Kiss Me Assasin
Cast: Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Gillian Anderson, Justin Theroux , Sam Heughan
Director: Susanna Fogel
Genre: Action, Comedy
Running Time: 117 minutes
Synopsis: Audrey (Mila Kunis) and Morgan (Kate McKinnon), two thirty-year-old best friends in Los Angeles, are thrust unexpectedly into an international conspiracy when Audrey's ex-boyfriend shows up at their apartment with a team of deadly assassins on his trail. Surprising even themselves, the duo jump into action, on the run throughout Europe from assassins and a suspicious-but-charming British agent, as they hatch a plan to save the world.
The Spy Who Dumped Me
Release Date: August 9th, 2018
About The Production
"This is Bridesmaids meets Bond," says co-writer/director Susanna Fogel.
Fogel and her friend and fellow comedy writer David Iserson often found themselves sitting at the same café in Los Angeles, working on their own separate projects, occasionally trading ideas. This is how The Spy Who Dumped Me got its start.
"Two types of movies we like to see are movies that show people being funny, relatable and self-deprecating as they go through their very mundane problems, and then movies where you get the total transporting-yourself-to-another-world fulfillment," says Susanna Fogel. "We figured we could try to come up with something that excitingly jumbled the two and created something worth watching."
"The idea was about two people who do not belong in an action movie," adds David Iserson. "But they have to survive when they find themselves in this really, really aggressive testosterone-y Bourne Identity kind of world." The two writers used that world often, a boys-only playground, to spin a story about two very different women, Audrey [played by Mila Kunis] and Morgan [played by Kate McKinnon], who are the best of friends, and stronger than they know.
"Audrey is a person who thinks a lot, she's very clever and smart, but she's also her own worst enemy because she thinks enough to doubt herself, and if she doesn't think something's going to go well, she'll play it safe," explains Susanna Fogel. "Morgan is pure heart, emotion, impulsiveness, she's always putting herself out there, she's a born performer, she's been to every acting camp, singing camp, acrobatics camp, and she's that person."
It's the characters' differences that make them a great team. "They have complementary skill sets," says Susanna Fogel. "Morgan's always saying: 'We can do it, we got this' - she's really confident. Audrey's the one who's thinking five steps ahead. They end up having both the skills necessary to get them through by the skin of their teeth. It's Audrey's craftiness and Morgan's complete fearlessness that leads to a lot of the comedy and also makes them a good match as friends. They bring out the best in each other."
Susanna Fogel first sent the script to "Saturday Night Live" star Kate McKinnon. "I read all the scripts that were available in the known universe, and this one just jumped out at me as really fun, well-crafted, and really funny," says Kate McKinnon. "I loved the friendships so much. I loved that they weren't fighting with each other. It reminded me of my relationship with my very best friend of 22 years, and I thought… I haven't seen that recently. I want to do that." With Kate McKinnon on board to play Morgan, the script was sent to Mila Kunis for Audrey. "I have always wanted to do a badass girl action comedy," says Mila Kunis. "It was one of the funniest, most obnoxious, wonderful comedies that I had ever read and it was super badass. This could be two guys… it just so happens to be two kick-ass girls. Kate McKinnon was attached to it and I've been a fan of hers; she's super funny, incredibly talented, and way funnier than I am." Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment came on to shepherd the project, with Brian Grazer producing alongside Imagine's Erica Huggins.
"It's fun to see these two women that are lost in life, in the movie, get framed up in this box," says Brian Grazer. "They've inherited one of their boyfriend's problems, which is an entire complicated CIA-gone-rogue situation, and it now becomes their identity, and their problem to get out of."
With Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon onboard, the rest of the cast fell together quickly. "I thought the script was hilarious," says Justin Theroux, who signed on to play Audrey's ex-boyfriend Drew. "When I knew the talent that was involved in this femaledriven action comedy that dispatches with the guys, I wanted to be part of it." Theroux was also eager to try his hand at some Bourne-style action. "You know, neck cracking and ball kicking and snapping and shooting. That's always fun!"
The part of British agent Sebastian Henshaw went to "Outlander" star and self-proclaimed Bond fan Sam Heughan. "This is my first time playing a secret agent," the Scottish actor explains. "I've played him so many times in my head. I think every young actor has probably pretended or wanted to be Bond. This was a great opportunity to play part of that world."
"The Daily Show" star Hasan Minhaj signed on to play Sebastian's foil: American spy Topher Duffer. "Duffer is a smarmy jerk," says Hasan Minhaj. "I thought it would be fun to play this character who is a little insecure and wants to be really proud of the fact that he went to Harvard. He's a little jealous of Sebastian as well."
