Cast: Jason Statham, Melissa McCarthy, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Jude Law
Director: Paul Feig
Genre: Action, Comedy
Running Time: 120 minutes
Synopsis: Susan Cooper is an unassuming, deskbound CIA analyst, and the unsung hero behind the Agency's most dangerous missions. But when her partner falls off the grid and another top agent is compromised.
Release Date: May 21st, 2015
Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is an unassuming, deskbound CIA analyst, and the unsung hero behind the Agency's most dangerous missions. But when her partner (Jude Law) falls off the grid and another top agent (Jason Statham) is compromised, she volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster.
Teaming with Melissa McCarthy for the third time, following their smash hits Bridesmaids and The Heat, writer-director Paul Feig this time adds a planeload of action to their trademark comedy and sets the story in gorgeous European locales. The bustling, unfamiliar environments of such famed capitals as Rome, Paris and Budapest add to Susan's disorienting transition into the cloak-and-dagger fieldwork of international espionage.
Says Feig: 'I'm a big fan of spy movies, and I wanted to create a broad action comedy in that genre. The comedy comes from the characters. It's not a spoof or satire. The danger and action are genuine. We wanted it to have the tone of a spy film, but still be as funny as we could make it.
'I also wanted to create a relatable story in which we could all wonder, -If I was recruited as a spy and sent on a mission, how might I react? Melissa is perfect for the role because, despite being extraordinarily talented, she can still play the -every person' and elicit a profound sense of empathy and support."
Noting that he and McCarthy share the same sense of humor and desire to find the heart of a story and not just the laughs, Feig says they are able to push each other into places neither could get to alone.
Agrees producer Jenno Topping: 'Paul and Melissa trust each other so she is not afraid to go out on a limb. She can break an audience's heart, and they root for her to triumph over those who have been unkind or unfair to her."
McCarthy simply credits the secret of their success to the fact that 'Paul is great, he makes great movies, and I've latched onto him like a barnacle."
In latching onto her first spy mission, McCarthy's Susan Cooper must first let go of insecurity and self-doubt while mustering the nerve to abandon her desk at Langley (CIA Headquarters) to tangle with an assortment of well-quaffed European baddies.
Says McCarthy: 'Susan's always had ability, and is great technically and tactically, but she lacked confidence. Now her field experiences and loyalty to Jude's character, Bradley Fine, begin to bring out her full potential. She discovers talents she didn't know she had."
Susan Cooper may be out of her element. But not out of her league.
Paul Feig remarks: 'I read that women make better spies than men because they're generally better at reading physical cues, gaining trust and using intuition. This is Susan Cooper. She doesn't rely on brawn – she has to figure things out as she goes along. I enjoy working with and empowering women, and was intrigued by the idea of creating a female trio of protagonist, sidekick and adversary."
In developing a palette for the film, Feig, along with director of photography Robert Yeoman and production designer Jefferson Sage, was inspired by James Bond movies. They set out to make a comedy in the visual style of those iconic films, with sweeping shots, striking backdrops and convincing action sequences.
Yeoman says, 'Typically in comedies the lighting is bright and flat, but Paul wanted it darker, with more contrast, to emphasize some of the danger and risks in the shadowy world of espionage. There is a big scope to the location shots."
SPY shot primarily in Budapest, Hungary, which also doubles for Rome and Paris. The city's striking and varied architecture allowed Sage to utilize interesting landmarks and unique neighborhood characteristics to distinguish between the three capitals. Buda, located on the west side of the Danube, is hilly, with winding cobblestone streets that provide an effective cheat for Rome. Meanwhile, abundant natural trees and vegetation effectively serve to soften the location backdrops for Paris, which filmmakers wanted keep lighter and wider in tonality.
But the most exciting prospect for Sage was letting the city play itself.
'Budapest usually only cheats for other places, but when Paul scouted the city he was so impressed he changed most of the story to take place here – much in the way he decided to let Boston play itself instead of doubling for New York in The Heat. Budapest has grandeur and a nice mix of architectural styles, along with an Eastern European exoticism that lends a wonderful mystique to the story."
