Melissa McCarthy is having balance issues. Not the traditional work-family dilemma, but literal balance. As the host of Saturday Night Live, she enters teetering on comically high platform heels, ankles folding as she slips, skids and slides toward the band, all the while refusing assistance—“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!”—to the audience’s laughing delight.
When we meet at a New York restaurant, there’s a balance problem with our table. After the actress plants an elbow, the table lists badly, and both her latte and her fruit plate begin to slide toward the floor.
If this were a Melissa McCarthy movie, she’d probably scream a stream of inventive invective, flip the table over and heave it out the nearest plate glass window. But this is real life, and McCarthy is far more demure in person than the assaultive, audacious characters she so memorably portrays in Bridesmaids, Identity Thief and her latest comedy, The Heat (opening June 28). “The real Melissa will not yell at you like movie Melissa,” says Paul Feig, who directed her in Bridesmaids and The Heat. “The real Melissa is the sweetest person you’ll ever meet.”
She politely summons a waiter. When he fixes the table, McCarthy says, “Thank you,” flashing him a smile that reveals her deep dimples. The waiter beams.
High heels and sliding plates aside, there’s nothing shaky about McCarthy’s life. At age 42, she’s happily married to writer-actor Ben Falcone (he played the undercover federal air marshal she cozied up to in Bridesmaids and makes cameo appearances in Identity Thief and The Heat), and they live in Los Angeles with their two energetic young daughters. After more than a decade as a regular on such prime time series as Gilmore Girls (2000–07), Samantha Who? (2007–09) and her current sitcom, Mike & Molly, she’s suddenly Hollywood’s newest and most improbable “it” girl. And this is why: McCarthy is Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Jack Black rolled into a single, subversive female package.
The actress has been riding a rocket ever since her breakout role as a raunchy macho loudmouth who climbs onto a bathroom sink to relieve her food poisoning woes in 2011’s Bridesmaids. That same year, she won an Emmy for her role on Mike & Molly. In 2012 she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Bridesmaids, the female bonding hit that raked in $288 million worldwide. That her career will only get bigger became clear this past winter with Identity Thief, the first movie on which McCarthy got star billing. A slapstick-filled piffle in which she plays a con woman who rips off a mild-mannered businessman (costar Jason Bateman), Thief scored an eye-opening $35 million its initial weekend in theaters and went on to collect more than $170 million worldwide. And don’t forget her two acclaimed SNL gigs and her recent cameosin This Is 40 and The Hangover Part III.
Despite the newfound fame, her hats still fit. Mike & Molly creator Mark Roberts marvels that “the only reason I know she’s a movie star is that when I drive home at night, I see her face 50 times, really big, on billboards.” McCarthy’s own explanation? “I’ve gotten really lucky.”
Part of that good fortune, she suggests, is becoming a role model. “The letters I really love are from young actresses who were worried they had to fit a certain look. They say I’ve opened it up. And I don’t just mean plus-size girls,” she says. “You can push things now. With all the great performances in Bridesmaids, it changed how people see funny women.”
McCarthy’s weight has never been a major issue for her. “I’ve been every size in the world,” she says. “Parts of my twenties, I was in great shape, but I didn’t appreciate it. If I was a 6 or an 8, I thought, Why aren’t I a 2 or a 4? Now I feel like I have two great kids and the dreamiest husband on the planet, and everything else is just a work in progress.”