Kristen Wiig Walks Hard

This article appeared on, published in December, 2007. Article by Katey Rich.

It’s not easy being the first wife of a rock legend. He leaves you at home to go on tour, knocks you up with dozens of children, and eventually lets a pet chimpanzee come between you. At least that’s how it is for Edith Cox, the first wife of rock star Dewey Cox, in Walk Hard. Kristen Wiig plays the beleaguered Edith from age 12 until Dewey’s lifetime achievement at age 72—yes, Wiig is 34 years old, and makes no attempt to actually look 12. That’s just the kind of movie this is.

On break from SNL as the writers’ strike continues and happy to talk about all the ugliness she endured as Edith in Walk Hard, Kristen explained what it’s like to work with John C. Reilly, how to get away with not saying the lines Judd Apatow wrote for you, and—OMG!—making out with Billy Crudup. As if her scene-stealing role in Knocked Up wasn’t enough, now I am totallyjealous.

How do you prepare for a role like this?
I didn’t. If I had to say anything, Walk the Line probably, because it was the most recent biopic that I had seen. After talking to Jake and Judd, I know that they definitely wanted to take the first wife, who doesn’t understand why he’s not coming home yet is totally not anyone you’d want to be around, totally to the tenth degree, so we kind of had fun with that.

You seemed to be having fun.
It was really fun. It wasn’t like work at all.

What was it like having John around all the time?
Oh, it was terrible. [Laughter] He’s one of a kind. He’s amazing. I worked with him last year when he hosted SNL, but that’s only for like six days. You don’t get to know someone as well as when you work on a film with them. He’s hilarious. He’s such a good improviser.

Was he always in character?
Not to the annoying point, where you’d say, “Hi, John,” and he’d be like, “It’s Dewey.” He was still the same person. Nothing abnormal.

What were Jake and Judd like to work with?
I’ve worked with Judd before, on Knocked Up, so we’d known each other for a while. Jake is the perfect mixture of being laid back and still knowing what he wants, and being able to direct you. I hope I get to work with both of them again.

At a press conference a few weeks ago John said that the level of improvisation was crazy when you came on the set. What kind of improv did you do together?
Sometimes we would talk about it before we’d shoot—let’s try this, or give me a second before you say this, because I’m going to make something up. Sometimes we’d surprise each other and try to make each other laugh. It was fun to be able to do that.

How did Jake work with the improv?
He was great. He would definitely guide you in the right direction. Especially in this movie, there’s so much information that has to get out in a scene, you can’t ignore something that’s already in there.

Did he direct your overall tone?
He basically told me that we were definitely going to play on the unsupportive wife who still loves him—a very mixed message, confusing relationship. He also told me that I would look progressively worse as the movie went on. He’s like, “You’re always going to be pregnant, and you’re going to look really bad.” Which was fine with me. It was like baby food on my face, my hair was just literally tied in a knot. But that’s fun to play.

How did he get the whole group of actors to tread the line between pretending it’s real and being a parody?
There was a general attitude that Dewey Cox was a real person. I know that sounds odd, because the movie is so insane. We did want to sort of respect the memory of this person that he’s made up, in a way, and to take any stereotypes of our characters and just completely run with them.

Being part of Judd Apatow’s movies, which are known for showing male relationships, do you feel like you’re crashing a boys’ club or are you like one of the guys?
I think his history of writing, especially with The 40-Year Old Virgin andKnocked Up, and even Walk Hard, the story revolves around a group of guys. As far as the group, I don’t really feel that boys club. They’re all so super-supportive and cool. You don’t feel like the only girl in the room. We just all try to make each other laugh.

In a more general sense, there’s still the idea that it’s unusual when a woman is funny. Do you feel that? Do you feel like you have to be funnier than the men?
I don’t feel that way. I don’t want to ever have to feel like I’m trying to be funny. There’s definitely a difference with men and women in comedy. If you wrote a list of the last 20 comedies in the past four years, a lot of them are based on a male character. That’s just kind of way that it is. There are some movies that break the mold, but for the most part women in comedies play that lesser role. I think that’s changing, and I think that’s great thing. There are so many funny women out there.

How has your experience on SNL helped your work in film? As far as opportunity I feel like that’s the reason why I’ve had some doors open.

Is the show like an acting boot camp for you?
Oh, completely. Every week we’re producing and writing and acting in a movie. On Monday we don’t have anything for the show yet, and it’s on Saturday. You get a little frantic. But that’s what’s so cool about the job, is that the energy there. On Saturday nights, when it’s a live show, you can’t beat the energy there. And definitely performing live has made me less nervous on a movie set. To me that’s like the most nerve-wracking thing in the world, doing live TV and trying to make people laugh.

Do you miss that audience feedback when you do a film?
It’s totally different when you work for months on a movie and you don’t get to see it until almost a year later. Then if you hear people laughing, it’s a different kind of gratitude.

Is it harder to know you did well?
Totally. A lot of times when you leave a film set you’re like, ‘What did I do? Is that OK? What did I say?’ Especially when you’re improvising. You don’t even remember some of the things you said. You get nervous, because you don’t know what’s in the movie.

What did you think when you saw this one?
I loved it. Especially for me, because most of the scenes I did were just John and I. I didn’t get to see a lot of the band scenes, or the stuff with Jenna, or the big set pieces and the craziness that you see in the script but you don’t know how they’re going to do.

How have you been spending your time during the writers’ strike?
It’s terrible. We all want to go back to work. We all miss each other, and especially working on the show, we all work so closely together. To all of a sudden be ripped apart from each other, it’s hard.

Were you there to see the big, life-concluding performance at the end of Walk Hard?
I was. It was my last day of shooting. It was oddly emotional. You really felt like you were at this concert. Everyone’s there, everyone’s dressed up. He’s singing the song, and I’m supposed to be crying. I have my old age makeup on, which I loved for some weird reason. It was really kind of cool. The song is really beautiful, and because it was toward the end of shooting, there was a lot of exhaling, like, “Wow, we’ve really done it.”

In your career moving forward, would you rather have smaller scene-stealing ones or a move into romantic comedy leads which aren’t as much fun to play?
I don’t know about the romantic comedy route, although never say never. It completely depends on the script. I would rather have a small part in a really great movie than a big one in one that I’m not too psyched about. I just want to try and be in projects that are exciting to me.

What projects are you working on now?
A movie I did this summer called Pretty Bird just got into competition at Sundance. Paul Schneider wrote it and directed it. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m very excited about that. It’s kind of a dark comedy. It’s not a super-funny role, which was exciting for me. I get to cry, and make out with Billy Crudup. That was one of those movies when I read about it I was like, “I will literally walk by in the background to be in this movie, because I love the script so much.” I was very happy that I got to do it. Do you like watching yourself on-screen?
No, not at all. It’s not because I don’t like looking at myself. I have a memory of how it went, and if I watch it and it’s different, I feel like it will traumatize me. Watching film is different than SNL. I don’t watch SNL because it’s an ongoing job for me, and I don’t want to see what other people see. Movies are easier, because it’s done and I can’t go back and change it.