name back.

At the film’s press day, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy participated in a press conference where they talked about what made Seth Gordon the right guy to direct this, playing a horrible character that you still want audiences to sympathize with, some of the craziness that happened with the stunts, just how far they’ll go for comedy, getting stir crazy in a cramped little car for much of the film, and their worst horrible boss experiences.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

Question:  Jason, what was it about Seth Gordon that made you want him as the director for this?

identity-thief-poster-jason-batemanJASON BATEMAN:  Because he’s just a really, really nice guy, and he’s great at what he does.  You don’t really want much more than that.  We happened to be doing the press junket for Horrible Bosses when the film was really starting to come together.  Melissa and I had this great lunch, where I talked her into doing the film, and I told Seth about it and he said yes.  It was that quick.

Was it always only Melissa McCarthy that you wanted for this role, or did you just want to change the character to a woman, and then you thought of Melissa later?

BATEMAN:  It was just Melissa.  The script was just sitting there for a couple of months.  I went to the premiere of Bridesmaids, and the following morning, I picked up the phone and called Universal and Scott Stuber, one of the other producers on the film, and said, “I’d really like to work with this woman.  Can we please change the thief from a guy to a girl and make it Melissa?”  They could not have liked the idea better, and they said, “Why don’t you see if you can go get her?”  Fortunately, it was the premiere.  It was not yet in America’s hands, so we still had a chance at her.  So, I took her out for a quick meal and had her sign something while she was passed out from the booze. 

Melissa, what draws you to the roles you choose to do?

MELISSA McCARTHY:  I don’t know.  I think the characters are really fun to play.  A lot of times, it’s someone where, in my head, I’m like, “I know that woman.  There was a woman like that in my hometown.  There are women like that in the Midwest.”  I do always go back to that and draw from there ‘cause I really love ‘em.  It’s always done because I find them great, interesting, quirky and eccentric.  I would assume that anything that any actor does is shaped by how and where they grew up.  I steal a lot from a lot of Midwestern women that I weirdly watch.

identity-thief-poster-melissa-mccarthyThis character does some horrible things that ruin some lives, and yet the audience still roots for you.  How do you straddle that line and make people cheer for you while you’re an unlikable character?

McCARTHY:  Well, I think that’s a testament to the good script, and Craig Mazin writing a fully developed person.  I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t just a one-dimensional, mustache-twirling villain.  That’s interesting for a scene, but I don’t know how you play that for a whole movie.  And I love the thought of someone doing criminal acts, but not doing them to be menacing.  She does them ‘cause she’s lonely and doesn’t have anyone.  She steals identities, just so she can go out to a store and pretend to have these lives.  She wants to pretend to have a husband, pretend to have a family, or pretend to be engaged.  We did so many versions of different mall scenes.  That’s what locked me into her.  She’s not even stealing from people to be menacing.  She’s just so lonely.  From there, I felt like I found the heart of her and something interesting that made her tick.  Hopefully, other people see that, too. 

If you had to defend yourself, would you prefer the punch to the neck or the kick to the balls?

McCARTHY:  I believe I would do a sharp kick to the balls, and then when they dropped to a lower height, I’d also do the punch to the neck.  I’d combine them. 

Do you ever get hurt, when you do so many of your own stunts?

McCARTHY:  I got hurt a lot.  I’m apparently an idiot.  After this movie, I was like, “Oh, I’m not very bright.  There was that stunt woman there, for so much of this.”  I get excited to do it, but I don’t really think about doing it 42 times. 

identity-thief-jason-bateman-melissa-mccarthyBATEMAN:  I don’t know why you volunteered to get hit by the car.  That seemed like an easy one to give to the stunt woman.  She loves a stunt bump.  It’s an extra 20 bucks, or something.

McCARTHY:  Yeah, it’s an extra $26. 

Jason, where did you draw the line for how physical you would get with Melissa?

BATEMAN:  She pisses you off, and you go.  That’s what happens. 

McCARTHY:  He had no problem.

BATEMAN:  It’s not difficult.  I saw the guitar there, when we were rehearsing.  And we were trying to figure out a way to stop her from leaving, but we didn’t want to do the tackling of her yet.  I said, “What if I take her off her feet with this guitar?,” kinda joking, but not really.

McCARTHY:  I think he said, “What if I hit her in the face with this guitar?” 

BATEMAN:  I was like, “That would be hilarious, right?” 

McCARTHY:  And I was like, “We’re kidding, right?”  And then, he started fiddling with the guitar and I was like, “Oh, god, I think I’m going to get hit in the face with a guitar.”  

identity-thief-jason-batemanBATEMAN:  We built a helmet that could fit under the stunt woman’s wig, so that she could have a good portion of her face protected and a little bit of her shoulder.  And then, the next morning we came in and shot that.  That’s a great little piece in the movie that we couldn’t have done, were it not for those guys who built the helmet. 

