A Welcome Transaction: IDENTITY THIEF Begins
Every day, millions unknowingly leave their personal information
unprotected. From social media sites that accept credit card
numbers to smartphones and personal computers with easy-to-access
passcodes, the ability to send, receive and steal information has never
been simpler. While this welcome technology makes our lives
more efficient, it also opens the door for the fastest-growing criminal
out there: the IDENTITY THIEF. According to the FTC,
approximately nine million United States residents have their
identities used fraudulently every year, with staggering financial
losses resulting from the theft. And while having your
financial life purloined is no laughing matter, the subject proved to
be quite interesting for actor/producer Jason Bateman, who came across
an original story based upon the timely topic.
"A friend of mine, Peter Morgan, who's a producer, brought me this
script," recalls Bateman. "It contained this easy,
self-contained concept of one guy who steals another guy's identity and
the victim has nothing better to do than to find the man who did it,
put him in a car and make him undo it all. So it set itself
up in a format of two of my favorite movies, PLANES, TRAINS AND
AUTOMOBILES and MIDNIGHT RUN."
With a working story and many ideas for the film percolating, Bateman
pitched the idea to producer Scott Stuber while they were shooting
COUPLES RETREAT on Bora Bora. For Stuber, reteaming with
Bateman for IDENTITY THIEF would prove an easy decision to
make. "Jason and I were in the midst of our third movie
together, and he came to me with this great comedy, which I immediately
liked," recalls Stuber.
While Stuber and Bateman were busy developing the film, the story and
script took an unexpected turn with the release of the blockbuster
comedy BRIDESMAIDS. Stuber explains: "We all saw BRIDESMAIDS
and were completely blown away by Melissa McCarthy's
performance. Jason had this great idea to try to get her to
do the project and to change one of the characters to a
woman. It injected a fresh take on the concept and unlocked a
lot of the things that weren't working in the original
script. We then hired Craig Mazin, who's worked on The
Hangover films, and he wrote a terrific new draft."
For Bateman, while the story was poignant for today's
information-driven society, it was the dynamic between the two
characters and what they learn from each other that drove the revised
premise and made the tale hilarious and endearing. "When I
started doing research, it was shocking to see how prevalent identity
theft is today," he says. "We are a lot more exposed than we
think. It's important in any comedy to have it be relatable
and tangible so that people think that the situation could happen to
them. The story escalates in a natural and linear way, and
Craig injected heart into the story. He keeps a pace that is
exactly where you want it to be on each page."
In the comedy, audiences follow the trials and tribulations of Sandy
Bigelow Patterson as he travels across the country in order to find and
bring back the person who has stolen his financial life.
"Sandy is your average guy who's got a wife, two kids and has landed a
great new job," explains Bateman. "He's always done the right
thing and then he just arbitrarily gets his identity stolen by Diana,
which puts his life in a tailspin. Craig did a great job of
constructing the character in such a way that he found some comedy in
Sandy being a victim. That made him a lot of fun to play."
Mazin reflects on the process of creating Sandy and Diana: "There's a
saying that 'good process leads to good movies.' Maybe that's
not always true, but it certainly was in this case. Scott
Stuber called me up, pitched me the logline and said 'It's Bateman and
McCarthy,' and it blossomed very quickly. Jason and I
actually worked out a lot of the story together -- he was a
great producer as well -- and when Melissa came on, she and I really
got into the humanity of Diana. Everyone understood that
Jason and Melissa were going to be funny. The real work was
making them real and relevant. Not everyone gets their
identity stolen, but everyone has a moment in their life where they ask
themselves, 'Who am I? Who do I want to be?' Jason
and Melissa are entertaining as hell, but you also feel for them,
because there's quite a bit of them in all of us.
"The key for me was making sure Sandy's and Diana's characters
connected with the audience in a way that was deeper than just the
events of the plot," the writer continues. "The story centers
on identity theft, but the movie is really about what it means to know
and accept who you really are -- even when that's painful to
do. Jason, Melissa and Seth brought that dynamic to life in
the most incredible way. The movie is packed with huge
laughs, but at its core, it's very humane and touching. I
can't wait to share it with everyone."
