Paul Feig: ‘The Path of Least Resistance Is Not the Most Interesting Path’

Dapper director Paul Feig on dressing for success, comedy inspirations, his passion for delivering feelgood entertainment, and pursuing the challenges that scare him.

Words by John Pearson
Portraits by Hamish Brown

Paul Feig is a man on a mission to entertain and make people feel good. It’s a simple objective borne out of a lifelong appreciation for the power of storytelling, the complexities of the human condition, and that universal tonic called laughter.

Always dressed to impress, Paul is also meticulous in the way he works on every aspect of his projects. Whether it be the script, the score, the casting for his films and TV shows, or his prized Artingstall’s Brilliant London Dry Gin — from its secret recipe to the beautifully-crafted bottle — Paul is a discerning chap, a man with an unapologetic penchant for detail.

Donning a multitude of creative hats, he is an actor, writer, producer, director, former stand-up comic, purveyor of gin, bon vivant, and cocktail aficionado — the latter of which he exercised on Instagram for all to see every evening during lockdown. Dressed to the nines, and accompanied by his vivacious wife Laurie, and their Scottish Terrier Buster, he showcased his mixing skills, his creative libations, delivering a dash of much needed relief, levity, and feelgood vibes to his followers, raising our, ahem, spirits enormously.

Hailing from Mount Clemens, Michigan, he was raised with good ol’ Midwest values and credits his parents for informing his humor on both extremes of the comedy spectrum. Speaking of his parents, his father, a gifted raconteur and long-form joke teller, and his mom, a telephone operator and fan of more slapstick humor, Paul explains, “I became this amalgamation of their two senses of humor, which I think if you look at my work, you see. I always say what I do is high and low. I can have something that sounds very smart, but then I’ll throw in a fart joke or something because to me, it’s just life. Life is high and low.”

Having incorporated a few of his dad’s racy jokes into a high school talent contest as a teenager, he was victorious, and hence began his journey in the entertainment business. He moved west to California, and began working as a tour guide at Universal Studios. In the early ‘90s, Paul began booking gigs as a jobbing actor, becoming a regular on five TV shows – all that were dropped by their networks – before portraying science teacher Mr Eugene Pool in the massive hit sitcom ‘Sabrina, the Teenage Witch’.

However, after watching Steven Spielberg’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ at a first showing on opening morning, and being inspired by the film and the collective reaction of the audience, the seed to want to direct was planted and he went to USC film school. In 1999, this ambition proved successful with his delivery of NBC’s cult hit ‘Freaks and Geeks’, based on his life growing up as a teen, set in the fictitious town of Chippewa, Michigan, and co-produced by his long-time pal Judd Apatow. His path suddenly looked rosy and he embarked on work as a director, writer and producer on various iconic TV shows including ‘The Office’, ‘Parks and Recreation’, ‘Mad Men’, and ‘30 Rock’.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


Substantial film projects followed, spanning the gamut of genres, including frequent creative collaborations with Melissa McCarthy in ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘The Heat’, ‘Spy’, and the reboot of ‘Ghostbusters’ — with these four films earning more than $1 billion at the box office combined. (Following the release of ‘Ghostbusters’ in 2016, he felt the full fury of misogynistic online trolls who took umbrage with the all-female cast. He stands by and loves ‘Ghostbusters’, especially given the joyous reaction of audiences full of kids, and has expressed his desire to perhaps do another one day.)

Having grown up as an only child, living next door to a family with eight kids, six of whom were girls, Paul likes his films to be driven by female leads, as seen more recently in his 2018 black comedy thriller ‘A Simple Favor’ led brilliantly by Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively and following that, his 2019 movie ‘Last Christmas’, which starred Emilia Clarke, proving her comedic chops having previously gained fame through her role as Daenerys in HBO’s epic saga ‘Game of Thrones’. A Simple Favor 2 is next on his slate. In 2018, Paul founded Powderkeg, a digital content company committed to elevating female and LGBTQ creators, and filmmakers of color, with his co-president of Feigco Entertainment, Laura Fischer.

This is a tremendously busy man, but grateful and keenly aware of the slings and arrows which a Hollywood career can entail. “I had times when it seemed like it was all over, and I just had the ambition and sheer will to make it happen, because I didn’t want to do anything else,” he says. “I never take it for granted, not for one second. You can’t half-ass it.”

This year has seen Feigco Entertainment develop and produce various comedies including HBO Max’s ‘Minx’ which covers the foibles of creating the first erotic magazine for women (with a generous serving of full-frontal male nudity) and Fox’s mockumentary ‘Welcome to Flatch’, inspired by BBC Studios’ BAFTA-winning BBC comedy ‘This Country’. Both shows have been picked up for second seasons.

