Married duo Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy take audiences on a hilariously entertaining road trip in their new comedy, “Tammy.” After losing her job, husband and car in one day, Tammy Banks, (McCarthy) decides it’s time to escape her small town existence. With no money or transportation, she realizes her only way out is with her hard-partying grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon). Their misadventures and brushes with the law lead them on a funny and heartfelt adventure to remember. Opening July 2nd, the comedy marks Falcone’s feature directorial debut and McCarthy’s first foray into producing.
At the film’s recent press day, McCarthy, Falcone, Sarandon, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Nat Faxon, Sarah Baker and Kathy Bates talked about how the project first emerged, what sparked the idea for the story, how growing up in Illinois informed McCarthy and Falcone’s comedy, what the stellar cast brought to the movie, their characters and how improv colored them, working with a first-time director, Sarandon’s new look, the convincing couple dynamic between Bates and Sandra Oh’s characters, Sarandon’s selfie with Geena Davis that went viral, and the possibility of a “Thelma & Louise” sequel.
Here’s what they had to say:
QUESTION: Obviously there’s going to be a lot of improv in this movie from all these great comedians and The Groundling background. From what I understand, the mouth-to-mouth with the deer was your concoction, Melissa?
MELISSA MCCARTHY: Yeah, which just shows I’m not very bright. (Laughs) It’s like what am I trying to do. We were talking about it, that if she really hit a deer, she would feel horrible, like you would, and that she would do whatever it would take. And I said, “If she’s really down there with it, would she actually try to resuscitate it and would it work?” We never thought we’d get that close, but that was my own weird idea.
Q: Was it a real deer?
MCCARTHY: No, but thank you for asking. For a long time, it was just the puppetry version of it, and every time we would show it to people, they were like, “The deer looks horrible” and I’d go, “It’s not finished.” It’s a digital deer. I did not actually run down a deer for “Tammy.” I promise.
BEN FALCONE: No deer were hurt in the making of this film.
Q: For Elizabeth and Susan, you’re a great dynamic duo. Does this road trip remind you of another famous road trip, “Thelma & Louise”? Were there any jokes about that during the filming?
SUSAN SARANDON: Actually we didn’t even think about it for the longest time until we were doing press since they brought a car, and I said, “Now you know that that might remind people of that other movie.” And they were like, “Oh yeah.” It was so different. I don’t think it really…
MCCARTHY: I don’t think we thought about it. Perhaps “Bull Durham.” There was a whole baseball scene where she taught me how to play baseball. We ended up having to cut that.
Q: Susan, can you talk about how Melissa approached you and how you got your new look?
SARANDON: Ben and Melissa called me and prepared me for the script. And then, I got the script and I thought it was really fun. I was doing another movie and I didn’t quite understand what reality we would be in, so we had another call. Is that what happened, I think? I was just so excited by the way they worked. And then, Mark Duplass called me. It was a conspiracy. I didn’t even know he was going to be in the movie, but he called me and said, “You have to do this. You have to. These are such great people.” Peer pressure got to me and I thought I’ll jump. I was a little worried because there wasn’t much time between the other film I was doing. I did three in a row, all alcoholic, pill-popping characters. So I was prepared in that sense. We texted little pictures of possible looks and figured out the age thing, and actually she wasn’t much older than I am. She just doesn’t have my make-up and hair people, so she looks different. I just thought they are both so talented and it would be different. I trust Mark. I said, “I don’t know quite what’s going to happen, but let’s go for it.”
MCCARTHY: One of the very first questions, when we were first meeting on the phone, Susan said, “Are you seeing a little old granny with glasses and a crocheted sweater and an updo bun?” And we were like, “Oh God no! She has raging problems with alcohol and she sleeps around.” And she said, “Okay, fine. We’re in the real realm here.”
Q: Melissa, could you talk a little bit about growing up in Illinois and how that informs your comedy?