About The Story & Characters
'My spy cover is an unemployed phone marketer? I can't even find a job in that field?" - Susan Cooper
No wonder Susan Cooper lacks confidence. She was raised by a mother who instilled in her the firm conviction, 'No, you can't." Any hopes that a new job with the CIA would bolster her self-esteem and social life have, thus far, crumbled like the birthday cakes she prepares for colleagues.
Blessed with freakish memory, Cooper labors in a dreary sub-basement office, serving as the eyes and ears (and pining for the heart) of super agent Bradley Fine – a charming but self-absorbed fop who manages to complete his missions while keeping every hair in place.
Jude Law says: 'As far as Fine is concerned, he and Susan are the perfect team, unflappable, the cream of the crop in the CIA. He sees the relationship as purely platonic, despite the occasional flirtations. Certain elements of that she may misread, or perhaps hope will develop into something more. He doesn't imagine that she has any real desire to leave the basement, but you could argue that he wants Susan to remain there because without her he might be lost."
Melissa McCarthy agrees: 'Fine is somewhat manipulative, but in a way that's understandable. If you're out in the field, you want the best person possible on your team, and you want them to be totally on top of things."
Susan may fantasize about Fine, but the narcissistic agent only has eyes for the mirror. Or the bevy of beauties who cross his path at the alluring intersection of danger and glamour.
Says Melissa McCarthy, 'I love the way Jude Law plays Fine as charming but a bit of a cad." 'Jude Law is sleek, dashing, with a glimmer in his eye, looking like was born to wear a tux," adds producer Jenno Topping.
Jude Law admits he has seldom had more fun in a role, and emphasizes it was important for Fine to 'tick certain boxes and lure the audience into the high-stakes danger of spy craft. It's one of those few screen characters that so many boys pretend to be – astronaut, soldier, spy…
'The discussions Paul Feig and I had about Fine centered on the idea that we didn't want him to be mean. He has genuine affection for Susan, along with self-interest in keeping the team together. Striking that balance is important."
But Bradley's attempt to walk a -Fine line' with Susan doesn't sit well with her best friend and colleague Nancy (Miranda Hart). Deeply protective, she blames him for stifling Susan's career advancement and toying with her emotions.
'Nancy is an earpiece girl, like Susan," Miranda Hart says. 'She's tacky, geeky, great at her job, but socially quite rubbish. She and Susan are two fish out of water, in the same empty fishbowl. They have a -womance,' you might say."
Paul Feig tailored the part of Nancy specifically for Miranda Hart, whom he has admired for years. 'I've tried to get her in other projects, and it never panned out, so it's enormously satisfying to finally work with her."
Topping notes that Paul Feig celebrates unconventional women and Hart fits that bill – if the bill can accommodate her 6'1" stature. Skilled at using her lanky frame and gait to great comedic effect, the British star of her self-titled UK sitcom also appears as -Chummy' in the hit BBC series, 'Call the Midwife," set in the 1950s.
When it appears Susan has breeched the parameters of her mission, Nancy is dispatched by her boss, Elaine Crocker (Allison Janney), to find out what the novice spy is up to. She quickly discovers her BFF has gone full-on rogue.
'As a solid -rules & regs' kind of gal, Nancy is both appalled and awed by Susan's defiance of Elaine's -observe and report only' directive," explains Melissa Hart. 'Nancy is terrified of the world and begins screwing things up for Susan. She makes everything a complete muddle, which is where a lot of the high comedy happens."
The Laurel & Hardy tandem of Susan and Nancy is no laughing matter to the subject of their snooping: snobbish international woman of intrigue, Rayna Boyanov. Ah, Rayna. Beautiful. Privileged. Hair so big it has its own zip code. The wealthy, Oxford-educated daughter of a recently deceased arms dealer, Rayna has come into possession of an unusual inheritance: a small tactical nuclear weapon. Enough to destroy a city – but not a state. No need to be rudely excessive.
Rayna wears garish outfits for grand entrances into the finest hotels. Perpetually bored and unimpressed, she lacks a sense of humor and has a brutally direct manner of speaking. Rose Byrne says her character is all about status.
'I liken her to royalty, or a member of a corrupt dynasty. She's posh and talks as if she's from another era, an effort to compensate for her poor Bulgarian roots."
Despite her coldness, Rayna feels slightly sympathetic and curious about Susan, who reminds her of a 'sad Bulgarian clown."
