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Kristen Wiig on Paul, SNL future and Gilly

Kristen Wiig realizes that not everyone is going to universally love every single character that she creates on Saturday Night Live. It’s not that she spends a lot of time (or any time, for that matter) thinking about what the overall consensus will be, but it’s kind of hard to ignore when her own mother calls to voice disapproval over a new character.

As of late, however, Wiig has her eyes set on bigger prizes: In next weekend’s Paul, Wiig has her biggest film role to date opposite Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Wiig’s greatest passion, the Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids, follows this May, featuring Wiig in the role of both star and co-screenwriter. In the meantime, Paul co-stars Wiig as Ruth, a devout Christian (you can tell from her T-shirt depicting Jesus shooting Darwin in the face) enlightened to the ways of the universe by an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen).

The slacker extraterrestrial is on the run with two British travelers (Pegg and Frost) who help Paul flee U.S. government pursuers — an enlightenment that leads to a very rapid crash course in expletives and sexual attraction.

Movieline sat down with Wiig earlier this week to discuss her roles in Paul and Bridesmaids, her future at SNL as her film career blossoming, the secrets behind “Garth and Kat” and “Penelope,” and why even she admits that, yes, Gilly is probably a polarizing character.

Is Paul your largest movie role so far? Maybe MacGruber?

This and MacGruber might be pretty close in size, I guess. But, yeah, I think so.

You’ve been known to steal some scenes in smaller roles…

I didn’t know that…

Sure, with movies like Knocked Up. But is there a different approach when you have this much screen time?

It’s obviously more fun. You get to play more and it’s a great opportunity and I’m so lucky. But you also feel a little more pressure. Personally, I do. But with this movie it was just a no-brainer. I mean with Greg and the cast, Simon and Nick — I never really look at the size of the role. It’s the director and the people involved.

Bill Hader — who has been a castmate of yours before, aside from SNL — is in Paul as well. When is the eventual Wiig-Hader starring vehicle ever going to be made?

I would hope soon. I adore Bill and I love working with him and considering the amount of time we spend together [laughs] and work together, I could never get sick of him in a million years. He’s one of the funniest people I know and one of the nicest guys I know.

Perhaps a movie based on Paulette and Bobby from Adventureland?

That would be fun, actually. That would be fun but I probably wouldn’t say a lot. It’s kind of a quiet character. [Laughs]

Your character in Paul, Ruth, says a lot of mishmashed expletives. Did you get free reign or was that sticking to a precise script?

I mean, the script obviously had one version and we’d shoot that. And then once you start getting into the, “What if we said this?” territory, they we’re constantly pitching new things. As Simon was saying today, if they ever took one of those serious black and white photos of us kind of all in a circle thinking, it would look like we’re talking about camera shots or angles but we’re really trying to figure out, “Should we say ‘harry balls’ or should we say something else.” And everyone kind of got in on it, too. People in the crew would be like, “Hey, what do you think?” So I really can’t take credit for most of those terms.

Ruth becomes enlightened, if you will, by Paul from her strict Christian upbringing. With this aspect, how do you toe the line between comedy and something that’s mocking?

Personally, whether it’s on SNL or anything I do, I never really go down the mocking road with what I do. Mean comedy is not really something that I personally gravitate towards or something that I do. But, yeah, there’s always that fine line — especially when you’re doing an impression of someone. You know, making it funny but you don’t want to be mean to that person… at all. And I would hope that people have a sense of humor about this and know that it’s a movie; they’re certainly not trying to make any sort of broad statement or anything like that. And, you know, it does bring up the question of “How did we really get here?” “What is God?” and all of that stuff. If we have proof that there’s life on other planets — and I think that’s what they’re going for in this character — if he exists, then all the things that I’ve believed my whole life… If that one thing isn’t true then the rest can’t be true. So she finds out that sinning must not be real so she kind of goes a little crazy. [Laughs] With all of the things she hasn’t been able to do her whole life. And within about 10 seconds she tries them all. Yeah, I hope people have a sense of humor with it because there’s no malice behind it. And I hope people don’t think that, but people can get offended about things…

To be honest, I do wonder what my more religious friends back in the Midwest would think…

Yeah, I wonder with people that I know. I wonder what they would think of it but, again, I would hope that they would realize that it’s a movie and calm down. [Laughs]

Simon Pegg swears that there are not as many references in this movie as I think there are…

[Laughs] Yeah… I think there are ones that even they don’t know are in there.

But did you get all of the references?

I didn’t get all of them at first. I got some of the lines and like the music in the bar, but I’m sure there are some things that went over my head because I’m certainly not as well versed in my sci-fi movies as they are. But I am a fan of them and I actually loved watching sci-fi movies and fantasy movies when I was younger, but I’m not one of those people that could quote them or would classify myself as a sci-fi geek.

You’re one of the few SNL cast members who started on the show during the middle of a season. Did that make it harder than coming on at the start of a year?

Yeah, kind of. Yeah, it was hard. Usually you get brought in at the beginning of the year or, occasionally, after the long Christmas break. But I felt like… You know how when you walk into somebody’s living room and everyone is really comfortable and they have their shoes off and they’re all sitting on the couch together? I kind of felt like I was walking into that living room and I showed up a little dressed up, not knowing where to sit. But everyone was so welcoming when I started, but it wasn’t easy to come in after the season started.

I’m fascinated by Garth and Kat.

[Laughs] Thank you!

I think I know how it works, but, yes, how does it work? Does Armisen lead?

Yes. He definitely starts and I just try to follow. We don’t rehearse. The first time we do it that week is literally at the dress rehearsal.

Does he change the words between dress and the live show?

