Actresses from 'The Heat' spend two days in Gainesville


Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 10:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 10:12 p.m.

Who are Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin?

Are they the comedy duo who write and direct the Showtime mockumentary "Ronna & Beverly?" Seasoned Upright Citizens Brigade improvisers? Actresses whose film credits include roles in "Weeds" and "Entourage" and whose contact list boasts friends like "Freaks and Geeks" creator Paul Feig?

Or raunchy loudmouths in the "The Heat," an upcoming summer comedy that they appear in alongside Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy?

Slouched over a second-floor booth at The Swamp restaurant on Thursday afternoon, Denbo and Chaffin let me decide.

"So," Denbo says, resting her chin in her hand and sliding her elbow across the table. "You want us to be us ..."

"...or them?" Chaffin finishes.

There's a light breeze filtering through the West University Avenue sports bar, and car horns and student chatter fill the air. Beside Chaffin is a sweaty glass of green mojito leaves.

"Them" is their characters from "The Heat": primped up, critical family members.

They've even dressed the part: Denbo wears neon blue eye shadow and speaks in a guttural, Boston accent. Chaffin wears a studded blue-jean jacket and a green undershirt that hangs off her shoulders. Her hair is twisted like curly fries.

As part of their promotion for "The Heat," the actresses spent the last two days in Gainesville, first at an early, special-premiere screening at Gators Dockside on Wednesday evening, then at a series of interviews on Thursday.

After more than a decade in show business, they're masters at playing roles -- and sometimes, it's difficult to tell who's who.

"Well, what's it going to be?" Denbo growls. "Us, or them?"

She stares with the intensity of a wild animal, and you can see the objective of her comedy: to burst your comfort zone, then draw you in with a warm smile after retreating from her initial gruffness.

Eventually, we agree to disagree. I say they can answer any question however they want. They say I can specify which responses I want characters for. We proceed, undecided but tilting freely on the keel of comedy.

For Denbo and Chaffin, the merry-go-round trip through the entertainment business began with watching "Saturday Night Live."

"It was the place to find sketch comedy," Chaffin said.

"And we grew up in the '80s and '90s," Denbo added, "so it was the model for comedians our age."

Although they launched their careers differently -- Denbo performed improv with a circuit of performers at renaissance fairs and Disney before landing with the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, and Chaffin never acted in a production until she journeyed out west and signed up for classes at the same UCB Theatre -- they both value the creativity that improv still inspires in their lives.

"I got an incredible amount of experience in places you don't think of as career moves," Denbo said, and she continually recalls it for any situation: scriptwriting, reacting properly as an actor, setting up a premise.

"I still use improv in 90 percent of my jobs today," she said.

Chaffin agreed and said that the spontaneous creations that rise out of improv are often the building blocks of great ideas.

"Improv can be the foundation for another career," she said. "We find, increasingly, that there are those other opportunities where you can use it."

"Now, the nice thing is, there are so many places you can end up," Chaffin continued. "The girl who wrote 'The Heat' is a younger UCB comrade of ours. Improv helps all of those things. At the end of the day, whether it's scriptwriting or acting, it really keeps you sharp."

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