LOS ANGELES – In a remarkable move that underscores her ascendancy as a top comedic talent in Hollywood, Melissa McCarthy is jumping from being a “Bridesmaid” to a director.
The actress, who broke through only in 2011 via a supporting role in “Bridesmaids” that earned an Academy nod, will co-direct with her husband, actor Ben Falcone, the comedy “Tammy.” That Melissa will also star and co-write (also with Ben) the film speaks of her growing stature in the industry.
Melissa’s new film, “Identity Theft,” may bolster her stock, if we go by early reviews. USA Today’s film critic Scott Bowles raved: “Preposterous, goofy and a clear rip-off of ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles,’ ‘Identity …’ still manages to make off with just enough laughs to work, thanks to the wondrous McCarthy, one of the few actresses in Hollywood allowed to showcase [their] wit and charisma as much as [their] physique. She’s at her comedic top here … steals and uplifts every scene she [is in] … She’s showing range far beyond slapstick and physical humor. There’s no mistaking the genius of this actress.”
Said Melissa of the breaks that have come her way since “Bridesmaids”: “Every part of it blows my mind—I get to work with people like Jason Bateman … Jason calls me to do a movie!”
As a person, she is just as cheerful and spirited. Her success may seem to have happened overnight but, like most actors, she had her share of struggling years, mostly in theater.
“I did a lot of years of plays and shows in New York and in LA, where I tried to get some people to fill the seats so we could pay for the theater,” recounted the woman who was raised in a farm in Illinois by what she described as “a large, Irish-Catholic family.” (Actress Jenny McCarthy is her first cousin.)
Melissa said she started doing stand-up gigs when she was 20 years old (she’s 42 now). “I did that for not even a full year before I started with acting classes,” she pointed out. “Ironically, I did eight years of very serious work in very serious plays. Nothing funny. And then I came out to LA [thinking] I would do the same.”
She ended up instead at The Groundlings, LA’s renowned improv and sketch comedy troupe. “I just went crazy; I loved it so much,” she said, grinning at the memory of her days with the troupe whose alumni include Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. “I thought, God, no one has any fear of doing anything. No one cares if they embarrass themselves. The crazier they look, the funnier they are and the harder I’m laughing, so I got hooked.”
Melissa volunteered that she met Ben at The Groundlings. Ben played Air Marshall Jon in “Bridesmaids,” where he and Melissa appear in a food-filled sex tape scene in the closing credits. “He’s the hotel clerk in this movie, ‘Identity,’ ” she said. He’s also in the cast of “The Heat,” which stars Melissa and Sandra Bullock.
Melissa related how she met Ben: “We were in a group saying where we had all gone to college. I said, ‘Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale.’ No one had heard of that. It came around the circle to Ben, and he said to me, ‘Thank you very much. I am from Carbondale, Illinois.’ We hit it off right away and we wrote together right away.
She offered an interesting footnote: “Not very far into our friendship, Ben realized he had known me at Southern Illinois University 10 years earlier. I said, ‘That’s not possible. You wouldn’t have recognized me … because I looked very Gothic. I wore blue-black hair, capes and huge, crazy shoes.’ He went, ‘I know. I was afraid of you.’ So I said, ‘You did know me!’ Turned out, 10 years before, we were at some parties together but we never spoke.”
She continued: “At 20, I was worried about my hair, why I don’t have the right clothes, the right this and that. Now I’m in my 40s, with two kids and a great husband. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got and as for the things that aren’t perfect, it’s okay.”
Married since 2005, Melissa and Ben may have potential comediennes in their daughters, Vivian, 5, and Georgette, 2. She said Vivian had begun telling “weird” jokes.
She added about her girls: “We want them to be really happy with who they are. The big rule in the house is, you can have an opinion, you can like or dislike something but you have to bekind in the process. You have to be kind to yourself. We want them to be happy, healthy and to fight peer pressure … I want them to be happy with themselves and see that they’re as great as I do (see them).”
Of her girl-powered home, Melissa quipped: “Even our dog is a girl so Ben has no shot at all. He occasionally says, ‘I’m so horribly outnumbered.’ The girls put ribbons on his hair. But no, he loves it (the female energy).”
She herself was “a handful” as a little kid, she said. “My mom and dad (Michael and Sandra McCarthy) are funny. My mom would always say funny things. At dinner, the fun part was, who had a funny story [to share]. So I grew up hearing my dad tell really long, funny, crazy stories. Even if he were retelling these stories and you had heard them, he still made us laugh. It was part of how we grew up … making everyone in the family laugh and lose their minds. It was like a sporting event. I guess I just carried that into my career.”
She explained where her own comedic sense comes from: “I think a lack of pride—and I mean that in a good way, like someone who is not watching himself … like my husband, who makes me laugh my head off, break into insane laughter. I like people who are not afraid to be the butt of the joke—not in a mean way. I don’t enjoy mean-spirited humor. If you’re doing the joke, you’re the butt—you make fun of yourself, not somebody else.”
TV viewers began noticing Melissa in her roles in such shows as “Gilmore Girls” and “Samantha Who?” She earned an Emmy Award for her co-starring role in the sitcom, “Mike & Molly.”
Asked whose identity she would like to steal for a day— in the context of “Identity’s” plot, Melissa answered, laughing, “I’d like to walk around in Lady Gaga’s shoes—just the thought of
putting on insane costumes, wearing a floor-length wig and having no one be that surprised. It just seems like a pretty fun way to spend a day.”
It was a surprise to hear Melissa say, “I box and I love it.” She cracked, “I beat up men in real life.” But she was serious when she claimed, “I really, strangely love to box. I don’t know what that says about me.”
As for her weight, she deadpanned, “Am I not that thin? I hope I wake up tomorrow and I am size two and I don’t know how it happened. I’ve had a couple of kids. I’ve been eight million different sizes. I don’t even think about it. My kids are healthy. I have a dreamy husband.”
(Email the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/ nepalesruben.)