MCCARTHY: Ben and I both grew up in Illinois. That’s kind of why when we started writing it Ben said, “I think this woman is from where I grew up” and that’s also where I went to college. We based it on real people we know and what it’s like when you feel stuck. I think there are people that love the comfort of their small town and there are people that feel stuck by it. That was our jumping off place. If you’re really stuck in this rut and you’re stuck in this whole little, tiny world of things you don’t like, how hard do you have to get hit to bump you out of your vicious cycle.
FALCONE: It’s sort of a love letter to Illinois, though it’ a little ironic that the whole love letter involves someone who’s desperate to leave.
Q: Susan, the selfie that you took the other day has been trending all over the place.
SARANDON: I know. I hope they’re not mad at me. I had no idea. They didn’t say not to.
Q: Is this a hint that you and Geena (Davis) might be up for something else anytime soon?
SARANDON: That’s a great idea. I didn’t think of that, but that’s a great idea. I’d love to work with her again. They had knocked around some ideas of a sequel to “Thelma & Louise,” but they were so ridiculous. I remember at one point saying, “What would we do?” and somebody said, “You’d collect a big check. That’s what you’d do.” I don’t really know how you could resurrect them in any way. I love Geena. It was great to see her. We had a nice day together. But, at the moment, I don’t know what that would be. It has to be sitting down, because when we stand up, she’s a foot taller than I am. That’s why the car worked because we were on the same level, but actually she’s so much taller. And then, I’m shrinking and she’s still 6’1”. But it was great to see her. I had no idea that that would happen. Penny (Susan’s dog) tweeted that and it just went crazy.
Q: For Ben and Melissa, was doing this together a long cherished dream and was it something that felt totally natural? Was there a lot of stress associated with it because it’s a big summer movie and what will happen to your relationship if people don’t like the movie?
SARANDON: Are you getting stressed now?
FALCONE: I wasn’t getting stressed until right now.
MCCARTHY: Yes to all those things, I think. We had been working on it for years. We just kept thinking, “What if? What if? Can you imagine?” I don’t know how concrete we ever thought it could actually make the next step, and then when that was happening, I think it all came in stages. And then when people started actually reading it, like when I found out certain people had it, I had a weird feeling. When I knew Kathy Bates had it…
FALCONE: We’d be whispering to each other, “I think Kathy’s got the script. Did you know Kathy has it?” “Oh, I don’t think she’s reading it.”
MCCARTHY: I was physically, literally coming apart at the seams. I was like, “I don’t know if she’s ever going to read it, but the fact that it’s in her house is making me have weird breakdowns all throughout the day.” Every step of it, it just got…it’s still dreamy to me.
FALCONE: The whole thing was a delight for me. It was great to work with Melissa. We’ve worked together before, but we got to spend a lot of time together. And then, when you add in all these great people up at this table here, it was just so fun to work with everybody. I can honestly say that at the end of every day I was disappointed that the day was over and hopeful that they would let us keep shooting tomorrow.
Q: Sarah, Nat and Mark, what was it like working with a first-time director?
SARAH BAKER: He actually was my director before. That’s how we met. He was my director at The Groundlings in Sunday Company, so for me it was very natural. It was crazy because we were in another state together. I looked around and said, “I can’t believe it. This is a real movie.”
Q: Another state? Physically or mentally?
BAKER: Both. We were not in California. It was like the real big time. He was making a real movie. When I showed up, I think I said to Melissa, I was like, “He’s doing a great job,” and she said, “Yeah, yeah, he’s amazing.” He seemed a very crazily comfortable. I think maybe he wasn’t sure where he was.
NAT FAXON: I don’t take direction, so I don’t know, to be honest. It was like working with old friends, like Sarah said, going back to The Groundlings. There’s something so special about it and just being together doing something at this level. When you first dreamed of that 10 or 15 years ago and now you’re actually doing it with your pals, it’s pretty cool.
MARK DUPLASS: I found him very inexperienced, really amateur.
MCCARTHY: Somebody’s got to say it.
