Cast: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy
Director: Paul Feig
Genre: Comedy, Action, Crime.
Running Time: 117 minutes
Synopsis: FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) – the Fed – and Boston cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) – the Fuzz – couldn't be more incompatible. But when they join forces to bring down a ruthless drug lord, they become the last thing anyone expected: buddies.
From DGA Award winner and Emmy nominee Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids (worldwide theatrical gross: almost $300 million), The Heat takes a look at the odd couple pairing of two law enforcement officials who, to their everlasting shock, slowly find themselves on the same page. Starring Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock, whose films have grossed $2.9 billion worldwide, and Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy, who has had two consecutive smash hit comedies – Bridesmaids and Identity Thief – in as many years, The Heat has bawdy laughs and real emotional stakes.
Release Date: July 11th, 2013
"I just spent the last 30 minutes thinking of ways to kill you"
When we meet Sarah Ashburn, she's hoping for a promotion and high-tails it from her home base in New York City to Boston, to help solve the mystery behind several murders. Standing in Ashburn's way is a hard-hitting Boston police officer, Shannon Mullins, who's not happy that the FBI – especially the stuck-up Ashburn - is treading on her turf. Ashburn is determined to wrestle the case away from Mullins, but the dishevelled, foul-mouthed, in-your-face cop is a formidable adversary. They'll soon discover they have more in common than they ever thought possible, including their misfit status and complementary skillsets.
The Ashburn-Mullins dynamic is akin to that eternal physics problem about an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Only, here, it's hard to tell who is which. Ashburn is ambitious, talented, brainy, and possesses Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction and intuition. She's always the smartest person in the room, and isn't shy about letting everyone know it. The socially awkward Ashburn has no family, significant other, or even friends. Her only companion is a cat…that belongs to her neighbour.
'Ashburn's effectiveness as an FBI agent comes from her meticulousness, stubbornness and thoroughness," says Sandra Bullock. 'But she's completely inept when it comes to any kind of social interaction. She's trying so hard to make up for that particular weakness that she becomes insufferably arrogant on the job. Ashburn is respected but not liked because she isn't a team player. Every time she opens her mouth, people cringe."
If Ashburn needs to be taken down a notch, then Mullins is only too happy to oblige.
Mullins, says Melissa McCarthy, is 'all kinds of bark, but no bite – though she might actually bite people." Mullins grew up on the streets of Boston, and has a shoot-from-the-hip (and mouth) style of dealing with crime and its perpetrators. She's the 'yang" to Ashburn's 'yin."
Ashburn likes to get inside people's heads; Mullins prefers bashing them in.
It's not surprising, notes director Paul Feig that the dynamic between Ashburn and Mullins is initially antagonistic, because 'Ashburn wants to prove herself by solving a big case, but Mullins doesn't want Ashburn on her turf. Mullins will not back down. In fact, she's used to people backing down from her."
So, Ashburn is stuck with Mullins, but the FBI Special Agent eventually realises that her new partner's street smarts can be an asset in their pursuit of their criminal quarry. 'By learning from Mullins how to be more instinctual, in-the-moment, and less cerebral, Ashburn breaks out of her shell, opens up her thinking, and becomes a better agent," says Paul Feig.
At the same time, Mullins learns from Ashburn how to exercise a little self-control, and to take a breath before beating the crap out of someone.
Then something completely unexpected occurs. 'We joke about this, but The Heat is kind of a love story," says Melissa McCarthy. 'Mullins and Ashburn struggle with each other, get past it, and then actually begin to enjoy working together. That brings some heart to the comedy. Nobody wants to watch two goofy people do things poorly. But Ashburn and Mullins together are better than the sum of their individual skills, so you're rooting for them."
Their burgeoning friendship partially stems from their misfit status, but Paul Feig notes that it mostly comes from them being really good at what they do. 'I really like working with these kinds of characters, who are strong women trying to find their place in the world. Ashburn and Mullins bond because they're both great at their jobs, they've both given up much for their careers, and they will never compromise."
