Interview with Kristen Wiig
Maybe it’s too much to ask for from a romantic comedy, but could “Bridesmaids,”[opens Friday] which stars and is co-written by Kristen Wiig, be the vanguard of a revolution for women in Hollywood? Let’s hope so because the Oscar for Kathryn Bigelow didn’t really open the floodgates for women directors. So maybe it’s up to teenaged girls with guns and women in designer gowns crapping in sinks to subvert the invidious stereotypes of women on the big screen.
That, anyway, is part of the argument in a recent “New Yorker” article, “Funny Like a Guy” by Tad Friend, which is about Anna Faris in particular and on women behaving badly in the movies in general. (A theme also touched on in this “Slate” article I just spotted). The idea is that upcoming roles such as Faris’s in “What’s Your Number,” Cameron Diaz’s in “Bad Teacher,” and Wiig’s in “Bridesmaids” might convince the studio powers that be that women can indeed be as crude, lascivious, dumb, insensitive, and randy as any man in the average Judd Apatow movie. Which this in fact is, as Apatow produced it (Paul Feig directed).
In it Wiig plays Annie, a thirty-something woman who has failed at everything she’s done, in her career and in her relationships, and is about to move in with her mother. Then to make things worse, her best friend, played by Maya Rudolph, announces she’s getting married.
True, Annie has been named Maid of Honor, but she fears she’s now going to lose Lillian along with everything else she values in life, not so much to the new husband but to Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian’s new BFF and one of the bridesmaids. Though Helen seems sweet and perfect, she is actually more needy than Annie, and apparentlymore ruthless, and in the course of the wedding preparations the two engage in merciless, hilarious, and often scatological warfare over Lillian and the coveted role of Maid of Honor.
I got a chance to interview Wiig along with fellow cast member Wendi McLendon-Covey while they were in town recently promoting the film. When I brought up the idea of “Bridesmaids” being a revolutionary turning point for women in Hollywood, I got the feeling that she thought I didn’t really know what I was talking about.
Oh well. Here’s the transcription.
PK: When I first went to see “Bridesmaids” I thought that it was “Something Borrowed,” which I had just seen a trailer for.
KW Wiig: You mean you just mixed it up?
PK: I did yeah. I saw the trailer and thought, God, that looks awful. So when I saw the real movie I was stunned by the opening scene [a slapstick-y love scene between Wiig and Jon Hamm] and everybody was laughing hysterically throughout the whole thing. All of the guys in the audience, too. I understand there’s a concern that it’s not going to cross over to men.
WW: I don’t know if I would call it concern, but…
Wendi McLendon-Covey: I just think we never wanted it to be a chick flick.
KW:: Yeah, we always intended it to just be a comedy. For both.
PK: What is a chick flick, anyway?
WMC: Something like “Sex and the City.” “Something Borrowed.” Where it’s going to appeal more to the ladies.
KW: Yeah I think a chick flick implies strictly made for women, I guess.
PW: Well the title, people might be misled.
KW: They might, yeah.
PK: Was that the original title?
KW: No. We had a hard time thinking of a title.
WMC: But the poster. Look at those ladies. They look like they’re going to beat you up in that alley.
PK: It’s kind of like “Sex and the City” but they do look tougher. They could probably kick their ass. Did you think of a title like “Bride Shits in the Street” or something like that?
KW: Ah, but see we can’t put swear words in there. I had a bunch of titles that had swear words but they wouldn’t let me.
PK: You’re friends in real life. And you’re both from the Groundlings?
PK: So was there a lot of improvisation going on in the making of this?
KW: Yes yes yes. We shot the movie. We did the scripted version. We would write lines that day. Other people would suggest lines.
WMC: We would film it all ways and just determined what was funniest, what served the story the best, but they were really collaborative.
PK: So all six of you were a group? You all know each other?
KW: I didn’t know Ellie [Kemper] or Rose [Byrne] before we started rehearsals.
PK: Were you involved in the casting process?
