Melissa McCarthy: The New Queen of Comedy

She stole the scenes in "Bridesmaids," leaped to the A-list with "Identity Thief" and teamed up with Sandra Bullock for this summer’s "The Heat." Here, Melissa McCarthy talks about lucky breaks, breaking barriers and finding the hidden humanity in her hilarious characters

by Leah Rozen
melissa mccarthy image
Rachel Pally modal jersey dress; rachelpally.com. Roberto Coin onyx and 18k gold ring; robertocoin.com
Photograph: Yu Tsai

McCarthy answers questions easily and laughs frequently. “I’m a Midwest girl. I’m chatty. I’ll talk to anybody,” she says. “In L.A., that frightens people. You talk to somebody in a line in L.A., and it’s like you’ve asked them to remove their pants.”

Right now she wants to chat about The Heat, the female buddy comedy in which she plays a foulmouthed ­Boston police detective who teams up with Sandra Bullock’s uptight FBI agent to nab a drug kingpin. “I love that it’s two women, that they’re good at what they’re doing and they’re better together,” says McCarthy. “I did not want to play two dingbats who suck at their jobs. I’d rather watch a character be good at something and be challenged—there’s more to play in that.”

Play she does in The Heat, punching out bad guys, climbing through car windows and telling off bosses and would-be swains. “Working with Melissa is like working with a rabid cat,” says Bullock. “You have no idea where she is going to go, so you need to let go and just enjoy the ride.”

Both stars say the film’s most difficult scene was one in which they’re drunk in a bar and McCarthy tries to dislodge with a straw a peanut that’s stuck up Bullock’s nose. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll get it, I’ll get it,’ ” says McCarthy, slurring her words as if soused. “But the peanut was so far up. I was nervous for Sandy that something was going to go terribly wrong and we’re gonna end up in a hospital. I was literally up her sinus cavity. It was a very bonding moment. After that, you’re friends for life.”

Bullock survived, barely. “It was a dark bar, and the straw was not helping,” she recalls with amusement. “But Melissa was patient and kind—everything you want your surgeon to be.”

The two are now a mutual admiration society, hanging out together with their kids at Disneyland. “We enjoy and obsess over the same things: how we work, how we play and how much we love our family,” says Bullock. Then again, “give us a bottle of wine and a dance floor, and there is no telling what will happen.”

McCarthy grew up in a close-knit family in Plainfield, Illinois, a small town southwest of Chicago. Her father, Mike, was an arbitrator for a railroad company, and her mother, Sandy, was an executive secretary for World Book Encyclopedia and later for First Midwest Bank. (Both are now retired.) McCarthy has an older sister, Marjorie, and aunts, uncles and cousins galore, including VH1 talk show host and actress Jenny McCarthy. “Melissa’s the funniest woman I’ve ever known,” says Jenny. “Every one of her 75,000 Irish Catholic relatives in Chicago is very proud.”

She remains close to her parents, who often visit her in L.A. “Some of the most soothing nights I’ve had over the years are playing cards with Melissa, her husband and parents,” says Octavia Spencer, a longtime friend who was nominated for The Help in the same 2012 Oscar category as ­McCarthy—and won. “In this business, with all its worries and pettiness, it’s calming when you’re around people who are comfortable [with themselves].” McCarthy attended all-girls Catholic schools—“It was 12 years of plaid and nuns,” she says—and then enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Her classes in her fashion major, clothing and textiles, left her uninspired: “I wanted to make this weird skirt that’s also a turtleneck and also harem pants. And they’re like, ‘You’re going to make a pot holder.’ ” She quit college during her sophomore year and moved to New York at the urging of Brian Atwood, a friend she met during high school who was hoping to make his way in the fashion world. “She was wasting her time,” says Atwood, now a leading shoe and accessories designer (he created those SNL platforms). “I knew she could be a star. I knew how funny she was.”

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