This article appeared in The New York Times, published in February 10, 2021. Interview by Dave Itzkoff.
The friends, confidants and collaborators explain why it took more than a decade between films and why Jamie Dornan is their dream co-star.
Has it really been a decade since “Bridesmaids” upended comedy moviemaking? That 2011 film, which was written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo and starred Wiig as a woman whose life is thrown into disarray by the wedding of her best friend (Maya Rudolph), was a riotous success: While putting its female ensemble at the center of a raunchy, R-rated romp and initiating a conversation about women’s roles in comedy, it took in more than $288 million at the worldwide box office. “Bridesmaids” helped to elevate Wiig from the ensemble cast of “Saturday Night Live” and earned her and Mumolo an Academy Award nomination for their screenplay.
Instead of reappearing immediately in a follow-up collaboration, the two longtime friends have since been seen in individual projects: Wiig has acted in films like “The Martian,” “The Skeleton Twins” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” while Mumolo has appeared in comedies like “Bad Moms” and “This Is 40.”
But Wiig and Mumolo were not taking a vacation from their partnership. They have also spent several years on a new film, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” which will receive a video on demand release from Lionsgate on Feb. 12. Written by Wiig and Mumolo and directed by Josh Greenbaum, “Barb and Star” casts the two screenwriters as the title characters, a pair of well-meaning if blissfully clueless Midwesterners whose trip to a luxury resort unexpectedly lands them in a ludicrous life-or-death adventure.
Compared with the somewhat more grounded comedy of “Bridesmaids,” Wiig and Mumolo said in a recent video interview, they wanted “Barb and Star” to reflect a more freewheeling and farcical spirit. That sensibility could be found in the sketches they created for the Groundlings, the Los Angeles performance troupe where they met, and in the movies that influenced them when they were growing up, like “Airplane!” and “Top Secret!”
Mumolo added, “That’s where our heads were at for several years — because it took that long to get the movie made.”
Wiig and Mumolo spoke further about the making of “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” how it grew out of “Bridesmaids” and their affection for the middle-aged characters they portray. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Did your friendship and partnership begin at the Groundlings?
ANNIE MUMOLO Kristen and I had a lot of success there. We just had a very similar sense of humor. I’ve loved writing with her from Minute 1.
KRISTEN WIIG We definitely gravitated toward characters of the middle-aged realm. It was almost an afterthought where, years later, we were like, wow, all of our characters are middle-aged women who have crazy wigs.
MUMOLO They’re invisible and underrepresented in movies and TV, but they felt very real to us. The woman working behind the desk at my dad’s dental office, who was obsessed with Fabio and entered a contest to win a ski trip with Fabio.
Was it difficult to continue the collaboration when Kristen left to join “Saturday Night Live”?
MUMOLO I’ve never even told Kristen this but I actually did feel very sad when she moved away to do “Saturday Night Live.” Because I missed her.
WIIG [eyes pinkening] Aww.
MUMOLO I did feel like, oh, maybe that was the end of an era, even though we did have a lot of ideas we wanted to do. But I did really miss her.
WIIG Oh, I missed you! But we found each other again, like long-lost creative lovers. We started writing “Bridesmaids” in, like, my second year there.
Did “Bridesmaids” start out with more of the absurdist humor that we see in “Barb and Star”?
WIIG Oh, yeah. There were a couple of ideas for musical numbers.
MUMOLO Kristen’s very first boss was this woman who was kind of a Barb and Star. She was obsessed with dolls.
WIIG When we were running around to find Lillian [the bride, played by Maya Rudolph], we were going to find a woman lying on the ground. We’re like, “It’s Lillian — she’s dead!” And then we were like, “Oh wait — it’s not Lillian.” And then we just keep running.
After the success of “Bridesmaids,” were you just inundated with offers to do more writing?
WIIG We had opportunities to do more writing and it still felt like such a new thing for us. Writing a movie is such a different beast than anything we had ever attempted before.
MUMOLO Everyone does come to you and say, I have a story for you. My life is your next comedy! Our parents had a lot of people giving them stuff. My poor dad, his patients were giving him scripts. He would be like, what should I say to people?
“Bridesmaids” helped open up a conversation about equality for women in moviemaking, but it also elicited a certain amount of backhanded, “I didn’t know women could be funny” praise. Did that surprise you?
MUMOLO We actually didn’t know about the perception that women quote-unquote “couldn’t be funny,” until our movie was being marketed and the question was raised in the press. And then it really was hit over the head. It was strange.
WIIG The lack of opportunity for female writers, actresses and filmmakers has always been there. And because it became such a conversation, it was a little like, why is this a thing? Why are we still talking about this? Are we really talking about women being funny?
Was there a point where you knew “Barb and Star” would be your follow-up to “Bridesmaids”? Did you feel an obligation to come back with another film quickly?
WIIG It was never like, Oh, we’d better write something soon. This just happened when Annie and I were joking around, and it was like, oh, maybe we should write something.
