Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy have risen from supporting acts to leading stars. Shereen Low tries to keep a straight face
YOU’D expect nothing less than a few laughs when meeting Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.
After all, the pair are two of America’s funniest talents. Bateman is the headliner of cult TV series Arrested Development, while McCarthy was the surprising stand-out star of 2011 comedy Bridesmaids.
In person, the leads of big-screen comedy Identity Thief share a comfortable rapport, often finishing each other’s sentences and answering for one another.
Bateman, who also produced the film, plays Sandy Bigelow Patterson, a family man whose identity is stolen by conwoman Diana (McCarthy).
“Sandy is your average guy who’s got a wife, two kids and has landed a great new job. He’s always done the right thing and then he just arbitrarily gets his identity stolen by Diana, which puts his life in a tailspin,” explains the 44-year-old actor.
Enraged, Sandy goes on the hunt for the person who has pinched his life but realises he may have bitten off more than he can chew when he meets Diana.
“What made the project interesting was that we could give Diana depth and layers. You never want to make that character completely evil because it would be one-dimensional and boring,” says McCarthy.
The fraudster role was initially written for a man, but Bateman decided to switch the gender, explaining: “I saw Bridesmaids and asked the writer to switch it to a woman because I was dying to work with Melissa.”
The appreciation is definitely mutual, as the 42-year-old actress says: “Just having Jason Bateman call and say, ‘I’d like to talk to you about something’ made me dork out a bit.”
Bateman says it was a relief they got on so well. “It would have been tough and not such a fun shoot if we hated each other.”
The pair also got the chance to do some improvisation during filming, working off a script by Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part II).
McCarthy explains: “It was a nice, loose set so if we wanted to throw something in the mix, we could. It was fun to change up part of a joke, just to try and catch the other one off guard. I ruined so many takes because Jason just kills me, and it was so fun to say the most insane things.”
As well as playing off each other, both stars got to tackle each other physically, with Diana throwing a very mean throat punch.
“I’ve been trying to get a throat punch in a film forever, and I asked, ‘What if I hit someone in the throat?”’ says McCarthy. “For the first time, everyone said they love it.”
But the fight scenes were quite a challenge, she admits. “It was actually really nerve-racking. That was the worst part of all the physical stuff we did, because you have to get so close, and you have to line it up.
“There were a lot of takes, moving it slightly and getting it just right for the cameras. I probably hit Jason in the throat 732 times.”
The pair also did most of the stunts themselves. “I’m a physical actress, but I’ve never taken it to this level where you’re shooting a fight scene for five days,” says McCarthy.
“I’ve also done some stunt driving and taken what seems like 900 falls. We did a bunch of the hand-to-hand fighting. When you’re up close and fighting someone, it’s really hard to fake that.”
Life has definitely changed for both actors. Five years ago they were barely on British cinemagoers’ radar. Bateman was known for his supporting roles in films such as Juno and Hancock and the hit TV show Arrested Development, while McCarthy, who first gained recognition in the States in sitcom The Gilmore Girls, was best known for her TV work in comedy Samantha Who?
Now Bateman has been thrust into the spotlight after starring roles in The Switch opposite Jennifer Aniston, Horrible Bosses and The Change-Up, while Bridesmaids turned McCarthy’s life around, winning her several awards for best supporting actress as well as Oscar, Bafta and Screen Actors Guild nominations.
Neither are planning to take a rest anytime soon. Bateman, who has two daughters with wife Amanda Anka, is set to reprise his role in the Horrible Bosses sequel, while McCarthy will next be seen opposite Sandra Bullock in comedy The Heat, as well as starring in TV series Mike & Molly.
Bateman says: “It doesn’t feel like I’m pushing myself, it just feels like working. I’ll do great work as much as it’s given to me. I’m more ambitious than I’ve ever been.”
Identity Thief is released in cinemas tomorrow