In “A Simple Favor,” director Paul Feig weaves together a Hitchcockian murder mystery that’s as big on twists and turns as it is on high style, with Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as the most unlikely of friends. In the darkly droll thriller, Kendrick plays Stephanie, a cheery mommy-cum-vlogger who sets out to solve the disappearance of Lively’s Emily, an enigmatic working mother who’s always at the ready with a stiff martini. Here, Kendrick and Lively discuss wardrobes, butcher knives and a rare sighting of Feig in denim duds.
What was your process in terms of turning your characters on the written page into fleshed-out characters for the big screen?
Anna Kendrick: I genuinely asked [Paul Feig] so many damn questions every day to the point where I was like, Paul Feig must hate me, he’s never going to want to work with me again. It’s a really layered movie and my character, not only is she layered in terms of her path and her history and her personality, but just the tone of the film is so fluid. There were a lot of choices that I was unsure about. So I just pestered him minute by minute. I think if it were anybody but Paul we would have ended up fighting to the death. But not only is he so kind and optimistic and sweet, but he was really confident about this movie. When somebody just kind of looks you dead in the eye and says to you, “I know what this is going to be, this is my vision, I’m really confident about this,” you’re like, well, OK then. I still asked him a million questions but every time he had a solution for me when I had a problem. And I was like, OK, like very, “O, Captain! My Captain!”
Blake Lively: We were always trying to find that balance between grounding the film in emotionality and turning these characters up to 11 so they were incredibly heightened and fun and we could create more of a throwback sort of suspense film. One day, toward the end of the movie, I’m cutting a lemon twist — and at this point, you know my character is just a complete psychopath — and I’m wearing a pink petticoat and I remember saying to Paul, “I just love when Baby Jane Hudson is spinning around and twirling on the beach at the end of [‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’]. Can I do that? Would that be alright?” And he was like, “Yes, please.” And I was so excited that he said yes. And then I went over to cut the lemon twist right after that and I went up to him and I said, “Paul, I know I was just twirling, but do you think it’s too much if I cut the lemon twist with a butcher’s knife?” And he said, “It’s definitely too much. We have to do it.” And I love that, I love that he pushes actors to be so bold, that he encourages us to go too far. He creates such a safe space because you feel like nothing you do is over the top.
What do you think accounts for Feig’s ability to understand female psyche so well?
Kendrick: He’s really sensitive but it’s not like all women are sensitive, so it’s not like you can point to one aspect of his personality and go, oh, that’s why he gets the female experience. That would be so reductive of what the female experience is. I do think that as an artist he’s just really keyed into other people. He’s been very open about feeling like an outsider growing up and I think that might have informed his ability to see into other people’s worlds. Maybe a lot of us look more to our own gender and understand our own gender better but he’s such an empath that he seems to understand many, many experiences all over the gender spectrum.
What is one of your most memorable moments on set shooting “A Simple Favor?”
Lively: I was in my costume fitting one day and Paul came to see how it was going. And this was a complete accident, but I walk out of my costume fitting in like a true blue suit with subtle white pinstripes based about a half an inch apart, and a high-collared crisp white shirt with a yellow pocket square and, I can’t remember the color of the tie, maybe a light blue tie. And Mr. Paul Feig shows up to the costume fitting in a true blue suit, with white pinstripes and a yellow pocket square and a light blue tie. We were dressed exactly the same. It was just a really funny, surreal moment. And I just felt like, yes, we did it!
Kendrick: One of my favorite days was a day we were shooting in essentially a marsh. Everybody was in galoshes, I was in special Wellington boots just to get to my mark and then I switched into my costume. As for Paul, it was the only day I’ve ever seen him in denim. He was always wearing a suit. But like the lowest he was willing to go was a nice, polished black shoe and a crisp, dark denim short with a rolled cuff. I was like, oh my God this is casual wear for Paul. And he was still wearing a linen blazer. I felt like I was seeing behind the curtain, like Wizard of Oz style.