MUMOLO “Bridesmaids” took five and a half years to get made. It’s almost like being pregnant and giving birth. If you were to find out you were pregnant with a baby the day after you just had a baby, it’s too much. You need that time for your brain to decompress and just live life.
WIIG There’s also so much more joy in writing it when it doesn’t feel like an assignment. We wrote the first draft [of “Barb and Star”] in a really short amount of time. We just wrote it in a vacuum and thought, is this funny or is this weird? Then we had eight or 10 people over and read through the whole thing. And we were like, oh, maybe this is something we should continue to work on.
Where did the Barb and Star characters come from?
MUMOLO On “Bridesmaids,” we were writing scenes for Lillian and her mother [played by Lynne Marie Stewart], and we’d go on these runs where the mother would just be talking about Costco. [Exaggerated Midwestern accent] “I love that, where did you get that beach cape? It’s out of sight!” “I got it at Costco!” But they had nothing to do with anything. So it’s grown over the years, and it’s funny because the more we talk about it, we do realize, these characters are a lot who we are.
WIIG Just the part we don’t show anybody. The real versions of us when we’re just together on the phone.
Do you admire their unrelenting obliviousness?
WIIG What I love about them is they just unconsciously filter out what anyone is thinking of them. They could walk into a room and people could be like, You were not invited. And they would leave and just be like, That was a fun party. They just live in this innocent bubble where everything is wonderful and new to them.
MUMOLO I do envy the way they find joy in the littlest things — an in-flight magazine — if you could just bottle it and take it with you everywhere.
Was “Barb and Star” designed to give Annie a bigger screen role than she had in “Bridesmaids”?
WIIG It’s definitely a two-hander. I’ve always been like, I need the world to see more Annie. Because she literally is the funniest person that I know.
MUMOLO We had written a role for me in “Bridesmaids” as one of the bridesmaids. But because of the process of the movie, we were on-again, off-again so many times for so many years. I was like, I’m living my life and I was having a family. So I got pregnant. We had gotten sort of shelved and then they called like two weeks later and said, “We’re back on!” And it was like, I’m pregnant. So that’s going to be great.
WIIG How many months pregnant were you?
MUMOLO I was seven months pregnant when we began shooting, and I had my son a week and a half after we wrapped. I couldn’t play that role, so we redeveloped it and we recast it. Now I have my amazing 10-year-old son that I would just never trade for it.
How did you come to cast Jamie Dornan as the film’s love interest?
WIIG We could talk about that for an hour. You just never know when you cast someone, what it’s going to be like. And then he shows up on set and we were all just like, You’re amazing.
MUMOLO The first day we met Jamie, we were sitting in our costumes, our wigs and everything, and I said, “We have to be your dream gals.” And he said, actually, “I really was a big fan of ‘The Golden Girls’ and had a huge crush on Estelle Getty.” Doesn’t that just make you love a man?
[In an email, Dornan replied: “I loved ‘Golden Girls,’ yep. Didn’t have a crush on Estelle Getty, but she was my favorite character and my friend. I joined an online fan club for her!”]
Was there any particular joy in making a movie that takes place at a lavish beach resort?
WIIG I will say it was just very hot. If you are capable of zooming on any shot where we’re outside, we are sweating.
MUMOLO There were scenes where we were on the sand, looking at each other, and we’re like, I just want you to know, I’m blacking out right now — I can’t see you.
Did you have to get any special training for the scenes where you’re riding a jet ski?
WIIG It was a version of Annie I had not seen before. She’s like: “Get. On.” She took control of that thing like she had been jet-skiing her whole life. I was terrified. I was holding on for dear life.
MUMOLO That was, for sure, my favorite. Just flying over the open ocean was pretty exhilarating. Kristen was holding onto me, screaming.
WIIG I have a fear of sharks and things that can grab me from the water. I was just very scared.
Was it at all disappointing for you that “Barb and Star,” which was planned as a theatrical release, is instead coming out on VOD?
WIIG Just for the pure sense of enjoyment, there’s nothing like a watching a comedy in a theater with other people. Being in a room with a bunch of people who are happy and escaping for a minute is, like, the dream. Of course we envisioned our movie being in the theaters, and it was just this inevitable choice that was made for us, not just by the studio but by the way the world is. We want people to be safe and they can watch it in their homes and that’s cool, too.
MUMOLO In a weird way, it actually might be meant to be. It feels like a crazy thing now, like, oh my God, imagine going on a trip? When you think of Barb and Star never leaving their hometown, I’m starting to feel like I’ve never been out of my house.
Have you decided what your next collaboration will be?
WIIG I’m going to speak for both of us and say that we’ll always do stuff together. Who knows what the next thing will be? I don’t know. But there will be something on the horizon. Another 10 years from now? I don’t know [laughter].
MUMOLO We have dreams of, like, let’s take Barb and Star somewhere else.
WIIG It would just have to rhyme with their names.
MUMOLO We’ve got a rhyming dictionary and a globe.