KW: Yes, I was.
PK: It seems like a really realistic depiction of how women get along, unlike a chick flick. Why is it so hard to get movies like that made, where women are actually being themselves?
KW: I don’t know the answer to that. I hope that changes. I don’t know why it is a struggle, if it is. You don’t see that many posters with six women on it, which is a shame. And hopefully that will get better and change.
WMC: I don’t know if the movies just aren’t being written, or they’re not being green lit, or there’s just so much vanity from other actresses that they don’t want to.
KW: Or maybe a man is reading it and he doesn’t understand it. I don’t know.
PK: How did you get this one made?
KW: After I did “Knocked Up,” Judd approached me to write a movie with myself as the lead, and he said, “Do you want to write something? You can write it with a friend. Pitch me some ideas.” So I went to Annie Mumolo, who’s one of my best friends and who I wrote with a lot at the Groundlings. And I said, do you want to write this thing with me, and she said, oh, I’ve been thinking of ideas, and this was one of her ideas. So it just kind of happened. We pitched it to Judd and he was like, great, write it up.
PK: How long ago was that?
KW: About four-and-a-half years ago.
PK: What were some of the obstacles along the way to get it on screen?
WMC: Your schedule as a famous movie star.
KW: My schedule was a little bit of a challenge. We really wanted to make sure that each character had their moment. Their story had to make sense and why we were all in this group together without it seeming too random. For instance, Helen’s character in the earlier drafts was much meaner and over-the-top. But we really had to have it make sense that she was friends with someone that I was so close to, so we had to kind of show the connection between Maya’s character and Rose’s character to have it make sense. Because you didn’t want to be, like, well why is she friends with her? Doesn’t she see what she’s doing? Just trying to figure out the story. And you go through so many drafts and you think you have something that works, and then maybe another movie comes out that has something similar, or you realize, you know what? This end kind of doesn’t work now. Or, we never resolved this story. So we have to do it all under 130 pages.
PK: You must have wince every time somebody mentions “The Hangover,” because you’d been working on this long before that.
KW: Well, I mean, I wouldn’t want people to think that we wrote it in response to “The Hangover.” The comparison to the movie I totally understand. It’s an ensemble cast, it’s a comedy. It’s about people who are in a wedding together. But the plots are very different.
PK: In “The Hangover” the attitude men have towards marriages is dread. But here, all of the women envy the bride.
KW: Except for her [Wendi's] character.
PK: It seems like all of the marriages depicted in the film are kind of horrible. [To WMC] You’re not very pleased with your sons or your marriage.
WMC: But I think what it is is that they’re in something and they think it’s supposed to be something else, but at the end they realize, what I have is pretty good. The grass is always greener.
PK: So is there going to be a “Bridesmaids 2″?
KW: I have no idea.
PK: I was reading this article in “The New Yorker” about Anna Faris, which went into a lot of analysis about why there are so few films made that involve non-stereotypical women’s roles. And one reason is that the movies they make can’t be repeatable, that they can’t make a franchise out of “Bridesmaids,” for example. Although, maybe you could.
KW: That’s what they said? Really? I’ve never heard that.
PK: Yes. Also that 15% of the producers are women, and 7% of the directors, or something like that
KW: Which is interesting because I think there’s a statistic that more women actually go buy movie tickets than men.
PK: They also mention that your film is a kind of breakthrough for women, if it does well.
KW: Well, a lot of times you have to trust…if a female writer says that no, really this is how women think or, really this is how women talk, I think people have to start trusting that a little bit. Because then if it gets made and it’s on screen, women will be able to relate to it and say oh yeah, that’s happened to me. With the Jon Hamm character, a lot of women have experienced dating a guy who maybe isn’t that nice to them and with the Chris O’Dowd character [who plays the Mr. Right that Annie keeps rejecting], running away from someone who’s really nice to you. And there’s no big story plot line behind that. It’s just that most women can really relate to that.
PK: Why is that? Why does she run away from that guy that’s good for her?
