Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy team up in the outrageous comedy “Identity Thief,” directed by Seth Gordon from a script by Craig Mazin about what happens when a regular guy is forced to extreme measures to clear his name after his identity is stolen. Unlimited funds have allowed Diana (McCarthy) to live it up on the outskirts of Orlando, where the queen of retail buys whatever strikes her fancy. There’s only one glitch: the ID she’s using to finance her spending sprees reads “Sandy Bigelow Patterson”…and it belongs to an accounts rep (Bateman) who lives 1800 miles away in Denver.
At the recent press day, Bateman and McCarthy talked about their comedic collaboration, how McCarthy’s performance in “Bridesmaids” led to her casting, what it was like working with Gordon, the excitement of performing with snakes, and what happens when someone accidentally lobs a 32-pound Panini maker at your head. Melissa also discussed doing her own stunts, how she straddles the fine line of making an unlikeable character likeable, and how far she’s willing to go for comedy. Bateman revealed what it was like getting physical with McCarthy and the challenges of playing it straight opposite her.
Q: Melissa, if you had to defend yourself, would you rather do a punch to the neck or a kick to the balls?
McCarthy: I believe I would do a sharp kick to the balls, and when they’d drop to a lower height, then I’d also get the throat. I’d combine them.
Q: Jason, of all of your co-stars, whose identity would you steal and why?
Bateman: Co-star identity thievery, I’m stalling, would probably be … I don’t know. I don’t have a great answer for that but I’ll come back to you. I’m going to need your email and your Social Security number.
Q: Melissa, we heard you did a lot of your own stunts and pratfalls? Do you ever get hurt or do you just buck up and do it again?
McCarthy: I got hurt a lot and I’m apparently an idiot. I just thought after this movie, “Oh, I’m not very bright.” At the end of it, I was like, “There was that stunt woman there for so much of this.” I think I get kind of excited to do it, and then I don’t really think about doing it 42 times. I just think, “Oh, I’ll go down the stairs.”
Bateman: Especially getting hit by that car. I don’t know why you volunteered for that one. That’s a really easy one to give to the stuntwoman, but she loves a stunt bump. It’s an extra $20 bucks.
McCarthy: Yup. An extra $26.
Q: Jason, you’re so mean to Melissa in this. Did you have to get yourself into a certain mind set before you do those scenes and get physical with her?
Bateman: She pisses you off and you go. That’s what happens. I don’t know.
McCarthy: He had no problem. Let’s start there.
Bateman: It was not difficult. She starts running that thing… I saw the guitar there when we were rehearsing, and we were trying to figure out a way to stop her from leaving, and we didn’t want to do the tackling of her yet, and I said, “What if I take her off her feet with this guitar?” I was kind of joking but not really.
McCarthy: Not really. I think you said something more like, “What if I hit her in the face with this guitar?”
Bateman: I was like, “That would be hilarious! Right?”
McCarthy: And I was like, “Oh, we’re kidding. Right?” Seth (Gordon) seemed to keep laughing and that made me nervous. Then you started fiddling with the guitar, and I was like, “Uh oh, I think I’m going to get it in the face with a guitar.”
Bateman: I took practice swings with it. I had to really get this around, I think. And then, we built a helmet that could fit underneath this stuntwoman’s wig so that she could have a good portion of her face protected and a little bit of her shoulder, and we spent the night building that. Not we. Of course, I was sleeping comfortably in a bed. The prop department built that. And then, the next morning we came in and shot that. That was a great little piece in the movie that we couldn’t have done were it not for those guys that built the helmet. I don’t remember their names but they were great. Michael Bates. Propmaster Bates.
Q: We heard that you threw an actual Panini maker at her?
Bateman: That was a mistake. Regrettable.
McCarthy: I don’t know about that. There were about fourteen fake Panini machines that weigh about a quarter of an ounce because they’re foam, and then there was one real one that weighs 32 pounds.
Bateman: It’s a little shinier. Like a fish.
