“The Heat,” the new Boston crime comedy by “Freaks and Geeks” creator and “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig, is a few love letters at once.
It’s certainly a love letter to classic buddy-cop films, and to actress Melissa McCarthy, whose R-rated rants have become a hit at the box office. It’s also a love letter to Boston, which has a big part in this story of two female crime fighters who, despite their absurd differences, must work together to take down a local drug lord.
McCarthy plays a tough Boston police detective who spends most of her time in a Pawtucket Red Sox T-shirt. Sandra Bullock costars as McCarthy’s rival/partner, an uptight FBI agent who can’t make friends. The movie was shot all over Boston last summer, giving Feig the chance to become a local, at least temporarily.
In an interview at Battery Wharf, where he lived during the shoot, Feig told us that despite problems on set, a humid summer, and a tight deadline (McCarthy had to finish the movie within weeks to return to the set of her CBS comedy, “Mike & Molly), Feig said he fell for the city. During his recent trip back to promote the film, he talked like a guy who was thrilled to be home.
Q. How long were you here?
‘No one wants to see me do a drama. What I found is, I’ve always done comedy. It’s my passion.’
A. We shot for almost 10 weeks. We got to town the end of May of last year and then we started shooting the day after the Fourth of July. I just remember that because the day before we started shooting, all of this stuff was going on out on the harbor. I was watching the USS Constitution going by. It couldn’t have been more Boston.
Q. Was this always going to be a Boston film?
A. The movie was set in New York, but we knew immediately that it was too expensive and too late in the process to get to New York. And also because Massachusetts has the tax [credit for film], we thought, let’s go there. But then, every project I’ve ever done has been making where you’re shooting look like somewhere else. Like in “Freaks and Geeks,” we had to make LA look like Michigan. And in “The Office” [Feig directed and produced some of the long-running NBC series], we had to make LA look like Scranton. So I was just like, I don’t want to do that. I love the look of Boston. Let’s just rewrite it so that it takes place in Boston. And then it just started getting funnier and funnier because of the Boston characters. And then just casting-wise, it made it so much fun. Because then I said, I want to get real Boston natives.
Q. And you did.
A. That was so much fun, casting Melissa’s family. They’re all Boston natives, from Jane Curtin to Joey McIntyre to Bill Burr to Jessica Chaffin to Jamie Denbo. I’m so happy that we did that because I absolutely fell in love with Boston. I’d only come in and out on book tours in the past.
Q. You guys had a rough shoot, from what I remember.
A. From the beginning, it seemed like we were the cursed shoot. It was crazy. A bus slammed into the back of our camera truck. There was [a homicide near set] — but then one of our cops on set caught the bad guys. And then we had that big water main explosion outside of The Boston Herald that shut us down.
Q. And yet you still love it here?
A. I do. Despite all that. It was just really hot. It was a humid summer. And I made the weird decision to turn the old Boston Herald building into our sound stage. The place was just huge . . . we were like, oh my gosh, we can build all of our sets here — not realizing that there was no air conditioning. Whoever supplies air conditioners made a fortune off of us. The first week we were shooting, we were in the old abandoned police station in Roxbury. Great location. Looked great. But the first day was so hot. I wear a suit whenever I direct, and my suit was just soaked. Like saddlebags. It was brutal.
Q. How quickly did your Boston cast come together?
A. The genesis of it was that I wanted all Bostonians if we could have them. Bill Burr was the first person I saw audition. And I like to cast people who kind of know each other who can work really well together. I work with Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo, who do these characters Ronna and Beverly, who are these Boston middle-aged Jewish ladies. My wife and I have been producing that show [“Ronna & Beverly”] with them for a while. Jessica had done these [“Mad Men” parodies with Joey McIntyre] on the Internet called “MA Men.”
Q. Those are hilarious.
A. First of all, who knew Joey McIntyre was that funny? And then Nate — I know Rob Corddry, Nate’s brother — but he was so funny. And Jessica was in there. So it was like, let’s get Joey and Nate. And then we did an audition where we put them in a room with Bill Burr. I wasn’t even in town. I just had my casting director, Allison Jones, who’s always done everything for me, I said, just get the three of them in a room and have them just improv. And it was so funny, them just busting each other’s balls.
Q. You have so much great comedy on your resume. Will you ever surprise us and do something incredibly dark?
A. After I did “Freaks and Geeks,” I kind of wasn’t sure what to do. My mom died right at the end [of the show], and it sort of threw me off. People were sending me a lot of high school stuff, and I had kind of already done it. Then I got sent a book called “I Am David,” which was about a boy growing up in a Communist labor camp. I got pulled into that. I wrote [the film] and directed it and shot it in Bulgaria.
Q. I’m shocked I don’t know this one.
A. No one knows this. I mean, it’s worth seeing — it is what it is. I’m proud of the movie, but I shouldn’t have made it. No one wants to see me do a drama. What I found is, I’ve always done comedy. It’s my passion. . . . We’ve been given a gift that we kind of know what makes people laugh. We don’t fully know. But at least we know how to set it in motion and create circumstances where it might thrive. I’m very much not drawn to do drama again. At the same time, I’m not trying to do silly comedy. Anything I do, it has to have a real core. What’s the real story? What is it about the human condition and people that we’re trying to say? I mean, look at “Bridesmaids.” That’s a fairly dramatic story if you peel all the comedy away. And to me, “The Heat” is about two professional women who took a path that is not having kids and having a family, and how hard it is to find a support group. How do you make friends in that world? I was really drawn to that.