We spoke to Paul at his office in the heart of London’s Soho, whilst he was deep in the edit for his latest movie ‘The School for Good and Evil’, starring Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington. Made for Netflix, it’s based on the 2013 fantasy fairytale hexalogy of books by author Soman Chainani (previously interviewed about the young adult novels at Mr Feelgood.)

It was a genuine delight to have this gentleman as the latest subject of our ‘Who the F*** Are You?’ profile, answering the 20 questions that get to the heart of who we are. Watch the filmed conversation below, and keep scrolling for the full print interview and portraits. Also check out the accompanying article here to learn more about Paul’s most notable projects.


Who the f*** are you?

I am Paul Feig, I’m a guy who grew up in Michigan, right outside of Detroit. I always wanted to be in showbiz, and I always wanted to be in comedy. At five years old, I was in front of an audience, my first time ever, and I got tons of laughs. They were laughing at me because I wore a ridiculous costume as an elf. But to me, I thought the world wanted me to make them laugh. And so it’s been my life goal ever since.

How are you feeling right now?

I feel great. We have a test screening coming up for my new movie (‘The School for Good and Evil’), which is always nerve-racking because you want the audience to love it, and you want to get a good score, because we do get scores for these things. But I’m very happy with the movie. We’ve been working on this movie for, all in, about two and a half years now. So it’s longer than I think I’ve been on any other movie, but it’s just that big. So I feel great, filled with angst but happy angst. We shot in Belfast, and then we did some additional photography in Los Angeles, Budapest, and London. So it’s a quad location movie.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I grew up in Mount Clemons, Michigan, which is 20 minutes outside of Detroit, a very blue collar auto-industry driven area. I really enjoyed growing up there. Good midwestern values. And it also formed my comedy quite a bit. Both my mom and dad loved comedy, but my dad loved very wordy jokes and my mom liked really silly physical comedy. So between the two of them, I learned the high and the low of comedy. My dad was the most amazing raconteur. He could just tell a joke, one of those long stories and keep you held. He could just draw you in.

He collected jokes. He used to love to go to nightclubs and he would write them down. He had this big catalog. In ninth grade, I was in the school talent show as a magician. So I showed him my act and he is like, ‘Oh, you need some jokes.’ So he gave me all these old nightclub ones that I did, and I ended up winning the talent show. The jokes were off color. I remember my first joke, and there was absolute silence for like two seconds, and then the place went crazy because they didn’t expect it!

What excites you?

Gosh, anything great. And that sounds weird, but anybody with great style, or a great place that has great food, or a place that cares about cocktails, or just cares about adult, grown-up life. That makes me happy. Or going to Savile Row and seeing great clothes, or just going in anywhere and seeing people who are dressed up and care. When I say dressed up, it sounds highfalutin. I don’t mean in tuxedos. I just mean places where people have a style, and sometimes a style can be wearing something that costs nothing. But just bringing that to the world. That makes me happy because the world can either look great, or it can look terrible.

It’s what I call, when I go on vacation, responsible tourism, which means we’re all in each other’s movie when we go on vacation. We go to Capri, it’s so beautiful. So I’ll bring a nice summer suit and dress nicely. But then I’m getting my picture taken, and there’s people dressed in shorts and t-shirts and looking terrible. And it’s like, ‘Well, now you’re a bad extra in my movie, but I’m a good extra in your movie!’ It’s not that you have to dress up on vacation, but I’d say don’t just dress so that you don’t get arrested!

My dad always wore a suit and tie to work and he owned an army surplus store. So he was in the warehouse moving boxes around. But it was always a sports jacket, tie, and slacks. I was like, ‘Oh, okay. That’s how you dress when you go to work, no matter what you’re doing, if you’re in charge, especially.’ Then I was a big Groucho Marx fanatic. I read a biography of his, and he said, ‘I never trusted a man who didn’t dress well.’ So of course, when your hero says that when you’re young, that goes in your head. Then I was a Steve Martin fan, who wore the white three-piece suit when he performed. And my mom loved old movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s with Cary Grant and so I just picked up on it, and wanted to look like that. That’s what I want to present to the world.

If I walk out the house and I feel like I’ve rolled out of bed, I can’t focus on anything, and it just feels bad. During the pandemic my rule is, get up and get dressed. Don’t spend the day in something you slept in because it keeps you unfocused. Also, my thing is you get one chance to make an impression on the world.

And a lot of older guys do this, ‘I don’t care what people think. They’ve got to get to know me.’ Yeah, I know. But don’t stack the deck against yourself.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


What scares you?

