By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy could very well be the next Burns and Allen.
The two comedic performers each have developed a loyal fan following. Bateman, 44, frequently plays the straight man in films including “Horrible Bosses” and “Couples Retreat” as well as the award-winning TV comedy series “Arrested Development” while McCarthy, 42, is the fearless, scene-stealing gal from “Bridesmaids” and the CBS comedy “Mike & Molly.”
They co-star for the first time in the comedy “Identity Thief,” in which they verbally and physically spar in an offbeat road trip from Florida to Colorado.
Bateman once again plays the straight man. As Sandy Patterson, he is an upstanding accounts rep with a wife, family and mortgage living in Colorado.
Meanwhile, in the Sunshine State, serial identity thief Diana (McCarthy) has gotten hold of Sandy’s credit card numbers and has treated herself to one of her many unauthorized spending sprees thanks, in part, to his gender-neutral name.
Facing months of legal wrangling to clear his good name, Sandy decides to track down and retrieve the perpetrator himself. He quickly catches up with cute but not-so-innocent Diana at her loot-filled apartment in Florida. Before he can cuff her, though, he finds out Diana’s made more than a few enemies with her dangerous racket, some of whom are willing to go much further to retaliate against her.
Sandy finds himself having to protect Diana from a bounty hunter and a pair of enforcers sent by a local mobster as they travel to Denver so he can turn her over to the authorities. As their journey takes several comical detours, both Sandy and Diana learn life lessons about themselves.
Initially, the Scott Mazin script called for the thief to be played by a man, but once Bateman, who also serves as a producer on the project, saw McCarthy’s performance in “Bridesmaids,” he successfully lobbied to make the character a woman so she could play it. Then, he claims, he plied her with food and drink until she agreed.
The two have an easy banter as evidenced when they arrive together for an interview. When petite McCarthy starts to sit down, Bateman pretends he wants her seat. Mild bickering ensues, and soon Bateman relents.
Q: You were both great in the movie, but Jason, I’m curious…
Bateman: … was a little better, right?
Q: How grateful are you with the advances in CGI technology in that scene where you have to contend with a snake?
Bateman: Here’s the not so funny part of it— we shot that scene with a real snake, which turned out to be not as good as what they could do with CGI. So I had to endure a full night with a seven-foot Kingsnake. It wrapped itself around my neck and crawled up the leg of my pants while I pretended to be sleeping on the dirt.
McCarthy: They said there’s no way the snake would come near him. They said Kingsnakes just didn’t do that. But when they put the snake down, it made a beeline for Jason’s leg, which I really enjoyed. (She chuckles.)
Bateman: Right up my pant leg! It got all the way up to my kneecap before they yelled, “cut!” It was horrific, and none of it’s in the movie. We have the snake traveling towards my body but that’s about it.
Q: Melissa, you did a lot of your pratfalls in this. Did you ever get injured?
McCarthy: I got hurt a lot and I’m apparently an idiot. At the end of it, I was thinking, “Oh, there was that stunt woman there for so much of this.” I guess I get kind of excited to do it, and then I don’t think about having to do it 42 times.
Bateman: She did the one where she gets hit by the car. I don’t know why she volunteered for that one. That seems like an easy one to give to the stuntwoman. She loves the stunt bump I guess.
McCarthy: That’s an extra $26.
Q: How do you get in the mindset that you’re going to get physical with this beautiful lady?
Bateman: (Deadpans) She pisses you off and you go.
McCarthy: He had no problem with it.
Bateman: It was not difficult. In the scene where I capture her, I saw the guitar while we were rehearsing, and I was trying to figure out a way to stop her from leaving. We didn’t want to do the tackling of her yet. So I said, why don’t I take her off her feet with this guitar? I was kind of joking.
McCarthy: Not really.
Bateman: Yeah, not really.
McCarthy: I think (to Jason) you said, “What if I hit her in the face with the guitar?” I was like, “You’re kidding, right?” (Director Seth Gordon) seemed to like it and that made me nervous, and then Jason started fiddling with the guitar.
Bateman: I took a few practice swings and then we—well, not we, but the prop department—built a half helmet that could fit underneath the stuntwoman’s wig so that she could have a good portion of her face protected. The next morning we came in and shot that.
Q: I heard you threw an actual Panini maker at her?
Bateman: That was a mistake.
McCarthy: I don’t know about that. There were about 14 fake Panini machines that weighed about a quarter of an ounce because they were (made of) foam, and then there was a real one that weighed about 32 pounds. It was a little shinier. That first time we did that run to the door, he picked up the real one and let that thing fly toward my head.
Bateman: I missed her.
McCarthy: He was like, “I didn’t know it wasn’t the fake one.”
Bateman: I didn’t know there were lightweight ones. I thought they all were real. I thought “Clearly, someone’s checked with Melissa on this.”
McCarthy: It was a dicey shoot.
Bateman: We made it though.
Q: Is there a limit to what you’ll do for comedy? Or are you up for anything?
Bateman: She’ll s*** in a sink for a laugh.
McCarthy: (My character) was ill. Really, though, I like to see how far you can push it. To me, it’s not funny if it doesn’t make sense. I don’t like to do anything that’s mean-spirited. I’d rather be the jack*** than make fun of somebody else. It just seems too cheap and easy. Those are really my only limits.
Bateman: I second that.
Q: Jason, when Melissa is doing her antics, how do you keep a straight face?
Bateman: It’s not easy. I did crack up a lot but they don’t have those takes in the movie. There were a few where I kept a straight face, but you only need one. She makes it very very difficult because she does it in a way that’s different in every take so even if you know what’s coming, it’s going to be a little different.
Q: Did you ever get stir crazy while shooting your scenes in the car?
McCarthy: The car scenes are among my favorites because you’re so confined to this car. A lot of times, you’re locked in because of the camera rigs, so you literally can’t get out even if you wanted to. After awhile, you kind of get cabin fever and punchy. By the end of those scenes, I had to do weird stuff like stare at his forehead instead of his eyes because I couldn’t keep it together.
Bateman: She came up with the idea of falling asleep with her eyes open.
Q: What’s your favorite scene?
Bateman: I loved that scene we did (McCarthy’s) husband Ben (Falcone) when we checked into the motel.
McCarthy: I love that too.
Bateman: Her husband came in and did us a favor and played this clerk for a day. It was a little cameo where we both attack him.
Q: Melissa, have you worked with your husband before?
McCarthy: Yes. We worked with each other for years at the Groundlings (comedy troupe) and then we were in “Bridesmaids” together and now this one. He’s in (the upcoming comedy) “The Heat” with me too. I keep chaining him to me and dragging him places.
Q: Melissa, your character does some horrible things in this yet the audience is rooting for you. How do you make a basically unlikable person likable?
McCarthy: That’s a testament to the writing of Craig Mazin. He wrote a fully developed person. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t a one-dimensional, mustache-twirling villain. That would have been interesting for a scene, but I don’t think I could have played that for the whole movie. I love the thought of someone doing criminal acts but not doing them to be menacing. She does them because she’s lonely and doesn’t have anyone, so she steals identities just so she can go to a store and pretend to have a husband or a family. That’s what really locked me into her. She’s not really stealing from people to be menacing. She’s just so lonely. From there, I felt I found the heart of the story and something that made her tick. Hopefully, other people will kind of see that too.