'The first time Sandra Bullock and I spoke to each other we said, -this is so funny, but as flawed and as socially inept as our characters are, these two women have to stay real,'" says Melissa McCarthy, explaining her approach to the film. 'They are police officers. And given that, if we can push the comedy as far as we can, we're onto something. We had no interest in making a movie about two wacky cops who are bad at their jobs and fighting over lipstick in a car," she laughs. 'We play a real federal agent and a real cop who don't like each other. It has been done before, but I think anytime you can do it and stay within the realm of reality, people will respond to it."
However funny and outrageous the characters and situations, Paul Feig insisted they feel authentic. 'If someone's going to be a street cop or a brilliant FBI agent who takes on the toughest assignments, then they're going to be badasses. They might have foibles and fears, but deep down they must have a special something inside to be drawn to this work. Mullins and Ashburn have that quality."
'Mullins and Ashburn are wildly different but their bond is they take the job very seriously," agrees Melissa McCarthy. 'Their personalities might have slowed their career advancement, but their abilities speak for themselves. Their mutual respect evolves into friendship."
'I trained and went to a shooting range with a police officer from Boston," says Melissa McCarthy," discussing the lengths she went to in order to ensure that her character was credible and authentic. 'It wasn't really to learn about the firing, because I wasn't going to fire the gun, it was more about the handling of the gun. I wanted to make sure that I looked like a very confident policewoman who handles a gun every day of her life and has done so for 15-something years. Sandra Bullock has already had a lot of experience and she was really good at it from the beginning. It has to become second nature to be convincing. It is all about muscle memory, so where your finger is, how are you holding the gun and which direction you are facing has to become instinctive."
'The people in law enforcement have an instinct for handling weapons because they have so much training and such respect for the firearms," says Sandra Bullock. 'You don't instantly get that just because someone puts a gun in your hand on set. Everyone has a different style and there are different types of weapon. The great thing was that we were all very respectful of the firearms on set. We didn't take a gun until they showed us that the barrel was clear. We looked at every single bullet to make absolutely sure. I think sometimes you can get lax on set and think: -oh this is really cool, we're making a movie.' It's a firearm. It's a weapon and you have to respect it and understand how it works. I don't think anybody should put a weapon in their hand on a set unless they have some understanding of how dangerous this thing really is and have fired it in a controlled situation. Everyone needs to know the damage it could inflict. We had a really healthy respect for the guns that were given to us as tools for the movie."
Did either actress ever at any time consider a career in the police or the FBI? 'I don't have the gift to be a cop," says Sandra Bullock. 'I think it takes an incredible human being to work in law enforcement or to be a fireman or a first responder of any kind. It is a gift. I will be the first to respond if necessary but I don't think I have those instincts to do it as a career."
'It's a calling, I have a lot of police officers in my family in Chicago so I know what it takes," says Melissa McCarthy. 'Making the film I was very aware of trying to do everything right and to appear authentic so they would not call me and say, -what are you doing?' I also have an immense respect for anyone who has chosen that profession: to be in service and to protect people."
Turning On -The Heat'
The Heat is the first produced screenplay by Katie Dippold, who has written for television shows like Parks and Recreation and MadTV. The film was born from Katie Dippold's love of buddy-cop movies. She has many favourites, but singles out the 1986 comedy-action film Running Scared, starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as wisecracking Chicago street cops. 'I've always enjoyed those kinds of movies," says Katie Dippold, who recently signed a deal to write another comedy for director Paul Feig. 'The characters and actors always seemed like they were having so much fun."
Katie Dippold's love of buddy-cop films provided the foundation for a script that ultimately transcended the genre with outrageous humour and heart. Paul Feig sparked to the script, calling it 'one of the funniest I've ever read."
'It turns the genre on its head by adding some breasts," jokes Sandra Bullock. 'It's gonna surprise people what women with breasts can do."
When the filmmaker told Katie Dippold that The Heat was going to be his next film, the neophyte screenwriter was flummoxed. 'I thought I was being pranked," Katie Dippold admits. 'I got an email saying that Paul Feig wanted to have lunch with me. After reading the email, I sat there frozen for several minutes. Then, I thought it was a joke."
'Well, that's Katie Dippold," says producer Jenno Topping. 'She's incredibly humble and real."
