When celebrities hang out with Bustle editors, we want to give them the chance to leave their mark. Literally. So we hand them a pen, a piece of paper, a few questions, and ask them to get creative. The rest is up to them. This time, The Spy Who Dumped Me director Susanna Fogel is leaving her mark in the Bustle Booth.
Starring Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis, The Spy Who Dumped Me is a female-led comedy seemingly in the likes of Mean Girls and Bridesmaids. Unlike those movies, though, The Spy Who Dumped Me stars two women who aren’t in competition with each other. And speaking to Bustle, director/co-writer Susanna Fogel explains why she felt it was so important for the film to highlight a strong, uncomplicated female friendship.
“My friendships are such a huge, important part of my life and they always have been," says Fogel, while visiting Bustle's office in late July. "[In] every movie about friendships, there’s so much conflict and it kind of feels like adult women are doing a version of like a teen rivalry movie... I liked showing these women being each other’s person.”
In fact, The Spy Who Dumped Me, out now, finds its main conflict in the behavior of Audrey's (Kunis) ex boyfriend Drew (the titular spy, played by Justin Theroux). Drew dumps Audrey and unintentionally recruits her and her best friend, Morgan (McKinnon), to complete a secret mission. Because of the plot's drama and excitement, Fogel felt there was plenty of reason for Morgan and Audrey’s friendship to remain so strong. “Had the movie not had so much external conflict, we would’ve needed to create that arc from within the friendship, because we would need some conflict," the director explains. "But because there was so much else going on, we could steer them away from that which was nice.”
Still, Audrey and Morgan’s friendship gets put to the test many times. But through it all the women stick together; in one scene, Morgan even lets out a “go girl” after Audrey miraculously escapes an attack by assassins. According to Fogel, that supportive energy permeated the set of the film, too, with Kunis and McKinnon fiercely encouraging each other while performing. “They started whispering to each other between takes and my editor hears all the sound files, so he caught this moment between them where [Kunis] was like ‘you’re doing such a great job, you’re doing really amazing stuff,’ and [McKinnon’s] like ‘you’re like a master class in acting,’" Fogel recalls. "They were just complimenting each other like the characters would do."
Female empowerment is something that Fogel clearly takes seriously, especially after years spent watching the subtle ways that Hollywood's gender bias so often belittles women.“It was just easier for my male friends to get opportunities. It just was easier for them to get opportunities to direct their work — like, I had male friends who had no interest in directing [get] offered that chance to direct their scripts, and all I wanted to do was direct," Fogel says. "I was writing script after script and never getting that chance and being told, like, ‘are you sure you’re ready?’”
Once Fogel got the opportunity to direct her own movies, though, she made sure to feature well-rounded, nuanced female characters — including McKinnon's Morgan, who has a few serious moments mixed in with the comedy. “[McKinnon’s] not a silly goofball when she’s just being herself, so I just felt like, ‘wouldn’t it be great if everyone could see that level of nuance?'” Fogel says.
Overall, Fogel focused not on the gender of her Spy Who Dumped Me characters, but on their well-roundedness as humans. "It’s such a fine line, because you want to tell these stories and show women as strong and confident and capable, but at the same time [you’re] trying to make a grounded or semi-grounded movie," Fogel explains. "There’s a pressure to make the women set an example for all women, and that’s a lot of pressure. Taking the gender out of it, if they have an 'all is lost' moment and every time they have an 'all is lost' moment they find a way to overcome it without help, it starts to enter this zone of, well who are these women? This is no longer relatable."
It's understandable, then, that Fogel found herself overlooking the potentially gendered implications of certain scenes for the sake of grounding the movie in reality —includng one where the two women attempt to hijack a car, only to realize that neither of them can drive manual. "There was an early review of the teaser trailer and some guy said, 'my 14 year-old daughter and I were watching this and this isn't feminist because of the stick thing,'" Fogel recalls. "That was conceived as just a dumb Americans in Europe joke. I drive a stick [shift] and my writing partner Dave doesn’t, so when we wrote it we were just like ‘this is funny,’ we didn’t even think about that."
The director understands how much responsibility she has while portraying women, but she doesn’t want that to compromise the quality or diversity of her characters. “We can’t only have incompetency or Wonder Woman, we need to be able to be human beings,” Fogel says. “Comedy involves people making themselves look like idiots.”
Morgan and Audrey certainly do that from time to time, but they also have some pretty impressive moments, too. The characters have what it takes to go down as an iconic buddy-comedy duo, and their adventures just may continue, Fogel reveals. “We’re all talking about [a sequel] — we had the best experience, and now we’re all friends and it’s just joy,” she says. The friendship and happiness felt both behind the scenes and in the film shine through in The Spy Who Dumped Me — and so does Fogel's own joy of filmmaking in her Bustle Booth below.