Melissa McCarthy Brings Laughs and Love to Santa Barbara
Melissa McCarthy and moderator Anne Thompson (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)
By Lauren Bray
Actress Melissa McCarthy arrived at the sold-out Arlington Theater to receive the Montecito Award on Sunday evening for her Oscar-nominated role in "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
The excited crowd gave her a standing ovation when she took the stage before sitting down with Anne Thompson from IndieWire. Starting at the beginning of her career, McCarthy explained growing up on a farm in a small Illinois town. She began making theatrical costumes stating she could be anyone in costume and enjoyed dressing up as a self-proclaimed "punk."
After moving to Colorado and New York, she settled in Los Angeles and found a home at the Groundlings for improv comedy. She credited comedic actress and fellow Groundlings alum Jennifer Coolidge for calling a casting agent which ultimately got her a role in the film "Go," her first-ever acting job. After showing clips of McCarthy's early work in "Go," "Charlie's Angels," and "The Nines," she asked, "What happened to my voice? My voice was so high. It's like I’ve been smoking Paul Malls all these years."
While being a waitress and a nanny to make money, she gave herself until age 30 to actually make money or find another career. Two weeks before her 30th birthday, she booked the role of Sookie in "Gilmore Girls."
Alex Borstein was originally selected for the role but she was contractually obligated to MadTV at the time, so it went to McCarthy who is still in awe that her first job lasted for seven years. “I really loved doing that show. It was such a great group of people. I felt really lucky to be a part of something like that.” In speaking about the show's creator, McCarthy said, she loved the world Amy Sherman-Palladino built.
Her breakout film role was undoubtedly Megan in "Bridesmaids." She described her joy of working on the film as a "fever dream." Although initially, she thought she blew it in her audition with co-star Kristen Wiig, director Paul Feig, and producer Judd Apatow. McCarthy and her longtime friend Wigg went into some deep improvisation as their characters which at one point involved discussing sexual "fin-play" with dolphins. She thought that she went too weird and failed the audition, but in fact received the role.
On the infamous food poisoning scene that shows explosive diarrhea and vomit at a bridal store, McCarthy described not being a fan of bathroom humor. “None of us wanted it to be the gross out scene but we all started talking about how embarrassing it would be while you are trying to maintain your dignity and everyone’s body is disintegrating in front of you. It became about us bonding in the weirdest possible way,” she said.
For her role in "Hangover III" McCarthy had the crowd laughing after a scene was shown where she was rude to Bradley Cooper's character and the woman who played her mother, yet bonded with Zack Galifianakis' character. “I thought I wonder if anyone has ever just shunned [Bradley Cooper] like this. I thought, this is probably good for him,” she said. "It wasn’t written as being that cruel to the woman that was playing my mother. Once the gloves are off and everyone is ready to go for it, if you go too far your director will protect you and not use it but every now and then you go hard and it works.”
When creating a character McCarthy stated that she starts with the wig and works her way down. When asked what characters she doesn't like to play, McCarthy explained any type of bummer female role where the men are fun and interesting, but the women were not. “You have to really fight for good material. I kept saying why is every part such a bummer. Can I just have a point of view? Can I be more than bland? I don’t know how to play pleasant... clearly,” she said to crowd laughter.
McCarthy describes being drawn to qualities in people and tends to fixate on them. Once she has an image of them, she feels compelled to tell their story. “I like the person that you see walking through the grocery store and you’re like ‘well today is purple huh.’ You’re on your own beat. Those are the characters I fall in love with,” she said.
When asked about producing and directing, McCarthy stated she likes to build a project from the beginning as much as being in front of the camera. “I am ready to direct. I did some Mike and Molly’s and I did a short for the Oscars and I loved it. I would like to not be in it. I just want to be there and concentrate on the people in it,” she said.
McCarthy’s "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" co-star Richard E. Grant presented the award and began his presentation with a google translation of the meaning of McCarthy, loving.
“I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have loving words to say about her,” he said.
McCarthy accepted her award giving thanks to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for “shining a light on these types of movies.”