An interview with 'Bad Teacher' star Lucy Punch
'Bad Teacher' star Lucy Punch talks about getting vomited on by Cameron Diaz in ‘Bad Teacher,’ the inspiration for her outrageous character, shooting a love scene with Justin Timberlake and her new role in the comic book-turned-TV pilot, ‘Powers.'
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We had the chance to speak with costar Lucy Punch at the Los Angeles press event for the film. Subjects ranged from “playing crazy,” to working in Hollywood vs. her native London, and being repeatedly thrown-up on by Cameron Diaz.
The tremendously gifted Lucy Punch (who you might know from such films as Hot Fuzz and Dinner for Schmucks) costars in Bad Teacher as the painfully perky and perfectionistic Jr. high school teacher, Amy Squirrel. The fanatically by-the-book and fascistic-girl-scout-type Squirrel acts as the film’s unlikely antagonist against Cameron Diaz’s hilariously and unapologetically inappropriate very bad teacher, Elizabeth Halsey.
Lucy Punch is the sort of person who you immediately feel is game for a laugh (I become quite British when talking about UK actors). The phrase “down to Earth,” is often applied to people we like, though it is not always the most accurate descriptor. For me, “down to Earth” denotes a person who has a fairly valid vision of their place in the larger scheme of the world and a good sense of humor about it. Lucy Punch has that quality.
Punch and I sat down together in her cozy (read: plush) hotel room and began our chat with following exchange:
Screen Rant: Hi, I’m Roth, as in David Lee, Phillip or the IRA… we could also go Eli or Tim. I’m from Screen Rant. Screen, as in, “oh, look at this wonderfully hilarious film on the movie Screen” and Rant, as in, “Grrr, they’ve just broken canon six times in this film, I feel I must RANT!”
Lucy Punch: "Lovely. Have you tried one of these?" (Points to a variety of high octane caffeinated beverages available to us.)
SR: Nooooo, but they look absolutely terrifying. I’m positive I’d be climbing these walls for days like a leftover from The Exorcist if I did.
To which Lucy Punch gave the following (quite perfect) response:
“Yeah. I think I need one.”
SR: I’m actually off to your homeland in about an hour.
“Oh really!?! Why are you going to London?”
SR: Top secret…(she stares at me)…really I can’t tell you…alright you’ve made me, it’s for the Queen.
“It’s Cameron’s other movie isn’t it…it is I bet.”
SR: No it’s actually…
At this point I realize that Ms. Punch is not only a tremendously gifted comedic (and dramatic) actress, but she is also quite good at my job. I feel as though I must tell her everything — immediately — but forcibly restrain myself and make attempts to get us back on track.
“There’s more work here.”
We always appreciate pragmatism.
SR: Well that’s good.
“Yes! There’s more stuff going on, and I usually have to hide my British accent when I’m working over here.”
SR: Is there a personality difference between the two towns do you find?
“You know it certainly wasn’t the case on this movie because Cameron (Diaz) and Justin (Timberlake) and Jason (Segel) are the most wonderful, funny, grounded people – but sometimes when you’re working with stars, you really know you’re working with stars, do you know what I mean? And I don’t think that really exists in the UK because actors are a bit more grounded in general. I mean there’s plenty of very grounded and wonderful actors here, but movie stars don’t exist in the UK like they do here, so they don’t do the sort of giant trailers and the craft services, which are sort of fantastic — you’re lucky if you get a cup of tea and a morbid biscuit.”
Punch plays the grating goody-two-shoes/hilariously cracked know-it-all to a comedic “T” in Bad Teacher. She is initially reminiscent of Reese Witherspoon’s character, Tracy Flick, in Election. The portrayal is so detailed and nuanced that walking out of the theater after seeing the film, the following question was on the top of my mind: Who does Lucy Punch know that is just like her character Amy Squirrel?
SR: We’re you basing your character on anyone?
“I was thinking of someone, and I’ve told a few journalists and they’ve been like (makes shocked face) and I’ve thought, ‘Well maybe I shouldn’t say this.’”
SR: No, you definitely should.
“Well, when I read it I thought, ‘This person reminds me of someone…’And I was sort of channeling what I could imagine as the teacher/cousin of Sarah Palin. And I think they sort of share a lot of qualities.”
SR: In terms of…
“I’m not saying that Sarah Palin is unhinged or completely bonkers — but you know, she’s certainly incredibly perky and energetic and sort of this type A seeming character. There was just something about the sort of tween way of speaking, you know, ‘Holy guacamole!’ and shut the front door!’ and all those sort of expressions.”
SR: I feel like with a character like this you just love to hate her. The same way that we love to love Cameron’s character even though it seems kind of paradoxical. You’re in theory (at least at first) “the good guy” and she is “the baddy” but as much as you make us laugh — we just can’t stand you.
SR: And I think it’s because of the level of the sincerity that they each do, or do not, bring. I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about. It’s fake, all of the smiling…
SR: And the ‘shut the front door’ – it’s all put on and fake. So how do you work with that as an actor?
“Well definitely it was kind of important that…You know seemingly she does mean well. You know she has got a good heart, it’s just that she just gets it totally wrong. And Cameron is pretty awful, and is awful to her, so it was important that she was also really irritating and annoyed everyone, and that she was sort of universally disliked in the school and you just felt like she was this total pain in the neck. So that you were sort of rooting for Cameron to bring about her demise.”
There is repeated mention in the film of an “incident” in 2008 in which Lucy Punch’s character, Amy Squirrel (seemingly), went off the deep end and created all manner of chaos that no one wants repeated. The specifics of the ordeal are never revealed in the film, however, leaving the audience to fill in the (in my mind) debaucherous blanks.