McCarthy: Like a cat. He was like a raccoon that just went for the shiny one. The first time we did that run to the door, he picked up the real one and let that thing fly toward my head.
Bateman: I missed her.
McCarthy: He was like, “Oh, I didn’t know it wasn’t the fake one.” There is like a 32-pound difference.
Bateman: I didn’t know that there were any light ones. I thought they were all real. I was like, “Clearly someone has checked with Melissa on this.”
McCarthy: (laughs) It was a dicey shoot.
Bateman: Yeah, but we made it though, gang.
Question: Jason, how grateful are you for the advances in CG technology to film that snake scene?
Jason Bateman: Here’s the not so funny part of it. We shot it with a real one and the real one wasn’t as good as what they could do with CG. So I had to endure a full night with a 7-foot King snake, one that wrapped itself around my neck, one that crawled up the leg of my pants while I tried to pretend to be sleeping on the dirt.
Melissa McCarthy: They said there’s no way that the snake will ever come anywhere near you. They just don’t do that. But it’s just so we can get a shot of you next to the snake. And then, they put the snake down and it made a beeline for his leg which I really enjoyed.
Bateman: Right up my pant leg. It got basically all the way up to my kneecap before they yelled “Cut!” It was horrific. And none of it is in the movie. I mean we have the snake travelling towards my body but that’s about it. Otherwise, that’s all CG. I’m not sure about the FX company, but they were good.
Q: You two are brilliant comedians on film. Is there a limit to how far you’ll go for comedy or is it always all out for whatever you can make funny?
Bateman: She’ll shit in a sink for a laugh, this one.
McCarthy: I was ill. For me, I think as long as it makes sense for the character, I’d like to see on that worst day under the most extreme circumstances how far you can push it. But, to me, it is not funny anymore if it doesn’t make sense, if this person has nothing else to do but try this desperate measure. I don’t like to do anything that’s mean spirited just because I don’t find it funny. I think it’s better to … I’d rather be the jackass than makes fun of somebody else. It just seems too cheap and easy. So those are really my only limits.
Bateman: Well said. I second that.
Q: Jason, Seth said you’re the best straight man of your generation. When you’re in a scene with Melissa in a car and she’s dancing and going nuts, how do you keep a straight face and not crack up?
Bateman: They don’t have those takes in the movie and there were a lot of them where I broke up. There were only a few where I kept a straight face, but you only need one. Right? That’s what I kept telling the crew as they got frustrated with me. She makes it very difficult because she does it in a way that’s different on every single take. Even if you know what’s coming, it’s going to be a little bit different. And then, when you think you’ve gotten used to that funny line that’s written and we do that 7, 8, 9 times and get that real good, she’ll then on take 10 or 11 say something completely different just to make you laugh or the crew laugh. Sometimes those make it in the movie, but we certainly didn’t need to do any of that with this great script from Craig Mazin. She made it tough.
Q: Did you guys ever go stir crazy on your road trip being in the car so close together? What were the funny moments that came out of that?
McCarthy: The car scenes were my favorite. You’re confined to this car. A lot of times you’re locked in on both sides because they have camera rigs so you literally can’t get out even if you wanted to. And so, you kind of get cabin fever and you get punchy and just sitting next to that (referring to Jason) for that long of a time. By the end, I had to do a lot of weird stuff like stare at his forehead instead of his eyes because I couldn’t keep it together. Those are my favorite things because you actually start to feel like you’re on it because you just get crazy. You start to go a little loopy.
Bateman: And then you came up with an idea to just fall asleep with your eyes open and it’s in the movie.
Q: Jason, originally the movie was about two guys, but you came up with the idea to have Melissa play one of the roles. How did that come about and why did you pick Seth as the director?
Bateman: Because he’s just a really nice guy and great at what he does. You don’t really want much more than that. We happened to be on a press junket for “Horrible Bosses” when the film was starting to come together, and Melissa and I had had this great lunch where I talked her into doing this. I told Seth about it and he said, “Yes,” and it was that quick.
