'Spy' Premiere: McCarthy, Feig and Byrne on Real-Life and Fictional Espionage Inspirations

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Paul Feig and Jude Law at the 'Spy' New York premiere

At the film's New York premiere, Rose Byrne revealed that she based her rare turn as a villain on "personal" models, while Jude Law insisted he didn't spend any time with real CIA agents, joking, "If I did I wouldn't be able to tell you anyway ... I'd have to kill you."

This weekend's action-comedy Spy has more than its share of jokes, sight gags and other funny moments that had the audience at Monday night's New York premiere screening laughing throughout the film. But it also has a fairly intricate espionage plot, with secret agents, double agents, fake identities and suspenseful action sequences.

On the red carpet before Monday night's screening, writer-director Paul Feig explained that he tried to make a legitimate spy film, albeit a comedic take on one.

"I really liked the Bond movies and the Bourne movies," he said. "With Casino Royale, I thought the tone was so good in that, I see that and I go, 'How can I make that funny? How can I make a Bourne movie funny?' That was the challenge, but that was also why I don't consider this to be a spoof or a parody. I tried to write a real, not a super-complicated, spy movie, but [one with] enough twists and turns where it's true to the genre."

In keeping with traditional spy fare, Feig's film features the familiar scene when the agent, in this case Melissa McCarthy's Susan Cooper, gets outfitted with her cool gadgets.

Feig said he initially wasn't going to include that, but his frequent screenwriting collaborator Katie Dippold insisted he put one in.

McCarthy told THR that she's also a fan of the spy genre and enjoyed being able to do a female take on some of her favorites.

"I love that kind of ticking clock. I like to watch a movie that really makes me nervous," McCarthy said. "I've seen all of the Bourne movies; I've seen almost every Bond movie ever made. I just thought it was really interesting to finally have a female character doing it and keep the action at the same level, keep the spy story tight and dangerous."

But when it came time to craft her character, McCarthy didn't turn to fiction for inspiration, she went with the real thing.

"I talked to someone all throughout filming, and she had been an agent in the field that was actually doing the exact kind of things that I did. She would receive a disguise; she would go undercover," McCarthy told THR. "So I asked her on a daily basis, 'Do you buy this? Am I doing it right?' "

Jude Law — who plays Susan Cooper's partner, Bradley Fine — said he didn't talk to any CIA agents to perfect his portrayal, but he joked to THR, "If I did I wouldn't be able to tell you anyway ... I'd have to kill you."

He added, "I figured with this one it was probably safe to go with what was written, go with what was created by Paul and the world that Paul had created."

But he did decide to make his character a fan of a famous spy.

"I made a decision early on that I thought Bradley Fine should sort of be this real deal, hard-ass, high-end, CIA spy, who loved James Bond," Law told THR. "So there's a part of him that thinks — he's the real deal — but he kind of wishes he were 007. That was the sort of twist."

Jason Statham, who plays another on-screen secret agent, has a rare comedic turn in the film, playing a humorously over-the-top action hero, something he said he "loved" being able to do.

"It was like taking the shackles off," he said. "A lot of the characters I play are very internal: You don't get a chance to express or do something that's a little bit outrageous. So for this, it's like letting a dog off the leash."

Also stretching onscreen is Rose Byrne, who plays the villainous Rayna Boyanov, an unusual role for her but one she told THR was "a lot of fun" and "quite an interesting space to inhabit."

But she declined to reveal who exactly inspired her "aristocratic sociopath," saying only, "There was definitely some inspiration, some personal ones, but I can't reveal it, for fear I will lose certain friendships."

Byrne's boyfriend Bobby Cannavale also had an unexpected model for his character, Sergio De Luca, but he put his own spin on what Feig wanted.

"Physically, Paul had some really good ideas. He kept sending me pictures. Most of them were of Tom Ford," Cannavale said. "And [Feig] was like, 'This is what I want him to look like, you just decide how you want him to be.' And I just thought, 'It's a comedy ... What would I do if I could be an international arms dealer?' I already knew that the given circumstances were that the guy really cared about how he looked and he was sort of vain and wasn't used to doing things himself ... so he's put into these circumstances in which he has to do all these things."

Other guests spotted at the AMC Lincoln Square screening and Plaza afterparty included Byrne's X-Men: Apocalypse co-star Oscar Isaac, Feig and McCarthy's upcoming Ghostbusters cohort Kate McKinnon, Susan Sarandon, Ann Curry, Amy Pascal, Chernin Entertainment executive vp Jenno Topping, Fox Filmed Entertainment head Jim Gianopulos and CAA's Richard Lovett and Bryan Lourd.

Topping said that movies with diverse female characters were important to Chernin Entertainment, which produced Spy as well as Feig and McCarthy's last collaboration, The Heat.

"It's a huge priority for us, not only because it's a huge priority but also because it seems like there's a wave that's cresting right now of the popularity of female-driven material. So we really want to capitalize on the moment and provide great roles for so many talented actors that are out there," Topping told THR. "We want to really show all the different kinds of women that exist: funny women, dumb women, mean women, smart women. All the [different types] you see in real life who you might not see on screen. And Melissa is someone who's so gifted, she can play so many different kinds of characters, so we hope to work with her for a very long time."

An excited Gianopulos told THR he was expecting big things from Spy this weekend.

"I think it's going be huge and I think it's going to play through the roof," he said. "I think people are going to love it. I don't know if they really are prepared for what they're going to see because it's a great comedy but it's also, you know, it's a takeoff on the spy genre and its hysterical. Everybody expects Melissa to be fabulous; I don't know if they're really ready for Jude Law and Jason Statham to be who they are in this film."

The Fox boss also said he hoped to continue collaborating with Feig for years to come.

"Paul and I are very close, and the relationship with the studio is very close. He's going to go off and do Ghostbusters, but we really hope we have a long-term relationship with him and hopefully he'll come back and do more of these and lots of great films for us," Gianopulos said.