In theory, a new “Ghostbusters” movie sounded like a surefire success. A generation after Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson defended New York from paranormal terrors and a supersize marshmallow man in Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy blockbuster (followed by a 1989 sequel), and after years of failed attempts at follow-ups and restarts, it seemed time for a new group of actors to handle the proton packs and the Ectomobile. And who better to take on this challenge than Kristen Wiig of “Bridesmaids,” and her Academy Award-nominated co-star, Melissa McCarthy, teamed up with Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon of “Saturday Night Live”? Then add the director Paul Feig, who has worked with Ms. McCarthy (on “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat” and “Spy”) and fought for greater female representation in Hollywood?
But not everyone is excitedly anticipating this new “Ghostbusters,” which Sony Pictures will release on July 15. Almost from the moment that its leading women were announced in January 2015, it has been the subject of intense criticism from a subset of prospective moviegoers who, though they have not seen the film, say that it should not have been remade and that its female principal cast is a concession to political correctness. Online, YouTube users have given its trailers more than one million negative votes while clamoring in comments that women simply cannot be Ghostbusters. Even before he declared his presidential candidacy, Donald J. Trump posted an internet video in which he intoned: “Now they’re making ‘Ghostbusters’ with only women. What’s going on?”
While some of the “Ghostbusters” stars have pushed back, on social media, against sexist detractors and cries of “You’re ruining my childhood!,” others have refrained from weighing in. But this month, Ms. McCarthy, Ms. Wiig, Ms. Jones, Ms. McKinnon and Mr. Feig gathered here at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel to talk about the production and the timely if vehement argument they unexpectedly initiated. As a group, the actresses and their director were at times a goofy, giggling quintet, cracking wise and riffing on one another’s jokes. But they are also passionate advocates of their work and of one another, and keenly aware of what the debate around “Ghostbusters” really says about people’s feelings about gender, onscreen and off.
These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
For the cast members, was the original “Ghostbusters” an important film to you?
MELISSA McCARTHY Growing up, it was. I loved everybody in it, and to see them come together in this strange, funny, heroic way. I love unlikely-hero stories — people that can’t necessarily do something, then struggle and achieve it.
LESLIE JONES Bill Murray was just so funny to me — there wasn’t anything spooking him. Even when stuff happened, he would crack a joke. And I was like, “Oh, that’s how I would be.”
KATE McKINNON I was born the year it came out. Not certain about the date. [laughter]
Paul, how did the idea of your making a new “Ghostbusters” movie come up?
PAUL FEIG Ivan [Reitman] had a sequel script he was excited about and asked if I wanted to do it. The idea was the other Ghostbusters were going to hand off the technology to a new group. Then Amy Pascal [the former Sony studio chief] called me to lunch, and she was like, “Why don’t any of you comedy filmmakers want to do this?” Because it’s this sacred movie, and it’s scary to take on those guys. But she [said], “There’s this great franchise sitting there.” That stuck with me. Funny people in peril, fighting the paranormal with technology is such a good idea. So I [thought], how would I do it? Oh, all the funny women that I work with and am dying to work with, that makes me excited for this. Should they be their daughters? [No, because] they’re being handed something. Oh, if I could reboot it!
How did you arrive at the cast you have?
FEIG [The fellow screenwriter Katie Dippold] and I didn’t want to write the first draft with anyone in mind, because we wanted to figure out how to get that dynamic right. Why was the original successful? Obviously the idea is great, but it was because of the chemistry of those four guys and the people around them. I [thought], I’ve got to get the funniest people who have different comedic energies but are still united in a similar sense of humor.
Did you hold auditions?
FEIG I didn’t audition anybody. I met with you guys separately, for drinks.
McCARTHY You didn’t take me to drinks!
FEIG But I hadn’t had all four of them together. As it was getting closer, I don’t know, maybe the chemistry might not work. So when we did our first camera test, we had each one come out in different costumes and filmed them. You all got in front of the camera. I was just like: “Turn to the right. Turn to the left.” And they suddenly started dancing, doing “A Chorus Line.” I was just like, [gasps]. This is going to work.
Was there a point at which you noticed that because of the film’s premise and because the leads were female, some subset of your audience was not happy?
McCARTHY You mean the crazy people?
JONES You mean the people that don’t know that it’s a movie?
KRISTEN WIIG I feel like when we were shooting, it wasn’t really much. Maybe a few things here and there?
FEIG Well, you’re good, because you and Kate aren’t on social media. Leslie and I get in the muck. We’re brawlers down in the digital mud.
McCARTHY When we were shooting, Paul would bring in pictures of young girls dressing up, and they had made their own proton packs and jumpsuits, and I thought, that’s really cool. I was more aware of that stuff.
JONES To me, the people who are crying about, “This is ruining my childhood,” this movie is not for them anyway.
WIIG They need to probably go to therapy.
McCARTHY I think their childhood was pretty much ruined already. If this broke it, it was pretty fragile to begin with. It is good to remember, it is a tiny, tiny fraction that screams. Normal, healthy people don’t stand outside, saying, “You’re ruining my childhood!” There’s one nut on every corner in every city that does it. But so what? The other 300,000 people in a town aren’t doing that.
