Paul Feig: ‘Did I tell you I was a nerd?’

Paul Feig: ‘Did I tell you I was a nerd?’ | Soho House

The director of ‘Bridesmaids’ on his first big screen crush and the movie that left him traumatised…

Wednesday 26 October 2022   By James Williams

When it comes to comedy, few people have a CV to rival that of screenwriter and film-maker Paul Feig. From creating cult-classic TV show Freaks And Geeks back in 1999 to cultivating comedy gold in other shows such as Arrested Development, 30 Rock, Parks And Recreation and the American version of The Office, Feig’s Midas touch is undisputed. And his output isn’t reserved for the small screen either, as he’s also the man behind cinematic blockbusters The Heat, Spy and, of course, the evergreen and ever brilliant, Bridesmaids.

Feig’s latest movie The School For Good And Evil, an adaptation of the best-selling fantasy novel by Soman Chainani, starring Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington and Michelle Yeoh is currently streaming on Netflix. From screwball comedies to the archetypal festive favourite, here he tells Soho House about the movies that have made him the film-maker and man he is today.

What’s the first film you remember seeing and what effect did it have on you as a child?  
‘It was Kurosawa’s Rashomon and I remember as a five-year-old being intrigued by the complexity of the shifting narrative points of view. Nah, I’m just f**king with you. It was a Winnie The Pooh cartoon and I loved it, but it was on a double bill with Robin And The 7 Hoods, which was a Rat Pack movie. In the opening scene, Sammy Davis Jr jumped on a bar and fired a machine gun into the air, and I had to be taken out of the theatre screaming because I was afraid of loud noises. I still haven’t been able to watch it since because I’m afraid it might trigger long dormant childhood trauma.’

What’s your favourite film from your teens that you still watch to this day? How does it hold up?
‘I was actually about nine years old when I saw the Peter Bogdanovich film What’s Up Doc? and it blew me away. I ended up seeing it nine times at the theatre over the course of the next two weeks. I had no idea it was a tribute to the old screwball comedies from the 1930s. Only when I got to film school and saw Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday and all the other screwballs from that era was I able to appreciate just what Bogdanovich had pulled off. And it definitely holds up. The Austin Film Festival had me program a double bill a few years ago and I showed Rudy Ray Moore’s The Human Tornado (one of the most bananas films ever made) and What’s Up Doc? – the latter played through the roof, exactly the way it did when I first saw it in a packed theatre when I was a kid.’

Who was your first movie star crush and why?
‘Barbra Streisand in the above mentioned What’s Up Doc? I thought she was both beautiful and cool. She’s such a funny, confident character. She’s basically playing Bugs Bunny meets Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby. And I loved the way she pursued Ryan O’Neal’s character. I dreamed that one day a woman like that would pursue me, since I was way too shy to ask girls out. And lo and behold, my wife Laurie of 28 years did just that when I first met her 32 years ago. Sometimes movie dreams do come true.’

What’s your ultimate comfort film that immediately makes you feel better if you’re having a bad day?
‘Weirdly, it’s the James Bond movie Casino Royale, which introduced Daniel Craig as Bond. The action is amazing and the world that Bond is travelling through is so glamorous. There’s tuxedos and gowns and casinos, and Martinis and caviar and Venice, and it just transports me away from whatever is wearing me down that day. I love grown-up life, and Casino Royale represents all the adult things I wish I could enjoy every single day. Well, except for the “people trying to constantly kill me” part. I’ll leave that up to Bond.’

What classic movie have you never got around to watching?
‘Too many to mention. I’d totally lose all movie cred with my fellow directors if I admitted just how many classics I haven’t seen. Whenever I’m asked for lists of my favorite films, it always reads like something a 12-year-old would fill out. I’m sadly not as sophisticated as I’d like to be.’

What’s your go-to Christmas movie?
It’s A Wonderful Life, which is also my favourite movie of all time. It does everything a movie is supposed to do: makes you laugh, makes you cry and makes you happy; it makes you feel good about humanity. When I first saw it in film school I said to myself, “If I could make even one movie like that and have it stand the test of time, I could die a happy person”.’

Do you own any movie posters or memorabilia? If not, what would it be if you had the choice?
‘I’ve got quite a lot of posters. A friend of mine knows I like the old comedian Bob Hope, and so he finds the most obscure posters from all the movies that he made and sends them to me. I also have all the posters and key props from my own movies. I’m most proud of Kate McKinnon’s proton pack from my Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. It’s hanging in the lobby of my production company’s offices.’

If you could have made one film in the whole history of movie making, what would it be and why?
Napoleon Dynamite. I think it’s one of the funniest movies ever made, and it was totally groundbreaking for its time. I still laugh uproariously whenever I watch it.’

Here’s an opportunity to right a cinematic wrong: what film do you feel is criminally underrated?  
‘Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown. It’s such a great thriller with so many twists and turns, and it’s such a great revenge story, too. Simply put, it’s just entertaining, which is something the critics don’t usually give you credit for. It’s one that whenever I run across it while channel surfing I simply have to watch.’

Your smart TV is cursed and you can only stream one movie for the rest of your life – what is it?
Monty Python And The Holy Grail. It’s one of the funniest movies of all time and it’s the most fun film to quote lines from. Did I mention I’m a nerd?’

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