Q: At what point did you think this part could be played by a woman or was it specifically Melissa that you had in mind?
Bateman: It was just Melissa. This script was just sitting there for a couple of months and I went to the premiere of “Bridesmaids” and the following morning I picked up the phone and called Universal and one of the other producers on the film, Scott Stuber, and said, “I’d really like to work with this woman. Can we please change the thief from a guy to a girl and make it Melissa?” They could not have liked the idea better and said, “Why don’t you see if you can go get her?” Fortunately, this was the premiere and it was not yet in America’s hands so we still had a chance at her. I took her out to a quick meal and had her sign something while she was passed out from the booze.
Q: Does the fact that you grew up in a small town influence the roles you pick and why do you think you resonate with so many people?
McCarthy: Where I grew up I don’t think influences….well, maybe it does in terms of the people. The characters are really fun to play. A lot of times it’s someone that’s in my head and I say, “I know that woman.” There are women like that in my home town and there are women like that in the Midwest. I guess I do always go back to that and draw from there because I really love them. It’s always done out of I find them great and interesting and quirky and eccentric. Anything that any actor does, I assume, is shaped by how and where they grew up. I steal a lot from a lot of Midwestern women that I weirdly watch is what I should say.
Q: What was your favorite scene?
Bateman: I like the scene we did with your husband, Ben (Falcone).
McCarthy: I liked that, too.
Bateman: Her husband came in and did us a favor and played this little cameo of the hotel clerk for a day. It’s just this funny little rant that we both go on and attack him, and it’s on the heels of another great scene. She does this great thing in this restaurant and I think that’s it.
Q: Is that the first time you’ve worked with your husband?
McCarthy: No, we’ve worked together for years at the Groundling Theater and then we were in “Bridesmaids” together and this one, and he’s in “The Heat,” too. I keep chaining him to me and dragging him places.
Q: Melissa, your character in this does horrible things that could ruin some lives, but yet the audience is pulling for you all the way. How do you straddle that line and make us cheer for you even though at the heart of it you’re not very nice?
McCarthy: I think that’s testament to the good script and Craig Mazin writing a fully developed person. That’s what was interesting about the character to me. I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t just a one-dimensional, mustache-twirling villain, because that’s interesting for a scene, but I don’t know how you play that for a whole movie. I love the thought of someone doing criminal acts but not doing them to be menacing. She does them because she’s lonely and doesn’t have anyone, so she steals identities just so she can go out to a store and pretend to have these lives, pretend to have a husband, pretend to have a family, pretend to be engaged. We did so many versions of that in the different mall scenes and that to me is what really locked me into her. She’s not even stealing from people to be menacing. She’s just so lonely. I felt from there I found the heart of her and something interesting that made her tick, so hopefully other people see that, too.
Q: You have a horrible boss in the movie. Have either of you had a horrible boss in real life? And what’s the one terrible thing that they did?
Bateman: I once had a director that wanted me to try a scene a certain way and I said, “I don’t think I can do it that way.” He said, “I’ll bet you could.” I said, “No, I’d be really uncomfortable doing it that way.” “Can you just do it once?” I said, “No, because you’ll use that one.” And he said, “Well how about we just rehearse it?” I said, “Okay.” And so, we rehearsed it and we finished the rehearsal and he turned to the cameraman and said, “Did you get it?” “Yup.” And he said, “Okay, moving on.” He told the cameraman to turn on the camera while we were rehearsing.
McCarthy: Did he use that take?
Bateman: He did use that. Yeah. That’s an example of a bad boss, a bad director, a non-Seth Gordon.
McCarthy: That’s the opposite of Seth. I have had a boss that when I would ask him a question about something, I’d say, “I just don’t really understand. If I come into the room, can I say hello to this person?” It was just a simple question and they would just stare at me until it was so uncomfortable that I started getting teary eyed and then I’d ask it again and they just sat there like this. Eventually, I really started crying and walked off. And I thought, “Boy, I’m going to remember you.” Oh, the good times.