IAR INTERVIEW: Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy Talk 'Identity Thief'

Wednesday, 06 February 2013 15:03 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy Talk 'Identity Thief'

Dwight Schrute, the fictitious assistant to the regional manager of a mid-size Pennsylvania paper company once declared, "Identity theft is not a joke, Jim!  Millions of families suffer every year."  The new comedy Identity Thief, hitting theaters this Friday, February 8th, aims to disprove Schrute's statistically unlikely assertion, panning for comedic gold in the stream of criminality.

Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses, television's Arrested Development) and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, the CBS series Mike & Molly) star in Identity Thief as two people on opposing sides of the country and the spectrum of legality.  Bateman plays Sandy Bigelow Patterson, a straitlaced Colorado accounts rep whose years of fastidious financing responsibility are undone when Diane, played by McCarthy, steals his identity in order to live a consumer's dream on the raggedy edges of Miami.  With only a week before his plans for the future are permanently derailed by her excesses, Sandy travels to Florida to track down Diane and bring her 2,000 miles across the country before it's too late.

Working from a screenplay by Craig Mazin (The Hangover: Part II), director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters) assembled a supporting cast full of ringers like Amanda Peet (Please Give), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), T.I. (Takers), John Cho (Star Trek Into Darkness), Genesis Rodriguez (The Last Stand), Morris Chestnut (Think Like a Man), Eric Stonestreet (ABC's Modern Family), and Steve Little (HBO's Eastbound & Down).

Despite all that comedic backup, McCarthy and Bateman are the dynamic duo holding Identity Thief together.  Both actors were on hand for the Los Angeles press day, where IAR was lucky enough to join a group of entertainment journalists from all over the world to talk with the stars.  In a lively, joke-filled interview, Bateman and McCarthy discussed the origins of Identity Thief, how far is too far comedically, playing the straight man, a particular cameo, and making the seemingly monstrous Diane sympathetic.

In addition to starring as the real Sandy Bigelow Patterson onscreen, Bateman actually serves as a producer on the film and was instrumental in its development, having contributed to the core concept and the story.  Initially, the role of Diane was written as a man, making for a more Midnight Run-style pairing.  Asked what specifically inspired the change from a male to a female character, Bateman answered,"It was just Melissa. The script was just sort of sitting there for a couple of months and I went to the premiere of Bridesmaids and the following morning I called Universal and one of the other producers on the film, Scott Stuber, and I 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 they said see if you can get her."

"Fortunately this was the premiere so it was not yet in America’s hands so we still had a chance for her. I took her out to a quick meal and had her sign something while she was passed out from the booze," he added with a laugh.

With her scene-stealing performance as Megan in Bridesmaids, McCarthy earned an Academy Award nomination and the unanimous approval of the moviegoing public.  In that film, McCarthy demonstrated a rare ability to confidently go for broke, embracing extremes of physical comedy for a laugh.  Bateman, meanwhile has perfected a deadpan delivery and subtle timing over the decades.  Asked if either actor has limits in how far they would go in the name of comedy, Bateman replied in a characteristically matter-of-fact tone, saying, "She’ll shit in a sink for a laugh."

"I was ill!  I don’t know, for me so long as it makes sense for the character on the worst day and the most extreme circumstance, I like to see how far you can push it," McCarthy said. "But it’s not funny anymore if it doesn’t make sense if it’s not like this person has nothing else to do but try this desperate measure. I don’t like to do anything that’s mean spirited. I don’t find it funny. I think it’s better to... I’d rather be the jackass than make fun of somebody else. It feels too cheap and easy. Those are really my only limits."

"Well said, I second that," Bateman chimed in.

McCarthy's style is enthusiastically audacious, but with his dry cool wit, Bateman is a reliable straight man off whom she can play.  The actress is almost surgical in her ability to improvise in such a way as to cause her co-stars to break and laugh out loud, challenging his ability to stay cool in the middle of scenes.  "Well they don’t have those takes in the movie," he said. "And there were a lot of them where I broke up. There were only a few where I kept a straight face and you only need one which I kept telling the crew when they’d get frustrated with me. She makes it very difficult because she does it in a way that’s different on ever single take so even if you know what’s coming it’s gonna be a little bit different. Then when you think you’ve gotten used to that funny line that’s written and we do it seven, eight, nine times and get it real good, she’ll then on take 10 or 11 do 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 the great script from Craig Mazin but she made it tough."

In many respects, Identity Thief is a road movie, meaning McCarthy and Bateman spend long stretches isolated in a car.  Despite the limitations of such a setting, McCarthy took to the many automotive sequences, saying, "The car scenes were really my favorite. You’re confined in this car and 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. So you get cabin fever and you get punchy and sitting next to [Jason] for so long of a time by the end it’s like I couldn’t... 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 but 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."

In Bridesmaids, Mccarthy's character found love in a hopeless place: on a commercial airline, where she met Air Marshall John, played by McCarthy's real life husband Ben Falcone.  The actor also makes a memorable appearance in his wife's new film, as Bateman explained, "Her husband came in and did us a favor and played the hotel clerk for a day. This little cameo and it’s just this funny little rant that we both kind of go on and attack him and it’s on the heels of this other great scene where she does this great thing at a restaurant."

"We’ve worked together for years at the Groundling Theater and we did Bridesmaids together and this one and The Heat too," MacCarthy said of Falcone, who will pop up again The Heat alongside McCarthy and Sandra Bullock this summer. "I keep chaining him to me and dragging him places."

Diane provided McCarthy with a new challenge.  Though her character engages in all manner of illegal and unethical behavior, she's gradually revealed as a more complex character with unexpectedly sympathetic motivations.  Even so, Diane walks a fine line between irrepressible wildness and genuine likability. "I think that’s a testament to the good script and Craig Mazin writing a fully developed person," McCarthy said. "I think what was interesting about the character to me and I wanted to make sure she wasn’t just a one-dimensional, mustache-twirling villain because I thought that’s kind of interesting for a scene but I don’t know how to 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. She kind of steals identities 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 at different malls scenes and I think that to me really locked me into her. She’s not even stealing from people to be menacing. She’s just lonely. I thought from there, I felt like I found the heart of her and something interesting which made her tick. Hopefully people see that too."

To view IAR's exclusive video interview with screenwriter Craig Mazin in which he discusses Identity Thief and this summer's The Hangover: Part III, click here.

Identity Thief opens nationwide this Friday, February 8th.

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