Exclusive Interview: Director Ben Falcone on the Long Road to Tammy


Although he’s had dozens of roles in front of the camera — including several opposite real-life wife and creative partner Melissa McCarthy — Ben Falcone makes the transition to the director’s chair with next week’s road trip comedy, Tammy. The film, also written by the couple, boasts a cast that includes, in addition to McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Mark Duplass, Kathy Bates and many more!

Hitting the big screen the evening of July 1st, Tammy finds McCarthy’s title character on the receiving end of a very, very bad day. In addition to totaling her car and getting fired from her fast food service job (where Falcone cameos as a thoroughly unpleasant shift manager), Tammy comes home to find that her husband is cheating on her. Deciding that she needs a break, Tammy strikes a deal with her alcoholic, sex-crazed grandmother (Sarandon) and the pair set off on an adventure.

ComingSoon.net sat down with Falcone to discuss not only the events that led to him getting to sit in the director’s chair, but all the other surprises he and McCarthy encountered on the long road to Tammy.

ComingSoon.net: Where did “Tammy” start for you?
Ben Falcone:
I literally had a dream about it. I came downstairs and I told Melissa that I wanted to write a movie where she goes on a road trip with her grandma. She said, “Oh, that sounds cool!” I went, “Yeah! And you grandma has a drinking problem and she sleeps around a lot!” She goes, “Great! Okay!” That’s what I love about Melissa. She never bats an eye. She’s just like, “Okay! Let’s do it!” Melissa and I were really close with our grandparents, specifically grandmas. Grandpas, too, but we both had a grandma that was able to make it until later in life. I had never seen a movie where someone takes a road trip with a grandparent and, because Melissa and I both had a special bond with a grandparent and I hadn’t seen it before, we both thought it could be fun. We worked on it for five years and here we are.

CS: How tricky is it to prove yourself to a studio as a first-time director?
Super tricky, apparently! I wasn’t expecting to do it. What happened was, we had meetings with a “Who’s Who” of directors. These great, great people. Everyone was busy! They’re all directing interesting projects and they’ve got stuff that they wrote. Melissa, because of her “Mike and Molly” schedule, had a very tight window. We were meeting with these people and I was thinking, “This is awesome! These guys are so great!” And then it came back that they couldn’t do it or they just fell out. At the same time, there was our friend Tate Taylor, who directed “The Help.” I saw the movie in Atlanta while Melissa was filming “Identity Thief.” I loved it. I saw it and thought, “Oh my God, Tate. You blew my mind!” Then we’re also good friends with Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, who just did “The Way Way Back.” I saw that and thought, “This is amazing!” Melissa and I went and saw “The Way Way Back” and loved it and that was right about the same time that literally the last person we were interested in said, “Sorry, I can’t.” We told Toby Emmerich, the head of New Line, “What about us?” He was like, “Lemme think about it.” Toby is a very measured logical guy. He’s a great guy. He did what I believe he always does, which was to go home and sleep on it. Not long after, I got a phone call where he said, “All right. Let’s do it. This feels right. You guys know the material. You care so much about. We believe in you. We take chances on first time directors all the time.”

They’ve had success with Seth Gordon and others who are very talented. Everyone needs a chance somehow. Originally, the way it occurred was they said, “Sure, you guys can do it” and we said, “That’s awesome!” Shortly after that, an executive called and said, “Just so you know, the schedule is very tight. As far as directing, we’re not sure Melissa can do it, too, but you’re both welcome to do it. You have to go and get a waiver from the DGA if you both do it or you can just do it. You guys work it out.” So our plan was to go forward thinking we could both do it. You basically have to write a letter and then you have a meeting at the DGA. They want to be really clear that collaborations are just that. So we were getting ready to think about doing that and we kind of looked at a calendar. Melissa was so busy. She was finishing up doing press for another film and someone had to go and do pre-production in North Carolina for about three-and-a-half weeks. Our team, who is always so supportive of making everything happen, was breaking down the schedule and going, “Okay, so when it comes to post-production, she’ll be doing ‘Mike and Molly.’ I guess she’ll shoot from nine to four and then you’ll edit from about five to midnight?” She’s got kids, too, so we sort of said, “All right. For this, I’ll just do it. I’ll go pick the locations and do all this stuff and be there in post.” She showed up and was incredibly helpful, doing what a true producer does. So that’s sort of how it happened. She was going to do both and the scheduling worked out that it was just me. For the first time out, that was probably helpful, because she’s in so much of the movie. I’m in the movie just at the beginning as a creepy mean guy. Those were hard days! I’m laughing because Melissa says something and then I have to call cut. My brain was exploding! So it was helpful, but I do believe that Melissa has a good directing career in front of her. She directed an episode of “Mike and Molly,” so she has already started.

CS: Because the two of you obviously have such great chemistry together, did you ever think about taking a bigger part?
I did and that may be something we do down the road. For this particular movie, though, the only role that was sort of bigger was Bobby. I thought, “I don’t know. I don’t know how many people know we’re actually married and I don’t want to invite the comparisons to ‘Bridesmaids’ and everything else.” It just seemed a little more comfortable, particularly directing as well. At first I wasn’t going to do anything, but they kind of told me the schedule and I realized I was kind of out of commission for 14 months. I said, “Well, I’m going to do it, then, because I don’t get to act again anytime soon!” I did it because it was basically two-and-a-half days. So I did think about a bigger part, but then we found Mark Duplass and I said, “Geez, that guy’s great!” So I’m not ruling it for the future, to have a bigger role opposite Melissa.