With Katie Dippold's first draft in hand, Paul Feig moved at warp speed to cast the film, a task facilitated by his visualising his 'dream team" in the script. 'I've always been a fan of Sandra Bullock, and as I was reading I was just like, okay, Ashburn is Sandra Bullock. Ashburn felt like her. Sandra Bullock is so funny in movies and in real life. She's confident and cool, but she's also analytical about things to a point where it's comical, and which I love. And that's how I felt about the Ashburn character."
'Sandra Bullock brings a sweet quality to what could have been an unlikable character," adds Katie Dippold. 'She really nails that -A+-student' vibe, and she's hilarious." And Melissa McCarthy notes that, 'Sandra Bullock is great, funny and weird. We are very much in sync."
It didn't take much convincing to bring Sandra Bullock aboard. She was a big fan of Bridesmaids, and eager to work with its director, Paul Feig. 'Watching Bridesmaids was one of those rare moments when I thought to myself that this is a person [Paul Feig] I want to work with because you know he is going to make you better – and that he could turn The Heat into something memorable. Paul Feig wants to tell stories that involve women without making them -women's stories,'" adds Sandra Bullock. 'Uncensoring woman has I think led to more fun on screen. We curse. I talk like a truck driver. Yeah, I do," she laughs. 'People say, -oh, women don't do that,' and I'm like, -They f…. do! They do. They do it all the time.'"
To cast Mullins, Paul Feig looked no further than his Bridesmaids breakout star, Melissa McCarthy. 'On Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy became my hero," he says. 'So, about 15 pages into reading The Heat, the idea of casting her just snapped into my head. The script, which was already hilarious, got ten times funnier when I read it while imagining Melissa McCarthy as Mullins.
'Melissa McCarthy will commit to a role so hardcore it will shock you," Paul Feig continues. 'It's hard to realize that it's Melissa McCarthy inside that character."
Melissa McCarthy, meanwhile, was delighted to be reunited with her Bridesmaids director. 'Paul Feig loves women and he thinks they're really funny," she says. 'Sometimes when I watch films I wonder, -what kind of women do you know?'" says Melissa McCarthy. 'Years ago people used to say: -women aren't funny.' I used to think, -what cave do you live in?' Paul Feig is smart and very funny himself. He's open and collaborative and I don't know that you can have a better set up for making a film."
'If you're going to tell a story from beginning to end, I think you always need to have a great structure and a script and Katie Dippold wrote a story that we both got excited about; we could see the characters clearly," offers Sandra Bullock. 'As Melissa McCarthy says, once you realise that you're starting to tweak and fuss with a character, you know you're on to something. If it gets you excited and you've never read anything like it before that's another plus. I think also improv and that whole world of stand up is an entirely different kind of comedy that still needs a story but is more free form. On the set, it was a combination of both those worlds coming together with a great script."
'We could play with it a little," adds Melissa McCarthy. 'The way I've always worked and how we worked on this film is that you improvise a little bit in a lot of places. You're never veering off the script and taking the story off in a different direction and you can't play crazy. You can have a strong point of view but once you go crazy, you're not accountable for anything."
The chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy was evident from the first table read. 'When we read the script [together] for the first time, Melissa McCarthy and I would make the same faces, simultaneously," Sandra Bullock recalls. 'Our rhythms are different, but we worked so well together, they began to click. We made so many connections; it's something I never thought I would have on this level. 'We really hit it off, she is like my sister,'' adds Sandra Bullock. 'I'd say it's rare that actors get together and have the kind of chemistry and connection we have together. It somehow just works and it's something inexplicable that is bigger than what is on the page."
'Sandra Bullock and I fell in movie love," jokes Melissa McCarthy.
The strength of the Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy dynamic, evident even then, inspired additional script fine-tuning. 'By the end of that first read, it was obvious that Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy really inhabited these characters, and that it was up to Katie Dippold and me to take all that magic and get it into the script – and really let the women fly," says Paul Feig.
Katie Dippold remained with The Heat through production, coming up with alternate jokes and character bits. 'I always allow improv," Paul Feig notes," but you must always start with a great script."