"When I first read it I couldn't keep from laughing," says Ukrainian actress Ivanna Sakhno, who was cast to play the role of cold-blooded assassin Nadedja. "I really enjoyed following Audrey's and Morgan's journey." Gillian Anderson, who was cast to play British spy boss Wendy, agrees. "You care about these two characters, and you care about the relationship. You care about their other relationships and their future, and who they interact with. And it's properly funny."
From the first day of filming in Budapest, director Susanna Fogel made a conscious decision to allow her talented cast some wiggle room for improvisation.
"You have (Susanna Fogel) who knows exactly what the tone of the material is supposed to be and is also extremely collaborative," says Theroux. "Kate and Mila are very funny improvisers, so it's a great sort of tennis match between all players."
"I was waiting for my cue, and the girls were riffing with Hasan's character, Duffer, and Susanna let it go on and on," says Gillian Anderson. "And I was laughing so hard there was snot pouring out of my nose! It's quite extraordinary to watch the process and to have good actors, good comedians lift something beyond where it already sits."
Heughan often went to great lengths to keep his buttoned-up British agent in character. "I think heroic is the word!" he says with a laugh. "Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis on set – that can always lead to the unknown. They are extremely funny." McKinnon flourished in this environment. "Sometimes some of the moments in a movie that feel the most authentic and the most improvised feel that way because they are the most authentic and the most improvised," she says. Such confident comedy, combined with pulse-pounding action and heartfelt friendship makes The Spy Who Dumped Me a film that will appeal to many audiences.
"Our movie will combine what draws people to see an action movie and what draws people to see a female friendship movie," says Susanna Fogel. "And the wish fulfillment of just leaving your comfort zone and going into a crazy vacation with your best friend."
Her two stars agree. "The story of The Spy Who Dumped Me is simple," says Kate McKinnon, "It's two 'totes BFFs' who get wrapped up in an international espionage adventure, and who doesn't want that? I know I do! You're going to be swept away on the adventure of a lifetime. And you're gonna be smiling, laughing your ass off, and then you might shed a tear at one point. But it will be a good tear."
"I hope you laugh a lot," says Mila Kunis. "And I hope you walk out feeling invigorated and ready to kick ass in life."
Women Kicking Ass - On Both Sides Of The Camera
The Spy Who Dumped Me was built as a genre-bender: two women at the center of an action-packed spy caper. When it came time to hire a director, it was easy to assume the job would go to someone with lots of spy-thriller experience. Writer Susanna Fogel pitched herself for the gig instead, and her intimacy with the material convinced the producers that the was the right person for the job.
"It is such a female story and such a personal story that has to do with being in your 30s and being a woman and having these issues that are very particular to my generation and me being at that age," Susanna Fogel explains. "It naturally started to feel like if we were going to find another director, it was going to be someone who was more removed from that narrative than me. It started to feel inevitable that I would do it."
Susanna Fogel had directed only one other movie (2014's Life Partners), but approached this one like a filmmaking veteran. "The challenge is really just having the confidence to throw yourself into it and to be as prepared as you can be," says Susanna Fogel. "Part of the job is gathering the team that can sort of create this organism of making a great thing together, and it's really the community-building, which is something that women are pretty good at doing, but we don't always know that that's what we can do."
Says Gillian Anderson of Susanna Fogel: "She's incredibly specific, she knows what she wants... and she knows how to talk to actors." What Susanna Fogel lacked in action experience, she made up for with her devotion to verisimilitude -- making every moment in the frame feel honest and authentic.
"It is because Susanna Fogel comes from an indie world that her characters are so grounded," says Kunis. "They just happen to be in these obnoxious situations. What she brings is honesty to a very crazy, kooky situation." "Susanna Fogel is a very gifted comedy writer but also really wants to keep everything real," seconds Kate McKinnon. "I learned a lot from her, listening to the way that she was guiding me and what she wanted me to do. It was really different for me."
As the story unspools, the two "average girls" start to build confidence, an important narrative arc that also felt natural to the actors. "This is how I would really act if I had become embroiled in an international espionage adventure," says McKinnon. "I would not be the best spy right out of the gate, but I'd get a hang of it after a week or so. I'm a big geography buff and I love foreign language, and so I would really get a charge out of that part of it…trying to disguise myself as a local of wherever I was."
"There are five guys on motorcycles chasing you, shooting at you, and you're somehow able to get away. You just have to go with it." adds Mila Kunis. "You fake it 'til you make it!"