DUPLASS: Somebody does. We’ve got to call the circus. Enough! My brother and I have worked a lot as directors, and the first couple of movies we directed, we spent a lot of time trying to answer everybody’s questions as quickly as possible and as loudly and confidently as possible so they didn’t know we didn’t know what we were doing. And then you realize you can actually collaborate and ask other people and make this thing a very fun experience, and the set was really collaborative. I remember a cut would happen. Your usual first-time director has a baseball hat on, and he’s chewing gum, and he’s yelling things so nobody knows that they’re insecure. Ben was very comfortable and it was a discussion. What do we think we can do better? What do we like? And the D.P. was a part of it. All the actors were part of it and it made it really fun.
Q: Melissa, I loved the Lenore (Kathy Bates)/Susanne (Sandra Oh) Lesbian couple dynamic. The party at their house was fun and everybody just accepted each other and had a great time. Can you talk about writing that relationship and going to Kathy with that part?
MCCARTHY: We wanted to have somebody in their lives that was kind of the goal. We wanted somebody to be like, “Oh, they’re in a great relationship.” Lenore’s character had made it out and become really successful. We needed somebody to be the strong successful one that wasn’t also coming down on anybody or making them feel guilty. I loved all the stuff between Susan and Kathy so much, because you know from Lenore’s character that she’s not making all these bad choices, but she never makes Susan’s character feel guilty about it. I just thought that was necessary to have in the film, and if I can get Kathy… Kathy and Sandra (Oh) just seemed right. They did actually know each other. Right away, when they were together, it all felt right. It felt like that great couple that you look at and think, “What’s that magic?” because they just feel right together.
Q: Susan told a great story on Letterman the other night about her road trip through the Grand Canyon. Melissa and Ben, have you had a memorable road trip that maybe helped to inspire this film?
FALCONE: She falls asleep immediately when we get in the car because she’s no longer able to do all the stuff she wants to do. She’ll go, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got to call painters. We’ve got to paint our hallway.” So we call the painters, and once the last person has been called, we’re usually at the 101 and Sepulveda and she’s out. So I just drive the rest of the way.
MCCARTHY: I just go right out. One time I did have to pull over. I was like, “I’m driving this time. That will keep me awake.” It’s just if I’m caged, I immediately go out. Before the 405, I just remember Ben going, “Oh my God, you’re swerving.” We did not make it…we’re talking 15 minutes from the house. I had to pull over and we switched. It must be horrifying to you. This one is like a maniac driver. But no, I’d be good for the first 10 minutes and then I’m out, so I’m super helpful. After we shot this, we drove back from Niagara Falls with our kids all the way to Los Angeles, so that was a doozie.
FALCONE: That took six or seven long days. I thought they would enjoy looking out the window at the country. They really didn’t.
SARANDON: You have to get an outdoor camera that shows up on the screen inside, and then they watch it like TV.
FALCONE: That’s a great idea.
MCCARTHY: That probably would have worked better. We went to Mount Rushmore. Where else did we go?
FALCONE: We went to Lake Tahoe.
MCCARTHY: We went to a weird waterpark slide at 9:00 o’clock at night which was just super dangerous with big, high metal slides.
FALCONE: The most dangerous waterpark I’ve ever seen in my life. I was like, “Alright, let’s give it a shot.” It was somewhere not too far from Mount Rushmore. It was one of these things where everything is very sharp, so we just waded around.
Q: So many of the characterizations are over the top which is what’s fun. Gary, we know you as being a little more serious and hard hitting. What was it like playing this guy opposite Susan?
GARY COLE: Well, it was a roadhouse drunk, which I’ve done extensive research on earlier in my career. It was pretty single-minded. I had met Susan about three days before our first scene which was about five minutes, and the scene turned out to be the backseat of the car scene. That was unusual, but pleasurable as well. So yeah, I’m in my own movie apparently. I was just looking for one thing and I think I was successful.
SARANDON: Can I just say that here he comes so handsome and so sexy and we’re dancing. And then I go home and I see what I look like in my trailer. I completely believed that he would be attracted to me, which I guess makes it even funnier. At the end of the day, I thought this guy is really good because he had me convinced that this could actually be happening in a way that wasn’t so icky.
