Inside the making of Kate McKinnon, Mila Kunis comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me
The Spy Who Dumped Me
Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis are no strangers to summer movies. The SNL star's first front-and-center blockbuster role was the Ghostbusters reboot, and Kunis was pushed into the next level of stardom with the overwhelming success of Bad Moms. And now the two comedians are teaming up for this summer's The Spy Who Dumped Me.
The trailer hit the internet Wednesday morning and with it came the announcement that the action flick will be joining the ranks of heavy-hitting hijink comedies like Girls Trip and Trainwreck. But there is one major element that sets The Spy Who Dumped Me apart from its fellow summer movies: It's helmed by Susanna Fogel, who is a member of the even smaller ranks of female filmmakers.
Fogel is a relative newcomer in Hollywood, having hit the scene with her 2014 indie Life Partners, which starred Leighton Meester, Adam Brody, and Gillian Jacobs. She directs Spy on her own, but teamed up with her good friend — and partner in navigating the ups and downs of the industry — David Iserson to pen the script. Iserson is basically a veteran in the television world (he's worked on everything from New Girl to Mr. Robot to Mad Men), but when Fogel sat down with EW she described the two as equally fresh on the big screen. They bonded over the experience of having years-long labors of love that never got produced, so it made sense to partner up.
"Before we started writing the movie we would just sit and vent about our broken dreams," Fogel tells EW. "Then eventually we were cracking each other up, so we figured if we could make each other laugh that was a good sign."
First came the brainstorm: Fogel said the two friends loved action movies but also wanted to explore a smaller story of female friendship.
"We were at lunch one day and one of us said, ‘Broad City meets Bourne,'" said Fogel. "Our jumping-off point was, What would we do if we had to run from the cops in, like, my Toyota Prius? What would we do if we were confronted with an assassin? We'd probably make fun of something he was wearing."
And thus, The Spy Who Dumped Me was born (er, bourne?).
The basic premise is that the main character, Audrey (Kunis), is going through a particularly bad breakup that culminated in her being completely ghosted. When her ex-boyfriend (played by Justin Theroux) shows up suddenly at the apartment she shares with her best friend, Morgan (McKinnon), it's revealed that he's actually a spy (ghosting explained). He has a gang of assassins hot on his trail and the two BFFs suddenly find themselves wrapped up in the spy game themselves, traveling across Europe to escape the tail. Sam Heughan of Outlander, Gillian Anderson of The X-Files, and Hasan Minhaj of The Daily Show also appear in the flick.
It's an impressive list of A-listers, especially for a first big studio movie. As any filmmaker will point out, wrangling a cast is one of the first challenges they face (after, you know, selling the thing). With Spy, it all began with Kate McKinnon. The SNL star had a small cameo in Life Partners and bonded with Fogel over what would be the start of both of their careers. She was the first person to come on board The Spy Who Dumped Me, which meant that whoever they cast as her best friend had to be both available during the SNL summer hiatus and McKinnon's perfect friend match.
Lionsgate, the studio behind the action flick, along with Brian Grazer, who produced with his company Imagine Entertainment, had a wish list of actresses for the second lead. Kunis was at the top of that list but her schedule didn't allow for a chemistry read with McKinnon; instead, Fogel had to assess for herself whether the two actors would have a rapport.
"Once I sat down with Mila I learned that she was a warm, funny, down-to-Earth person just like Kate," she explained. "I suspected that they would like each other. It's a weird guessing game: You sort of have to psychoanalyze them over coffee for two hours, do the same with the other person, and then decide that they're not going to push each other's buttons."
The whole crew convened on set during the summer of 2017 — in enviable locales like Amsterdam, Prague, and Berlin, no less — and by all accounts, absolutely zero buttons were pushed. Instead Fogel and her team put all their energy into figuring out exactly how to make a spy movie unlike any other spy movie before — but not so unlike its predecessors that it would alienate all the Bourne fans out there. During the writing process, Fogel and Iserson consulted with a few clandestine acquaintances to make sure plot points, like potential threats to the government, were up to par. On set, it all came down to the action scenes.
"It was really important that it felt legitimate," explained Fogel. "We were going for stunts that weren't ironic, for real action-movie action."
The director brought on board veteran stunt coordinator Gary Powell, who was responsible for the action scenes in the Bond films and also served as Pierce Brosnan's stunt double, to help navigate the very thin line between a badass fight and unnecessary gore. Fogel noted that she wanted to make Kunis and McKinnon look really cool without alienating "moral people who watch spy movies."
Another goal of Fogel's in making The Spy Who Dumped Me was to empower her lead actresses and allow them to feel a strong connection to the characters, who are funny and smart in the midst of their espionage hijinks.
"I still feel when I meet actresses, no matter how high-profile they are, that they are starved for good roles," she said. "I really felt an appreciation from both of them that they even got to explore grounded parts. And I was so happy to give them that."
That ethos runs rampant throughout the film. Even though the story kicks off with a breakup, viewers should take note that this is not a rom-com, nor does it follow the now-tired tropes that movies about women are often forced into — no one is searching for love (the two friends are the main relationship), no one turns on each other just for a plot point (the espionage, car chases, and explosions provide the conflict), and no one is going to alienate men (just because there's a female protagonist doesn't mean it's a chick flick).
Fogel was adamant about all these points because she was eager to see a film that represented her own world view: One where women aren't simply defined by their desire to get married.
"I'm a single 30-something woman with no kids so I feel excited to make a movie about people who aren't angling for that," she said. "I think that's a lot of people I know, and even for women who have chosen that path, they don't only want to see characters getting married and having kids. They want to have an adventure with their friends, too."
In the landscape of today's industry, it's unfortunately not enough for audiences to simply appreciate it: They have to turn out to the theaters in droves (especially when a movie is helmed by a female director; those gigs are unfortunately so few and bar between that the antiquated system still hinges the entire genre's future on the success of a handful of projects). After an overwhelmingly positive test screening, the release date for The Spy Who Dumped Me was pushed back from July 6 to August 3, a weekend that has historically proved very lucrative for R-rated comedies (like predecessors Girls Trip and Trainwreck). And while Fogel will undoubtedly be glued to the box office, her hopes for the movie are far more anecdotal than financial.
"I want people watching the movie to think, Oh, that's like me and my friends," she mused. "I want it to be a movie that people watch on dates or at bachelorette parties just like Bridesmaids."
The Spy Who Dumped Me