It’s been quite a roll for Melissa McCarthy. This former Gilmore Girls best friend took home the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for her role in Mike & Molly, but it was her deft and hilarious portrayal of Megan, the Dockers-wearing, secret operative, sexually aggressive sister of the groom in Bridesmaids that propelled her to a household name — plus numerous critics kudos and an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress. She spoke with AwardsLine contributor Cari Lynn about her breakthrough film role, written by Kristen Wiig (who also stars in Bridesmaids) and Annie Mumolo; about the friendships — and romance — that started at the LA-based sketch and improv comedy troupe the Groundlings; and about how she might react if she wins an Oscar.
AWARDSLINE: You got your start with The Groundlings, as did the co-writers and much of the cast of Bridesmaids. Were you at The Groundlings at the same time as Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo?
McCARTHY: Yes! They’re two of the greatest ladies I know, really, they’re remarkable. I want them to write 700 more things. I was in with Annie a little longer, and I only did one show with Kristen and then she went to SNL. I was also in [The Groundlings] with Wendi [McLendon-Covey] and Maya [Rudolph].
AWARDSLINE: You had so many scene-stealing lines in Bridesmaids. Do you know if that part was written with you in mind?
McCARTHY: It wasn’t, and they had seen quite a few people. Annie told me that they were about to get rid of the Megan character because it wasn’t working out. I came in and, luckily, they did not, because I loved it.
AWARDSLINE: Were you able to do a lot of improvising on Bridesmaids?
McCARTHY: It was the most collaborative, creative set and work experience I’ve ever had in my life. We did improvise a lot, and it was in the greatest way possible because they had already written such a great script that you didn’t have to veer far, but they gave you all the freedom you wanted. [Director] Paul Feig would yell, “Dealer’s choice,” which meant do whatever you want.
AWARDSLINE: Air Marshal Jon is played by your husband, Ben Falcone. Did shooting with your spouse make it easier or more difficult to play such an aggressive character?
McCARTHY: It was so easy. We met at Groundlings doing weird, extreme characters. It felt like we were doing a little Groundlings show. Bizarrely, it turned out to be this big movie.
AWARDSLINE: It’s a big year for The Groundlings alums, with lots of Oscar buzz for Nat Faxon and Jim Rash with The Descendants and Drake Doremus with Like Crazy.
McCARTHY: Jim and Nat and I, and my husband, we were all in together.
AWARDSLINE: What is it that Groundlings is doing right, especially when it comes to writing?
McCARTHY: They’re hard on you, if you pay the tuition it doesn’t mean you pass. You write so much and so much gets rejected and you just keep writing and writing. The more you do it, the better you get. For me, I love that there’s a real emphasis on characters. You can be big and broad and stretch to the furthest limits, but in some way you have to ground your characters. You can’t just play crazy. It makes you push yourself to stay in the realm of reality. And when you do that, it’s a lot funnier. That’s my favorite, when you think it’s a real strange person and not just someone being wacky.
AWARDSLINE: You’re a writer too, with a screenplay called Tammy. Tell us about it.
McCARTHY: Tammy is a feature I wrote with my husband, Ben. I write with him quite a bit. We were writing together at Groundlings before we started dating. It’s always been easy, we both have different strengths, and we work really well together. I know some people think it’s a terrible idea, but I love it.
AWARDSLINE: And you and your husband also sold a pilot to CBS about a woman going through a midlife crisis?
McCARTHY: Ben and I wrote the show for Warner Bros and then we went to CBS with it. We’ve been doing a lot of writing.
AWARDSLINE: You had an endearing Emmy speech where you said, “I’m from Plainfield, Illinois, and I’m standing here and it’s kind of amazing.” Tell me about Plainfield, I’ve read that you were captain of the cheerleading team and then became a Goth, and in a Catholic school no less. It almost sounds like training for a future career in acting.
McCARTHY: I guess I was kinda bored, and maybe it’s why I like character work so much now. I was full-fledged Goth, with capes and shaved patches around my head and Kabuki-white makeup and black lips and crazy earrings, and I looked super, super menacing, but I always blew it when I opened my mouth because I was still Midwestern and chatty and pleasant. Years ago, I did The Life Of David Gale and they wanted [my character] to be really Goth. I was like, give me a pair of scissors, I’ll do my own wardrobe and it’ll be great. And then I thought, if people [from my hometown] saw me in that movie, were they going to think, “Oh God, she’s still dressing like that?” How sad, 15 years later!
AWARDSLINE: A la the beauty pageant spoof at the Emmys, do you have any gags or jokes up your sleeve for the Oscars?
McCARTHY: My concentration will be on trying not to pass out.
(Melissa McCarthy-Ben Falcone photo: Getty Images)