KW: Because girls do that sometimes. I don’t know, maybe she felt like she didn’t deserve it or she got scared, when you’re used to having one thing, and then someone nice comes along, you’re a little like, wait, there’s gotta be something wrong with this guy. She’s been hurt. It’s a lot of things. She’s got some baggage.
WMC: To add to that too though, everybody likes to solve a puzzle. So your puzzle is like, why am I not good enough for you? So you keep going back for more.
PK: Was Paul Rudd supposed to play the cop? In an interview you did a while ago you said that he was going to be in the movie.
KW: Oh. He was in the movie. He was in a scene that actually got cut.
PK: Women behaving crudely and engaging in a raunchy kind of humor, the food poisoning scene, the opening scene – do you think audiences are ready for women in those kinds of situations?
KW: Yeah, it’s 2011. Women do that stuff. Women swear. Women get drunk. Women pass out in their own vomit.
WMC: They’re ready for it. It’s testing well.
KW: And it’s not like we’re the first women to do it. We should be able to see things how they really are. And it shouldn’t be this huge new thing. But it is.
PK: You said it’s testing well with men and women. So it might be a cross-over hit.
KW: We hope so. We didn’t intend to make this just for women. We don’t consider it a chick flick. I hate that wording. But it’s a comedy.
PK: Do you think there’s a difference between male and female humor?
KW: I think for the most part funny is funny, and a lot of times if you think something is geared towards men women will think it’s funny and vice-versa. I think there are some things that maybe men gravitate towards and women gravitate towards. But for the most part, I think it’s unisex.
PK: What’s it like working with Judd Apatow?
KW: He’s great. This wouldn’t have happened without him. He put a lot of trust in us, and he was extremely collaborative and helpful with the script, and again on set. Thank God he’s a fan of improvising, because he just let us shoot and shoot and shoot. He was always trying to top things. He added a lot to the movie. He had a lot of ideas, like the dress shop scene – he and Paul thought of that whole thing. It would’ve been a much different movie without him.
WMC: He was also the one to say, No, let’s make sure they don’t get to Vegas.
KW: Yes, that’s true.
PK: That could be the sequel. I’m curious why the women in this movie, instead of confronting their mutual opponent, which is male patriarchy, tend to turn on each other.
KW: In the movie?
PK: Yes. Helen and your character are at odds with each other, trying to destroy each other. Whereas the real culprit is people like the Jon Hamm character.
KW: Well I think in the case of Helen and Annie, it’s really a case of the fight over Lillian, and I think I see Lillian moving on as such a loss for me, and such a reminder that my life is really not that great. So I want to hold on to that as much as I can. And when I see someone like Rose Byrne’s character Helen come in, it makes me feel like I should be that. In some ways they’re almost different stories, the Jon Hamm part and that part.
PK: Did you have any role models? Any comic actresses?
KW: Yeah. I’m sure that I was influenced by everyone that I watched. I did watch a lot of SNL when I was younger. I’m a huge Joan Cusack fan, Dianne Wiest, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Teri Garr, I mean there’s too many people to even list.
WMC: Abbott and Costello.
KW: Martin and Lewis. Tim Conway.
PK: That scene where you’re carried away on the security fence, I thought that’s definitely a Lucille Ball moment. But it seems to be a tradition in comedy that women have been pushed into being the ditzy person in the romantic comedy, or the” Sex and the City” type. Do you think that this will be changing? Has this been a frustration for you?
KW: There’s a million different kinds of people out there. And that includes women. We don’t just fall into three categories. People know that in real life. I think it’s interesting to see that on film. Especially when you see someone that you can relate to, and you’re not even sure why. You know, oh, that lady kind of reminds me of my mom’s friend, just because of the way she is, the way she acts, or the way she talks. But it’s a real person. It’s a real set character. But it doesn’t have to be the crazy neighbor.