Oh yeah, nothing is the same. That’s why we don’t ever think of anything beforehand. If anything, we will be like, “All right, well this is a Halloween theme, so, here’s ‘pumpkins, witches, ghosts.’” We’ll think of things people can sing about, but, actually even when we do it, that all goes out the window. It’s the most fun I have because so much of the show is writing, working, deadlines, trying to figure things out, punching up your sketch, knowing you’re going to perform live. And that two and a half minutes of airtime is so freeing and fun.

And from what I know about SNL, improv is not allowed, so, with this, you guys actually get to improv.

Yes. I love doing it. Plus I get to work with Fred.

Do you feel that Gilly is polarizing? I feel it’s a character that people either love or they don’t particularly like.

Uh… yeah, probably. I mean, the first time that I did it, my mom, the next day was like, “Oh, I did not like that. That new character you did, I did not like her!” [Laughs]

When you thought of that character, did you figure some people wouldn’t embrace her?

No. I mean, I think that before I do anything.

Really?

Well, because people are going either going to love it or they are not going to love it. But I can’t think about that stuff when I’m writing something. You know, it’s great when they like it, but, if they don’t, they have their right to not like it. But, I don’t know, I enjoy doing it.

You’re kind of a chameleon in that way. I mean, there are people who don’t like Gilly…

Thanks! [Laughs]

You’re welcome! But someone who doesn’t like Gilly can love Penelope. It’s not you — it’s just your recurring characters are different.

I don’t think about it at all. If you’re creating anything at all, it’s really dangerous to care about what people think.

I’ve read that you’ve traveled around with Lorne Michaels for the last wave of SNL auditions?

No.

Really? I’ve read that in numerous places.

I went to a Groundlings show when they all went to look at people. I went with them just because I’m in the Groundlings. But I don’t know if you would call that scouting.

Well, people are.

Oh, no. No. I think I did read that somewhere, too.

Yeah, I remember thinking, “Oh, wow, Wiig’s in charge now!”

[Laughing] No. I’m not in charge. Oh, they might have been talking about when you did audition. I did get to see the tapes — the audition tapes. But it wasn’t like I had any clout in the decision.

OK, so no clout…

That people are saying? No. But that’s an OK remark! I’m just kidding.

In the entire SNL cast, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and you have the most active film careers. Has it crossed your mind to leave SNL soon to further pursue your movie career?

I still have some time left at SNL. And hopefully I’ll be making movies for a really long time. I love doing it, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do — that and being on SNL. So I feel extremely lucky right now. I’m very happy. I hope to be able to do more dramatic things and direct sometime. But right now I feel extremely grateful to have the situation that I have doing SNL and then on the hiatus, hopefully, working on films. I couldn’t be happier.

So, movies is where you want to be full time. Eventually.

Yeah. I mean, I can’t be on SNL for the next 20 years.

Hammond came close.

No, he wasn’t on that long. He was on, I don’t know the exact number, I think it was around 10 or 11. But I’m not leaving right now!

And you have Bridesmaids coming up…

I’m really excited about it!

It’s funny, when I mentioned to a few people that I’d be talking to you, they all brought up Bridesmaids.

Well, I wrote it with one of my best friends in the world who’s my writing partner, Annie Mumolo, who’s amazingly funny and so f*cking talented. Yeah… I said it.

We allow that word on the Internet.

We f*cking wrote this script… No. We started writing it almost five years ago for Judd [Apatow], which, on its own, to me, was just an amazing opportunity to go through that whole process with him and rewrite the notes and learning how to write a movie. Neither one of us had any experience at all. And then to have it actually happen and have Paul Feig direct it — who is one of the best people I’ve ever known. I still pinch myself, I can’t even believe it’s going to be in theaters. And it’s real. I’m so excited.

How was that, writing with Judd? Obviously he has experience on how to make a successful movie. Would he read the script and say, “No, that part won’t work in a movie.”

It was never, “No.” It was more like, “Maybe we could punch this up. Do you guys have any other ideas? Why don’t you think of 10 more things.” Sometimes it would be one of those 10, sometimes it would be the original thing and maybe we would shoot some of the other 10. It was very collaborative, there are scenes in the movie that are his idea.

From the way you’re talking, it sounds like Bridesmaids is your pride and joy.

[Nodding head vigorously] Yes!

So this last question is kind of silly…

I like silly questions.

When did Penelope become supernatural?

[Laughs] Actually! You know what’s funny about that? The first time that we wrote it, I wrote it with John Lutz, who’s now on 30 Rock. We couldn’t think of an ending so, just kind of as a joke, we wrote in that she would fly away at the end. And then it was one of these, “We’ll figure out the real ending later,” but we couldn’t figure out anything at the table. And then, I think the very first one, they were like, “Is she really going to fly away?” I can’t remember in the first one if I did anything. I can’t remember the first one, I’m so sorry. But then after a while, we just thought it would be funny that in one of the long list of the things that she says that she does, what if she actually did it? And then at the end you’re like, “Wait? So are all of those things true? But they can’t be true. How did she grow a beard and how is she two inches tall?” I don’t know, I’m a fan of the absurd and silly and, to us, that made us laugh.

It changed the dynamic of the sketch. The first time I saw her do something supernatural I said, “Wait, I guess she’s not lying about anything. She has powers!”

I really can’t remember if in the first one of she did wind up flying away or not — or something happened. I do remember that when we wrote it, because with sketch writing the ending is the hardest part, we could not think of an ending. It was the middle of the night and he actually did the sound effect with his mouth and I’m like, “Just put that in and do that sound effect at the table and we will see what happens.” And then it ended up getting picked and we were like, “Oh, shoot, now we really have to think of an ending.” [Laughs] No one has ever asked me that before.

© 2011 Mike Ryan, MOVIELINE.