Of Rose Byrne, who also co-starred with her in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy says, 'I would work with Rose Byrne 300 million times. She manages to play a character that's dastardly yet likeable, which is a tricky thing to pull off. You don't see the work behind her performance. You just see a remarkable character who turns on a dime."
Rayna Boyanov is in cahoots with another well-heeled criminal, the egocentric Sergio De Luca (Bobby Cannavale), who rivals her in attention to appearance and desire for social status. As the intermediary hired to off-load the nuke, De Luca is attempting to close a deal with the Russian oligarch Dudaev (Richard Brake), a figure alluded to but not seen until the final act.
Bobby Cannavale, who received stellar praise for his performances in Blue Jasmine and HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire," says he partially modeled Sergio De Luca's style on director Paul Feig, who is well known for his impeccable dress and fashion sense.
'Paul Feig is the only guy I know who carries a walking stick, so I borrowed that affectation from him," Bobby Cannavale quips. 'I wanted to portray Sergio De Luca as a bit of dandy, wearing copious makeup. He surrounds himself with tough guys to mask his own weaknesses and insecurity. And when he finally has to do his own dirty work, the veil is lifted and he's exposed as a rather comical figure."
Bobby Cannavale adds, 'He tries to turn the tables on Susan and realises he's completely underestimated the situation. He's no match for her."
And then there's Rick Ford…
Who considers himself a match for anyone. Everyone. All at once. Part Rambo, part Clousseau, Agent Rick Ford embodies the words intrepid, fearless and clueless. Ford's confidence is far removed from competence.
Jason Statham describes the role as 'different from anything I've done, and it's been great fun. Rick Ford is very intense, yet comically oblivious to his own bumbling."
Rayna and De Luca know Ford's identity, but the hard-nosed agent is nevertheless enraged that Elaine considers sending Susan out instead of him.
Ford quits the CIA in protest, and goes off the grid, determined to see the mission through on his own.
Paul Feig, once an aspiring stuntman, is a fan of Jason Statham's movies, and, as with Nancy and Miranda Hart, tailored the Ford role to the actor. Melissa McCarthy says, 'Jason Statham's Rick Ford is going to blow your mind. He's a bit of a sociopath, but Jason plays him with such conviction. He doesn't wink at the camera or allow it to go into spoof, which is what makes it so ungodly funny."
With Nancy and now Ford already meddling in Susan's mission, enter another interloper - Aldo (Peter Serafinowicz), Susan's loquacious and licentious driver. Smitten at first sight, Aldo is only capable of expressing his desire for Susan by behaving like a lecher.
The film's ensemble includes several performers who have become part of Paul Feig's regular acting and writing troupe, including Jamie Denbo, Jessica Chaffin and Katie Dippold, as well as -first-time Feigers' such as Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, American-born Bollywood star Nargis Fakhri and 'The West Wing" alum Allison Janney.
In the role of CIA circus master, Allison Janney's Elaine Crocker is concerned with keeping her agents alive and in line while avoiding physical contact with Susan, whom she is convinced has pink eye.
'I seem to get roles that couldn't be more opposite of me," says Allison Janney, a 2014 double Emmy® winner for her roles on 'Mom" and 'Masters of Sex. 'I have no idea what it's like to be the smartest person in the room, so I chose to play Elaine as a woman of serious looks and few words, and hope it's just assumed I'm smart."
Allison Janney first met Melissa McCarthy when the latter was a member of the Los Angeles comedy troupe, The Groundlings, and has since appeared with her in four films. 'I've always been aware of how talented she is, and also how sweet, generous and down-to-Earth," Allison Janney compliments. 'How can anyone's mind work that fast?"
Out in the field, Melissa McCarthy's Susan Cooper must rely on her own quick wit, as well as her training, instincts and some of the frumpiest wigs imaginable.
'Susan has to pretend she knows what's she's doing before she can realise she does know what she's doing," says Paul Feig.
At the heart of it, SPY is about a woman who has always been underestimated by those around her, and learned to underestimate herself. It's about those quiet, unnoticed people in the background who surprise us when given a chance to shine. Or, in the case of Rick Ford, it's about those people who make us wonder, 'How in the world did they possibly manage to live this long?"
