TimeOut Chicago interviews Kristen Wiig
Before chatting with Melissa McCarthy over soda water in a hotel dining room, I sat down with Kristen Wiig on a couch—a taupe couch, as I would learn—in a room upstairs. In the Judd Apatow–produced comedy Bridesmaids, which opens today, Wiig’s Annie gradually, and spectacularly, loses it as the maid of honor to best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph). The slender SNL star, 37, began and ended our interview munching on cookie cake.
Judd Apatow’s films, both those he directs and those he produces, mostly concern men—which is no secret. Bridesmaids feels like an Apatow comedy but with and about women. Did you and your cowriter, Annie Mumolo, ever have that in mind?
No, not really. When we wrote the movie, we didn’t say specifically what kind of movie we wanted it to be, or even the tone. We just sat down and wrote something that we thought would be fun to make and that had good, juicy roles for women.
So was there ever a sense that, if not Apatow’s films, then “chick flicks” have certain kinds of storylines and you wanted to do something different?
No, I mean, I don’t really consider it a chick flick.
No, I don’t either—that’s why I’m asking.
Oh good, okay, good. Again it wasn’t really in response to anything else. No scenes were written with the mind-set of, “Oh, this has never been written before. Let’s do that.” It really was just sitting mostly in Annie’s apartment and typing for ten hours a day and laughing and, you know, just writing.
Since you both wrote and acted in it, I wonder about the autobiographical underpinnings, if your own bridesmaid experiences informed the story.
I know, I feel like I need to make a really good story up. [Laughs]
You’re gonna get asked this a lot.
For me, not so much. I haven’t had that many, like, nightmarish experiences. Annie more so than me, so some of the ideas and themes we drew from were either things that have happened to her or just stories that other women have told her, but nothing specific is in the movie that actually happened to us.
What kind of things—when you say things that happened to her or that you heard?
A big part of being in a wedding is the financial obligation, and that’s something that people don’t really talk about, but if you’re asked to be in a wedding, you’re gonna have to fork over some cash. A lot of times the dress is decided and they just tell you how much it is, and if some of these events are planned, sometimes you get an e-mail saying what’s happening and please contribute X amount of dollars. Annie was in a wedding and couldn’t afford to go to the bachelorette party weekend. It was just like they were going away for the weekend and it was like, well, okay, everyone needs to pay X amount ’cause we’re paying for the bride and then we’re gonna go to the spa and then we’re gonna go to shows. And she’s like, I can’t do this; that’s a huge chunk of change.
But you’ve been free of that kind of thing?
I have to say I’ve been pretty lucky. The weddings that I’ve been in have been pretty mellow.
Have you been a maid of honor?
I was when my mom got remarried but that doesn’t count so much because I didn’t take her to, like, a strip club or anything, which would’ve been funny. Other than that I’ve just been a bridesmaid.
Your character shares Annie Mumolo’s first name.
Yeah, we just sort of, you know, [Mimes tipping a hat] to her. [Laughs]
How would you describe your friendship with Annie?
It’s just easy. I’ve been friends with her for ten years. We’ve been writing this movie for almost four and a half years. I don’t think we’ve ever been in a fight. We have our own language.
You guys met in the Groundlings?
Yeah, we did, and we wrote a lot in the Groundlings, so when this project came about, I called her and was like, Do you want to write this with me? [Laughs]
So the project came to you then.
Yeah, from Judd. After I did Knocked Up, Judd asked me if I wanted to write something starring myself, and he said, “You can write it by yourself, you can write it with a friend, whatever you want.” And so I called Annie, and it was her idea, and so we wrote out a little outline and some ideas and pitched it to him, and he just asked us to go write it.
Maya Rudolph is one of the funniest people I’ve interviewed.
On set as well?
Oh, my gosh, absolutely, yeah. Casting that character was really important because the movie really is about our friendship, and you had to believe that these two people finish each other’s sentences, and I immediately clicked with Maya when we worked together on SNL, and we became even closer during the shooting of this. It wasn’t even like work.
You do get a sense of an easy rapport between the two of you in the film.
Yeah, she’s hilarious. [Laughs] A lot of, like, making up songs. Dancing.
Another costar here, Jill Clayburgh, played your mom and later died of leukemia, making this her final film.
