Identity Thief: Melissa McCarthy

In the comedy, audiences follow the trials and tribulations of Sandy Bigelow Patterson as he travels across the country in order to find and bring back the person who has stolen his financial life. “Sandy is your average guy who’s got a wife, two kids and has landed a great new job,” explains Bateman. “He’s always done the right thing and then he just arbitrarily gets his identity stolen by Diana, which puts his life in a tailspin. Craig did a great job of constructing the character in such a way that he found some comedy in Sandy being a victim. That made him a lot of fun to play.”

Mazin reflects on the process of creating Sandy and Diana: “There’s a saying that ‘good process leads to good movies.’ Maybe that’s not always true, but it certainly was in this case. Scott Stuber called me up, pitched me the logline and said, ‘It’s Bateman and McCarthy,’ and it blossomed very quickly. Jason and I actually worked out a lot of the story together—he was a great producer as well—and when Melissa came on, she and I really got into the humanity of Diana. Everyone understood that Jason and Melissa were going to be funny. The real work was making them real and relevant. Not everyone gets their identity stolen, but everyone has a moment in their life where they ask themselves, ‘Who am I? Who do I want to be?’ Jason and Melissa are entertaining as hell, but you also feel for them because there’s quite a bit of them in all of us.

“The key for me was making sure Sandy’s and Diana’s characters connected with the audience in a way that was deeper than just the events of the plot,” the writer continues. “The story centers on identity theft, but the movie is really about what it means to know and accept who you really are—even when that’s painful to do. Jason, Melissa and Seth brought that dynamic to life in the most incredible way. The movie is packed with huge laughs, but at its core, it’s very humane and touching. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.”

Finding the right name for the story’s hero was essential to the story’s plausibility. “We knew that character’s name had to be unisex so that Diana could walk into a store and say, ‘Hi, I’m Sandy Patterson,’” explains fellow Bluegrass Films producer Pamela Abdy. “As we developed the script, we felt it would be a funny running joke if a guy had one of those names that leaned more to the feminine side, so that most people’s reaction would be, ‘Isn’t that a girl’s name?’ We wanted it to be this constant struggle he’s been tormented with his entire life. Jason’s amazing at playing characters that are constantly getting beaten down, and Sandy is right in his wheelhouse.”

Now that the script was in solid shape, Bateman, Stuber and Abdy locked down McCarthy to play the character of Diana, an identity thief who treats herself to the finest things that her victims’ credit cards can buy her. For McCarthy, the opportunity to team up with Bateman was a welcome one. “Just having Jason Bateman call and say, ‘I’d like to talk to you about something,’ made me dork out a bit,” she laughs. “I met with him, and he pitched me this idea. I also liked that Diana was scrappy and gets physical with him. I can’t think of a comedy where you see a man and a woman physically fighting and it’s not slapsticky. In this film, it’s more like ‘I’m trying to kill him.’”

McCarthy was flattered that the team rewrote the part for her strengths and sensibilities. The actress offers: “What also made the project interesting was that we were starting from the ground up with the character and we could give Diana depth and layers. I thought if someone’s stealing, you never want to make that character completely evil because it would be one-dimensional and boring. I loved the thought of her being so on the outside of everything in her life that the reason she steals and gets into people’s credit histories is to be a voyeur. She sees what trips they go on or their family pictures or that someone has bought an engagement ring and is about to get married. It’s all the steps in life that she is not able to take, so it is less about her stealing and acquiring things as it is feeling like she is part of these people’s lives.”
Living off of Sandy Patterson’s credit dime has its perks, from luxury spa services to jet skis, and Diana rarely sees a store that she doesn’t like when she strolls through the mall. “I loved the thought of Diana being a hoarder of sorts but that she is also neat, clean and organized,” informs McCarthy. “Diana will buy five blenders because whoever was on the phone with her told a long story about having pool parties, as opposed to Diana actually wanting a blender. She doesn’t need the things she buys, she just wants to talk to somebody in the process of getting them.”

The producers were quite satisfied with their decision to switch the gender of the story’s antagonist. “Melissa elevated the character in the best way possible,” compliments Stuber. “She’s totally menacing and can do some horrible things, but she does it with such heart that you can’t help but root for her. Diana’s clearly out of control, but she does it in a way that you’re going to want her to win and want her to change.”

With Bateman and McCarthy on board, the producers reached out to Seth Gordon, who previously collaborated with Bateman on the hit comedy Horrible Bosses. For the director, it was an easy decision to make Identity Thief his next project. “We were doing press for Horrible Bosses in London, and Jason brought up the idea for the film,” recalls Gordon. “He gave me a brief description of what it would be and his idea to switch one of the roles from male to female, which was being tailored for Melissa. As soon as I heard the concept and that Melissa would be the criminal and that Jason would be chasing her down, I was sold. I knew it was the recipe for a very funny film.

“I love a movie where two characters are trapped together and forced onto a journey,” continues Gordon. “We wanted to put two very different people together who go on a chase and in the process learn unexpected

lessons from each other. Even though we don’t talk about it out loud in the movie, people can connect to that basic notion of feeling not good enough or not worthy of what they have. Melissa has the ability to bring that to life in such a compelling way and Jason is the best straight man of his generation, which is why he was born to play Sandy Patterson.”

“Seth is the first and only person I thought of to direct,” commends Bateman. “He’s got a great ease about him, and one of the most important things in making a comedy is having the set be a nice place to work. Seth is collaborative without being a doormat and he has vision and insights, which made him the perfect person. I’m new at this producer thing, but I have been told left and right that it doesn’t usually happen like this, so I feel lucky that we were able to get our first choices of Seth and Melissa.”