When I think of action-comedy, I’ll immediately go to my childhood favourites: Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon or Tango & Cash. So rarely do modern takes on the genre successfully combine the two. Thankfully intrepid writer, director Susanna Fogel, has done just that whilst injecting a pair of versatile female leads in the frontline – not just to be funny but to get involved with the violent situations on hand. Written with Ghostbuster Kate McKinnon in mind, she’s joined by Bad Mom Mila Kunis in action mode through a story of globetrotting international espionage weaved around outlandish humour. On the run herself, I spoke with cool Susanna as she swiftly walked around the streets of LA for our interview.
Is there a director’s cameo I may have missed?
SF – No but my co-writer has one line in the opening party scene.
Due to European locations, was craft services more interesting?
SF – An exercise to nourish yourself in countries that have few green vegetables on hand. There’s a lot of delicious stews and chickens and sauces, just not many vegetables proved a challenge.
Did you come in under budget?
SF – We had a little bit over at the end helping to do some extra little things we wanted to add.
How did the project land with you?
SF – In my brain as a co-writer (laughs) who joined me in a hotel lobby for a month letting it burst out of us then deciding we didn’t want to give it to anyone but us to execute it on screen. We hung on to it and pushed to make it real.
Congratulations, if you believed in it, that’s what should happen.
SF – It was a really important lesson for me to stand in my own confidence. Worst thing that could happen is if you say no to yourself before that chance arises. At times people will let you get away with things like directing major action movies, even if one has never done it before.
Were there alternate titles to The Spy Who Dumped Me?
SF – It was one of the first titles we came up with, picked more as a joke than anything else. We didn’t expect to keep it as it seemed a parody a little bit more than the movie already is. Everyone got attached to it while trying to come up with other things to capture the film spirit or plot for what it really is, but titles are hard.
No copyright problems from the James Bond estate?
SF – Not that I know of, check back with me in a year. If I’m embroiled in a lawsuit, you’ll have the answer to your question on Google (laughs).
What’s more difficult, directing action set pieces or hitting comedic marks?
SF – Comedic stuff is always harder as the action is procedural. You plan it out to a tee and you know if a building explodes or it doesn’t, or someone’s holding a gun right. Comedy is extremely subjective, I second guess it thinking you can always make something funnier, action is obvious when you get it right.
Did you have any films as inspirations when writing screenplay?
SF – As a big fan of all action movies, love the Bourne series, Bond films, also director Richard Donner’s (retro) cop action blockbusters are timeless. What all those movies share is the action is successfully thrilling, polished or often grounded with genuine exciting adventure. I’ve noticed a lot of action-comedy in the last 15 years often play the set pieces for jokes rather than thrills. It’s almost sanitised that filmmakers are afraid the movie won’t be funny with ‘good’ action. I wanted to make a legit action movie with unrestricted female leads proving the two could go together while also hiring the stunt coordinator from Bond marching into full-on comedic action territory.
I think you suceeded.
SF – Thank you, although some people say it’s too brutal to be funny while others don’t mind.
Are you responsive to critics or concerned with negative reviews?
SF – I’ve surprised myself going through the process of reviews of previous work always noticing those who give high praise more highly than you probably deserve to be praised but never anything on this scale. I’m really happy to have made something to get people talking whether it be totally not funny or too violent and stupid or talking about how they have never had such a good time. I’m happy to have made something that’s poked some bears getting people excited. Maybe that’s my way of rationalising not making a movie everyone likes. I’m more interested in making a movie I’m proud of so I could definitely see some reviews and feel misunderstood. I do feel that some reviews that specifically speak to a level of intensity of the action are written by older men who seem surprised it’s happening in a movie with women, maybe they expected light fluff. Glad to get those reviews as I’ve provided something different if that works for them or not.
Was casting Kate & Mila always the idea?
SF – Had a prior friendship with Kate on my first movie in a small role. She came on board early however soon after, her Saturday Night Live schedule exploded prompting us to make the movie right away. The norm in Hollywood is that things gestate, it’s weird if there’s any quick progress in anything ever. In this case we had a narrow window of availability. Empowered us to be more aggressive with potential investors. We believed it could happen quickly so kept saying: you have to make it now, not in a year or we won’t sell it to you. It was like Field of Dreams, we just told Kate it’s happening, told investors it’s happening while thinking god I hope it’s happening (laughs). Build it,l they will come.
I fell in love with Morgan herself as much as her costumes. Did the girls have input on their clothes with designer Alex?
SF – Yes Mila and Kate were involved the whole time. What’s interesting is that many of the films Mila has been in, they play on how beautiful she is. While a lot of movies Kate is in, they play on how wacky she is. Mila was excited she could dress normal, not wearing heels all the time or gowns and Kate is a born performer so putting on the costumes is how she gets into character. She was analytical about what her character would wear, it was important to both of them. Everything was motivated and real.
Did the girls have any bad hair days or diva moments?
SF – (laughs) The biggest challenge was the heat, quite hot and sweaty on set.
The featured version of ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ is quite fantastic.
SF – I love it too, we had an incredible music supervisor who came up with unique foreign cover songs. Became like a road trip of tunes he kept bringing in, huge highlight for me.
Mandy Patinkin and Woody Harrelson are mentioned in the film, will they be in the sequel?
SF – (laughs) Depends on how they feel on the context that we mentioned them, hopefully!
I guess you have ideas for a sequel if that eventuates.
SF – We would love to write one, we have an idea ready to go when permission granted.
THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME
Rated M – 110 min. Now Showing!
Shane A. Bassett