Jason, did you really throw a real Panini maker at Melissa?

BATEMAN:  That was a mistake that was regrettable.

McCARTHY:  I don’t know about that.  There were about 14 fake Panini machines that weighed about a quarter of an ounce ‘cause they’re foam, and then there was one real one that weighed about 32 pounds. 

BATEMAN:  It was a little bit shinier.

McCARTHY:  He was like a raccoon that just went for the shiny one.  And the first time we did that run to the door, he picked up the real one and let that thing fly toward my head.

BATEMAN:  It missed her.

melissa-mccarthy-identity-thiefMcCARTHY:  And he was like, “I didn’t know that it wasn’t the fake one!”  But, there was a 32-pound difference!

BATEMAN:  Well, I didn’t know that there were any light ones.  I thought they were all real.  I thought, “Clearly, someone’s checked with Melissa on this.”

McCARTHY:  It was a dicey shoot!

BATEMAN:  We made it, though. 

Is there a limit to how far you’ll go for comedy?

BATEMAN:  Melissa has shit in a sink for a laugh (in Bridesmaids).

McCARTHY: I was ill!  I don’t know.  For me, as long as it makes sense for the character, I like to see how far you can push it, on the worst day or with the most extreme circumstance.  But, it’s not funny anymore, if it doesn’t make sense.  I don’t really like to do anything that’s mean-spirited ‘cause I don’t find it funny.  I’d rather be the jackass than make fun of somebody else.  It just feels too cheap and easy.  Those are really my only limits. 

BATEMAN:  Well said.  I second that.

Jason, how do you maintain being the straight man and not cracking up when someone is doing outrageous things in a scene with you?

identity-thief-jason-batemanBATEMAN:  Well, they don’t have those takes in the movie, and there were a lot of them where I broke up.  There were only a few takes where I kept a straight face, but you only need one.  That’s what I kept telling the crew, as they got frustrated with me.  Melissa  makes it very, very difficult because she does it in a way that’s different on every single take.  So, even if you know what’s coming, it’s gonna be a little bit different.  And then, when you think you’ve gotten used to that funny line, and we do it seven, eight or nine times to get it real good, on take 10 or 11, she’ll say something completely different, just to make you laugh or to make the crew laugh.  Sometimes those make it in the movie, but we certainly didn’t need to to any of that, with this great script from Craig Mazin.  But, she made it tough. 

Did you ever get really stir crazy, cramped into a little car for so much of the film?

McCARTHY:  The car scenes were really my favorite.  You’re confined in this car and, a lot of times, you’re locked in on both sides because they have camera rigs, so you literally can’t get out, even if you wanted to.  So, you get cabin fever and you get punchy.  Sitting next to Jason for that long of a time, by the end, I had to do a lot of weird stuff, like stare at his forehead instead of his eyes, because I couldn’t keep it together.  But, those are my favorite things ‘cause you just get crazy and start to go a little loopy.

BATEMAN:  And she came up with the idea to just fall asleep with her eyes open, and it’s in the movie. 

What’s your favorite scene in the film?

identity-thief-melissa-mccarthy-jason-batemanBATEMAN:  I like the scene we did with Melissa’s husband, Ben [Falcone]. 

McCARTHY:  I like that one, too. 

BATEMAN:  He came in and did us a favor and played the hotel clerk for a day.  It’s a funny little rant that we both go on and attack him.  That’s on the heels of another great scene with Melissa in a restaurant.

Jason, you’ve done a couple films now where your characters had horrible bosses.  What have your worst experiences with bad bosses been like?

BATEMAN:  I once had a director who wanted me to try a scene a certain way.  I said, “I just don’t think I can do it that way.”  He said, “Well, I bet you could.”  I said, “No, I’d be really uncomfortable doing it that way.”  He said, “Can you just do it once?”  And I said, “No, you’re going to use that one.”  He said, “Well, how about we just rehearse it?”  I said, “Okay.”  So, we rehearsed it and, when we finished the rehearsal, he turned to the camera man and said, “Did you get it?”  The camera man said, “Yeah.”  And he said, “Okay, moving on!”  He told the camera man to turn on the camera while we were rehearsing, and he did use that.  That’s an example of a bad boss and a bad director. 

McCARTHY:  I had a boss who, when I asked him a question about something, he would just stare at me until it was so uncomfortable that I started getting teary-eyed.  Eventually, I just started crying and walked off.  I thought, “Boy, I’m going to remember you!”  Oh, the good times!  

Identity Thief opens in theaters on February 8th.

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