Snatched's Amy Schumer talks mothers, getting old and our fear of funny women
In a recent episode of the sketch comedy Saturday Night Live, Melissa McCarthy delivered a near career-redefining performance as embattled White House press chief Sean Spicer.
In the days after, what surprised many was that the element most offensive to Spicer's boss, US President Donald Trump, was not the political satire itself, but the fact that his press chief was being played by a woman.
"It's ultimately about fear," says comedian Amy Schumer, tackling the thorny issue of why a woman, playing a man, would be so disturbing to one of the most powerful men in the world.
"Is it the fear of being emasculated? The fear of castration? The fear of being lectured by your mother? I don't know what it is. What I know is that it definitely doesn't slow us down."
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Schumer is sitting with Goldie Hawn, her co-star in the new film Snatched, in a suite at LA's fashionable Fairmont Miramar Hotel, where the afternoon sun, which dapples the room, seems to turn their blonde hair to gold.
Both are powerfully funny women, who have held vast audiences in the palm of their hands.
Hawn, 71, began her career in the late '60s with Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and went on to star in classic comedies such as Foul Play (1978), Private Benjamin (1980) and The First Wives Club (1996). Schumer was also born creatively on television, on Comedy Central, and kicked a big box office goal with Trainwreck (2015).
In Snatched, Hawn and Schumer play a mother and daughter who, while on a holiday to the Hawaiian islands, are accidentally kidnapped and must fight for their survival. It's equal parts comedy and caper.
The first thing that strikes you is how perfectly they're cast. Not because they're both blonde comedians, but because, in her youth, Hawn was like Schumer, a bold new voice in comedy who dazzled with her brilliance and achieved that rare thing: being simultaneously brassy and feminine in a world where the natural order was to have one cancel out the other.
Their cinematic partnership began when Schumer cold-pitched the film to Hawn, then a total stranger, after they had both disembarked from the same flight.
"I'd already read the script and Goldie just happened to be on my flight and I was like, this is a sign," Schumer recalls.
"I kind of ran up to her and was like, 'Hi, there's a movie, and I'm Amy', and duh-duh-duh. And she was just very sweet and dealt with me how you'd deal with any crazy person who came up to you in an airport. I would have been frightened of me but she was very sweet.
"But then we officially met in London at this awards show and I properly introduced myself and we talked about the movie and we both decided, let's do everything in our power to make this movie together."
Weirdly, the studio wasn't sold on the pair playing mother and daughter.
"In the beginning the studio didn't see the two of us together, which I thought was pretty amazing," Hawn says.
Actually, it almost beggars belief, given that the pair – arguably the funniest women of their respective generations – have in many respects lived the same life. "Right," says Schumer. "Exactly," adds Hawn.
Hawn's power, adds Schumer, is that "she will make you laugh, and then your heart is broken in the next second".
The mother-daughter relationship in Snatched was an easy source to tap for both Hawn and Schumer, who profess to having amazing relationships with their own mothers.
"I think it's the way your mum looks at you," says Schumer. "That gaze, where you see yourself reflected in her eyes, and there's just so much love. My mum just made me feel so funny and smart and special and beautiful, and it wasn't until years later that I found out she was lying.
"I'm joking, but it's kind of true. Her and my father were just like, 'you are amazing', and I was like, 'I am amazing', and by the time I realised that they were exaggerating, it was too late. My nervous system was already set up."
For both women, there has been tremendous empowerment through comedy; Schumer's stand-up career was, she says, like a science experiment: "It was like I've tested these jokes, I know where the laughs are," she says.
More powerful, Schumer adds, is the gentle and personal comedy of an individual like Hawn. In Snatched, for example, she says there are countless moments which pivot on something very subtle in Hawn's delivery.
"You can mostly any time look over at her, and if she's doing something, like looking at her phone or whatever, her glasses will be like this, or there will be like one crumb on her face," Schumer says. "There's just something.
"That kind of power, where just with your hands, you can do anything, and I think that's just a gift that maybe five people ever had."
And the funniest moments, Schumer says, are the most natural ones. "It's the organic stuff, what happens in the moment of the show when they can tell you're off-script, that's the stuff you want to see.
"That's what makes people laugh and I think when people see this movie, they'll see those moments and be like, that was just a real moment."
Snatched (R13) is now screening.
- Fairfax Media Australia