Q: There were actually three moments at the screening that really stand out: the opening song, when Susan comes on the screen and then later when Kathy comes on the screen. Everyone applauds. Kathy, you can say a line of dialogue like no one else. How do you do that?
BATES: I don’t know.
DUPLASS: But you just did it right there. It just happened. I’ve said those words so many times. They never sound like that.
BATES: Well, part of working with Melissa and Ben was I know their great comic background, and I just felt like they let me out of my place of believing that I couldn’t be as funny as they are. We had some improv scenes that were so much fun. Part of what I loved about working with Ben was that he just let the camera run and we had fun. We thought for a minute we could be as funny as Melissa and that was just so much fun. That happened then and it’s not happening now. (Laughs) So I realize it was Ben and I’ll treasure those moments.
Q: Melissa, at the start of the film, Tammy says she’s like a Cheeto, and towards the end, you guys have fun with that. Do you see yourself like a Cheeto?
MCCARTHY: Don’t we all? No. One of the things I loved about the character of Tammy is that kind of confidence, right or wrong. In her world, she believes it. I always love playing that. I don’t think someone has to be justified, because her point of view was she was great. And then, the fun of playing that character was that even she throughout the film realizes that perhaps she is doing a lot of things poorly, and you see her make this little shift to maybe she becomes the Cheeto she always thought she could be.
Q: Melissa, I loved the soundtrack and seeing you dance. What song on your iPod has you dancing lately?
MCCARTHY: Lately? Oh my gosh, I have the weirdest mix, but what I keep playing over and over is Skee-Lo’s 80’s “I Wish” in my car. “I wish I was a little bit taller. I wish I was a baller.” In my car, there’s a lot of weird dancing, and if I ever get caught, it will be very embarrassing. My hands are up, not on the wheel. It’s usually a lot of 80’s hip hop. But then I have a really weird mix. I’ll dance to anything.
Q: Susan, you’re hands down the sexiest granny to ever appear on screen.
SARANDON: (Laughs) Who else was in the running? But thank you.
Q: You’re only 13 year older than Allison Janney who’s only 11 years older than Melissa. How did you feel when you were cast as Melissa’s grandmother?
SARANDON: I’m bad at math. I just did what they said. We didn’t add it up that way. I don’t know if the line is still in. It actually makes sense if you figure that I had a baby at 16 and she had a baby at 16 or whatever. It’s totally possible. I was just happy to be able to do something. It’s very liberating to look that bad. We just accentuated everything you normally would hide. And so, it didn’t matter if I was sweaty or the lighting was bad. That was kind of cool. I mean, in hindsight, we’ll see if it works, but at the time, I was just like, “Let’s go for it.” It wasn’t in my head, any of that stuff. I was just focusing on the people. I’ve always had a problem with that. I’ve never been a math person, so people’s ages just don’t resonate with me. If you look at my life, you’ll see that I’m like a free agent. I just travel in and out all over. I’ve not done anything according to the right schedule or been with the right people at the right time or whatever. It actually wasn’t huge. It was my cankles that caused the problem, because we had three sets and they had to come on and off at different times according to where we were in the story. I was putting peppercorns in my feet to try to limp. It was that kind of stuff. I focused more on that than if it was plausible. I mean, really, there are other things in the movie that are equally questionable, so you either make the leap or you don’t. If the soundtrack gets you going, then that’s fabulous.
Q: For Melissa and Ben, what were your actual grandmothers like or what felonies did they commit that inspired this loving tribute?
SARANDON: Now that’s a good question.
FALCONE: The parts of my grandma that I used were the parts where she’s really smart, fastidious and precise, which was all stuff that Susan was able to play so well. And then, she brought the boozy, wild part to it.
SARANDON: And my rug. I brought my rug. My grandma had a rug. She made rugs, so we added that. That was a homage to my grandma.
MCCARTHY: Nothing in Susan’s character in terms of the drinking or the men stuff, but I loved that no matter what, even if they weren’t meshing up at that moment, the bottom line was she loved Tammy and she loved her daughter, and even if she was like, “I don’t really want to be here right now, but I love you.” I feel like no matter what, I was not at odds with my grandmother. I knew even if I got in trouble with her, she may scold me when I was little, but I knew she loved me. That was a big part of it for me. There was nothing you could do to make the love go away even if they were at odds.
