Tom Beasley talks to Susanna Fogel – director and co-writer of The Spy Who Dumped Me – ahead of the film’s arrival on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK…
Earlier this year, the comedic dream team of Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon became unlikely members of an espionage conspiracy in globe-trotting spoof The Spy Who Dumped Me. Co-written and directed by Susanna Fogel, the film is a rare example of a studio comedy with women at the centre both in front of the camera and behind it.
Flickering Myth got the chance to have a chat with Fogel on the phone from Los Angeles ahead of the film’s release on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK. She spoke about her movie’s importance as a female-led studio comedy, as well as her hopes for a sequel.
This is a rare example of a mid-budget studio movie with two female leads. How important was it for you as a female filmmaker to be able to have that opportunity?
It’s so funny because I talk about things like representation and doing this for women and the political side of it so much, and that is such a wonderful thing, but it was an afterthought for me. The first thought was really just wanting to tell a story that I personally connected with and had something in it that I could relate to. In the wake of the movie coming out, I’m realising the political side to it much more than I ever thought, which is great. But it’s important to show women being as funny as men in a buddy-comedy and in a female movie that has real action in it.
You mentioned that this movie has the action as well. How did you draw the line with the violence in this movie, which is often quite hardcore?
I think it’s up to the viewer whether they think I found that balance effectively or whether they think the action was too jarring with the comedy. And also whether that is because it is a female-driven movie and people aren’t expecting a female comedy that usually traffics in lighter fare to bring that level of violence, or whether it’s just actually the merge of comedy and action that throws people off. For me, it was an attempt to ground the comedy and the action sequences as much as I possibly could and I think that means there’s a certain physicality to the action that is trying to figure out the level of action that is exciting and to give people that adrenaline rush while putting enough wit into those sequences that people are smiling, like you smile at a Bond sequence or even John Wick.
We tried to keep everything as balanced as possible and hope that people would come along for the ride and have fun. It worked for some people and not for others, but that’s just the nature of making anything. I’d rather do something that takes the risk than doesn’t.
One of the things that makes this is a risk, that perhaps shouldn’t, is simply making a comedy with women at the forefront. If there’s a bad comedy with men in it, we forget about it and move on, but if a comedy with women in it doesn’t do well, it becomes a problem for other female comedies. What are your thoughts on that?
I think it’s interesting. There’s so much to say right now because everyone is so animated about the politics. We haven’t had enough representation, so there aren’t enough examples of R-rated female comedies. So each movie takes on such importance. Each female director takes on such responsibility and that is a lot of pressure. I can’t speak for all women and I’m not trying to speak for all women. It’s tough, but I think all we can do is just keep doing as much as possible across all different genres so that people can’t generalise as much. The only path to that is just producing more content that is of high quality.
There’s definitely a sense that we don’t get the same number of second chances as men. Now, I think people have realised that to such a point that there are some doors that are a bit more open. There are wonderful movies about women that have been directed by men and that seems like a type of equality we haven’t considered as much. It’s easier for me to get a meeting on a female-driven movie of any genre or scale than it is on any male-driven movie, even of a much smaller scale than this one. Just under the surface, there’s the next kind of wave and I really hope that it continues.
If you’re trying to make a high-quality movie about women, you could do a lot worse than having Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon as your leading ladies! What was it like working with them?
Definitely! They are absolutely wonderful! They are both funny, grounded, stars who have really good friendships in their lives. So even though they did not meet and get to know each other until we were shooting, there’s such a shorthand I think for women who have really deep, close friendships and for whom those friendships are like family. They can plug that into a relationship they have on screen where their co-star is an avatar for their real life best friend, so they instantly have the dynamic of people that have known each other forever. They’re just wonderful, talented, smart and lovely women.
The movie is a proper globe-trotting thriller like a Bond film or a Mission: Impossible. Were either Mila or Kate tempted to dangle from a helicopter at any point?
I think more Mila than Kate. [laughs] They were both really willing to try new things and do all of that. It was so much fun making the movie and we surprised ourselves with what we all wanted to do or try.
One great lesson I learned is that we thought ‘what is an adventure we would want to go on?’, which is such a crazy thing to think, but we figured that if we want to go to these places, then there has got to be an audience of people who are dying to take that trip and adventure with us. We asked ourselves ‘what is fun?’ and ‘what is thrilling?’. It doesn’t have to get rave reviews in every publication; it just needs to be fun entertainment that moves the needle a little bit for funny women.
It certainly achieves the globe-trotting aspect. Was there any concern about taking on a spy spoof given how extensively the genre has been done over the years?
It’s funny. I think that our one big, great hesitation in the packaging of this movie was that we never intended the title to be our final title. It was an inside joke we put on the script so that people would open and read it to get people to invest in the project. We never intended it to be strict in terms of genre, but we were looking to subvert it by having women and having real people with real problems. We both love and hate these spy movies, so we wanted to pay tribute to them but not dwell too much on genre.
I know that sequels are decided by boring people with spreadsheets, but would you like to make a sequel to this movie if possible?
Oh, I would absolutely love it. We shamelessly teed it up at the end. I know these things are decided by algorithms and it eludes me, but it would be great. We have the story and we have the world, so we would love to take them on a different adventure. But I think if we’re not able to do that, we’d love to do another movie with another great friendship at the centre and another great adventure.
Thank you very much for your time, Susanna Fogel!
The Spy Who Dumped Me will be available on both DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from December 26th.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.