Not being able to work anymore. When these test screenings come up in my business, you hope they go well. I’ve been in this business long enough to have ups and downs. But when you hit the point when you stop making people money, or you start losing people’s money, then they roll up the carpet and put the job away. So I’m just constantly driven by, ‘Please don’t let me get drummed out of the business.’

What is your proudest achievement?

I think just making it in this business. Getting to do what I love. And again, it could all end tomorrow. Like in any business we’re in, you go through hard times, and if you persevere and get through it. I had times when it seemed like it was over and I just had the ambition and the sheer will to make it happen because I didn’t want to do anything else. And so I’m really just proud of the fact that I get to do this at the level that I get to do it. I never take it for granted, not for one second. You can’t half-ass it.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


What is the hardest thing that you’ve ever done?

Oh gosh. It’s funny. Honestly the hardest thing I’ve ever done is usually the next thing I’m doing, because I try not to repeat myself as much as I can. I’m always looking for a challenge, and I like to take on things that scare me. I like to go, ‘I don’t know if I can do that.’ And then go, ‘No, you can because you can figure this out and bring your perspective to it.’ That’s why I like going into genres that I have never done, like a cop movie, a buddy cop thing, a spy movie, and then the supernatural. So, I like to scare myself in that way. It makes everything challenging, but without a challenge, what fun is that? I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again, it’s boring. The path of least resistance is not the most interesting path.

Who was your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?

Oh, golly. I’ve had a few mentors.

It sounds trite, but both my parents in a way, because my dad really taught me the value of working hard, but also about comedy weirdly. But then I got the same thing from my mom. So I became this amalgamation of their two senses of humor, which I think if you look at my work, you see. I always say what I do is high and low. I can have something that sounds very smart, but then I’ll throw in a fart joke or something because to me it’s just life, life is high and low.

Honestly, it’s another reason why I like dressing in suits and ties. To me comedy is funnier out of people who are dressed well. I think that John Cleese doing the silly walks, that would not be funny if he was in sweatpants.

Then Judd Apatow, who is an old friend. We were stand-ups together. He taught me a lot about the business. And Greg Daniels, who did the American Office, taught me so much about how to just get opinions from everybody. We would cut an episode of ‘The Office’ and he’d be like, ‘Run out and get the parking lot attendant.’ They come in, ‘What do you think of this joke?’ And he just was completely democratic that way. We’re trying to entertain everybody in the world, so let’s get everybody’s opinion.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?

Golly, it’s so hard to say. I’ve got a lot of heroes, it’s almost hard to nail them down. The ones that pop into my brain, more recent ones… Tom Ford is a big hero of mine, just because I love the way that he faces the world. And when he did that first movie, ‘A Single Man’, I was like, ‘Okay Tom. You’re a director? Sure…’ And then I saw it, ‘Okay, it’s brilliant. So you can do anything.’ But I just like the way he presents to the world. I’m a big fan of other directors from the past. Blake Edwards is a big hero of mine. Howard Hawks is a huge hero, because he’s another guy who did all the genres and did each one of them amazingly well. Elvis Costello is a hero. Whoever does great stuff is my hero.

What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?

Oh, that’s a tough one! It changes constantly. My new favorite thing is I was in Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest where we had one of our shows premiering, and I went to Allens Boots and got my first pair of Lucchese cowboy boots. They’re the most famous ones, and I just broke them in and I love wearing them. I started wearing them with suits. I was like, ‘Can you wear cowboy boots with suits?’ And I think as long as I don’t look like I’m pretending I’m a sheriff or something. But I love all my bespoke suits, all my Anderson & Sheppard suits are my babies and I wear them to death.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


What music did you love aged 13, and do you still love it now?

I’m a big rock and roll guy. I’m from Detroit, so I liked really hardcore rock. Led Zeppelin, Ted Nugent, J. Geils. And Rush to a lesser extent, that was a little more prog rock than I cared for. But yeah, I just liked anything really hard, big guitars and all. The Ramones… Oh my God. I think I discovered the Ramones at 13 years old because my cousin had a French foreign exchange student who was into punk rock and he turned me onto it. And that just changed my life. The Sex Pistols. All that stuff. The other day I was walking and suddenly I was like, ‘I haven’t heard ZZ Top’s, Sharp Dressed Man in a while,’ and put it on. I was so happy. You connect with those songs from the past.

What is the most inspiring book you’ve ever read?

Wow. I mean, my favorite book of all time is ‘Catcher in the Rye’, which sounds really teenage and trite, but that book is almost like religion to me. The prose, everything in it. Any sensitive guy who was trying to not get killed in the world really relates to that book. Some in a bad way, but mostly it just means something to you. So I do love that book.