About The Production
Jude Law is running for his life, 25 feet below ground. It's day one of filming, and cast and crew have assembled in a labyrinth of limestone caves that stretches some 23 miles underneath a brewery in Buda, Hungary. Jude's character, Bradley Fine, is trying to elude some armed henchmen, relying on intel delivered to his earpiece from Susan Cooper in Langley, 6,000 miles away from his predicament in Bulgaria. Fine wears special CIA issued contact lenses that act as a camera, sending visual images back to Cooper. (Director of photography Robert Yeoman uses small GoPro cameras to simulate the imagery delivered by the contact lens camera, letting the audience see exactly what Susan is viewing on her monitor.)
Says Jude Law: 'When Fine's on the frontlines, Coop is telling him where to go, who's following him, the nearest escape route. His life is in her hands."
The caves were originally excavated as quarries in the 1700s, and later repurposed for beer storage. At various times they have been used as emergency shelters and even hidden hangers for Nazi aircraft. It's late March, and while the temperature above ground is mild, at this subterranean depth breath condenses in the air, and crewmembers don winter jackets and hats.
It's a physically demanding role for the fit and athletic Jude Law, who's required to run through long expanses of the tunnels, and engage in hand-to-hand combat. Says stunt coordinator JJ Perry: 'Jude Law has a reputation for being good at stunts, but he's more than that. He's a beast. He killed that sequence."
'I just got my ass kicked by produce."
A much more unorthodox confrontation takes place later in the week, at a Budapest restaurant kitchen, where Susan and an assassin (Nargis Fakhri) engage in a fight to the finish with fruits, vegetables, turkey legs and cooking utensils. JJ Perry and his stunt team spent weeks choreographing and rehearsing, and 'pre-visioning" the fight on computer. Food, pots and pans go flying, as the bruises mount on both Melissa McCarthy and Fakhri with each take.
'Who knew salad could be a weapon?" says Nargis Fakhri, a Queens, New York, daughter of Czech and Pakistani parents. 'Melissa McCarthy got me good with some potatoes but I returned the favor with some breadsticks. It's hard to do this kind of scene, but when it's Paul Feig, you take one for the team."
The fight is both comical and dangerous in tone, gruesome in its conclusion. Don't think I can't kill you with this carrot.
Says JJ Perry: 'The kitchen fight took two days to complete and demonstrated Paul Feig's commitment to ramping up the action. He's an enthusiast of 1980s Jackie Chan movies, as am I, so I had a good idea what he wanted: low, wide-angle impact shots coming into the lens. It's funny, kinetic and violent."
The following week the production moved a half-hour outside Budapest to a visually striking 1930s power plant that featured a control room that production designer Jefferson Sage likens to a 'fantastical -Flash Gordon' spaceship bridge." With its elliptical stained-glass ceiling and rows of panels, it appears to be equally period and futuristic.
The eye-popping look of the power station's control room prompted an important creative discussion among Paul Feig, Sage and director of photography Robert Yeoman as to how far they wanted to push the film's visual palette.
Sage says: 'We knew if we used this location it would heighten the tone and style of the movie, and affect a number of decisions about other sets and locations. Did we want to push it that far? And Paul Feig said, -Yes, I want this to play big visually.'"
In another section of the power plant, in a dingy, smaller containment room, Susan and Aldo are held captive, bound in ropes from which they must somehow extricate themselves. It was Serafinowicz's first day on set, and there he is, lying atop and alongside Melissa McCarthy, take after take. 'I'm practically dangling my privates in her face," he says. ''Hello, nice to meet you.' It's quite an ice-breaker."
The film's next location is a wonderfully dilapidated old structure known as the Express Building, located across a park from the US Embassy. Sculpted ships and nautical emblems on the 130-year-old building's exterior reveal its former status as an important shipping house for boat traffic on the adjacent Danube River.
Appearing like a haunted mansion where Dickens' Christmas ghosts might feel at home, the building's eerie, threatening environment and elliptical stairway provide a visual representation of a dangerous threshold that Susan is about to cross. As the camera follows her ascending the winding stairs, there is a sense of dread, surmised by Sage as, ''Susan, where are you going?' Get out of there!'"