Q: I thought the film was really subversive in some ways. This is not your typical Hollywood comedy, and these are not really your standard characters for a Hollywood film. For both of you, was there any pressure to try to make this a more mainstream type of movie?
FALCONE: I think we were just trying to figure out the best characters we could write that we thought would be the funniest and the most affecting in some way. And then, I think we got really lucky with the actors that we got which are certainly very well-known humans and actors in this world. And so, I never thought, “Oh, let’s make a subversive movie.” I just was trying to think like let’s do a funny movie. And then, Melissa just picks a character. I don’t think in any of the movies that so far have been commercially success, I’m pretty sure she never was like, “Oh, I‘ve got a really commercially successful idea for a character.” She’s just like, “Oh I think I want to look like this and be like this because I think that it means something to me.”
MCCARTHY: For us, we worked on it a long time before we actually got the chance to show it to people and make it. By the time we were ready to show people, we’d had it for years, and we knew these people, and I felt protective of them. So I think if somebody wanted a bigger scene or a bigger trailer moment, we just knew that person maybe wouldn’t do that. It doesn’t have to be bigger or flashier. It just has to stay in the right realm of the story. For me, if you can walk that line of more eccentric characters, you can push pretty far, but if you stay on the side of reality, I think it’s always funnier. And so, we tried to let all these people push as far as they could, but keep it real. Hopefully, the story has more impact that way.
FALCONE: I definitely learned that if you cast really funny actors like these people, it makes it a lot easier to do a comedy. That’s what I’ve learned so far.
MCCARTHY: Yeah. If they’re weirdly good actors and they’re really funny, it really helps.
Q: Ben, Melissa and Kathy, you guys got to work with pyrotechnics. Can you talk a little about that? Was it fun? Was it nerve-wracking?
BATES: I loved it. I’d like to blow more things up.
FALCONE: And she was a champ at it. There was always a storm coming where we were shooting. There would always be a producer who’d say, “Hey, Ben, we gotta get this. There’s a major storm. Tropical something.” I’m like, “Alright.” We had to blow up a jet ski, and so we’d say to Kathy, “No big deal, but it’s super important that you do this because lightening is about to strike us all.”
BATES: (low voice) The weather was me, too. I wanted to make it more difficult. But you know what? What made that work for me, and what I wanted to say, and I wish she was here now, is Sandra Oh really made our relationship work. When you hear you’re playing a gay character, what’s that? It was all about a relationship of two people who had supported and loved each other for 20 years and had built something out of difficult times. So from the very beginning, she said, “Oh, we should have wedding rings.” We went to the prop guy. But on that particular night, she leaned over and she said, “Oh honey, this is just like college. You did all of this in college. Remember?” And so, when she said that, I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I did the javelin. I know. And I did track and I did all that stuff.” She just gave me the confidence. It’s Sandra really.
MCCARTHY: And Kathy’s got a weird arm. Every time somebody’s like, “You know if it’s too far, somebody else can do it.” And you were basically like, “Or I could do it.” Every time, every single time, she did it, and it really was farther than it looks on film. That was a throw, and every time she nailed it.
FALCONE: It didn’t ignite. She hit it and it didn’t ignite the first three, four or five times. I don’t remember. She hit it every single time. She got it. She had to redo because it was so wet.
BATES: I really loved tossing the Molotov cocktail at the car. That was really cool. I figured in her past she was maybe a little SDS back in the day with Susan. They got probably in a little trouble here and there. It was really cool.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about the seed of this script? Do you start with a character idea, a simple idea about where the story should go, or what?
MCCARTHY: No. Ben came downstairs just having woken up and literally said, “I had a weird dream and I think I have to write it. You go on a road trip with your grandmother, and she drinks and she sleeps around. So I’m going to go write that movie.” I thought, “Alright, why don’t you do that.” He had it in a dream, came downstairs, and that was about six years ago, and that began the whole thing. He just says things and I say, “That sounds great.” I just agree with him and it all works out.
