Inside The Amazing Wardrobe Of Hollywood Director Mr Paul Feig
MR PORTER discovers the filmmaker’s penchant for old-school suiting
It’s 90ºF in the shade in Los Angeles and Mr Paul Feig is in full fig: light grey three-piece suit from Anderson & Sheppard, Turnbull & Asser shirt, George Cleverley shoes, purple tie from Charvet and a little lilac Lanvin flower in his lapel – not that you’d ever see him sweat. The director of Bridesmaids, Spy and Ghostbusters, to name just a few, seems to have mind control over the mercury. Or at least his response to its rise. “My feeling is that you can make yourself as hot or as cool as you want to be,” he says. “In the old days, everybody wore wool all the time, even when it was like 100 degrees out – wool suits with ties and top hats – and they were probably dying of heat, but just went, ‘Well I guess I’ll be fine.’ I think people fall back on the idea of, ‘It’s too hot, I can’t dress up.’ I call BS. Just go, ‘OK, I’m just going to take it easy. But I know I look good.’ Maybe looking good can get you past the heat.”
Looking good, of course, is a passion of Mr Feig’s – but only one of the many with which he positively effervesces, overflows, and about which he is wildly ebullient, borderline evangelical. In fact, his new movie, A Simple Favor, out this month, is, among other things, a fervent love letter to one of those passions: the Dukes martini, named for Mr Feig’s beloved bar in Dukes hotel, London, where they make it. (As Ms Blake Lively demonstrates in the film, and Mr Feig does in this one, the Dukes spin is simply frozen gin poured into a frozen glass, which has beforehand been rinsed with vermouth – vermouth which is then tossed onto the carpet... and voilà! A firestarter of a beverage and super-flammable footing.)
About this drink, and the romance behind it, Mr Feig waxes poetic: “I like to look at the martini as sort of the three-piece suit of the drink world,” he says, rhapsodising. “First of all look at the glass. I mean it’s the most elegant glass design in all of drink-dom. Just look at it… to me it says class.” Drinking, he adds, “is all sort of about pageantry”.
“I think when I was a kid I wanted to be an adult,” he says. “When I was about six or seven my parents took me to Las Vegas because they were going to see a fight – George Foreman [or] Muhammad Ali. And this was back when Vegas was really classy, guys in tuxedos and women in gowns, drinking and gambling and laughing and having so much fun. And I vowed with God as my witness, ‘I will, I will live an adult life as soon as I’m old enough to do that.’ I think a lot of guys are trying to stay young or reclaim their youth. I’m like, ‘F- my youth. I will do this’. And to me, the martini represents all of that.”
Perhaps the capacity for reverie, for deeply entrenched tastes and dogmatically held opinions about them isn’t surprising for a filmmaker, for a director, whose entire job load consists of making snap decisions between almost indecipherably similar takes, between shades of paint on a set, between this actor and that one. But if casting is the utmost application of taste, and, as many directors would allow, the main enchilada of directing, Mr Feig, who introduced the world to Messrs James Franco, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen with the NBC show Freaks And Geeks he created with Mr Judd Apatow, is something of a marvel. “But before that I was just like a nerdy dude who lived in Michigan,” he says.
After growing up in Detroit, Mr Feig moved to Los Angeles, where he studied at USC, did stand up, and worked quite a bit as an actor. After the strange success of Freaks And Geeks (by which we mean it was cancelled after one season, but became a massive cult hit almost immediately), Mr Feig did a bunch of television (directing episodes of The Office and Arrested Development, among others), and then really took off as a director after the success of Bridesmaids in 2011. That same year, a producer he’d worked with bought him, as a thank you, his first bespoke Anderson & Sheppard suit – and, for Mr Feig, it was like he’d finally found himself.
“I got into suits very early in my life,” he says. “I was an only child so I was like Little Lord Fauntleroy. And I would see these old movies with my mom, movies from the 1930s and 1940s. And I just loved seeing Cary Grant and Fred Astaire in these beautiful double-breasted suits and three-piece suits. And I remember my mom taking me to the fancy mall when I was about nine and I got my first three-piece suit – a Pierre Cardin in beautiful windowpane. We walked home and my father was completely upset because he’s like, ‘Why would you possibly buy an expensive suit? He’s only nine years old [he’ll] grow out of it in six months.’ And I did grow out of it in six months. But, oh, what a six months they were. I walked around in this three-piece suit all the time, went to the grocery store in it and all the housewives would laugh at me because I guess I looked like a ventriloquist dummy, but I thought I looked great.”
We’re taking a little tour of the lovely Tudor cottage home Mr Feig and his wife, Laurie, share with their dog Buster in Burbank, making our way to the closet where we are to film Mr Feig’s wardrobe. Or, rather, an attic room which he has converted to a closet to hold the bounty of suits, shoes, hats and ephemera he likes to get himself up in. “I say dress up and don’t be afraid of it here in my closet,” he says. “This room was my office and then I kicked my work out because I like to write in coffee shops and I don’t want to sit up in this room — but I like to get dressed in this room. These used to be bookshelves, used to be all kinds of smart books in here. Now it’s filled with shoes! I think I made the right choice. Anyway, I’ve gone too far but style should be fun. Look at my clothes. I’m an idiot.” He chuckles, sounding a bit like Mr Rogen in his self-deprecation.
The film crew have tidied up a bit in advance of our filming, but Mr Feig doesn’t want it to look all fussy, doesn’t want it to be intimidating. Half the joy in getting dressed is the sprezz-y savoir-faire of “a little of this, a little of that”, as if he were an Italian chef just riffing over a recipe. This room, one gets the sense, is his play room. And getting dressed – indeed, being dressed – for Mr Feig is just the most fun.
Suiting, in particular, is his sweet spot, and we go back down into the well, wondering aloud what it is about the cut of a suit, about the symbolism of a suit, that makes the wearing of them such joy. “As a matter of fact, I’m sort of the weirdo in Hollywood because I wear a suit while I’m working,” he says. “But I love the pictures of old Hollywood and you’d see Alfred Hitchcock on the set and Howard Hawks and early Stanley Kubrick and they were wearing suit and tie.”
So, there is the romance, the association a suit brings with it. And of course, there is the formality they confer, the authority, which, if you are “the captain of a production”, as he describes his job, matters. But he also loves the room for subversion and misdirection a suit provides a funny man. “If you’re a Monty Python fan you know the Ministry of Silly Walks that John Cleese did where he was doing the crazy walks,” he says. “That was really funny, because he was dressed in a perfectly tailored British outfit like a banker. Here’s the thing, when you walk down the street, and you see people, you’d be lying if you said you don’t have an image of a person by the way you see them dressed. So, why not present who you would like them to think you are, and then once they meet you, you get to be funny or goofy with them and they’re like, ‘oh that’s kind of cool.’”
Ultimately, though, he says, it’s a lot simpler than that. Almost Buddhist, even. “Look,” he says, “Say you live to be 80 years old. Average, right? That’s about 30,000 days. It’s not very long. And then if you subtract the time when you’re a kid and then when you get really old, that’s not a lot of time in the middle there. So why would you waste any one of those days not dressing up trying to present yourself nicely? That doesn’t mean you have to be wearing a tuxedo all the time. You don’t have to wear a three-piece suit and tie like I do. But just show some style. Also, I look terrible in jeans.”
A Simple Favor is out 14 September (US); 20 September (UK)
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