Kristen Wiig Reflects on Her First Big Break
This article appeared on IndieWire.com, published in July, 2013. Interview by Nigel M. Smith.
It’s been two years since “Bridesmaids” came out of seemingly nowhere to become the comedy of 2011, and make Kristen Wiig a star. Since that career high point, Wiig has turned down a shot at a sequel, instead focusing a myriad of other stints that have included ending her run on “Saturday Night Live,” taking a guest spot as the young Lucille Bluth in Netflix’s new season of “Arrested Development,” playing a supporting role as a depressed mother in the indie rom com “Friends With Kids,” and doing some voice work in this summer’s kiddie blockbuster “Despicable Me 2.” Her new film out in select theaters today, “Girl Most Likely,” marks her first stab at a lead role since her breakout smash.
Directed by “American Splendor” duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, the comedy centers on Imogene (Wiig), a New York-based playwright who fakes a suicide attempt in an effort to win back her ex-boyfriend. When that doesn’t pan out quite as she’d hoped, she’s forced, by doctor’s orders, to relocate to New Jersey and live under the supervision of her estranged mother (played by Annette Bening).
I had the chance to sit down with Wiig in New York’s Crosby Street Hotel to discuss the film, the parallels between it and “Bridesmaids,” her run on SNL and how she’s coping with all that fame entails.
In your two big screen lead roles you’ve displayed quite the knack for playing sad sacks who don’t have their shit together Can you speak to that and why those kind of roles obviously appeal to you?
I don’t know [laughs]. I guess it’s just because it’s the first movie that I’ve starred in since “Bridesmaids,” I’m getting that comparison a lot, but I haven’t done that in any of the other movies that I’ve done. It wasn’t a conscious thing that I really want to play this kind of person. It was just, I read the script that Michelle Morgan wrote and really loved it and wanted to be involved.
Imogene struggles throughout the film to land her first break. What would you consider your biggest breakthrough thus far?
It depends on how you look at it. I guess most people would think it would be “Bridesmaids,” and some would think it would be “SNL.” But I think for me I would even go back to the Groundlings Theater in LA and getting into the main company, because it was the first time I had worked so hard to get this one thing and then it happened. I remember getting that phone call when I got into the main company like it was yesterday. It was the biggest, happiest moment. It’s a lot of work, and it’s years of classes and shows and writing and being vulnerable and putting yourself out there and finding characters and improvising and being nervous and it’s a whole life. When I got into the main company, that was really a big deal for me.
Given that you experienced that high earlier in your career than Imogene, could you relate to her predicament at all?
I can relate to two things. I guess wanting a life that looks on paper more glamorous than the one you’re living and then realizing that it doesn’t really mean anything, and procrastinating with writing after you’ve had some success and knowing that people are expecting something from you. I can absolutely relate to that.
So that raises the question: what do you have in the works?
I’m slowly working on something by myself that’s a little more on the dramatic side. It’s coming together very slowly. And Annie [Mumolo, her “Bridemaids” co-writer] and I are gonna write another movie. She’s writing a movie right now, so after that we’ll work on it.
So more dramatic fare, huh?
Yeah, but the one with Annie is going to be a comedy.
I was surprised by your performance in this. You cry a lot.
I do! I was just really sad in real life. That’s all it was [laughs]. I’m just kidding. That’s what you do. You do a drama when you’re having a really hard time and then everyone gives you credit for crying [laughs].
I’ve always wanted to do dramatic stuff. I did two this year that are going the festival route so we’ll see.
You’re becoming quite the festival darling. “Girl” played at TIFF last year.
Yeah, and I did a film called “Hateship, Loveship” that is maybe going to Toronto this year and then another movie called “Skeleton Twins” that will hopefully be at something.
On another note, I saw you on Jimmy Fallon last night where you did a killer Michael Jordan impersonation.
Oh, that’s so funny. I love that idea, and it was nice to be able to do an interview not as myself.
Do you feel more comfortable doing an interview as a character — not having to talk about yourself?
I wouldn’t say it was more, I’d say a better way to say that is I’m never really comfortable doing an interview as myself. Not because I’m an uncomfortable person, but because it’s such a fine line between, you know, you’re this person on screen or on TV or whatever and people have perceptions and opinions of you and it’s hard to know how much to say or give. I don’t really talk about my personal life ever, and I don’t go to a lot of event type things. I’m sounding like someone that just stays at home. I’m not. I’m very social. I’m just not very public with that part of my life.
You were on “SNL” for so many years, but “Bridesmaids” put you a whole other level. How have you dealt with that change?
I think that not talking about your private life helps you stay a little protected. For me, and I’m not one of those people who gets chased by paparazzi. They do get me sometimes, but they’re not standing outside my apartment or anything. It’s weird to be recognized and I don’t know if that weirdness will ever go away. I think it’s probably good it’s a strange thing. Sometimes it’s hard, I’m not going to lie, but no one wants to hear someone talk about how hard it is to be recognized because then you just sound like an asshole. There is a privacy thing that sometimes is difficult because everyone has a camera. Before camera phones, if someone just had a camera, they wouldn’t just take a picture of you because that’s weird, but now that everyone has a phone that has a camera for some reason it’s not weird to just do it from the other side of the room. That sometimes can be difficult.
Did your growing celebrity ever get in the way of your work at SNL? Such a big part of the job there is celebrity impersonation and working with celebrity guest hosts.
Not really — I think because I consciously don’t make fun of people in my impressions or mock them. I mean, it’s such a fine line when you do an impression of someone because my first thought is, “OK, I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to make fun of someone.” I think that’s why so many of my impersonations turned into caricatures of that person. You have to find something that person does and multiply it by a thousand and exaggerate. For instance, when I do Kathy Lee, she doesn’t act the way that I’m making her act by any means, but she’s known for speaking her mind and being really funny. I personally really enjoy watching her. It doesn’t seem like she cares what people think and she’s just very open and I just find her really funny. But in doing an impression of her you have to take that persona and turn it into a whole separate thing. It’s like a character or something.
So many “SNL” alums have seen their characters go on to feature films. Have you ever entertained that idea with one of your characters?
I’d never say never, but I have not entertained the idea. I don’t think anyone wants to watch anyone that I’ve done in a film.
I for one want to see the life story of the Target lady.[Laughs] Oh my God. After 30 minutes, you’d probably want to leave the theater after hearing that voice.
Maybe she doesn’t talk like that at home.
Yeah, maybe it’s just in the store. You might be on to something there. You’ll get a writer’s credit.