After two days shooting, the production did get out of there, moving to Budapest's legendary restaurant Gundel, visited by world leaders, popes and royalty over the decades. Against the backdrop of marble columns and a string orchestra, Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law film an extended dialogue scene, where it becomes painfully apparent that Cooper and Fine do not share the same level of interest.
The following day, in a sequence filmed along Budapest's upscale shopping avenue, Susan buys an expensive dress in order to spy on De Lucca in a ritzy Rome casino. The dazzling black gown is a dramatic change from the dowdy outfits and frumpy wigs that she wears as her other spy aliases: Carol Jenkins, a single mother who makes bold sweater choices. Penny Morgan, a divorced Mark Kay saleswoman from Iowa. Amber Valentine, a foul-mouthed belligerent whose black dress and cape is disparaged by Rayna as 'cat burglar attire."
'One of the great attractions for me on this movie was getting to wear different wigs and costumes," says Melissa McCarthy. 'I love to create characters from the hair down." Melissa McCarthy and her hair/makeup/wardrobe team spent two hours each morning creating the look and costume of that day's alias.
Dolled-up and faking an air of confidence, Susan Cooper strolls into the aforementioned high-rollers casino to get a look at De Lucca. It's Bobby Cannavale's first day of work, and he is dressed to the nines in a tux and slicked back hair. Also performing in the scene is Paul Feig regular Jamie Denbo, as a casino hostess who thwarts Cooper's attempt to take a seat at a private card table.
The production then moved to a landmark Budapest location known as the Ethnographic Museum, across the street from the Parliament. The beautiful structure serves as both interior and exterior locations for -Club Nomad,' a hip dance venue for the city's young and beautiful. Here the story's characters intersect amidst 500 club-goers enjoying a concert by Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson.
The filmmakers were originally intent on setting the sequence inside one of Budapest's famed ruin bars: makeshift watering holes temporarily established in the courtyards or floor levels of decaying buildings awaiting teardown or reconstruction. But no such available spaces worked logistically, so they switched gears and chose the grandeur of the museum and its enormous, elegant interiors.
Cooper has managed to infiltrate the world of the bad guys, and the threads of the story are beginning to come together at Club Nomad, where she must keep certain people from encountering each other. At a moment of necessity, she pleads for Nancy to create a diversion. And does she ever.
Miranda Hart explains, 'Nancy needs to distract eyes away from the dance floor, so she rushes the stage and tackles 50 Cent. Just plows him over."
50 Cent himself confirms that, on the first take, 'Miranda hit me like a linebacker. I was prepared to sort of fake fall when she made contact, but no fakery was required. I found myself on the ground."
50 (Cent) Shades of Gray…
Cheered by the throng, Curtis Jackson performs his new song, 'Twisted," which he describes as 'a toast, a celebration about moving forward in your life."
Curtis Jackson was impressed by the opulent production value of Club Nomad, acknowledging it as a great venue to shoot a music video. He was equally impressed with Paul Feig, saying, 'Paul Feig knows what he wants and expects you to deliver. He comes dressed for success. A man with a nice watch appreciates the value of my time."
Miranda Hart said she appreciated spending two days sprawled all over the 'handsome and muscular Mr. Cent." She met him just moments before shooting. The numerous bruises on her body afterward attest to the zeal with which Miranda performed the scene. 'I mounted him rather aggressively after the tackle, which caused the security guards to manhandle me. We lay on each other for hours of shooting, which made for a somewhat awkward hello the next day."
On Monday April 28, the company moved to the equally lavish interiors of Budapest's Four Season's Gresham Palace, widely regarded as one of Europe's most elegant hotels. Situated on the east bank of the Danube, overlooking the Chain Bridge and Castle Hill on the Buda side, the Gresham Palace was built in 1906, and remains one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau/Secessionist buildings. The palace was damaged in 1944 when retreating Nazis blew up the Chain Bridge, and it stood in disrepair for decades. The Four Seasons took painstaking effort to restore the building, including the beautiful mosaics, using materials from Venice that comprised the originals. It opened as flagship luxury hotel in 2004.
py is the first movie allowed to film inside, and the production took full advantage, showcasing the crystal ice chandelier and exquisite high-ceilinged lobby where Rayna makes a grand entrance, Susan and a bodyguard in tow. The palace's sidewalks were also used for filming, including a scene where Susan jumps on a moped and gives chase to a would-be assassin through the streets of Budapest.
