CS Interview: Paul Feig Talks Last Christmas & Freaks and Geeks
Universal Pictures invited ComingSoon.net for a 1:1 interview with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy) about this weekend’s romantic comedy Last Christmas, and you can check out the full interview below. Last Christmas is now playing in theaters everywhere!
Last Christmas stars Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Emma Thompson and Michelle Yeoh and boasts a script co-written by Thompson and playwright Bryony Kimmings, inspired by the George Michael song. Thompson produces alongside David Livingstone (Judy).
Kate (Clarke) harumphs around London, a bundle of bad decisions accompanied by the jangle of bells on her shoes, another irritating consequence from her job as an elf in a year-round Christmas shop. Tom (Golding) seems too good to be true when he walks into her life and starts to see through so many of Kate’s barriers. As London transforms into the most wonderful time of the year, nothing should work for these two. But sometimes, you gotta let the snow fall where it may, you gotta listen to your heart . . . and you gotta have faith.
Last Christmas features the music of George Michael, including the bittersweet holiday classic of the film’s title. The film will also premiere brand new unreleased material by the legendary Grammy-winning artist, who sold more than 115 million albums and recorded 10 No. 1 singles over the course of his iconic career.
ComingSoon.net: I’m interview-meeting you for the first time, but I’ve actually met you a long time ago when you were on your book tour for “Superstud”.
Paul Feig: Oh gosh. Wow, that was a long time ago.
CS: It was funny thinking back on it because you had just directed some episodes of Steve Carell’s “The Office,” and when you mentioned it the audience at the signing collectively groaned. It was that early in “The Office.”
Feig: Oh totally. It’s like, oh. “They can’t touch the classic.” I was the same way. It’s like, “Why are we even doing this?” Ta-da.
CS: At the time you were kind of struggling to get “Star Girl” off the ground.
Feig: Oh yeah, yeah, I know, which is still out there. Actually, it was going to get made by somebody else and then I don’t know if it did, so there’s still a chance that could get made.
CS: But it’s not in your clutches anymore?
Feig: No, I don’t have the rights to it anymore, but I would still love to get it back. I still love that project.
CS: You told me you were going to try to get Joel Hodgson of MST3K to do the effects.
Feig: Oh yeah, totally. We would do all in-camera effects. Oh wow. This is very fun to hear. That was like 2005, I think. Well, look at us. We’re still young, right?
CS: For the new movie, “Last Christmas,” how did you know that Michelle Yeoh was so freaking funny?
Feig: I know. Crazy, right? You know what? I met her. I got to hang out with her. I was such a fan of hers, but she’s kind of like a mythical creature, you know, because I’d watched her movies for so long that they were so detached from my world. So I get a call one day when we were working on “A Simple Favor” in Toronto. And Henry’s like, “hey, do you want to have dinner with Michelle Yeoh? She’s in town shooting ‘Star Trek.'” I’m like, wait, what? Michelle Yeoh, my hero? She eats? I was terrified to go meet her. I didn’t know what to expect, I don’t know. Michelle Yeoh, maybe she’ll kill me. She’s so awesome. And the second I meet her she’s just like, hey, and she’s hugging and then she’s funny. We sit next to each other and we just can’t stop talking. The whole night we’re making each other laugh. Those are the meaningful moments for me, where I go like, “there’s a side of you that nobody’s ever seen. You know, I’ve got to put this in a movie.” And we were like, what do we do? What do we do? And then, a year later, when I read this script from Emma Thompson, it’s just like, this is it. Honestly, the minute I read even just the description of Santa, I was like, this is Michelle. This is the one we’re going to do. And then I just had to talk her into it.
CS: The movie had a great London vibe. Did the time you spent working with the British talent on “Spy” help prepare you for the “Full English,” so to speak?
Feig: No, I had been going to England for so long. My mom’s side is British, and my wife and I bonded over our love of London 29 years ago, when we first met. We go all the time. Also, British comedy has always been my favorite. So I went into it more kind of dying to work in London. And it was another thing, when the script came in, I was just like, “Ah, this is it. Finally, I get to make my love letter to London that I’ve wanted to do.” So by the time I got there, I felt very comfortable. The British film does things slightly differently than American film, sometimes, so it took my DP a little while to kind of navigate that. But still, they’re so great and really effective and yeah, it was really fun.
CS: It definitely had kind of a Richard Curtis vibe. I talked to Richard earlier this year, and he talked about when he did “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, weddings was the IP. And when they did “Yesterday”, obviously The Beatles were the IP. But for this, you’ve got Christmas and George Michael. Is that part of the potential box office appeal?
Feig: I hope. I mean, yeah, what we had when I read the script was a movie based on a song, loosely, and then a few stage directions that said, hey, this would be a nice place to hear a little George. As far as Christmas goes, even though it was called “Last Christmas,” it was originally written to take place a lot during the summer because it’s about a year-round Christmas shop, which it’s summertime and you’re working in a Christmas shop dressed like an elf is so weird. But I was kind of like, I want to push the timeline together, first of all. I don’t like movies where the timeline is over months, because there’s so much time you’re away from the character.
CS: Yeah, you’ve got to do a lot of montages.
