Lucy Punch has been doing bits and small roles for a couple years, showing up in Hot Fuzz and in Dinner for Schmucks. But like any talented performer, her roles have grown bigger, and her role as Amy Squirrel in Bad Teacher is one of her biggest yet. She plays Cameron Diaz’s adversary, one of the few to notice that Diaz’s character is a terrible teacher. We got a chance to sit down with Miss Punch and talk about this and her career. Check it out…
We started with Miss Punch offering to load me up with booze and as we sat down, our feet started mingling, to which I joked we were playing footsies. Punch smiled and made fun of me a little as we started on a jovial tone.
Lucy Punch: (laughs) I haven’t started drinking yet!
This is the most erotic interview I’ve done since talking to Dom Deluise. For a while now, you’ve been a comedy assassin. You’ve come in to do a couple of scenes and kill.
LP: I totally agree. (laughs). No, I’ve been very lucky in the comedy roles I’ve played have been with incredible people, but it’s nice of you to say so.
Here, your role is expanded. If this weren’t a black comedy your character would be the protagonist. Is that how you looked at it? If Cameron’s playing the anti-hero, you’re the pro-villain.
LP: Yes. I think the thing that our director Jake (Kasdan) encouraged was to be as irritating and annoying as I could be, because she’s essentially a sweet person, she means well, she’s a committed teacher, and Cameron (Diaz) does some awful things. Thanks to Cameron – who I think is the only person who could have gotten away with playing a part like that – somehow managed to make it charming at the same time. But you’re rooting for her to crush Amy Squirrel because she’s so irritating.
What were you thinking about when you were developing the character?
LP: Sarah Palin.
LP: I thought if Sarah Palin had a cousin who was a primary school teacher, I thought there would be some similarities. Not to say that Sarah Palin is irritating or annoying or unhinged.
LP: I’m not saying that, you can say whatever you like. But I’m saying she’s certainly very perky and chipper, and a very specific twee – you do say twee in America – sort of way of talking.
Was that what you came in with when you auditioned?
LP: Just when I read it, I thought “this sounds familiar.” I don’t think they had her in mind while they were writing it.
Were you thinking about it as someone from England as “what sort of American would be a good role model?”
LP: No, she just sprang to mind.
With this role, what was the biggest challenge? It seems like you’ve been doing American accents for a while now.
LP: Trying not to laugh during takes, for sure. Also it was a much a bigger part than I had played before, so I had more days and more to do. It was a great challenge, but it was such an incredible cast of people, so you felt like you had to keep up. It was not a case of everyone trying to top each other, but everyone was bringing their best.
Was there anyone it was good/hard to work with because they were so funny?
LP: John Michael Higgins, who plays the principle, and who I am the biggest fan of – he’s the loveliest guy, and I loved the scenes I got to do with him. I wanted to do a good job because he’s so fabulous, and it was hard to keep straight face.
How would you compare working with Jake Kasdan with working with someone like Woody Allen?
LP: Woody’s pretty hands off, and Jake is hands on – he’s got lots of ideas and talks to the actors, while Woody doesn’t like to do that. There are great things in both of them. What I loved about working with Woody Allen is that I was given total freedom to play that part how I wanted to, and I improvised that part a lot. And he was like “change the lines, say whatever you want to say. Do it how you want to do it.” And that was a real thrill. And it also a little unnerving: “Am I just winging it?” It feels more collaborative with Jake. Very different, but amazing in both ways.
That’s interesting because I talked with Tom Hiddleston about Woody Allen – because he was in Midnight in Paris – and he said “you don’t change the dialog at all.”
LP: Really? I changed everything, I think because the part I was playing – I do love to improvise, I’m not good at coming up with jokes, but I am good with coming up with funny lines for a character to say instead of a gag. And the part I was playing was really specific to an area in London and a certain type of person. So there would be a turn of phrase or an expression that Woody – being in his seventies and being from New York – wouldn’t be familiar with. I remember going up to him and saying “can I do this?” and he’d say “Just do it, just do it!” I’m going off on another movie…
I love comedy, and I love Woody Allen, so thank you for that. When it comes to London, if I mention Peter Serafinowicz, you can directly connect him to Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, which you can then connect to pretty much everyone in British comedy. You were in Hot Fuzz, it seems they all have one degree of separation.
You come to America, and you do Dinner with Schmucks, and it seems like the American pond is equally as small and connected.
LP: Yes, that’s completely true! It’s rather nice, you’ve got all these connections, and if you haven’t worked with someone, you know someone who has, and it’s nice.
Was there a big transition going from the U.K. to America?
LP: Sure. When I first came over I was doing a TV show, and no one knew who I was, but you start slowly and you get some more jobs, and you work, and you get to know everyone.
What can you tell me about A Good Old Fashioned Orgy?
LP: I shot that about three years ago, and it had some production problems, but it’s great and hilarious and it feels like a throwback to those great 80’s comedies. I’m happy that I play the only character who doesn’t take part in the orgy. I play another straight, boring character (laughs).
Do you have some favorite 80’s comedies? Do you have an idol?
LP: Gene Wilder. The ultimate for me. I adore him.
More Blazing Saddles, or Willy Wonka?
LP: All of them. I love him in that little bit in his Woody Allen film Everything You Ever Wanted to Know Abut Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) where he’s in love with a sheep!
And with that I was ushered out. We did not drink. Bad Teacher opens Friday June 24. Check it out.