Some women are just good at faking it. Take Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig–the woman behind Penelope the perpetual one-upper and the annoying Target cashier…
You could say that Kristen Wiig is a one-woman homage to wacko. This is someone who takes the little things–tics, accents, weird gestures–and creates a full-on personality out of them. The 34-year-old actress’s mimicry is on full display on both Saturday Night Live (it’s her fourth season) and the big screen: She played the tightly wound TV exec in Knocked Up, John C. Reilly’s perpetually pregnant first wife in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and most recently, Ricky Gervais’s fast-talking surgeon in Ghost Town.
For someone who puts it all out there onstage, Wiig is kind of shy off of it. She takes a while to fess up to even the basics of her life: Her parents divorced when she was 9; she spent her high school years with her mom in Rochester, New York; she attended the University of Arizona; she talks to her mother almost every day; she adores her mentally handicapped older brother, Erik (“He’s the best thing in the world,” she says). This acting thing flew into her head at 23, when an inner voice urged her to go west. Between a zillion day jobs–including working at hot dog stands and a florist–she landed in the famed Los Angeles comedy group The Groundlings, and eventually made her way to Lorne Michaels. Fortunately for us, the voices keep coming.
A pivotal moment in your career occurred right before you were supposed to begin working at a plastic surgeon’s office in Tucson. Can you elaborate?
“It was the day before I was about to start. I was living in a house with three other girls, who were gone for the summer, so it was just me. I remember looking around and thinking, ‘I don’t want this to be my life.’ Then I looked in the mirror and was like, ‘OK, if you could do anything, what would it be?’ And I thought, ‘I would move to L.A. Just try to act.’ Even though I’d only ever taken one acting class. The next day, the Jetta was packed and I was gone, freaking out the whole way.”
Where do your characters come from? For example, your one-upping character, Penelope. When did she pop into your head?
“A lot of it comes from just unconsciously observing people. Penelope is based on someone I know. It’s so far from how they act or look that they would never in a million years know. I’d say I was going to get a massage and they’d say, ‘Oh, I’m getting a massage this week. I’m getting one tomorrow.’ And I’d be like, ‘That’s a weird thing to try to one-up someone about, but OK.’”
Do you love Target as much as Target Clerk does?
“I do! It’s clean. They have great things. It’s every reason you love a store.”
SNL has a crazy schedule. What do you do to stay healthy?
“I live between Central Park and the Hudson River, and those are two great places to walk and run. I also do yoga. A bunch of us have a private class once a week. When I’m working, I try to get something in a couple times a week. I’m a vegetarian; I eat a lot of tofu and soy. I drink a lot of water, and I’m addicted to cranberry juice. I do have a splurge day once a week when I can eat whatever I want. It’s good, because it helps you stay on track the rest of the week. In the beginning, I ate anything I could see. But it’s funny: The more you do it, the less you end up splurging.”
You’ve been traveling to L.A. a lot. What do you absolutely have to take with you when you fly?
“I pack a good airplane kit–magazines, my computer, a book. Right now it’s the novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics[by Marisha Pessl]. Also, Prevage by Elizabeth Arden–it has this anti-aging treatment, and it just feels really good and makes my skin glow. This is going to sound dumb, but I like to make my own calendars, so I bring my little calendar on the plane and figure out my month. That’s my time to organize my life.”
When you splurge, what’s on the list?
“Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms are kind of the best thing that’s ever been made. And lemon cupcakes from Buttercup Bake Shop, near my house. I also love hot, melted cheesy sandwiches. And sweet-potato fries.”
What is the thing you like least about yourself?
“I wish I had less fear about creating my own parts. I like to write and draw and paint, and my mom’s an artist, so I think I get caught up in thinking, ‘I’m afraid it’s gonna be bad,’ and it’s hard for me to start sometimes.”
Tell me what you love so much about your brother.
“He’s not aware of a lot of things. He has his own world, and there’s this innocence about him. He’s always happy and a joy to be around. He’s also hilarious. He calls me his favorite sister in New York.”
What is your most prized possession?
“A necklace my boyfriend gave me for Valentine’s. It’s gold and has a really tiny cuckoo clock. I wear it all the time. It’s different to give someone a necklace with a cuckoo clock. That says something about him, and I guess about me.”
Give us five telling facts about yourself.
“I wish I had a lot of tattoos. I am very close to my family. For most of my life I wanted to be Olivia Newton-John. I love when I can make a baby laugh. I never go anywhere without gum.”
Wiig channels three of her fave characters
Activia yogurt spokesperson Jamie Lee Curtis
“If I were 21 and doing this commercial, I’d be all about what I look like. Now I’m like, ‘Hell yeah! I’ll sit on this couch and eat this yogurt that makes you crap!’”
Money guru Suze Orman
“Make your own maxi pads: Go to a dollar store, buy a 24-pack of baby socks and some double-sided tape…”
Silda Spitzer, wife of ex-New York gov Eliot
[Stone. Cold. Silence.]
Giggle-worthy, according to Kristen
Food: “Potato Skinz–with a Z”
Word: “I think marshmallow is pretty funny.”
Movie: “It’s a tie between Caddyshack and Beaches.”
Fashion trend: “The dunce cap.”
TV show: “The British Office. Ricky Gervais is beyond genius. It’s truly the only show I’ve actually gone out and bought the DVDs of.”
Cartoon character: “Chilly Willy.”
CD: “Do the Jerky Boys count?”
Childhood memory:“I used to carry my dad’s empty guitar case around the neighborhood because I wanted people to think I played the guitar. I would put Flintstones vitamins in it in case I got tired, so I could pop some and keep walking.”
© 2009 Kate Meyers, WOMEN’S HEALTH.