A Simple Favor director Paul Feig on martinis, menswear, and making Blake Lively go dark
“A Paul Feig thriller” are not words you would expect to hear given the director’s résumé (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters). But that’s what’s in store for viewers this weekend seeking out his new film A Simple Favor. Although it also has comedic elements, Favor is a dark, twisty tale of the disappearance of dapper mom Emily (Blake Lively) and the ensuing investigation by her best friend Stephanie (Anna Kendrick).
EW talked to Feig about taking a walk on the dark side.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about this story that spoke to you?
PAUL FEIG: Well, I mean, if you look at all my movies I really just make genre films. To me, that’s the most fun way to kind of play with tropes and then get to twist them and turn them and especially play with the casting and all that, and I’d always been looking for, like, a kind of Hitchcock-ian type. This script got sent to my company to produce. So, I read it and I went “You know what? I like it so much I actually want to direct it.”
What hooked me into this was the lead character of Stephanie because she’s such a one of my kind of characters — basically a nerdy mom whose got this mommy blog that nobody watches and the people who do just make fun of her and all the parents think she’s weird. And then suddenly here she falls in with the most glamorous, the sophisticated person she has ever met in her life and gets so entranced by that and how that kind of affects her life and how the whole experience brings her out of her shell and helps her find out what her true calling in life is.
And the fact that it just had so many comedic elements built into it already. I like to treat all my movies as seriously as I can as far as the genre. With Spy, I tried to make an actual spy movie. But then you have fun with the characters within it and in their interactions and sort of how they react to things in the situations you put them in. And it just seemed like also such a great opportunity to get two amazing women into the film. And then on top of it, then the added bonus of the amazing Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians), who it’s only his second time acting.
How did you decide to cast Anna and Blake in these roles?
FEIG: Well, it’s sort of like the situation in the movie, which is, they’re brought together by a third-party sort of circumstance. Their kids are friends, so I liked the idea of two polar opposites. I mean, it’s honestly what we did with Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne in Bridesmaids. There’s always something funny to me about putting two extremely different types together.
The tone is very specific and basically vacillates between comedy and thriller. Was that the biggest challenge of the film?
FEIG: Well, that’s my favorite part of any one of my movies: How do you walk that line where you can push the edge of the tone but you don’t spill over out of it so that you take the audience out of it? So this was definitely the biggest tonal tightrope. Spy was probably the closest second to that. You try everything and then you have to be willing to give things up when you’re in the editing room if it hurts the overall tone.
Emily wears a lot of men’s suits in the film. You are a famously well-dressed director. Is Blake paying homage to you?
FEIG: Well, it was not my idea. But I was the inspiration for it because we were trying to figure out what her look was and our costume designer had pulled a lot of different reference photos and they had a bunch of like Helmut Newton photos and all that. And we kind of liked that look but then Blake just looked over at me and I was wearing one of my three-piece suits like I always do, and she’s like, “I want to dress like you”. And I was like “Okay, that’s funny,” and she was like, “No, no. I really do.”
Emily is a huge fan of martinis and they play a big role in this film. Were you all constantly drinking them during shooting?
FEIG: Well, I mean Blake doesn’t even drink, is the funny thing. She doesn’t touch alcohol. I work French hours: We only do 10-hour days on my movies just so can I have a martini at the end of the day and have dinner. But no, Blake is such a perfectionist that she was like, “You gotta show me how to make this exactly” ’cause it’s based on the Duke’s martini as she mentions in the movie from the London bar. And so I just kind of walked her through it and then she really embraced it. I just get very happy watching this movie ’cause there’s just so many things that I love, which is great clothes and lots of martinis and booze and all that. It’s probably my most personal movie without the story having anything to do with my life.
Your last few movies, especially Ghostbusters, were big movies — this one is smaller by comparison. Was that nice to work with a smaller scope?
FEIG: Spy was a big production and then obviously Ghostbusters was gigantic. No, it just … I’m much more about, what’s the great script, what’s the great story I want to tel,l and if a story will be the best shooting on an iPhone in an office, I’ll jump at that next if I think I can make it in a way where people will be just as entertained as they are by a big movie. But it was really nice to be working in a lower budget level for this one, I have to say. But I like doing both. I like doing the big ones and I like doing the small ones.
It must have been so fun to get these actresses to play such different roles, especially Blake.
FEIG: She really just went for it… she’s the sweetest earth mother you ever met in your life and so here comes this sociopath monster onto the screen. And I was just like, “Oh my God, you are making me so happy.” She’s just really, so great. And then Anna is such a joy to work with, but it’s so funny because Anna in real life is so funny and acerbic and insult-y. They just embraced it so much and had fun working within it.
A Simple Favor