- RatedNC16 /GenreAction, Comedy
A rookie police officer and a key witness in the trial of a Mexican drug lord become desperate fugitives with targets on their backs as they take off together, dodging bullets, gangsters and dirty cops on a wild ride through Texas.
Sounds like an action-packed crime epic chock full of testosterone, right? Okay, now think outside that box... way outside that box.
Reese Witherspoon, who, even in heels, barely clears five feet, plays Officer Cooper, a by-the-book cop whose first big assignment is protecting the star witness in a mob trial. Colombian bombshell Sofia Vergara is Daniella, a glamorous mob widow with the goods on the vicious and relentless Vicente Cortez.
Pairing onscreen for the first time in director Anne Fletcher’s new action comedy ‘Hot Pursuit’, Witherspoon and Vergara put a fun and fierce new twist on the classic buddy movie: girl power.
Sofia Vergara (left) and Reese Witherspoon | Photo: Warner Bros
WITHERSPOON AND VERGARA ON SET
It is early summer on a desolate highway in Louisiana, where both high humidity and brutal heat are an accepted, though resented, fact. Flanked by movie equipment and crew, we watch Witherspoon and Vergara confer briefly with director Fletcher and master second unit director and stunt coordinator EJ Foerster before climbing aboard a large tour bus, which their two “armed and sort of dangerous” fugitives have commandeered as a getaway car.
Also out on the road is a black sedan driven by a pair of crooked cops in the back pocket of the drug lord who wants them stopped, permanently.
And if a getaway tour bus isn’t enough, might as well throw in a bus full of senior citizens, a stiletto heel that jams the gas pedal to the floor, and our heroines handcuffed together as they speed down the highway pursued and exchanging gunfire with the bad cops on their tail.
This crazy stunt is being performed with Vergara at the wheel and Witherspoon handcuff-close, but the bus itself is being driven by specialists on Foerster’s team, operating it remotely using a screen and controller like a real-life video game.
Once this component of the bus sequence is in the can, we speak with Witherspoon and Vergara, still in costume, and get a firsthand look at the chemistry, camaraderie and, yes, the inherently funny contrast in height between that proved a rich source of comedy for both women.
A GREAT FEMALE BUDDY MOVIE
Witherspoon tells us part of the fun of the movie is the banter between her buckled down cop and Vergara’s hot-blooded informant.
“This movie is about two women who could not be more opposite, from completely different universes, different cultures, different backgrounds, and they go on this crazy and dangerous journey to get from San Antonio to Dallas, Texas.”
Action, gunfights, and crazy bus rides notwithstanding, what shines through for Witherspoon is the friendship that develops between their polar opposite characters, punctuated by hysterically cutting banter.
“If you strip all of the comedy moments away, you still have to have this great friendship at the centre of this film,” she says. “Funny is great, but what ultimately makes a film memorable are the relationships between the characters.”
The actor and producer, who delivered on the recent film ‘Wild’, tells us she has long been a fan of Vergara’s “fantastic sense of comic timing and great relatability”, which lights up the big screen and the award-winning hit TV show ‘Modern Family’.
From the moment the two met, the potential for humour, especially sight gags and physical comedy, was evident. “It was clear to me the second she walked into the meeting that we would make a really good pair. We had a great rapport from the start. And Sofia’s so tall, beautiful and composed. Next to her I felt… well, short and sort of funny.”
Reese Witherspoon (left) and Sofia Vergara | Photo: Warner Bros
Vergara tells us that ‘Hot Pursuit’ was an easy project to say yes to, not only as an actress but as an executive producer, along with her producing partner Luis Balaguer.
“It was very important for me to be a part of the movie with Reese,” she said. “It was a script that I loved and I always wanted to work with her, plus the character was perfect for me. But it was also great for me to be an executive producer along with Reese as a producer, because that way I got to learn from her in many ways.”
Wearing both hats, Witherspoon said, “is really fun for me. And I think that when audiences see this movie, it’ll be clear why we wanted to make this film and why Sofia and I really chose these characters. When you’re making a choice that comes from your heart, people respond to that, and I think women especially will relate to these characters and laugh a lot, and really have a good time watching this film.”
“And men too,” Vergara added. “There’s so much action in this film, a lot of running around. What comedy actor doesn’t want to be in something like that?”
Though her character is dressed down for this scene, Vergara’s statuesque frame transforms Gabriella’s simple jeans and rodeo t-shirt into haute couture.
And while Witherspoon’s Officer Cooper starts this journey clad in her tucked-in police uniform, the fugitive life necessitates a costume change, so she has traded in her cop’s blues for a tight red dress and studded leather belt. Even in the sultry heat of a Louisiana Summer, both look every bit as fresh and dazzling as they do on the big screen.
Sofia Vergara (right) and Reese Witherspoon | Photo: Warner Bros
When we get a chance to speak with Papandrea, who produces the film with Witherspoon and Dana Fox, she tells us not to be fooled by the movie star wattage of the film’s two leads, for it is their physical comedy that steals the show on set.
Some of the funniest sequences they’ve shot so far leverage their contrasting frames for laughs. “We even have a girl-on-girl catfight,” Papandrea said.
The feminine might that informs and drives this comedy is woven into the project’s DNA. Papandrea and Witherspoon started their Pacific Standard production company with a simple mandate: to develop and produce movies with female characters.
On director Anne Fletcher, Papandrea said: “It is wonderful that Anne really knows how to direct women,” Papandrea said, “but it is also a huge plus that she understands what a commercial comedy looks like, and how to structure and modulate one that’s not only funny but connects with an audience. We knew it was going to be a really fun ride, and that she would be a great collaborator.”
Fletcher said: “Who doesn’t love Reese? In every role, she just delves into a character that’s so genuine and real that you can’t help but find the humour in it, because Reese has found the humour in it.”
Fletcher is equally wowed by Vergara, whom she calls a “dichotomy in herself because most people don’t think funny can be beautiful or vice versa" and who has "an unbelievably brilliant understanding of comedy on the finest of levels".
Once break-time is over, cast and crew head back to shoot the next complex piece of the elaborate chase and shootout sequence. Fletcher is suited up as she takes her place behind the monitors, and the women who are the driving force and beating heart of ‘Hot Pursuit’ stroll onto the highway like gunslingers in stilettos, ready to blaze a bold, new path into the next generation of buddy comedy.
'Hot Pursuit' opens 7 May 2015