The Spies That Bind
Central to The Spy Who Dumped Me is the deep and true friendship between the two main characters, Audrey and Morgan.
"I love movies about friendship," says director Susanna Fogel. "They are so criminally under-produced when it comes to women. We have all these movies about male friends, and we don't have as many movies about female friends. We have women in romantic comedies, but we don't really see women with their friends and how ridiculous and relatable those relationships can be, and yet for many women that is the most important relationship in their life. Everyone has a best friend, and everyone loves and hates their best friend at different times in their life."
"We made a very specific choice in this movie," says co-writer David Iserson, "that this wouldn't be like other friendship movies where at some point they fight and at some point they're separated. We wanted these characters to love each other throughout and always appreciate each other and enjoy each other's company." This dynamic resonated with the movie's two stars. "It would be like Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt had a baby with 'I Love Lucy'," explains Mila Kunis. "Kate McKinnon and I are like Ethel and Lucy. One of us is like 'you're going to get in trouble!' and the other one is saying 'I'll keep you out of trouble', it is that best friend duo. Kate reminds me so much of Lucille Ball. I'll be Ethel, and Kate is Lucille."
"It's so important for that friendship to feel genuine and lived in like it's been around for decades," adds Kate McKinnon.
"I'm still friends with all of my best girlfriends from late elementary school and the ease of that and comfort of that... is an invaluable part of life."
Like many best friends, Audrey and Morgan have shared goals, but very different personalities. "Audrey is very gun-shy, and doesn't lie well, is nervous in life, is self-conscious at all times, and plays life very safe," says Kunis.
"Morgan is her counterpart who is a struggling actress, who views life as one giant audition, and is constantly doing voices and characters, takes risks and chances, and goes balls out. The two of them kind of collide and go on this adventure together."
The relationship between the two characters led to a bond between the actors even when the camera wasn't rolling. Producer Brian Grazer noticed it from the beginning. "It was maybe the best table read I've ever heard," he says. "It was quite surprising because Mila Kunis, every time Kate McKinnon scored a laugh, which was every time she spoke, Mila was rooting for her. And that was a very unusual thing…that chemistry that was going on between two actors where they were constantly rooting for the other to score, and to win."
Gillian Anderson saw the chemistry too. "I was really struck by how much Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis seem like they've actually known each other for a long time," she says. "And the way that they interact on and off camera, they're so clearly comfortable with each other."
"Mila Kunis's a California girl, Kate's from New York. Kate McKinnon is sort of outlandish, Mila Kunis's a little bit more like sort of an every girl in her sensibilities, and basically it's like Audrey and Morgan," explains Susanna Fogel. "They have that chemistry of two really different people who have a lot of common ground, but have very different sort of frequencies within which they operate." "Thank god we like each other," says Mila Kunis of her co-star. "We say this every day. We are in the weirdest of situations, like it's 110 degrees or it's freezing, we're tired and we're always in these weird circumstances, and we're like 'thank god we like each other' because you never know, that's the truth. And she's so funny and so brilliant."
""I learned so much from Mila Kunis," says Kate McKinnon. "Just watching her as she tried to deepen and ground this relationship, and I just tried my best to follow suit. She is really gifted and has so much heart and would just laugh at me. She was so gracious with her laughter, and it just felt like we were the best of old friends. She was so supportive and genuinely kind, and she really made me laugh and…it's a match made in heaven!"
One of the hallmarks of many action-comedies is the half-hearted stunt sequence, only used to propel the audience to the next funny set up. For The Spy Who Dumped Me, director Susanna Fogel was determined to escape that cliché. "It's important for me that the action be just as fearless as the action in a male driven movie, and that we don't hold back, we don't try to like soften it," she says.
With this in mind, she hired legendary stunt coordinator and second-unit director Gary Powell, whose extensive resumé includes both the Bond and Bourne franchises.
"When you're watching a comedy you maybe think, 'oh it's going to be a little bit softer, a little bit lighter,' but Gary Powell is actually very hard-charging," says Theroux. "That is his style. There are a couple of shots, the car chase with the motorcycle that takes one of the hardest hits I've ever seen on film!"
Powell embraced the challenges of this movie, "You have so many different characters in one film," he says. "Generally, if it's an action film, you're expecting a certain thing; with Sam, who plays Sebastian, we know he's an action guy, he's the agent, but then Morgan and Audrey are two normal people. When I was designing the action and the stunts, I had to bear in mind that these people are everyday people who suddenly can't turn into martial arts experts and rally drivers."
