Kristen Wiig Helps Save the Day in MacGruber

This article appeared in USA Today, published in May, 2010. Interview by Olivia Barker.

Kristen Wiig has heard it before.

After all those last-minute heroics that didn’t work, shouldn’t you and MacGruber be dead of a badly defused explosion by now?

“We keep coming back!” jokes Wiig, who plays Vicki St. Elmo in the Saturday Night Live sketch-turned-big-screen-film (in theaters today). And, wait, what could the film plot involve? The mulleted hero making a lifesaving invention out of household materials in a windowless warehouse — for, gulp, 1½ hours? But MacGruber the movie vs. MacGruber the sketch — spoofs of the mid-’80s to early ’90s TV series MacGyver— is “much different,” Wiig swears. In the film, for instance, “there are actual explosions as opposed to cutting to images of stock explosions.”

Shot over 28 days, MacGruber pulls back the mullet bangs on its hero’s history. After a career as (somehow) an ace special-ops agent, MacGruber has been living in an Ecuador monastery for 10 years. But when a nuclear missile lands in the hands of MacGruber’s nemesis Dieter von Cunth (Val Kilmer), Washington brass yank MacGruber out of retirement to save the day.

And as MacGruber assembles his backup team, who turns up on his typewritten list? Of course, Vicki, who abandons her budding music career and miniature (fake) owl collection to return to chasing criminals in MacGruber’s shiny red Miata.

Comedy and a drama

Wiig doesn’t fear the fate of past SNL-derived fare (The Ladies Man, anyone?). “There’s always a soft spot for SNL films,” says Wiig, 36. “It’s exciting that this one has a buzz around it. It’s definitely one of my favorite films I’ve ever done. It’s so funny. I’m so proud of it.”

Wiig has had small but memorable roles in comedy hits such as Knocked UpAdventureland and Date Night, and she has several projects lined up, including the ensemble comedy Paul (directed by Adventureland‘s Greg Mottola) and, in a departure for Wiig, the romantic drama/mystery All Good Things.

But it’s her penchant for the peculiar on SNL that she’s best known for, from Lawrence Welk-singing sister Dooneese and her frightfully tiny fingers to Gilly, the scheming schoolgirl with the bow-bedecked Little Orphan Annie curls.

Wiig, who just wrapped her fifth season on the show, says she doesn’t consciously careen toward quirk. “Sometimes when you’re writing, it’s more fun to describe someone who looks a little off, who acts a little strange. To me, it’s more fun to play the weird lady at the party.”

Or the misfit moppet. Wiig explains naughty Gilly’s origins: “I was writing with my friend (SNL scribe) Paula Pell and I made the face” — a tucked-in chin, tight, toothless grin and arched eyebrows — “and said ‘Oh, some day I want to write a character that looks like this.’ ” Pell cooked up Gilly’s signature “Sorry” refrain. A couple weeks later, the not-so-charming girl was born.

Wiig’s wacky sensibilities have clicked: She appeared in more Season 34 sketches than any other cast member, according to New YorkMagazine. But she’s uncomfortable with the idea that she’s carrying SNL. “It’s an ensemble show. Everyone does their own thing,” she says. “I can’t do what other people do.”

People think the process is “so meticulous: Who’s in what, how many sketches people are in. It’s much more random.”

Wiig also shrugs off the inevitable comparisons to the breakout funny ladies who preceded her: Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, whom she counts as friends. “I don’t really think about it,” she says. “It’s great to come from SNL and go into such great success. I’m beyond happy for them.”

Two years to go on ‘SNL’

Wiig is co-starring, co-producing and co-writing a film that will star a flock of funny ladies (she can’t reveal who yet) about the machinations and “weird sub-language” that goes on among a bevy of bridesmaids: “You all have to get to know each other: who’s in charge, who knows the bride best.”

(Wiig, who lives in downtown Manhattan with actor/writer/filmmaker boyfriend Brian Petsos, says the plot is not autobiographical.)

Despite her comic chops, Wiig has career goals beyond bickering bridesmaids and Vicki St. Elmo. “I don’t want to sound pretentious,” she says, but “I consider myself an actor who does comedy,” not a comedian per se. “There are so many other things that I want to do besides” making ‘em giggle.

In the meantime, she has two years left on her SNL contract. She has “no idea” whether she’ll want to continue on. “People might be sick of me by then.”