"I Spent 30 Minutes Thinking of Ways to Kill You"
When we meet Sarah Ashburn, she's hoping for a promotion and high-tails it from her home base in New York City to Boston, to help solve the mystery behind several murders. Standing in Ashburn's way is a hard-hitting Boston police officer, Shannon Mullins, who's not happy that the FBI -- especially the stuck-up Ashburn -- is treading on her turf. Ashburn is determined to wrestle the case away from Mullins, but the disheveled, foul-mouthed, in-your-face cop is a formidable adversary. They'll soon discover they have more in common than they ever thought possible, including their misfit status and complementary skillsets.
The Ashburn-Mullins dynamic is akin to that eternal physics problem about an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Only, here, it's hard to tell who is which. Ashburn is ambitious, talented, brainy, and possesses Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction and intuition. She's always the smartest person in the room, and isn't shy about letting everyone know it. The socially awkward Ashburn has no family, significant other, or even friends. Her only companion is a catâ€¦that belongs to her neighbor.
"Ashburn's effectiveness as an FBI agent comes from her meticulousness, stubbornness and thoroughness," says Bullock. "But she's completely inept when it comes to any kind of social interaction. She's trying so hard to make up for that particular weakness that she becomes insufferably arrogant on the job. Ashburn is respected but not liked because she isn't a team player. Every time she opens her mouth, people cringe."
If Ashburn needs to be taken down a notch, then Mullins is only too happy to oblige.
Mullins, says Melissa McCarthy, is "all kinds of bark, but no bite -- though she might actually bite people." Mullins grew up on the streets of Boston, and has a shoot-from-the-hip (and mouth) style of dealing with crime and its perpetrators. She's the "yang" to Ashburn's "yin."
Ashburn likes to get inside people's heads; Mullins prefers bashing them in.
It's not surprising, notes director Paul Feig that the dynamic between Ashburn and Mullins is initially antagonistic, because "Ashburn wants to prove herself by solving a big case, but Mullins doesn't want Ashburn on her turf. Mullins will not back down. In fact, she's used to people backing down from her."
So, Ashburn is stuck with Mullins, but the FBI Special Agent eventually realizes that her new partner's street smarts can be an asset in their pursuit of their criminal quarry. "By learning from Mullins how to be more instinctual, in-the-moment, and less cerebral, Ashburn breaks out of her shell, opens up her thinking, and becomes a better agent," says Feig.
At the same time, Mullins learns from Ashburn how to exercise a little self-control, and to take a breath before beating the crap out of someone.
Then something completely unexpected occurs. "We joke about this, but THE HEAT is kind of a love story," says McCarthy. "Mullins and Ashburn struggle with each other, get past it, and then actually begin to enjoy working together. That brings some heart to the comedy. Nobody wants to watch two goofy people do things poorly. But Ashburn and Mullins together are better than the sum of their individual skills, so you're rooting for them."
Their burgeoning friendship partially stems from their misfit status, but Feig notes that it mostly comes from them being really good at what they do. "I really like working with these kinds of characters, who are strong women trying to find their place in the world. Ashburn and Mullins bond because they're both great at their jobs, they've both given up much for their careers, and they will never compromise."
However funny and outrageous the characters and situations, Feig insisted they feel authentic. "If someone's going to be a street cop or a brilliant FBI agent who takes on the toughest assignments, then they're going to be badasses. They might have foibles and fears, but deep down they must have a special something inside to be drawn to this work. Mullins and Ashburn have that quality."
"Mullins and Ashburn are wildly different but their bond is they take the job very seriously," agrees McCarthy. "Their personalities might have slowed their career advancement, but their abilities speak for themselves. Their mutual respect evolves into friendship."
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