Finding the right name for the story's hero was essential to the
story's plausibility. "We knew that character's name had to
be unisex so that Diana could walk into a store and say, 'Hi, I'm Sandy
Patterson,'" explains fellow Bluegrass Films producer Pamela
Abdy. "As we developed the script, we felt it would be a
funny running joke if a guy had one of those names that leaned more to
the feminine side, so that most people's reaction would be, 'Isn't that
a girl's name?' We wanted it to be this constant struggle
he's been tormented with his entire life. Jason's amazing at
playing characters that are constantly getting beaten down, and Sandy
is right in his wheelhouse."
Now that the script was in solid shape, Bateman, Stuber and Abdy locked
down McCarthy to play the character of Diana, an IDENTITY THIEF who
treats herself to the finest things that her victims' credit cards can
buy her. For McCarthy, the opportunity to team up with
Bateman was a welcome one. "Just having Jason Bateman call
and say, 'I'd like to talk to you about something,' made me dork out a
bit," she laughs. "I met with him, and he pitched me this
idea. I also liked that Diana was scrappy and gets physical
with him. I can't think of a comedy where you see a man and a
woman physically fighting and it's not slapsticky. In this
film, it's more like 'I'm trying to kill him.'"
McCarthy was flattered that the team rewrote the part for her strengths
and sensibilities. The actress offers: "What also made the
project interesting was that we were starting from the ground up with
the character and we could give Diana depth and layers. I
thought if someone's stealing, you never want to make that character
completely evil because it would be one-dimensional and
boring. I loved the thought of her being so on the outside of
everything in her life that the reason she steals and gets into
people's credit histories is to be a voyeur. She sees what
trips they go on or their family pictures or that someone has bought an
engagement ring and is about to get married. It's all the
steps in life that she is not able to take, so it is less about her
stealing and acquiring things as it is feeling like she is part of
these people's lives."
Living off of Sandy Patterson's credit dime has its perks, from luxury
spa services to jet skis, and Diana rarely sees a store that she
doesn't like when she strolls through the mall. "I loved the
thought of Diana being a hoarder of sorts but that she is also neat,
clean and organized," informs McCarthy. "Diana will buy five
blenders because whoever was on the phone with her told a long story
about having pool parties, as opposed to Diana actually wanting a
blender. She doesn't need the things she buys, she just wants
to talk to somebody in the process of getting them."
The producers were quite satisfied with their decision to switch the
gender of the story's antagonist. "Melissa elevated the
character in the best way possible," compliments Stuber.
"She's totally menacing and can do some horrible things, but she does
it with such heart that you can't help but root for her.
Diana's clearly out of control, but she does it in a way that you're
going to want her to win and want her to change."
With Bateman and McCarthy on board, the producers reached out to Seth
Gordon, who previously collaborated with Bateman on the hit comedy
HORRIBLE BOSSES. For the director, it was an easy decision to
make IDENTITY THIEF his next project. "We were doing press
for HORRIBLE BOSSES in London, and Jason brought up the idea for the
film," recalls Gordon. "He gave me a brief description of
what it would be and his idea to switch one of the roles from male to
female, which was being tailored for Melissa. As soon as I
heard the concept and that Melissa would be the criminal and that Jason
would be chasing her down, I was sold. I knew it was the
recipe for a very funny film.
"I love a movie where two characters are trapped together and forced
onto a journey," continues Gordon. "We wanted to put two very
different people together who go on a chase and in the process learn
unexpected lessons from each other. Even though we don't talk
about it out loud in the movie, people can connect to that basic notion
of feeling not good enough or not worthy of what they have.
Melissa has the ability to bring that to life in such a compelling way
and Jason is the best straight man of his generation, which is why he
was born to play Sandy Patterson."
"Seth is the first and only person I thought of to direct," commends
Bateman. "He's got a great ease about him, and one of the
most important things in making a comedy is having the set be a nice
place to work. Seth is collaborative without being a doormat
and he has vision and insights, which made him the perfect
person. I'm new at this producer thing, but I have been told
left and right that it doesn't usually happen like this, so I feel
lucky that we were able to get our first choices of Seth and Melissa."
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