For Katie Dippold, the process was liberating. 'Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy took what was on the page and made it funnier than I thought it could ever be," she says. A particular favourite came during a Mullins' tirade against her captain (played by Tom Wilson) – accusing him of lacking a set of testes – when he refuses her demand to boot Ashburn from the case. 'Melissa McCarthy really ran with the one scripted line, -Have you seen the captain's balls?' and turned it into something spectacular."
Let's Get Physical (or… -You want to gamble your scrotoum and testacles? Go ahead, gamble away!"
'I've been beating people up for two months; it's very cathartic," joked Melissa McCarthy during the production of The Heat.
A favourite target of Mullins is Rojas, a small time dealer and pimp, portrayed by YouTube sensation Spoken Reasons (aka John A Baker Jr.). During an early encounter, Mullins throws a watermelon at the fleeing crook. The unique takedown speaks to Mullins' determination and quick thinking – and to the film's no-holds-barred humour. 'I mean, who throws a watermelon at somebody?" asks the still incredulous Spoken Reasons.
Being felled by an airborne watermelon is only the beginning of Rojas' problems with Mullins and, ultimately, with Ashburn. Seeking information from the hapless hood, Ashburn and Mullins give Rojas some incentive to cooperate…by dangling him, upside-down, off a balcony. The young performer's acting was also incentivised by the fact that he actually was hanging three stories above ground, with only a special wire keeping him aloft.
Paul Feig, for one, appreciated Spoken Reasons' agreeing to eschew green-screen/CGI. 'He had never been in a movie, and I was impressed by his wanting to make the scene feel as authentic as possible. I've never met anybody who just walked in front of a movie camera for the first time and taken command of it so masterfully."
Perp beat-downs are only part of the film's comical physical set pieces, which also highlight Ashburn and Mullins bustin' some moves at a Boston dive, in a scene that has the two cops bonding over booze. 'Yeah, we carefully choreographed the scene…for all of three-and-a-half seconds," admits Melissa McCarthy. 'You can't choreograph it," adds Sandra Bullock, 'because it had to look as stupid and made-up as possible."
The improvisational nature fuelled the fun and on- and off-screen bonding. 'It is great working with Melissa McCarthy," enthuses Sandra Bullock. 'She comes through the door and improv is the way that she does things. Then we had a director who comes from that world too and nearly everyone in the cast was also from that world. The world of comedy that I had been familiar with was always very controlled. There was the script and you had to go through 27 people and the studio before you could change a line. I always wanted to do this kind of comedy that we have in The Heat (which I have done in real life, sort of free form,) but I was never really allowed to experience what it was like before on a film.
Walking onto the set of The Heat it took me a couple of days to realise: -I'm allowed to do it.' It was very liberating. When you are around that, you take it in and you want to improve your game. It is a muscle that you have to exercise and if you haven't had much time exercising that muscle, it gets stale. Watching these people work is exciting and inspiring, but daunting sometimes too."
'Sandra Bullock also happens to be bizarrely good at improv," says Melissa McCarthy. 'I've done it for 15 or 20 years, but then of course Sandra Bullock walks in and says: -I've never done this before.' And then she is great at it and all of us who've spent years doing it are just like, -Bluh,'" she laughs. 'It is natural for her."
'Melissa McCarthy has great moves," says Sandra Bullock," discussing Melissa McCarthy's comedic skills. 'When I saw her dance, I knew we were going to be fast friends. We did the dancing with no practice whatsoever," she continues.
'We said: -let's not rehearse anything,' " interjects her co-star. 'Let's just be as terrible as we're capable of being. Poor Paul Feig turns around and we both have our faces taped," laughs Melissa McCarthy, 'and he's like, -What's happening?' It was a weird descent into controlled madness. It was really fun. There was a lot of ruined tape," she says. Melissa McCarthy adds: 'Yeah, I got the moves, but I don't have the sense to stop whatever's going on."
Was that the funniest scene in the film? 'Oh my God, the funniest moment, that's a hard one. Well the dance was great," says Melissa McCarthy.