Riding mopeds, chasing after crooks, dangling from a helicopter and engaging in hand-to-hand combat make this role, says Melissa McCarthy, 'the most physically taxing I've ever done. Running, jumping, falling. I've cracked my head, I have cuts and bruises. At the end of the day I look like I fell down an elevator shaft. But I wear those wounds and thrown discs with a bit of pride."
She earned it, says stunt coordinator JJ Perry. 'We have a great stunt double (Luci Ramberg) for Melissa McCarthy, but once we saw how good Melissa was we were able to ask even more of her." JJ Perry also praises Melissa McCarthy's s impressive ability to learn and retain choreography, saying, 'She was in there with some heavy-hitting action stars, which can be intimidating, but she more than held her own. Her work ethic is outstanding."
Around the halfway point of the 12-week shooting schedule, the company moved to picturesque Lake Balaton, the largest inland lake in Europe, located an hour-and-a-half drive from Budapest. Two lakeside villas served as unique practical locations in the film. The first, located on the northern shore of the lake, is 'story set" on the Black Sea in Bulgaria, where Fine flees from gunmen after a botched assignment and makes his way to an escape speedboat. The second villa, even more luxuriant, plays itself, so to speak, and is situated 40 minutes away, near the popular tourist village of Balatonfured.
The filmmakers did an aerial reconnaissance around the entire lake to discover this property, which sits majestically atop a multi-acre beautiful lawn that slopes to the shoreline. This 19th century villa was at one time a hotel before becoming private property. The front doors open to a grand staircase, fit for royalty. Or, in this case, De Lucca, who resides here when not frequenting Italian casinos.
Bobby Cannavale says, 'The house helps me get into character. I think, -I own this.' It's as if De Lucca found this elaborate staircase and made them build a house around it. He's never content. He doesn't share his toys and always wants more."
The large estate accommodate a planned helicopter landing and takeoff for one of the film's climactic scenes.
On the vast front lawn, for the first and only time, all principal cast share a scene together – Melissa McCarthy, Miranda, Rose Byrne, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Peter, and 50 Cent. The gorgeous lake, the sunny weather and the joy of having everyone all together lend a spirit of summer camp to the proceedings. Cast pose for memento photographs and enjoy having the opportunity to meet and chat.
Says Jason Statham: 'I first met Jude Law several years ago through Guy Ritchie, and it's a delight to have a scene with him. When people ask me what it's like to work with him, or vice versa, we'll only have this one day to reflect on."
50 Cent, who worked with Jason Statham in a movie several years ago in New York, posed with him and the other actors on set that day in Balaton in front of his private helicopter - the only group photograph taken of all principal cast members.
With the fun and sun of Lake Balaton behind them, cast and crew returned to Budapest to begin work on some intricate action scenes and helicopter greenscreen shots on soundstages and backlots at Fot and Origo studios. The latter is where Melissa McCarthy can be seen dangling 15 feet above ground, clinging to the legs of Jason Statham, who in turn is holding onto the landing gear of a helicopter, as giant fans blow wind in their faces. The two have been up there for hours, performing challenging stuntwork and cracking up crew with their jokes and exchanges. This helicopter sequence is one of the major beats in the movie, and required an additional week of second unit work to complete.
Transitioning to a far more luxurious form of air transport, Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne shoot a flight sequence onboard Rayna's private jet, which is replete with her unmistakable style – that is to say, gaudy leopard skin upholstery and Versace red and gold wallpaper. Having grown interminably bored in Rome, Rayna is whisking her newfound 'sad Bulgarian clown" companion to Budapest for drinks. Chaos breaks out during the flight, and the plane's occupants find themselves in a nosedive, experiencing the zero gravity effect of weightlessness.
To overcome the challenges of filming this sequence, SFX supervisor Yves De Bono had the plane mounted on a 20-degree gimbal, allowing it to tilt and swivel in any direction. Movement was hydraulically controlled from the ground, and both cast and stunt team were harnessed to cables to simulate floating. Rose Byrne spent time in a swimming pool practicing controlling her physical motions to prepare for the sequence, which required a week to complete.
