Paul Feig

The director of <em>Spy</em> tells his L.A. story

I moved to L.A. from Michigan when I was 17—or maybe 18—because I wanted to be an actor and comedian. It was 1981, and I got a job working as a tour guide at Universal Studios. I was in the shadow of the back lots where they’d occasionally film stuff, and I thought, “I’m in show business!” I quickly realized everybody who took the tour also thought they were in Hollywood. Women would get really dressed up, thinking they’re going to get “discovered” while taking the Universal tour. I thought Hollywood was so cool, but I came from this cautious, Midwestern, religious background. My dad was always telling me, “Watch out for those drug parties.”

One night I went to a party and saw cocaine for the first time. The party was in the Valley—I was invited by a fellow tour guide—and it was like everything you thought L.A. was. I remember a guy was wearing his shirt unbuttoned down to his navel and had gold chains on. He was snorting coke off of a mirror on top of the bar. He had this long pinkie fingernail. The minute I saw that I thought, “This is the dark side of Hollywood. I gotta get out of here! Someone’s going to hold me down and force me to take drugs!” As if anybody would waste cocaine like that.

I remember my first celebrity spotting. It was at Little Toni’s in North Hollywood. Jay Johnson—you know, the ventriloquist?—was across from me, but I didn’t say anything. My entire life, stretching up until today, I have an absolute fear of going up to famous people I admire. Like I’m going to get iced. Which funnily enough happened at one of the Oscar parties this year. Mick Jagger was at this CAA party. I can’t just go up and say hello to Mick Jagger, so I called my agent, and he called Mick’s agent, and my agent says, “Let me take you over there.” I said, “Please don’t do this.” Mick was deep in conversation, so I’m standing there, waiting to talk to him for a good ten minutes. I mean, he’s Mick, and he should be finishing whatever conversation he’s in. His chat finally ends, and the agent says something to—I don’t know—his manager or publicist, who says, “Hey, this is Paul Feig, and he directed Bridesmaids.” Mick very nicely did a “Hey, nice to meet ya” and then went back to what he was doing. I was standing there thinking, “I just registered to Mick Jagger like I’m somebody’s assistant.”

Even if I do get up the nerve to meet somebody famous, I screw it up pretty badly. I had a recurring role on It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, and George Wendt’s wife was a regular on the series. I’m a huge George Wendt fan, but I’d never met him. At the season finale party, somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and it was George Wendt. My brain went haywire. He says, “Hey, I just wanted to say…I think you’re really funny.” I was in such a panic, I didn’t know how to play it. I made a terrible decision to pretend I didn’t know who he was. I put my hand out and made this face that translated into “And you are…” And he says, “It’s George Wendt.” I spent the rest of the night falling apart over it, thinking, “Oh, my God, what did I do?”