Remember her name
We’re all familiar with the satisfying feeling of knowing about some pretty huge and exciting news a little sooner than we’re supposed to. The last time I felt it was a month ago, when I went to the cinema to see a screening of Bridesmaids, a new comedy starring and co-written by American actress and comedian, Kristen Wiig – a relatively unknown talent in the UK.
It was supposed to be a quiet evening with a friend that I hadn’t seen for a very long time and the pre-film chat boiled down to us ranting about the usual things: where our wages had gone that month, the fact we didn’t have a free weekend for four weeks, the people we work with (only joking, Stylist). We had seen the film poster, noticed a sea of women on it wearing frightful pink bridesmaid gowns and fathomed we were going to see another 27 Dresses. It was going to be pretty inoffensive, probably cliched in places, but what’s not to like about a wedding movie?
How wrong we were. Instead Bridesmaids was a comic breath of fresh air, to the point where we laughed so much we almost felt a little smug our other friends weren’t going to get wind of it for another few weeks. We also decided that we wanted to be there when they saw it, just so we could see their faces. Like The Hangover and Superbad, the roaringly silly successes starring (and largely written for) men, it wasn’t saccharine or cheesy. Following a maid of honour (Kristen) who suffers an existential crisis when her best friend starts planning her wedding, the characters have more than a touch of real about them and, amid the sarcasm sits a compassionate look about what it’s like to be a woman in your 30s.
It was only when I got to work the next day and googled Kristen that I discovered the 37-year-old is not so under-the-radar after all. A regular on the US comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live – the series has propelled Adam Sandler, Tina Fey and Bill Murray to fame – for six years, Kristen’s day job has meant taking on well-loved (and often quoted) comedy characters and doing impressions of everyone from Björk to Barbie. Her success has made her a household name in America and helped her secure small roles in films like 2007’s Knocked Up – in which she was hysterical as the passive aggressive TV producer who told Katherine Heigl she needed to lose weight to keep her job. Her five minutes of screen time on the comedy impressed the film’s director Judd Apatow so much he continued to give her acting jobs (on 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and made her a promise: if she wrote a film script – any script she wanted – he would see it made. And he stuck to his word.
At the time of going to press, Bridesmaids has already taken over $110 million at cinemas in the US, surpassing the successes of Judd’s own films and the expectation of any R-rated comedy made on such a modest budget of £32 million. The reason for the draw? Kristen. She delivers lines with expert comedic timing and penned the script herself with her friend and actress Annie Mumolo, earning her an additional dose of respect that’s only reserved for other writer/actors such as Ruth Jones, Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan and Mike Myers. There’s no question that after the film gets released in UK cinemas on 22 June, Kristen’s profile will be off the scale; precisely why Stylist asked her to grace our cover…
When we meet, it’s been nearly two months since Bridesmaids was released in the US and Kristen has flown over to London’s Connaught Hotel, where we’ve popped up a studio in the hotel’s art deco bar. Chairs, tables and champagne their place is a pink background and rails of clothes and shoes from the likes of Christopher Kane and Antonio Berardi.
When we get going, Kristen has the sort of bubbly personality which you would expect from a comedian and is happy to pull a whole host of silly faces for the camera. She also has an up-for-anything attitude, preferring to wear a name badge saying ‘Dave’ than the one left blank for her own name. But of nervousness at being in cover girl territory. When we start the interview in her hotel suite, off go the bold block coloured dresses (including the neon pick number Kristen favoured for our cover; “The colour makes me happy”) and it’s just Kristen, snuggled up on the sofa in a pair of jeans and black jumper.
That’s when I learn Kristen is shyer than I’d first assumed (“People expect you to act the way they know you,” she says. “With me, they want me to walk into a party and start doing funny voices all the time. I really don’t do that.”) She didn’t even think of acting, let alone comedy, until her late 20s, when she was working as a graphic artist in her native New York. From there she moved to LA and embarked upon “a crazy spell” that saw her undertake a number of odd jobs (more of this later) and join comedy improvisation group The Groundlings, where Will Ferrell first made his name. It was here that Kristen met her friend and Bridesmaids co-writer, Annie Mumolo. Then, in 2005, Saturday Night Live came calling and she caught the comedic acting bug…
Bridesmaids has been four years in the making. Where did it all begin?
It’s actually been almost four-and-a-half years ago since the idea came about and it was Judd Apatow that started it all. He asked me to write a script and said it could be about anything I wanted, just written by me or with a friend. So I called Annie – we’d been thinking about writing something together for a while – and we came up with this concept about a maid of honour whose life sort of falls apart and she feels like she’s having to compete with all these other women in the wedding.
Had you always dreamed of writing?
Yes, so I said yes to Judd really quickly, then hung up and completely freaked out! [Laughs] But he was really cool about it, he just said, “Pitch me some ideas and we’ll figure it out.” So I flew out from New York to Annie in LA and we wrote the script in six days. Six days! [Laughs] We didn’t know what we were doing; we bought a screenwriting book…
As your instruction manual?
Yeah, a guide to how to do it, like Screenwriting 101. We didn’t know how to write stage directions or anything so we were, “Oh put ‘Cut to’ there.” We put “Cut to” on everything actually.
And you sent it to Judd after just six days?
Yes! Yes we did! And he was like, “What, you’re finished?” It needed a lot of work but there were some things that made it in – all of the characters and the engagement party speeches and the wedding shower.
Without spoiling the fun, which are your favourite scenes?
The engagement party is one of them, and the ending [Wilson Phillips fans prepare yourself]. It’s one of those moments where we were like, “Oh my god, what did we write?”