Feig: Well, yeah, exactly. For me, it’s moment-to-moment is what changes characters. And if I’m missing a bazillion moments because now we’re just jumping to the end of the summer, then I feel like I’ve missed everything. So we kind of just had Christmas and we just had George Michael. And then I felt like let’s just super concentrate them both. But Christmas was the first thing because I just want to move the timeline up, make it a more a Christmas-set thing. It’s based on the song “Last Christmas” by Wham!, but then off we go and we don’t ever talk about it again. I started listening to his music and going like, god, his music and lyrics are so deep and so reflective of a lot of things that are happening in this script that he should become the voice of the movie. We started hard wiring it by putting the songs in where the characters are singing them in some places. Also, having Emilia’s character be a George Michael fan and want to be a singer like he is. I just wanted to tie it together. I didn’t want it to be a juke box movie, where you just dump a bunch of songs on top.
CS: The thing I love is you’re so great at using dark humor to cut the treacle. How do you keep your radar honed so that the movie, especially this kind of movie, never becomes a maudlin liberal guilt movie?
Feig: Yeah, totally. I mean, I am very obsessed with that because in our comedy, we have a rule: We don’t want to make homework. There are certain movies that come out, especially this time of year when all the awards contenders are coming out, they’re all great movies, but if I go like, “Okay, I’ve got to watch this,” it’s like I’ve got to go do my homework. Then I don’t want to make a movie that anybody has to face like that because I want people to be entertained and have it be fun. A lot of that is with the humor. You don’t go, “Oh, I’m going into something that’s going to be so serious and so dour.” Which is fine. I love those movies. I just don’t want to make them. And so, you need that humor to undercut the treacle, to undercut the heavier moments, to let the audience know that you’re not taking it seriously. You’re taking everything very seriously, but you’re also having a very human reaction to it. Because you go to a tragic funeral and somebody’s still going to make a joke at some point, or you’re going to laugh at some point just to release that tension. Those are the moments I look for.
CS: And did having a PG-13 kind of help make it palatable, especially with Emilia’s character being an alcoholic, because there is that thin line between “Withnail and I” and “Barfly”?
Feig: Yeah, totally. Very much so. Honestly, Emma’s script was more R-rated just in its language. There were no sex scenes or anything like that. We thought about it for quite a while, but I remember thinking… I love “Love Actually” so much, but there’s that one whacky storyline about the porno stand-ins and there’s a naked scene. That’s so bizarre in a Christmas movie that you want to watch with your family. I think it’s really clever. I like it. But at the same time I go like, “God, that limits the audience.” It’s like the original “Ghostbusters,” there’s a weird blowjob scene. “Oh, come on, kids. Let’s watch it… Oh shit. That’s up.” I was talking to the studio, talking to Emma about it. I was like, “I think we’ll limit our audience if we keep that, even though it’ll be honest in its language.” And nobody’s funnier than Emilia when she swears, so I was very sad sometimes, like “Oh, it’d be so great if you could drop an F-bomb right here.” A movie like this needs to be seen by the most amount of people just because the message is so positive.
CS: In romantic comedies they’re typically very guilty of turning into “White Telephone” movies where even if a person’s supposed to be poor, they’re living in a giant apartment. How important was it for the flats to feel economically reflecting the reality of urban life?
Feig: Very much. I mean, that’s a thing I’m very hardcore about in everything I do, starting with “Freaks and Geeks” which couldn’t be a cartoon in the way the 70’s and 80’s were. But it also has to walk in the real world, where people have a limited amount of clothes. And you go, oh my gosh, they’re wearing the same outfit that they were wearing a few scenes ago. Because yeah, that’s what people do. They don’t have enormous closets and they don’t live in giant apartments. Because you want it to be relatable. One of the many reasons why rom coms sort of went away for a little bit is they fell into that formula of everybody going like, “it needs to be escapism.” So sure. Escapism can be anything. It can just be a good feeling, but not everybody has to escape into a rich world, you know what I mean? And actually, I can understand, my mother was this way. She’s like, “I like to watch pretty people doing pretty things.” I’m like, yeah, okay, I get that. But it doesn’t mean it has to be so outside of your world that you can’t relate to it at all.
CS: The example I always turn to is your good friend Judd Apatow’s movie “This is 40,” where Paul Rudd is complaining, “But we’re broke.” And his wife’s like, “Well, why don’t you cancel your birthday party?” He’s like, “I already put a $1500 deposit!” I’m like ugggggghhhhhhh.
Feig: Exactly, you’re right. You’re right. (laughs) That’s not broke. Well, yeah. No, that’s what we always call rich people’s problems.
CS: West of the 405 movies.
Feig: Yeah, west of the 405 movies.
CS: And you mentioned “Freaks and Geeks.” How does it feel to think that if you did a reunion special now it would take place at the time you were cancelled?
Feig: You know what, you’re right. That’s right because, yeah, there’s a 20-year gap. It’s very weird. I mean, people all the time try to get us to do a reunion or do a new version of the show and you know what? If you get something right, step away from it. Don’t try to top it. Don’t try to open the body after the operation is done. I used to watch “M*A*S*H” and they’d always have like, “We’ve got to go back in.” I would get such angst at the idea of like, they’re going to cut the stitches open again? And that’s how I feel about my career. Don’t reopen the body. Leave it be.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)