Why are some people approaching these big-budget fantasy movies — like the new “Star Wars” or your film — as battlegrounds for social ideas?
FEIG I think it’s the death throes of the old guard. It makes a smaller minority scream louder, because they’re losing their grip on the cliff. I understand, if somebody was remaking “The Godfather,” I would be like, “Wait a minute.” But when everybody’s like, “It’s a cash grab”? Everything ever made in Hollywood since the beginning of time is a cash grab. That’s why the original “Ghostbusters” existed. It wasn’t an altruistic thing. Studios make movies to make money, and filmmakers try to make something that will entertain an audience while trying to make money for the studio.
JONES They redid “Roots,” and everyone was saying, ‘Oh, it shouldn’t have been done.’ I was like, it definitely should have been done. Because it needs to be refurbished for the new generation, so they can understand it. When we did this reboot, I thought “Ghostbusters” fans would be so excited: “They’ve got the new technology — the ghosts are going to look real now.” These kids are not going to get the jokes that Bill and Dan told. There has to be a new story.
Are there people who just don’t like the idea of a movie where the principal cast is female?
McKINNON It’s a relatively new concept. And I think it started in earnest with “Bridesmaids” and has been growing since then. I remember when “Baby Mama” came out, I was like: [horrified] “No one will see this! Why would they do this?” I remember even having a little bit of that reaction myself. It’s this ingrained sexism that’s just, “That’s not going to work because we haven’t seen that before.” And now we’re seeing more and more of it, and it just is going to become commonplace. It’s not quite commonplace yet.
JONES I’m surprised, because women have been killing it for years. It’s the same thing, when you go to a comedy club. [announcer’s voice] “Are you guys ready for a woman?” Are you ready for a unicorn? Why is being a woman so surprising? There are two sexes. A man and a woman. So, if it’s not a man in a movie, what else was it going to be?
McCARTHY There’s a weird replacement phenomenon, a fear that if you put two women in, two men come out. I don’t know why that viscerally affects certain people. It’s not how I ever think. If I see four men, I’m not like, “Well, those are four jobs women didn’t get.” Great for them. There’s room for everybody.
We want to believe everybody is rooting for equality, but are there people who still aren’t comfortable with it?
WIIG Oh, yeah, look at Donald Trump. He’s real popular. Unfortunately.
He criticized the film even before he declared his candidacy.
WIIG I didn’t even know that.
JONES That’s just talking loud, saying nothing.
McCARTHY I hope hate stops being popular. It’s tiring and completely ineffectual.
FEIG Remember, gay marriage was such a big bugaboo until it wasn’t. It’s always the new generation that’s going to come along and just go, “We don’t care.”
Will Hollywood look at this movie as a litmus test of ——
WIIG [emphatically] How many litmus tests do we need? [laughter] I’ve been hearing this for five years. Sorry, I’m finished.
FEIG But I will tell you, yes, it is being looked at that way. It’s not fair, that in 2016 we should be in this situation where this is standard. That’s where Hollywood should go, “Wow, we are so behind the times.” There’s so much gender diversity and parity, in other fields. Here it just hasn’t happened and that’s ridiculous.
Does a movie have the ability to change people’s minds for the better?
FEIG I just want it to be the new normal, where it doesn’t matter anymore. The whole “chick-flick” idea is an excuse for guys not to have to see something. It’s what I consider to be a derogatory title. I try with my movies to go: Look how funny these people are. Guys were taken to see “Bridesmaids,” which looked like the ultimate chick flick to them, and they all came out like, Oh my God, that’s so funny.
Is there a male movie franchise that you’d like to see remade with a female cast, or a male character you’d want to play yourself?
JONES [looking to Kate] You know what I’m going to say. “Stir Crazy”! Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor. Me and Kate. We watched it together, and she literally had the biggest smile on her face, the whole movie.
WIIG [to Kate] Do “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” [laughter]
FEIG “India Jones.” It writes itself.
WIIG Me? Maybe the old man from “Up.” [laughter]
McCARTHY “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” is my favorite movie. The John Candy role, he was so goofy and then so heartbreaking. I thought he was perfect in that. I wouldn’t touch it, but when I think about a part to play, I think, oh my God, to have that and do such lovely, delicate work.
Melissa, do you approach an ensemble like this as if you’re the team captain?
McCARTHY No, no, no. I think Paul’s the team captain. I just come in and ——
McKINNON [fake crying] I thought I was team captain.
McCARTHY You’re co-captain! It’s like keeping a ball in the air. You’re more worried about keeping it going and getting it to someone else as opposed to grabbing it. It’s a really huge trust thing. It’s almost impossible, as a performer, to be like, “I’m not going to worry about anything I’m doing.” To have Paul worry about that stuff, and then all we have to do is concentrate on it and be in it, makes it so joyful.
Do you feel like you’re all part of one another’s lives as a result of making this movie?
WIIG You can’t go through an experience like that and not be in each other’s lives forever.
JONES We fought a war together, I feel like. These are my sisters. Every time we work now, you’ll hear Paul go: “Ladies! Ladies. Ladies. Put that down. Hey, O.K. Melissa, get down from there.”
McCARTHY “Melissa, put Kate down!” I carry Kate around, on my hip, like a tiny baby koala. It’s so lovingly disrespectful.