CS: Looking back now, is there an element involved with being a director that really surprised you?
I did not know how many people were going to ask me questions. I really didn’t! I knew that the director was the person who has to say this or that about everything, but I didn’t know that someone was going to be asking, right before the scene, “Here’s the spoons they’re going to eat soup with. This spoon or this spoon?” Then, since everyone is really good at their job, they add, “This spoon makes more sense to me because this is where they are in the world, blah blah blah”. I worked out a system where I would say, very good-naturedly, “That’s not my problem.” I mean, if the spoon was crazy, I’d say, “Not that crazy spoon!” But this was basically a way of saying, “Those spoons are incredibly similar. If it’s Toni Collette and she has got to eat the soup, I’d just say, “Hey Toni, what spoon do you want to use?” Otherwise, I’d just start to get so inundated with everything. I guess one of my skills is that I’m able to shove off jobs. (Laughs) But there was a method to my madness! If I’m concerned about spoons, I’m not concerned about how Tammy is reacting to the fact that her husband is cheating on her. I’m just thinking, “Man, that spoon isn’t glinting correctly!” or whatever. By the way, they didn’t have spoons. They had forks. But that was my secret, to just surround myself with a great team. I had an executive producer, Rob Cowan, who got me everything I needed at all times. He has so much experience that I just felt very at ease. Plus, he’s the nicest guy. There’s also Chris Henchy from Gary Sanchez Productions. He’s pretty much the funniest guy in the world. Rob, too, is also very fun, such a structured story guy. My script supervisor, Sheila [Waldron template=’galleryview’]–> worked on “Bridesmaids,” so she’s really good at dealing with all the alts and all that stuff. I also have Russ Alsobrook and Casey Hotchkiss, the DP and the camera operator. All these guys and ladies that are so talented. Walter, my first AD, was amazing. I just surrounded myself with people who were great at their jobs and that really helped me do my job.

CS: “Tammy” also has a pretty impressive supporting cast. How signficantly does it change things to have someone like Susan Sarandon sign on?
That was so amazing. I think I had the same question that a lot of people have when they hear she’s in it. She’s so beautiful! She’s so young! That was where I started and then I went, “Hold on. If I just take that away for a second, she’s still one of the best actors in the universe.” So I looked her up on IMDb and asked, “How old is she, anyway? Okay, she’s this old. How old is Melissa? She’s this old. If we say that Melissa is this old and Susan is this old, all we’ve really done is knock one three years one way and one three years the other way.” Then, when we say that everyone had their baby when they were 16, it works. Then there’s a line in the movie that we put in that’s such a lame line, just to prove to people that it could work. We took it out because it was just too expositional. Once we got Susan and Kathy [Bates template=’galleryview’]–> and Gary [Cole template=’galleryview’]–> and Dan Aykroyd then Nat and Toni came in and just did these amazing things for us because they’re nice and we know them and they’re incredible. Sandra Oh! For her character, it was incredible. They kept pitching people to be Kathy’s wife. I said, “Hmm, we need somebody like Sandra Oh.” The part isn’t huge, though, and Sandra is a big actor who does giant stuff. We kept asking, “Who can we get? Who can we get?” There were all these amazing people, but I was really stuck on that. Then Rob Cowan says, “Well, let’s at least call her so that you can knock her off the list.” I said, “Okay, we can call her just to see.” He came back with, “I think she might do it!” Then she called us and said she wanted to do it and Melissa and I were floored. I mean, we were on different sides of the country — I was in North Carolina and she was in LA — but we kept sort of weirdly, happily yelling. It was so, so lucky.

CS: The pairing of Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh was great, too, in part because they both play characters in Alexander Payne road movies. How much do you look at other road movies to see what works and what doesnt?
Well, I deliberately did not. Once we started focusing on what we were doing, I tried to not watch a bunch of other movies. I know some people like to go that way, but I went distinctively in the other direction because I get horrified that I might start cribbing. Even if you don’t mean to, you might end up seeing “Jurassic Park” and go, “Wait, why did I put a dinosaur in that scene?!” (laughs) The one thing I did know — because I’ve seen many, many of the road trip movies that everyone thinks about — is that death to a road trip movie happens when you spend too much time in the car. That was something I was very aware of. As Melissa and were doing the final rewrite just before shooting, we took four scenes set in the car and got them out of there. I’m so glad we did. When we were editing, the first thing my editor says is, “I’m so glad you didn’t do so much car stuff.” It can get hard. He’s putting together a whole puzzle. When they’re trapped in the car, too, you take away a lot of the world and a lot of the actors’ power. Let Melissa walk around and grab stuff! She’s hilarious. Susan, too. She’s hilarious. If you put them in a car, all Melissa can do is drive and all Susan can do is grab stuff out of her bag. Because you need the car — it is a road trip movie, after all — we still wanted to cheat and get them out of the car as much as we could.