Gary's choreography of a pivotal car chase is a case in point. "When, Morgan or Audrey takes over the driving, I have to bear in mind that in their world neither is an expert driver. As the chase starts we establish very quickly that there's three bad guys on motorbikes chasing from behind and they get rid of the three guys but it's actually through accidents that they get rid of the guys. They are getting it wrong as they try to get away, but then in getting it wrong they're actually succeeding."
Powell also tailored the action scenes to reflect Audrey and Morgan's growing skillset. "His challenge here is to make it look like it's two non-professionals trying to do their best," says Susanna Fogel. "Then we have this other level, which is as the girls get better at what they're doing, their expertise will increase, and start to mimic more the trained spy action that we have."
Whether it was a café shootout, a gymnasium torture scene, or a highoctane trapeze act, the cast embraced Gary's passion for creating mayhem.
"Gary made me [get on the trapeze]. There I was, eighteen feet off the ground," says Kate McKinnon. "That's a long way! It's freaky up there, but really fun."
"His father, I believe, did all the Indiana Jones films which were a staple of my upbringing," she adds. "So he was telling me stories about that and I was just really crapping myself because it is amazing to hear about what it was like on those sets. Gary is a true character and a great man who I have learned a lot from. And his passion for jumping out of planes, swinging through the air and punching people is unparalleled."
"My whole thing is 'what would Bond do'?" says Mila Kunis. "That's all I keep saying: 'what would Bond do in this case'? Gary's favorite line, I don't know how you're going to use this, but like 'f**k him up!' It's not like my character's got to be super bad ass, like her version of kicking ass is like the real human version. Gary's always like 'just f**k him up!' And you're like 'um, okay.' Gary's pretty awesome."
"Gary's very intense," laughs Hasan Minhaj. "He is a character. He is a hard stunt coordinator that wants to really make every fight scene look badass and awesome, but then he also has a necklace with the thumb prints of his daughters on him. So he really is his own version of the movie Taken." "I read a few scripts and this was the one that stood out to me," says Powell. "The rest of them were pretty much sort of 'been there, seen it and done it' sort of thing. I think it's something when it comes out it's going to surprise a few people. And I like doing that."
"Who doesn't want to go on a road trip through Europe with Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon?" asks Sam Heughan. In the vein of many globe-hopping spy thrillers, The Spy Who Dumped Me sends its characters on an international odyssey to nine cities: Vilnius (Lithuania), Los Angeles, Vienna, Prague, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Tokyo, and Moscow. The production was largely shot on location in Budapest, Hungary, and also filmed in Vienna, Amsterdam, and Berlin. Filming in real European locations lent the film the authenticity that director Susanna Fogel wanted. "We want to feel like there are different stops along the way that touch on a different thing about Europe that people will find interesting, exotic, funny, different," she says.
The variety of locations and required sets kept Production Designer Marc Homes busy. "We are in this futuristic Tokyo bar, and then we were in a Soviet-style kind of gymnastics training camp, we did hostels in Amsterdam - a lot of interesting sets for me," says Homes. "Every week there were three or four completely different things to do, which is nice, it's a challenge and keeps you moving fast."
Authenticity was also the guiding principle Homes used to visually ground the sets in reality. "My pitch with Susanna Fogel was that I said, 'I don't really want to play this so it looks overtly like a comedy,'" says Homes. "I don't want to do leopard skin wallpaper on the inside of an airplane or something like that. I want to play it very straight and very naturalistic, and that was her take on it completely."
Budapest was chosen as the main filming location because of its large film crew base, proximity to other cities, and varied architecture. "It's on the Danube and it's a part of gateway Europe," says Homes. "Within a small area there's an enormous amount of variation and interest for shooting. You can get Paris, Berlin and Vienna. There are a different variety of architectures in the city and there are modern looks as well. The whole city has been restored over the last ten to fifteen years, so parts of it are unbelievably beautiful and ornate now, as good as you would get in any major city in Europe."
For the film's stars, Budapest has become a second home. "If I begin to talk about [Budapest], I will cry my mascara off," says Kate McKinnon. "I live in New York. I love New York more than anything. I didn't think that love could be tested or rivaled by anything and it has nearly been superseded!"
"I love Budapest," agree Mila Kunis. "It's strikingly beautiful and so culturally rich, and the people are wonderful and warm." For the director, Budapest and the other locations are a critical part of this multi-faceted film. "It's part road trip, part bestfriend movie, part travel log, part spy movie, as the characters discover their inner bad-ass with their best friend," she says.
The Spy Who Dumped Me
Release Date: August 9th, 2018