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
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Rachel Pally modal jersey dress; rachelpally.com. Roberto Coin onyx and 18k gold ring; robertocoin.com
Photograph: Yu Tsai

In early 2010, less than a year after Samantha’s cancellation, McCarthy was approached for Mike & Molly, a sitcom about a Chicago teacher and a cop who meet at Overeaters Anonymous, fall in love and marry. The enticement? She was being cast as the lead (opposite stand-up comic Billy Gardell), another first. “I thought, Wow, that’s something,” she says. She still hesitated, fearful that the show was going to be a never-ending string of jokes focusing on their weight, but says that once she read the script, she realized it was a heartfelt romantic comedy. “It’s about a marriage and romance and a new relationship,” she says.

The show went on the air that fall and was successful from the start, though it took McCarthy a while to warm up to her character, Molly: “I had to get used to her harshness. She’s harder on Mike than I would ever be. But everyone says, ‘No, it’s funny.’ I wanted to make sure that the character never sounded like she was doing stand-up. I wanted to keep her character real, human.”

Roberts, the show’s creator and former executive producer, praises McCarthy for “protecting her character and understanding [Molly’s] humor and humanity. I’ve worked with actors who just say, ‘I want a better joke.’ She wants the whole scene to be better. She likes to watch the other actors score. She wants the show to be good.”

McCarthy squeezed in filming on Bridesmaids between the M&M pilot and the rollout of the show. She’d landed the part of Megan at the last minute, after cowriter and star Kristen Wiig, another Groundlings friend, pitched her to Feig. McCarthy feared that her take on the character—she envisioned Megan as simultaneously butch and man hungry—“was probably too weird,” but Feig loved her audition. “It was hilarious. I like unexpected stuff,” he says. “She did it in the most nonstandard way; it gave us so much fuel to write more for her part.”

When Bridesmaids opened, critics hailed the film and singled out McCarthy for special praise. The New Yorker’s David Denby called her “the funniest,” Slate’s Dana Stevens said she brought “an unexpected sweetness,” and Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman dubbed her a scene-stealer. The cherry on top of that sundae of acclaim was her Oscar shout-out. On the morning the nominations were announced, Falcone was watching on TV and called her over. “My name came up, and it just didn’t register,” she says. “I literally couldn’t process it. Then Octavia’s name came up, and I burst out crying and said, ‘Oh my God, Octavia just got nominated for an Oscar.’ And Ben goes, ‘And? And?’ ”

She and Spencer enjoyed going through awards season together. “We texted, ‘Can you effing believe it? OMG!’ ” says Spencer of their nominations. “We were just so happy to be at the grownups’ table.” When the big night arrived, McCarthy walked the red carpet in a pair of sparkly pumps specially designed for her by Atwood. “I had imprinted on the sole to my bff on oscar night,” he says.

There will no doubt be more red carpets in McCarthy’s future. She and Falcone are working on multiple projects together, including a TV series and a comedy, Tammy, which they cowrote and Falcone will direct this summer; McCarthy will star alongside Susan Sarandon. “I just want to do—it’s not the most interesting answer, but I just want to do good stuff,” says McCarthy. “The goal is always that the characters are grounded. I like to play an eccentric version of people, but I never like to be wacky, wacky, look how crazy I am.”

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