Paul Feig, Bobby Cannavale, and Rose Byrne on Spy and Trying to Make a Female-Led Comedy That Succeeds Internationally

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Rose Byrne and Paul Feig Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Right from Spy's opening credits, the SXSW audience smelled franchise, and indeed, at the post-premiere Q&A for the film, writer-director Paul Feig gave a little nod to the possibility. Vulture spoke with Feig, along with co-stars Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, before Spy's premiere — about the film, Melissa McCarthy making Byrne break character, Cannavale jumping out of a helicopter because his stunt guy looked nothing like him, and Feig's plan to get a female-led comedy to sell overseas.

The first time you worked with Melissa was on Bridesmaids. That’s proven to be quite a fruitful relationship, hasn’t it?
Feig: It has. I think of that moment when she first came in for the audition. I had worked with her husband a bunch and weirdly had never run into her. She read for that role and I thought, What the hell is happening? Who is this woman?

And you, too, Rose. That was your first encounter with her?
Byrne: I loved her in Gilmore Girls. She was so charming and endearing. She’s such a great actress, not only a comedic actress. That character [in Bridesmaids] on the page was very different [from] what she brought. It was quite remarkable. I thought, Oh, dear, how am I going to keep a straight face?

Feig: My favorite thing in the world is watching Rose break when she’s working with Melissa. We were laughing so hard in the editing room just watching Rose. She has this great face when she starts to break. I think you think you’re getting away with it sometimes, because you’re looking down. But nope, we all know Rose is breaking.

I can imagine being on set with you lot is always a good time.
Cannavale: Well, it’s no 12 Years a Slave.

No, not quite. So I’d love to know what kind of spy you’d like to be, and what gadgets you’d need to have to keep the world safe?
Cannavale: I’d want to be a master of disguise, so I could use my acting skills. And I’d want a cool car. Maybe one that flies. Remember Bond’s car that went in the water?

Feig: I would be a very stylish spy. I would want the Bond look, but my gadget would be an endless expense account. So I want to be me, a funded me. But I’ll crack under pressure. The minute they interrogate me, I’ll give up all secrets. None of you are safe.

Did you have a favorite scene in Spy?
Feig: It’s the knife fight that Melissa has with Nargis Fakhri in the kitchen. It’s very dangerous, but it’s really funny. And they did it. There’s only a couple shots that are stunt actors, but they’re doing 80 or 90 percent of it. They really went for it.

Cannavale: I did all my own stunts. I fell out of a helicopter. Remember the stunt guy that didn’t look anything like me? He was really dark and looked like an Austrian Vogue [model] from the ’70s. Every now and then I’d see Paul look at him, and then come back to me and ask, "So you can jump, right?"

There's going to be a role for Melissa in Ghostbusters — how about Rose?
Feig: Well, I want everybody in this thing. Now there are so many great people, it’s always such a terrible choice to have to whittle it down. There are too many good people I want to work with.

Well, Paul, just go with what you know.
Feig: Exactly. We really need more female directors, though.

And what made you want to do a spy movie?
Feig: Well, I’m a Bond fanatic. And I thought they got so silly over the years, but Casino Royale was such a revelation because it was so close to how the books were, and the tone. That got me reinterested in doing one, and I thought about how we could do a funny one, where we play it dead serious and keep the stakes and the danger, not making it a spoof. And I wanted to do more action. We did a tiny bit of that in The Heat, and I wanted to do more. Also, I wanted to figure out how to do a female-led comedy that could have a chance doing well internationally. That’s always the excuse you hear from the studios and producers, why they can’t have more movies starring women, because they "don’t work internationally." But fuck that. Well, here’s all these elements, check all the other boxes and make it undeniable that it works. The more time you can crack through that wall, the better. They’re going to say it was a one-off, like with Bridesmaids, but the more things are successful, the harder those excuses become.