'The Heat': Improv comedy with a Boston flair
You’d expect to see Melissa McCarthy in a raucous comedy like The Heat, which opens Friday. Even Sandra Bullock’s name above the title is no great surprise. But who would expect the cast to include Joey McIntyre, best known as the youngest of the new Kids on the Block?
Heat director Paul Feig, for one. The Royal Oak native first took note of McIntyre’s comic flair in a series of Funny or Die take-offs on Mad Men. Now, he sings McIntyre’s praises. Feig, who previously directed Bridesmaids, and McIntyre, who is back on tour with the New Kids, visited Royal Oak three weeks ago to talk about The Heat, in which McIntyre plays the low-life brother of Melissa McCarthy’s character, Shannon Mullins.
Shannon is a down-and-dirty but dedicated Boston cop who has become a pariah in her parents’ home because she helped send one of her other brothers to prison. McIntyre joined an ensemble of fellow Massachusetts natives, including Bill Burr, Nathan Corddry and Jane Curtin. They knew the city – and its attitude – first-hand and knew just how far they could go when it came to poking fun at Beantown.
McIntyre: The thing is, I guess because we’re from the hometown, we can be as mean and as stereotypical as, you know, we want, because it’s our city and we can’t get offended. And that was the nature of the family within the movie: They’re just obscene, you know what I mean? Melissa McCarthy’s character just has her hands full.
Feig: The great thing about funny people, truly funny people, is they know how to not go over the line. If you have people that kind of don’t know how to be funny, then they’ll go way too far. But they kept it right at the line but never went over.
McIntyre: Our family – there was a decency at the core. There was a way to do things. It all came from -- Boston has kind of a mentality of ‘Who do you think you are?’ Whoa, whoa.’ They don’t let anybody get too big for their britches, you know what I mean? ‘And it’s our job to keep you in your place.’
Feig: To keep you in check!
Naturally, it’s impossible to discuss Boston these days without addressing the Boston Marathon bombing, especially since McIntyre was a Marathoner himself. Feig said in the past two months, several special screenings of The Heat have been set up for Boston law enforcement personnel.
Feig: We got a lot of help from law enforcement on this movie. There’s actually FBI and actual, you know, SWAT team guys in the film, so we feel very close to them. Joey had a very close encounter with this, and thank God he’s alright.
McIntyre Yeah, I ran the Marathon.
Feig: Crossed the finish line…
McIntyre: Yeah, about 10 minutes before it all went crazy. Yeah, it was tough, but Boston, you know, like Paul said, it’s a great town. It doesn’t matter where you were on that day, I think everybody was affected and touched by the tragedy. But anything we can do, you know what I mean? Obviously we’re just tryin’ to bring a little sunshine to those people who had to deal with it, you know, and risked their lives to, you know, for the victims, for the whole city.
Feig: It makes me even more proud that we shot in Boston because we got to kind of show how strong it is.
Like McIntyre, Sandra Bullock did not have much training in generating spontaneous comedy.
"Not as much, no, but she was able to match, to go along note for note really," says Feig. "The thing is, people who are really good actors are usually really good at improv. What they do is they create a character that is true to them – who they’re kind of playing -- and it’s such a living, breathing thing that they can then, within that, talk just we in real life are listening and talking and having an honest exchange. So she was great – she kept up with Melissa and Melissa is not easy to keep up with. Oh yeah, Hurricane Melissa shows up and you just make sure the cameras are rolling and you’re getting’ everything!"
When actors go off-script, throwing in ad-libs or, as McCarthy does at several points in The Heat, flying into off-the-cuff tangents, a director can wind up with a surplus of hilarious material. Feig encountered that kind of embarrassment of riches on Bridesmaids and he’s figured out how to handle it.
Feig: It’s all about story: Your first and foremost goal is to make the story and the emotion track, and then you fill in the jokes within there. Because the tendency is to want to load it up with every funny thing, but what happens is you fatigue the audience and you also -- people start to lose the thread of who the characters are and caring about them. So that’s really the litmus test. Then, knowing that we have the DVDs then we can take all the jokes we love and put them on the DVD extras, so at least they don’t go away forever.
McIntyre: I just saw a cut of that and it was pretty funny, too.
Feig: You really get to see how genius all these people are, ‘cuz they’re just spooling off joke after joke after joke when we’re shooting and then we can only pull one or two of them.