Throat Punches and Car Rolls: Stunts and Improv
When Sandy and Diana meet for the first time on a deserted Florida
highway -- actually shot about 100 yards from the 125,000-seat Atlanta
Motor Speedway racing track -- McCarthy was able to unveil her
character's secret weapon. "Sandy's following pretty closely
behind Diana's car, and Diana immediately goes into full scam mode and
slams on the breaks -- causing him to run into the back of her car,"
explains McCarthy. "She wants to take him for some money so
she says, 'Let's not go through insurance.' At that moment,
he shows her his ID, which says 'Sandy Patterson.' It's such
a great moment because for the first time she is face to face with one
of her victims. I loved that Diana just goes to pure instinct
and punches him in the throat and runs. It's like she's an
animal. We have a fistfight outside of the car, and it was
messy and dirty like a bad schoolyard fight."
"It's one of my favorite scenes because Diana finally has to put a face
to the name that she's stolen, but instead of acting remorseful, she
punches him in the throat and acts like the victim," laughs
Gordon. "In her twisted logic, he's the one who's
wrong. Throughout the movie, whenever Diana feels trapped or
painted into a corner, she punches people in the throat. We
tried to capture it like a classic Western showdown where Sandy feels
like 'I got you trapped' and then bam! Diana punches him in
the throat, and he hits the ground."
Throughout the film, Diana uses her prowess to get her, and
eventually Sandy, out of tough predicaments. The
Groundlings-trained McCarthy relished the challenges, explaining: "I'm
a physical actress. Struggling with things is so much better,
and it's a big part of how I work. I love that there is so
much physical stuff going on with Diana. I've never taken it
to this level where you're shooting a fight scene for five
days. I've also done some stunt driving and taken what seems
like 900 falls. I've probably hit Jason in the throat 732
times. I've been trying to get a throat punch in a film
forever, and in preproduction I asked, 'What if I hit someone in the
throat?' For the first time, everyone went, 'I love it!'"
For Gordon, there were very few occasions in which he had to talk his
lead actors into mixing it up with the stunt team. "There
were so many times that I had to try to talk Melissa and Jason out of
doing their own stunts," he sighs. "There is one scene where
Diana gets hit by a car, and it's not a subtle hit. There was
a parkour artist we brought in to do the stunt, and Melissa watched her
rehearse and how she rolled off the car and then said, 'I think I can
do it and take the hit.' There was no way I was going to let
her, but I think she was serious that she wanted to try it.
Many of the stunts are either Jason or Melissa doing it
themselves. They preferred it that way, and there's something
about when an actor does a stunt that makes an audience feel it."
Bateman and McCarthy weren't the only ones on set who got to flex their
muscles; many of their co-stars joined in on the action. "I
get to kick in Diana's front door and give a head slam to Big Chuck in
his office," Rodriguez states proudly. "Eric is one of the
funniest guys I know, but he made it very easy for me because he played
the character so high and mighty and was so obnoxious that he made me
want to slam his head on the desk over and over again. My
character is a cold-blooded killer, so I learned how to become
proficient with weapons so it looks like I was born to use them."
Stonestreet laughs that his character is not as much of a fighter as he
is a lover. "Big Chuck likes to get physical, but not always
in a violent way," he says. "Don't get me wrong, he has a
short temper and can handle his own in any barroom brawl, but when he
sees Diana come into the bar, he is smitten."
What follows on the dance floor and continues into the motel is one of
the film's many trips into Crazyville. Gordon recalls the
day: "I had no idea how the scene was going to play out because we
didn't cast Eric until the last minute, so there was no prep time to
rehearse the scene. Diana goes into The Foxhole to have a
drink and she meets Big Chuck, who starts to make her feel good about
herself. Once the booze kicks in, they hit the dance floor
and put on a show. We used the song 'Shake Ya Ass' during
playback, and the two of them started dancing and having fun; the scene
came to life in a way that was magical."
McCarthy was impressed with Stonestreet's interpretation of the
character. "Eric walked onto set and had a complete idea of
how he wanted Big Chuck to look and the cadence in which he spoke,"
explains McCarthy. "It is a wild scene with us dancing so
crazy and going back to the hotel for some fun. Diana's
instinct is to get what she needs out of him, and she's thrown for a
loop because he is so sincere and makes her feel special.
It's fun for me to play a scene when an aggressive character is thrown
off-balance. It's the first time where Diana is not
completely on her game."
Gordon gave his actors the freedom to go off book when the opportunity
presented itself. He explains how they captured all of the
unscripted moments: "I warned our cinematographer, Javier
Aguirresarobe, that there would be certain scenes where it would be
necessary to cross-cover the action so that both actors could riff and
play around without having to worry about matching the coverage on the
opposite side. When you have this many great comedic actors,
you need to give them the freedom to play around because there's gold
that you can find."
For the cast, receiving the green light from Gordon to improv
made for a productive working environment. "Seth is great to
work with because he'll let us try different things," says
Favreau. "You want to make sure you get the story points and
what's in the script first, because IDENTITY THIEF is well written and
it didn't need help. Sometimes you discover things in the
moment, and Seth's encouraging and understands how to shoot, so that it
makes it easier to go on runs."
"Seth is crazy smart and completely creative," adds McCarthy.
"He can be analytical about how he's going to shoot, but he is also so
good with story and is wildly collaborative. With both Seth
and Jason it doesn't matter whose idea it is, what matters most is 'How
do we get to the best line or the best solution to get us to the next
story point.' I'm going to start stalking them both until we
do another film together."
For Bateman, there was a method to the off-book madness.
"Melissa and I kept our dialogue loose," he shares. "When
you're shooting on set, you try to keep your ear open as an audience
member so that you get a sense of the pace and tempo and can feel if it
needs to go a bit faster or slower. Then sometimes you gauge
'Should we open that up a little during this take and maybe go for one
more joke in that direction?'"
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