Bridesmaids is very observational about people in their 30s…
I wanted to do something about this chapter because when you’re in your 20s you don’t have to decide on anything, almost. But in your 30s I feel there’s so much pressure, especially for women, to declare what their life’s going to be and what their career is, and are you married yet? Are you single? But you’re 30. And girlfriends are so important. You can have a boyfriend or husband when you’re 30 but you still need your girlfriends.
How did you fit writing around Saturday Night Live?
My schedule is September until May, six-and-a-half days a week, so at first I started flying to LA to see Annie then we’d write on Skype. We did everything together, every line. Sometimes we’d act stuff out on Skype then just start laughing and not be able to stop. The good thing about having a wedding as your backdrop is that they bring a lot of people together that wouldn’t normally come together. People sometimes don’t act how they would normally and there’s lots of alcohol…
Was it important to you that you didn’t just make another girly wedding film?
It’s in no way cliched. When we were writing, I don’t think we were thinking about that. We weren’t thinking, ‘Now it’s the girls’ turn to make a really funny movie’ or this is a feminist thing or anything like that. We just sat down and said, “Wouldn’t this be funny?”
Do you mind people analysing it as a gendered film?
If women feel empowered by it, then great. The only thing that’s hard to hear is the constant surprise that women are funny and that they can do things that men have done in other films. Call me crazy but I think there have been so many funny women for so many years. A film poster with six women on it shouldn’t be groundbreaking.
There are fewer women than men on SNL. Do you feel the number of women in comedy is still an issue that needs addressing?
It certainly doesn’t feel like a girls vs boys thing on Saturday Night Live but you’re right, the boys outnumber the girls three to one. I love writing [with a man]. I write most of my SNL stuff with guys.
Do you feel that comedians have more of a sense of community?
Yes, it definitely feels like there’s a bit of a family there. Like, when he saw Bridesmaids Jerry Seinfeld sent me a note to say he liked it.
You’re famous for your impressions. How do the people you impersonate, such as Drew Barrymore, react when you meet them?
I worked with Drew on Whip It! and she’s actually a good friend. She had a really good sense of humour about it. It’s not like I’m ever mean spirited. I prefer to take something and exaggerate it, make a new character, make it bigger. It’s like [US impressionist] Darrell Hammond who does this really dirty impression of Sean Connery [laughs]. Whatever he says is really sexual and dirty but it’s just so funny because it’s coming out of Sean Connery’s mouth.
When did you realise you had an affinity for comedy?
You know, comedy was never really on my list. I wanted to be an actress. I knew I liked comedy because I watched things like Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett growing up and the women who worked on SNL were always inspirational to me. People like Jan Hooks and Molly Shannon… I’ve gotten to work with Maya Rudolph [the bride in Bridesmaids], Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in my time and I think I’ve been pretty lucky. It’s a great generation.
What’s an average day in the office at SNL?
Mondays we tend to meet the host for the week [they change every week] and pitch ideas, Tuesdays we write through the night. Then Wednesday we read everything, Thursday and Friday we rehearse then Saturday we perform.
One of your co-stars, Jason Sudeikis, has said that you lived 30 lives before SNL…
Yes he said that [laughs]. It’s a little exaggerated. When you’re putting on improv shows and not really making money from acting, you have a lot of jobs, crazy jobs that are flexible so you can still go to auditions. I worked in restaurants, a flower shop, a farmers’ market where I sold peaches, a lawyer’s office… At one point, I was supposed to start work at a plastic surgeon’s office in Arizona and draw the ‘before’ and ‘after’ surgery pictures, because I majored in art [at the University of Arizona]. And then I had this moment where I was like, ‘What am I doing? If I could do anything in the world what would I do?’ So I packed up my car and moved to LA.
And that thing was acting?
Yeah, before that I just didn’t think a girl from a smallish town in upstate New York was the sort of person who could do it. So I thought I’d just be an art teacher. But then something clicked and I moved to LA and signed up to one of those classes where you have to pretend you have a cup of coffee in your hand for 30 minutes [rolls her eyes]. So that didn’t last long [laughs]. Shortly after I joined The Groundlings which is where I met Maya [Rudolph].
Who do you have the most comedy chemistry with?
Maya, she’s my best friend in the film, but also Will Ferrell [who Kristen worked with on 2008’s Semi-Pro]. But the person I’d most like to work with again is Ricky Gervais. I worked with him once, on Ghost Town in 2008 and he’s just so funny. People always ask me how to describe my humour and this is the closest thing… I just gravitate to silliness. You can tell he’s the sort of person who doesn’t rehearse in front of the mirror every day and The Office is just so captivating, the way he observes life. Are your own parents funny? They are but in very different ways. My mum doesn’t think she’s funny, but she is. And my dad tells real dad jokes. Like the other day, I told him I was going to Amsterdam and he said, “Don’t you mean Amster-darn”? [Stylist: Blank face]. Because damn is swearing… See, it takes a minute [laughs].
You’re divorced [from actor Hayes Hargrove in 2009] but happily attached to actor and filmmaker, Brian Petsos. What are your own thoughts on marriage and kids?
Marriage, probably not. I’ve been in a relationship for years now and we consider ourselves married but I don’t see the need for an actual wedding . But babies yes – I’d love to have kids.
Were you a joker when you were a kid?
I was always outgoing that way but if I had to speak in front of the class, I wouldn’t go to school that day. I’d get sick to my stomach. Even now I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s different when you’re yourself talking to people but when you’re acting, it’s easier.
What’s been the favourite line you’ve ever performed?
There are three girls in this group and I’m the unattractive one. They ask, “Who do you like to spend time with?” And one says, “My fiancé.” The next girl says, “My boyfriend.” And then they ask me and I say, “with my by myself.” [Roars with laughter]. Is that funny?
© 2011 N/A, THE STYLIST.