Q: Can everyone tell us a little about your character and how the improv perhaps colored that?
BAKER: I play Becky, a Topper Jack’s employee, and I basically get robbed by Tammy, but we somehow forge a weird friendship in the course of this robbery. And then, it comes back around. We end up being friends. They’re great that way, both of them. “We’re just going to improvise and have fun.” So that’s what we did. It was just, “Don’t laugh at everything Melissa says.” The whole scene I’m with her in she has the mask on and she was looking down. The mask has eye holes, but she’s a real person so she needs to see out of it. She would be trying to look in the bag at the money, but she would have to do this weird thing where she cocked her head so far down so her eyes would line up and she could see the money. I just had to stop looking at it because I was like, “I’m going to ruin this movie if I look at her.” So I looked at the general area of her head at all times but didn’t look in her eyes or her face.
FAXON: I play Greg, Tammy’s adulterous partner. I hook up with Toni Collette who’s the neighbor. I had such a good time doing it. I think more than anything what informed my character was really my dark black eyebrows that Ben and Melissa insisted that I have.
FALCONE: Probably not for the movie, but just for our enjoyment.
MCCARTHY: It just made us laugh.
FAXON: It was super cool to have a hair person just darken the crap out of your eyebrows, and then you weirdly look entirely different. The whole experience was amazing.
COLE: I play Earl and Mark plays my son and we encounter Pearl and Tammy in an alcoholic establishment. I think Earl’s motto is fun at all costs. He had basically one objective which was to wind up where he did, which was in the back seat of Pearl’s car. That’s where he found himself. We did a lot of messing around with the script, but it was just a real situation of meeting people for the first time and knowing what you were after. So that informed a lot of the improvisation we did.
DUPLASS: I play Bobby. I’m one of the many strange people that Tammy and Pearl meet out on the road. I think the improv for us was really fun because we were less fishing for jokes. Part of what our story is about is finding a little bit of the heart of the movie and some of the sweetness in the film in their connection. All of us talked a lot about it and we were like, “Tammy is like this crazy character. She’s got so many flaws, but we love her. What is it that we love about her? Because that’s what Bobby should see.” We all settled on this thing which I think is great which is that Tammy is a truly unique individual. There is no one like her. I’m personally attracted to those kinds of people, flaws and all. There’s just this big, fist-pumping heart to Tammy and that’s what Bobby is attracted to. That’s what audiences ultimately are really going to see in this film.
BATES: Well, I think you should go see the movie to know what character I play. (Laughter)
SARANDON: Well, you know who I play. For me, also the brown bag was very important for finding my character. I don’t know if it’s as funny when you’re outside the brown bag, but inside the brown bag, looking at Melissa and putting your heads together, “Just take the money…” or whatever I say, we couldn’t get through a take. I don’t know why that seems so funny.
MCCARTHY: I just watched the one where we couldn’t get through it. It makes me laugh so hard. I feel slightly crazy.
SARANDON: I would suggest seeing the movie with a bag over your head with slits for your eyes because there’s something about being in that bag that just broke me. It was all fun. You rarely get in a situation where there’s such depth of field in terms of all the supporting actors and everybody where you feel safe enough to do things. You want to please Ben so badly that even when it’s not working, he never makes you feel like you’ve failed so you can make your mistakes one hundred percent. That’s really liberating and fun to be able to just go with it and suggest stupid things or a line where one out of ten is maybe a good idea. There were constant alts going all over the place, lines and stuff. For me, it was a really wonderful experiment in a way of working that I hadn’t done in film certainly for a long time. If this movie is not a success, I’ll never do it again, so I hope that it’s as much fun for everyone else as it was for us doing it and that it works.
FALCONE: I had a lot of fun being a part of this movie. It really was great. And Penny is in the movie just as an added plus.
SARANDON: It’s like Where’s Waldo. You have to find Penny in the movie. You have to see it a few times in order to find her.