Riot Girl

She was always funny and feisty, but Melissa McCarthy spent years struggling in obscurity. So how did she become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars?

Melissa McCarthy
Mark Seliger
By Erik Hedegaard
Aug 06, 2014

OFTEN, MELISSA MCCARTHY FINDS HERSELF IN AN OTHERWORLDLY FUGUE STATE. When this happens, she never knows what will happen. Anything could happen. It’s kind of wild. At one point a while back, she’d just spent seven great years on the CW’s Gilmore Girls, had re­cently been chosen to play the sen­sible half of the CBS show Mike & Molly, with the pilot already in the can, and yet she wanted more – like maybe a part in a movie to be called Bridesmaids, being produced by the great arbiter-of-all-things-comic Judd Apatow, directed by Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig and co-written by SNL comedian Kristen Wiig. What an awe­some group! “God,” McCarthy and her husband would say to each other, “if you could just get in that world. If you could just get in that world and get even a line!” So, the way things go, an audi­tion is arranged, the big day arrives, the trio’s in attendance, and McCarthy near­ly bails out. “Yeah, I almost didn’t do it” – she was that nervous – “but then I said screw it, pulled my hair back, didn’t wear any makeup and went in.” And while there, fell into one of those fugue states. She was in the mid­dle of an improv mo­ment with Wiig when she suddenly started babbling about hav­ing a crazy, mixed-up, species-bending sex­ual encounter with a dolphin. She eventu­ally snapped out of it – “I came to” – but af­terward, while driving home, all she could think was, “Well, you dumbass, you did it, you f***ed that up. There’s not one thing you could have done to seem any stranger. Sex with a dolphin? Hand-play with a dolphin! You just could not have been any weirder.” But that’s what happens when you aren’t re­ally there. You do really weird stuff. And in the aftermath you think the worst of yourself. But leave it to a trio of great comic geniuses to know another one of their kind when they see it and to cast her as man-crazy bridesmaid Megan, so alpha that if she needs to crap in a sink, the sink better make room, enabling Mc­Carthy to become all that she is today, just about the only comedian around who can almost single-handedly carry a movie to a $35 million opening.

Here she is now, three years into her run, 43 years old, the dolphin-loving girl herself, in Budapest, inside the glorious expanse of a Four Seasons hotel, far away from the pouring rain outside, dressed all in gauzy, night-colored, flowy, chiffo­ny stuff, feet looking mighty dainty in bal­let flats, eyes green as grapes, dimples in full dimple mode, very cheerfully willing to take a ride on a gondo­la if you want, despite the weather, but maybe not (“It really could get dicey out there on the old Danube”), and say­ing stuff like, “Have you had the rooster-testicle soup here yet? I don’t know if I need that in my life, but I’m awful­ly curious.”

She’s a bundle of en­ergy. Even if she’s sit­ting calmly on a couch talking about stuff no one’s ever really heard before – her early days as a half-baked, dime-store shoplifter, or the time a teacher duct-taped her mouth shut, or her years in New York, where she spent many a club-hopping night dressed up as a drag queen known as Miss Y, or how most of the men she’s ever gone out with were probably gay (hus­band Ben Falcone, 40, very much ex­cepted) – she always seems on the verge of movement. She’s not a tall woman, and she’s not a small woman, but she seems very light. It’s just an impression she gives off.

A thunderclap startles the room. “Holy smokies!” says McCarthy, eyes widening. “That’s some real rain out there.”

A blistering amount, actually, but in here it’s still all sunshine and smiles. So much has happened since Bridesmaids. The Best Supporting Actress Oscar nom­ination in 2012 for how she portrayed Megan’s ballsy ways. After that, last year’s Identity Thief, with Jason Bateman, play­ing a superloopy, quasiviolent con artist, and The Heat, with Sandra Bullock, play­ing a foulmouthed, low-rent cop, both movies critical disappointments that Mc­Carthy turned into hits, with a combined domestic take of nearly $300 million. Right now, she’s been in Budapest for about two months, making a movie called Spy, directed by Feig, co-starring, among others, Jason Statham (“delightful!”), Rose Byrne (“big saucer eyes!”) and 50 Cent (“lovely!”), in which she plays a bumbling CIA agent who rises to a world-saving oc­casion. Later in the year, she’ll star in St. Vincent, a black comedy with Bill Mur­ray. But first there’s Tammy, in which she struts, stumbles and mopes around as a fast-food-joint-robbing, just-cheated-on mess who finally gets it together during a road trip with her booze-swilling grand­mother (Susan Sarandon).

There’s been some unfortunate stuff, too, of course, mainly a few dust-ups having to do with her weight, especially after movie reviewer Rex Reed called her “tractor-sized” (and much worse). On the other hand, she’ll always have her mem­ories of the time she went to the Golden Globes, and “Brad and Angelina,” as she calls them, start waving in her direction. She turns around, no one’s there, so they must be waving at her. And they are. Up they stroll, then they’re all talking. Then McCarthy is saying, “Oh, shit, I haven’t heard anything you said. I need a minute to take this in because it’s a lot, visually. I was just looking.” And then Meryl Streep is tugging on her arm, saying very nice things, and the only thing McCarthy can think of to say back is, “Holy shit, you’re Meryl Streep!” Over and over again. But that’s all in the past. She’s here now. She’s not going away. And somewhere out there a steaming bowl of hot rooster-testicle soup is wondering just what she will de­cide about taking a taste.

This is an extract. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Middle East

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