WMC: I know what you’re saying. Hollywood doesn’t know what it likes until you show them. Sometimes there’s a breakout person, like Gabourey Sidibe. You would look at this women and say, actress? Hollywood would never let that happen. But guess what? People love her. You gotta show people, hey this is worthy of watching. And people will fall in line. And I think Kristen Wiig, look, there’s no denying she’s the most popular cast member of SNL.
KW: Don’t say that.
WMC: She’s being modest. You won’t brag on yourself but I will. Clearly, this is a good bet. This is a very safe bet. She’s got rabid fans. I’ve been with her all week. It’s like walking with Paul McCartney. I think whatever Kristen Wiig wants to do, she’s not crazy, she likes things for a reason. I think she made the kind of movie she wanted to watch. There was no agenda behind it. No big women’s studies reasoning behind it.
PK: Although there can be.
WMC: There can be. Of course.
PK: How many times have you seen the movie?
KW: The finished product? Once. I saw it at South by Southwest. I’ve seen a few versions and would get notes of what has changed. Even then the sound wasn’t completely done. So official, done movie I will see at the premiere.
PK: People laugh at the right places.
KW: Yeah it’s terrifying, I was cowering in my seat. Because you don’t know. You could have a scene coming on, and you’re like, oh this is that scene that Annie and I laughed really hard writing that one joke, but then it’s silent. But two seconds later you weren’t even expecting it, something physical on screen, and it’s like the biggest laugh of the movie. You can’t tell what’s going to work and what’s not, which is terrifying when you’re sitting in a room full of people watching your own movie, because you don’t know.
PK: But in general people liked it.
KW: Oh no, they enjoyed it. But it’s hard for me to have an ear for that.
PK: Well you must be used to it on a weekly basis working on SNL, where you showcase your stuff. And going back to your improve days at the Groundling.
KW: Yeah but that’s very instant. You do your thing and people are out there laughing. Whereas in the movie you do you thing 50 times and you have to wait 8 months to see it in a theater full of strangers.
PK: So you’ve got “Clown Girl” and “Friends With Kids” coming up?
KW: Yes, friends with kids is already shot and done. “Clown Girl” I’m writing and “Imogene” is hopefully shooting this summer. “Clown Girl” is based on a book [by Monica Drake]. “Imogene” is based on a script that Michelle Morgan wrote that we’re hoping to get financing for the summer.
PK: And “Friends with Kids?”
KW: Yeah that’s Jen Westfeldt. Jon Hamm’s girlfriend. She wrote, directed, and starred in the movie. We just finished shooting a few months ago. I play a supporting role in that. I’m one of her friends with kids.
PK: And you’re overbearing about that?
KW: A little overwhelmed with the lack of focus by my husband, who’s played by Jon Hamm. Our marriage is sort of falling apart. There’s different relationships within the movie, and we’re the friends that have kids that don’t get along as well.
PK: I’ve read somewhere that you’ve invented 45 characters.
KW: Really? That’s news to me. I should find out where you got that information. I’m a private lady. And I do want people to know that I’m not on any social networks, because I’ve had a few imposters.
PK: I hate when that happens.
KW: Were you the one that was tweeting as me?
PK: I heard about that.
KW: That happens a lot actually. I ran into some young girls in the lobby at 30 Rock, and I was walking away one of them was like, I’m following you on Twitter. And her other friend was like, I knew it wasn’t you. So we took that down.
PK [To WMC] You’re on the network, right?
WMC: I have a Myspace that I haven’t checked in ages. But I have a Facebook and Twitter.
PK If this film is a breakthrough, if it crosses over to men who are looking for a raunchy comedy, and women who are looking for “Sex and the City” as a raunchy comedy…
KW: I don’t know if I would describe it as that.
PK: How would you describe it?
KW: I knew you were going to say that. I don’t know. I can’t look at a movie I wrote and compare it to other things. It’s really hard.
PK: But if it does succeed…?
KW: I have no plans of leaving SNL as of yet. And I will be back next year.
© 2011 Peter Keough, THE BOSTON PHOENIX.