Paul Feig loves the ladies. As a kid he preferred their company. On Freaks and Geeks, the show he created, he gifted pop culture some of the most vividly real and still beloved teenage specimens. Then with Bridesmaids, the 2011 comedy that went triple rainbow platinum in critical praise and ticket sales, that love blew up and went commercial. Now for his directorial follow-up, Feig returns with The Heat. The buddy cop movie, once titled Female Buddy Cop Movie, quickly attracted Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, the Academy Award-nominated breakout of Bridesmaids, and soon Feig was back on the grind. We caught up with the director recently to chat about the many hats he wears, his glory years on Dirty Dancing the TV show, and the follow-up to his follow-up.
Why did you decide to make this your follow up to Bridesmaids?
It really felt like the perfect progression to me. I was searching around for a year after Bridesmaids, trying to figure out what had the same tone of comedy that I liked and had roles for hilarious women, but I also didn’t want to do a repeat of the same type of genre. I’ve always wanted to do an action film. I like when they’re good. They seemed like fun to make. Then out of the heavens dropped this script that Katie Dippold wrote titled Female Buddy Cop Movie, and I was just like, “Okay well that’s it.”
Why were you specifically looking to make another movie with a great voice for women?
I love working with funny women. The pool of talent is so large and yet there are so many funny women who need to get to the next level to be anointed by Hollywood as being movie-worthy. I just want to bring those women to the screen. I feel like I understand the comedy of women than I do of guys. I think it’s just because I grew up around so many—my funniest friends were always women. I had a lot of bullies and I would run from the bullies just to go hang out with the girls, just because it was safer. They’re jokes were always more fun and goofy as opposed to guys calling each other names and insulting each other and punching each other. It was far too aggressive for my tastes.
After Bridesmaids you became beloved by Internet feminists, how does it feel to be on the other end of the equation with the recent Photoshop-ed movie poster controversy?
That’s just some decision made in some place that we don’t know about and it has nothing to do with the film. I love Melissa exactly the way she is, so anything that doesn’t portray that, I’m one hundred percent against.
This is the second collaboration for you two, have you hit a rhythm when it comes to working together and getting down the performances you want?
She and I have always been so much in sync just comedically. I feel like we’ve known each other forever, but I’ve only known her since Bridesmaids. We’re neighbors. We hang out all the time. There’s an ease of communication with her. Half the time my direction to her is me talking half a sentence. I’ll say, “You mean, you try to do, you know?” And she’ll go, “Oh yeah.”
You’re making bigger and bigger budget movies, which begs the question, is there an expensive passion project you’re hoping to get made?
[Laughs] I always want to stay away from the super expensive movies because it puts way too much pressure. This new one I’m trying to do, this female spy movie will definitely cost more than this one cost, but at the same time I’m always looking for ways to rein it in. I always want a movie that looks expensive, but isn’t expensive. There’s definitely no $200 million movie coming from me anytime soon. [Joking] We will make Wonder Woman one day.
You’ve had cameos in a number of your films and TV shows, including this one. Is that a fun way for you to get back in front of the camera again?
Yeah. It’s silly. Sometimes when I can’t find somebody I like for the role, I’ll just do it. I don’t miss acting at all, but I enjoy it when I get to do it. Also as a director when you act especially in something that you’re directing, you lose so much power in that moment. The minute you start running the camera you are just another vulnerable actors. Anybody can go, “You know that wasn’t very good.” Whereas when I’m a director, I always go, well why don’t you try it again, but as far as their concerned, I know what I’m doing.
I have to delve back into your acting history though. Can you tell me about your time on the Dirty Dancing TV show?
[Laughs] The show that no one ever saw? I had a blast. I was working with McLean Stevenson at the time, who was always one of my favorite actors from MASH. It was fun. The weird thing is Melora Hardin who starred in it, I ended up directing years later [as Jan] in The Office. It was a blast. The hardest thing is to take a hit movie and turn it into a TV series. The show was the first time I ever got cast as a regular on a television series. I was so excited, and the minute I got the cast, the writer’s strike happened.
Were you a fan of the original?
Can I say that I never saw it.
Are you serious?
I know. I still haven’t seen it. I’m bad. One night I’m gonna catch up. [Laughs] I’ve gotta turn in my feminist credentials for that.
You’ve worn many hats over the years—actor, writer, creator, director. Was that always the plan?
I hoped I would. My hero as a kid was Woody Allen, so that to me always seemed like the way to go: to write, direct, star in what you do. A, I loved his movies. Then I remember TIME magazine had him on the cover as a comedy genius. I was just like, “I would love to someday be called a comedy genius.” [Laughs] Studying his work you realize you really need to be in charge of a lot of stuff. So I worked my way towards that. I went to USC film school. I went as an actor to learn about directing, so that I could be good in front of the camera and possibly be able to do my own movies. But then I slowly fell in love with the directing side and I never looked back. I’m very happy behind the camera.
Do you find yourself being drawn to drama? You’ve directed episodes of Mad Men and Nurse Jackie in the past.
I love directing TV because you get to play in genres you wouldn’t normally do. With television you really get to experiment. It’s a lot like film school. You go, “I’m gonna try and use the camera this way, that I couldn’t do on something else.” I’d love to direct Game of Thrones. I’d love to direct the Walking Dead. Those are fun genres to me. I want to develop more stuff in TV. We’re kind of working on that right now too. Television is in such a great place. It’s crazy.
Do you ever see yourself returning to television as a showrunner?
Definitely. There’re some ideas I’ve had that I’ve been developing. I want it to be the right thing, but I’m very, very open to that.
I’m hoping it’s this movie that I wrote. It’s a female spy comedy, kind of like a female James Bond. I love Bond movies and I love spy movies. I thought to do a funny one, but not a parody, basically the same deal as The Heat—it’s a real story that’s happening in a funny way. So fingers crossed on that one.
Does it have a title?
I’m calling it Spy right now, but it’s also known as Susan Cooper, the main character’s name.
The Heat hits theaters June 28. See the trailer for the film here.