'It was so much fun and it was just so dumb. At one point we were unglued," laughs Sandra Bullock. 'On the script I think it just said: -they get drunk and they dance.' But there's nothing else on the page. Things that you think you would find really funny when you're reading the script, often become the things that aren't funny for the actors on set. And often we would find the stupidest things funny that the crew didn't find funny at all," continues Sandra Bullock. 'We'd be laughing, and they were like, -oh my God, they're wasting half a day with this stupid joke.' And we're saying, -I'm sorry, I'm sorry. We're trying to get it together.' They were literally sitting there saying: -you know we are going to be here until midnight because you guys cannot pull it together.'"
Prepared for action of any kind, Mullins is dressed to kill with a hip-hop/Patti Smith look, along with an ever-present vest as functional ('to put stuff in," says Paul Feig) as it is cool. Ashburn, the buttoned-up over-achiever, is encased in a business suit, with something underneath that completely mystifies Mullins: Spanx. When Ashburn explains to the fashion-backward Mullins the purpose of the shapewear, the shocked cop exclaims, 'What's gonna come f***ing popping out?"
It's All In The Family
The tightly-wrapped Ashburn isn't Mullins' only headache. She's also dealing with her out-of-control family. After arresting her own brother (played by starring cast member Michael Rapaport) for dealing drugs, Mullins is ostracized by the other members of her clan, including her mom, dad, four brothers, and for good measure, her brothers' girlfriends. Says Paul Feig: 'Mullins arrested her brother and threw him in jail, in order to save him – sort of a forced rehab. But to the rest of her family, this is an unforgivable betrayal, and she's a traitor. It's a very tight-knit family, but they have a very interesting way of showing it."
With that fiery dynamic in place, imagine what happens when Mullins brings Ashburn into the unholy maelstrom of a Mullins family dinner (of chicken nuggets (or 'nuggies" as they call the delicacy), green bean casserole, and a deli platter). The words 'annihilation" and 'evisceration" don't begin to cover what Ashburn undergoes before she even sits down. 'It's a verbal bloodbath," says Melissa McCarthy. 'Walking into the room with the Mullins family is like walking into the Tasmanian devil," Sandra Bullock echoes. 'You have no choice but to take the abuse. There's nothing you can say; you can only react. You can never answer back because they will cut you with ease.
'Those actors playing the Mullins family were nothing less than a room full of genius," Sandra Bullock continues. 'You could turn the camera on any one of them and you'd have a great story."
We all kind of gang up on Ashburn," notes comedian Bill Burr, who portrays Mullins' brother Mark. 'We really push the envelope in our assault. It was like some kind of crazy contest of who can say the rudest thing directly to Sandra Bullock's face."
Mullins' brother Peter is portrayed by Joey McIntyre (of New Kids on the Block fame), and Nate Corddry is younger sibling Nate. SNL stalwart Jane Curtin, and Michael Tucci are the parents presiding over this madness, and Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo portray the girlfriends.
Most of the actors actually hail from Boston, which enhanced the scene's fun and authenticity. 'There's something about the accents and attitude," says Paul Feig. 'It gives a kind of -special sauce' to the proceedings."
The actors' ability to inhabit these characters points to Paul Feig's own casting 'special sauce." 'Paul Feig's casting is a combination of instinct and memory," says Topping. 'He is so in love with comedy that he absorbs everything – movies, stand-ups, TV – to discover who's doing interesting stuff. He is constantly hungry for new comedic voices."
Adding to the fun are starring cast members Demian Bichir as Ashburn's superior, Capt. Hale, and Marlon Wayans as Levy, an FBI agent. Bichir, who was a recent Oscar nominee for his supporting performance in A Better Life, and who stars in the upcoming FX drama series 'The Bridge," relished his scenes with Bullock. 'Ashburn drives Hale crazy," says the actor, 'but I think he's also rooting for her to succeed."
Marlon Wayans' FBI agent Levy has what he calls, a 'thing" for Ashburn, 'but she's a tough nut to crack." But Wayans, whose notable credits include Scary Movie, says if anyone's up to the task, it's Levy.
The city of Boston itself also takes center stage, and the locations used by the production, including the old Boston Herald building and a police station that had closed, 'tell a story about the city," says production designer Jefferson Sage. 'They were all beautiful buildings."
Release Date: July 11th, 2013