Both Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne had the giggles at various points in the scene, with Melissa McCarthy quipping, 'It must be the altitude." As the plane dips up and down on the gimbal, she jokes to Paul Feig, 'If the plane is rockin', don't come a knockin.'"
At the end of May, the production moves to the exterior square of an eye-catching shopping mall in Budapest known as -The Whale," so named because of its glass-covered shape and riverside location. With more than 300 extras on hand, the show-stopping drag artist Verka Serduchka and her band play their international hit tune 'Dancing Lasha Tumbai" on a large stage at the north end of the square. While the spirited audience dances to the infectious groove, Susan Cooper, trapped in the crowd, desperately tries to warn Rick Ford that he has yet again unwittingly placed himself and others in harm's way.
'I think it's one of the most hilarious scenes I've ever watched Melissa McCarthy perform," says Jason Statham. Among the guests stopping by during the two-day sequence is the British Ambassador to Hungary, who chats with Jason Statham and filmmakers while watching Verka tear through repeated takes of 'Lasha Tumbai."
In June, the company returns to soundstages for the final two weeks of filming, including a scene taking place inside a hotel room where Susan Cooper first arrives to begin her field mission. The room is overly bright and the colors intentionally clash, explains production designer Jefferson Sage, in order to reflect Cooper's uncertain state of mind and paranoia when she first arrives.
'As Susan's world and life opens up in Europe, so do the visuals."
Indeed, the beauty and color of Paris is a startling transition from the dingy, minimalist confines of the CIA sub basement where Susan and Nancy toil. Made of poured concrete, the decades-old structure has been renovated piecemeal over the years, creating a layering of hollow spaces. Out of these spaces comes – bats!
The winged vermin suddenly fly out of the ceiling and onto Susan's head in one of the hair-raising scenes shot over the course of two weeks on the film's largest constructed set, the CIA Communications Room, which marks the final ten days of principal photography. Tucked under a desk, Paul Feig himself operates the stick mounted, mechanically controlled creatures, flittering them around Melissa McCarthy's head.
'I'm Batman," he says.
To cast and crew, Paul Feig is more than Batman. He is the unflappable, gracious and nattily attired magician who creates a little on-set magic each and every day. Famous (and sometimes feared) for tossing alternate lines and new dialogue at actors during takes that can stretch 20 minutes or more, his method elicits spontaneous reactions from actors who must be on their game at all times.
Says Jason Statham: 'Paul Feig brings new dialogue to set every day, some of it jotted down on Post-it notes. You have to be wide-awake because a lot of the lines are unscripted and he encourages improvisation. I've never worked like this before, and was a little anxious about it. But, you know, in for a penny, in for a pound. I let myself be fed by Paul's creativity and it's been wonderful."
To accommodate the time length of the takes Feig requires, director of photography Robert Yeoman agreed to shoot digitally for the first time, appreciative of the format's inherent flexibility.
'I'll always be a film guy, but the Arri Alexa camera is great, and keeps us from having to stop to change film magazines and interrupt the rhythm," he says. (He notes that one take was 32 minutes!) And because the camera provides Yeoman with an exact image, it also allows him to be a bit more daring and experimental with lighting.
Confident in the visual elements he's seeing on the monitor, Paul Feig is able to focus intently on the performances, pushing each take a little further to the edge, tinkering and experimenting with each line of dialogue. It provides a bounty of riches to editor Brent White, who has worked four times with the director.
'So much of Paul Feig's movies are manufactured in the cutting room. We have so many elements and options that distillation is a vital part of the work," says Brent White. 'He doesn't tell the actors the lines ahead of time because he wants to get a -real-time' response, allowing them to react in a similar way the audience might."
White also mentions that Paul Feig is always careful to ensure that the comedy doesn't get so broad or absurd that it undermines the character's emotional moments. 'He looks for the humanity that connects you with the characters within the framework of comedy." Melissa McCarthy simply surmises, 'This is Paul Feig's vision, start to finish. It's very hard to achieve, and he does it amazingly well."
Principal photography concluded in Budapest, with additional shooting on location in Rome and Paris.
Release Date: May 21st, 2015