The book called ‘The Selfish Gene’ by Richard Dawkins changed my life as it changed how I was able to look at how the world works, because it’s the most common sense explanation of evolution. Now I can think about anything that exists and go, ‘Oh, I see how that came to be because the process of elimination.’ I feel like my brain is sometimes like a brick wall and ideas hit it and they don’t quite get through. So whenever heavy science ideas can get through to me, I go, ‘That author is so smart because they figured out a way to make a dummy like me understand it.’

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?

Another hard one! The one that I always say is my favorite movie of all time is ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, which is very corny, but I love it. To me, it checks every single box that a movie should do. And I didn’t even see it until I was in film school, when I was in my early 20s. It makes you laugh, makes you cry. It’s so emotional but it’s so uplifting, and you just walk out feeling great at the end of the day. That’s what I want every movie I do to achieve, no matter what the genre is, no matter how dark it can get in certain points, I always want my movies to be good natured. I don’t want to do these dark movies where the world is terrible and people are terrible. I don’t want that message to be out there. We all know that exists. So why not inspire people and entertain? I mean, that’s my number one goal in my career is to entertain people. So yeah. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is right at the top of the list.

What is your favorite word or saying?

I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but it’s something I say all the time, and I had a cousin who used to call me on it because I said it all the time, and it’s, ‘We’ll see.’ I just go, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll see.’ Because it’s my way to put off some decision and not to hurt somebody’s feelings. I’m like, ‘Yeah. We’ll see. We’ll see.’ So I don’t like that I say it all the time, but probably if you tallied up everything I say, that is probably what I say more than anything else in the world.

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

That he made people feel good. That he cared about entertaining people. He cared about letting people have fun. I won’t say not in a frivolous way, because I like doing really frivolous stuff too. But in a way that addresses the human condition, it makes you feel okay about who you are and where you are in the world or what stage you’re at. I try not to be judgmental. That’s one thing my father had, he was very judgmental. He was like, ‘Why? Why?’ I hate the word ‘why’. That’s one of the things I try to purge out of my vocabulary with the people that I hang out with. Which is ‘why’ in the sense of, ‘Why do they want to do that?’ ‘Why does he want to be on the stage?’ Because he wants to. I don’t want to judge that. If somebody’s goal is to work in a store, [people could say] ‘You should be more ambitious than that.’ If they’re happy and they want to do that, I’m so happy for them that they’re doing it.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


Finally a quickfire five favorites…

Car?

I’m not a big car guy, but Rolls-Royce used to let me borrow cars on the weekend because I put Rolls-Royce in ‘Spy’. So I would never own one, but it was my favorite car to drive, I’ll tell you that much.

Sports team?

Oh God, I’m a nerd, man! I mean, I’m from Detroit, I always loved the Detroit Tigers baseball team, but I’m not a big sports guy.

Meal?

Every meal I’ve just had! I love a big Italian meal. I just think Italian cooking is the greatest because it puts so much great onus on the ingredients and how you present them. So that, but also a tasting menu at Le Bernardin, or my two favorite restaurants in the US are the Polo Bar in New York and then an Italian restaurant called Il Tinello, which is 56th and 5th. A little old Italian place where they make everything table side. And they’re just so nice there. So I love that.

Grooming products?

Kiehls. I’m just a big Kiehls guy. They’ve got this oil free face cleanser that I use every day. I’ve got really weird skin and so anything else leaves a film, this just comes right off and it’s great. And then I love their shampoo. I love their shaving cream. So yeah, I’m a Kiehls guy.

Clothing label?

I mean, I won’t say bespoke since that’s technically not a label, but I guess off the rack, it would be Ralph Lauren. I love traditional old American style and I love old British style. I love old style.

Paul Feig // 📸 : Hamish Brown


Throughout, Paul wears checkered suit and shirt by Anderson & Sheppard; tie by Ted Baker; pocket handkerchief by Paul Smith; shoes by Crocket & Jones; watch by Rolex; ring, vintage Cartier; bracelets by David Yurman; pin by Butler & Wilson; watch fob, vintage; glasses by Prada; pinstripe suit jacket also by Anderson & Sheppard; cane, bespoke gift from Laura Fischer.

Special thanks to Anna Callan, and to Colin Heywood and all at Anderson & Sheppard for graciously allowing us to photograph Paul in their Clifford Street, London, store.


 

John is a world-renowned male model who has been the face of countless leading fashion houses. During his 36-year modeling career he has also moonlighted as an actor, writer, restauranteur, editor, and producer. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to provide a safe space for candid discussion and sharing ideas.

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