by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-Chief
In The Spy Who Dumped Me Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon), are two thirty-year-old best friends in Los Angeles, who are thrust unexpectedly into an international conspiracy when Audrey’s ex-boyfriend shows up at their apartment with a team of deadly assassins on his trail. Surprising even themselves, the duo jump into action, on the run throughout Europe from assassins and a suspicious-but-charming British agent, as they hatch a plan to save the world.
The Spy Who Dumped Me is directed by Susanna Fogel (Life Partners) who co-wrote the script with David Iserson. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down and speak with Susanna Fogel about her laugh-out-loud, rollercoaster of a film.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Jay: Your last film, Life Partners, was a much smaller indie production than The Spy Who Dumped Me. How did you make such a large jump from that film to this one?
Susanna Fogel: I know that a large part of it was that I wrote the script. I think, had I not written it, It would have been really hard for me to get the support to do that, to make that leap? Not for gender reasons, but because it’s a big leap to make. While I was writing the script, it wasn’t initially obvious that it was even something that I thought I could make a bid to direct. But at a certain point, as the friendship became more and more central to the story, and the girls closeness and the specificity of being their age and being in a female friendship became more and more central, it seemed impossible that I could get a male action director to capture that. And it would just be easier for me to just learn how to direct an action sequence. That felt like more of a plausible curve than teaching a Michael Bay-type to care about these friends nuances and body image and stuff.
Jay: How difficult was casting this film? How important was getting the chemistry right between these two friends? Or did it not matter because it was already there on the page in your script?
SF: Kate was the first one to come onto the project and you’re basically playing matchmaker. You’re meeting two actresses and when you’re talking about people like Mila Kunis, you don’t really have a chance to test them out, do a bunch of meetings and introduce her to every candidate. So you just have to meet her, size her up, and guess that she’d have chemistry with another person you don’t know that well, other actors. But in the case of the two of them it was… I think when you write something that’s pretty specific or has a specific perspective, there’s a self selection to the actors that want to engage with you on it. If they think the script is funny, then presumably they have a shared sense of humor on some level. And if they want to work with me then they are kind of in it for the same reasons. So it just kind of felt like the process selected people that would have good chemistry.
Jay: Were they able to spend time together before shooting to build a rapport?
SF: There was very little, because they live on opposite sides of the country. Mila has a family and it’s hard to get a lot of rehearsal time with two busy women. But we had just a couple of days, so we had to quickly bond the two of them without it feeling too contrived. So what we did was, we read through the whole script in my apartment in Budapest together right when they showed up and just had these, I sound like a camp counselor, we had these ice breakers where I was talking about their friendships and what their memories are of people they know and then they just sort of had a bonding experience like two friends would have talking. It then sort of flowed from there. It also helped that they’re two women who have really good friendships in their lives and they care about that. They’re both very warm, down to earth people who are the least narcissistic people. They were both pretty receptive, easygoing, open and sharing. We didn’t have a lot of time. I think it also helped that we were in a foreign country that neither had ever been to. So we all were having fish out of water experiences there. That connected us.
Jay: One thing that stuck me while watching the film is how legit the action was. Typically in an action/comedy the comedy is always the focal point and the action is usually not an emphasis, but the action in this film plays like you’re watching an ACTION film.
RF: That’s very much what we wanted.
Jay: What was that learning curve like, learning to shoot something that you’d never done before?
RF: My action directing experience was limited to one scene in one episode of a Television show that will remain nameless. It was a very different thing. This was very… different. I think when I was writing the action I found that it felt very visual to me. I knew what I wanted it to feel like. But the big transition was that on the page there was a way that things sound and you can be kind of glib or flippant or you can be minimal in your description of an action sequence. And you can describe it with enough witticisms that it just seems like it works and keeps the read going. When you’re actually staging it, and figuring out what you’re actually looking at, then all of these other questions pop up. Like, how much gun violence are you going to have in a movie if you’re a liberal person who also likes action movies and have a conscience about that and what weapons are you going to use? Then figuring out what you’re going to be watching when you break it down to those super molecular things is a whole different catalog of different decisions. So, for that, I wanted to bring on a stunt coordinator who had done those legitimate action movies, so I hired the guy who did a lot of the Bond and Bourne stuff. He was a huge help. We talked through these things. His specialty is,”Tell me where this action film is set and I’ll tell you twelve ways a dude could kill another dude.” Like, his job is that. He’ll talk about these jobs where in the script it would say, an amazing foot chase ensues and he comes up with everything you see in a movie. So, in a way, he’s a writer himself. So we just talked a lot from very different perspectives. I’m coming from this very analytical, feminist perspective and he’s coming at it from the perspective of a very technical expertise. And a cleverness that is very specific to his more physical job. Just working with him I felt really safe and protected because he had so much experience and I could ask questions and we had a really great dialogue. Without his partnership, I don’t know what I would have done. I think I would have pointed to other movies and said, “I dunno, like that.” But with him, we broke it down to such bite sized decisions that it felt manageable.
Jay: It’s never overtly addressed in the film, but it feels like Kate’s character is supposed to be a lesbian in the film. Was the choice to never come out and say that your choice or was that something you were asked to not address?
RF: It was never really a mandate at all. It was really just that have romance for either of the girls felt like a necessity of plot. Mila had to get dumped for the story to take place, but then we really wanted to keep it as Bechdel Test passing as possible. It just sort of felt neither here nor there to go into her sexuality. It just felt like a thing that didn’t need to be there. And a thing that if could just keep it free of that… we didn’t want that conversation to dominate the movie. Just because everything with female protagonists becomes about their love lives.
Jay: Provided the film does well and there’s a sequel, I’d love to see one, but beyond that where are you looking to go?
RF: It’s funny because… specifically thinking about mentors or people whose careers I admire, it’s really the filmmakers who have done a lot of different things. It’s the Curtis Hansons and Ridley Scotts and David Finchers… Obviously I’ve mentioned three GREAT filmmakers, but it’s people who don’t do the same thing over and over again. It’s not that I need people to think that I have a range, it’s more that I want to constantly challenge myself. This was one of the most creatively rewarding and fun experiences I’ve ever had. It wasn’t harder in a way that made me feel like I couldn’t expand my repertoire in other ways. It’s interesting because the last thing you do, at least in a traditional Hollywood sense, the last thing you do people send you the exact same thing. What’s least interesting to me is doing what I just did. I went from indie dramedy to proving I could do a big comedy and now I feel like I would love to do something dramatic, whatever the size and whatever the budget.
The Spy Who Dumped Me opens in theaters today. Get out there and see it this weekend, it’s a fun and hilarious with some top-notch action.