She was extremely nurturing and maternal, and I really felt like I had a mom on set. I think we all did. It was an honor to work with her.
I read that you speak to your own mom every day.
Maybe not every day [Laughs], but I do talk to her quite a bit, yeah. She’s been my biggest support. Ever since I made the crazy decision to try to be an actor, she’s always been very supportive, and that goes a long way.
Tell me a little bit about that crazy decision. The story is that you just suddenly got in your car one day and drove to L.A.
[Laughs] It wasn’t quite that sudden, but it was pretty sudden. I was taking an acting class just as a requirement because I was an art major at the University of Arizona, and it was literally Acting 101 and I really enjoyed it and my teacher was very encouraging and asked me if this was something I would ever consider doing, and I was like, No, I don’t like talking in front of people and I get shy. I would love to and I love this class, but I can’t see myself actually doing that—even though I think deep down for most of my life secretly I’ve always wanted to do it, but I just thought a lot of people felt that way.
Which they probably do.
Yeah, I think so, and it was just one of those moments where, you know, I was in my twenties, I wasn’t really sure what I was gonna do and I was like, maybe I should just try this, and then I got in my car [Laughs] and I drove to Los Angeles from Arizona.
Another resonance with your character here: You had a lot of odd jobs when you were trying to make it as a comedian in L.A.—did you share her feeling then of, “What am I doing, what should I really be doing?”
Luckily for me I had the Groundlings, so even if I had a job that was hard to go to every day or felt like wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing, I had that creative outlet and I knew that I was still doing something towards what I wanted to do for a living. But ultimately you would like to be making a living from what you really love.
There’s a thread to several of your SNL characters: the pestering neurotic who gets under people’s skin.
There’s the one-upper Penelope, Gilly the mischievous schoolkid, the Target Lady. Annie’s different, but that description also applies to her as she completely and publicly falls apart. Why does that type of character appeal to you?
I think it’s an interesting thing to watch when a person is trying to keep it together and then ultimately when they do lose it a little bit. When I was at Groundlings, I remember taking an improv class and one of the teachers was saying, “You think it’s harder, but ultimately it’s more fun to play the loser.” I just always gravitate toward the kind of characters or people that maybe you don’t want to talk to for a long time at a party, but you do like to watch what they’re doing. Annie’s different than a lot of the characters that I’ve done in that she’s obviously not so broad, but I don’t know, it’s a fun thing to play, to know that you’re losing it a little bit but trying to act like you’re not.
Do you feel like that sometimes?
That I’m…losing it and have to act like I’m not? [Laughs] Well, I’m a human being. If a person is in that situation where they feel like they are going through something and you’re in the public eye, I guess you do have to act like everything’s fine, but, I mean, I’m not in that place right now.
As a kid, was that your mind-set or persona?
What were you like as a kid?
I was a pretty happy kid. I had a good childhood. Nothing bad happened.
[Laughs] Sorry to psychoanalyze you.
I know, people always think if you’re in comedy that there’s always this big thing.
Yeah: “Why? Why? Why do you need the laughs? Why do you cry alone in your bathtub, doesn’t have water in it?” Um, everybody does that, right?
What took you from upstate New York to Arizona?
Just wanting a change. You know, when you’re in your twenties and you want to explore the world, you go to Arizona. [Laughs] I dunno. Sometimes I wonder that myself. We make decisions that sometimes you don’t know why.
Know who you’d want as your maid of honor?
If I got married? Oh, my God. Maybe my mom so I could return the favor. But I would make her take me to a strip club. [Laughs]
And what dress would you put her in?
Oh, God, I don’t know, she would have to decide, she would have to pick something out herself ’cause then I wouldn’t hear the end of it if it was something she didn’t like. Something taupe. My mom always describes everything as taupe. They’re redoing their house—she’s like, “Well, there’s a lot of taupe.” And then sometimes she talks about clothes she buys and she’s like, “It’s kind of a taupe.”
What is taupe?
Taupe is kind of like—it’s kind of like this. [Points to the beige couch] It’s a grayish tan. Taupe. So, taupe is my answer.
Is that in the cards for you, marriage?
Uh, not at this time. I don’t—I’m in a relationship but I don’t feel the need to—we feel like we’re married, but we don’t feel the need to go through with a ceremony.
© 2011 Novid Parsi, TIMEOUT CHICAGO.