Profile On: Kristen Wiig
This article appeared in Interview, published in May, 2011. Interview by Dave Grohl.
During her six seasons on Saturday Night Live, the cast of indelible characters that Kristen Wiig has unleashed on the late-night viewing public—Aunt Linda, a film critic with terrible taste; Penelope, the compulsive one-upper; Gilly, a schoolgirl who says sorry after violent pranks on her classmates; the Target Lady—have become iconic in an era when iconography is in short supply. Her deep repertoire of impersonations, which range from Suze Orman and Kathie Lee Gifford to Nancy Pelosi and Michele Bachmann, are cut from similar cloth: brilliantly lacking in self-awareness; often inflated in their senses of self-worth; almost universally socially awkward; and eminently recognizable as individuals.
Like many of her SNL forbears, the 37-year-old Wiig has also made the leap into movies, with small but memorable turns in films like Knocked Up (2007), Adventureland (2009), Whip It (2009), and Extract (2009). This month she takes center stage with a bona fide starring role, re-teaming with Judd Apatow and Paul Feig for Bridesmaids, a comedy she created with her frequent writing partner (and Groundlings collaborator) Annie Mumolo. In between writing sessions for SNL, she took a break to speak with Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl. The two reminisced about bachelorette parties and wedding stories, raising hell, doing drugs, skipping school, and the enduring appeal of death metal and mix tapes.
DAVE GROHL: You know, the Foo Fighters played on the first Saturday Night Livethat you were ever on. How long ago was that?
KRISTEN WIIG: I’ve just about finished my sixth season. Isn’t that crazy?
GROHL: Well, I’ve got to say that you’re probably the biggest crush of any—
GROHL: Especially with the rockers. For whatever reason, most rock ’n’ roll dudes relate to you out of any other woman on the cast.
WIIG: I probably lived more of a rock-star life when I was 15. I got in trouble a fair amount. I cared more about hanging out and skipping school than studying. Which I am not recommending teenagers do if they read this.
GROHL: Stay in school. Stay away from drugs. All of those things you should not do, we did them, but we shouldn’t have done them.
WIIG: I definitely ran with a pack of hoodlums, that’s for sure.
GROHL: Where did you grow up?
WIIG: I lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, until eighth grade, and then my high-school years were in Rochester, New York.
GROHL: You didn’t have that Pennsylvania accent, did you?
WIIG: I do remember people telling me that I talked funny. When I moved to Rochester, I would always say, “I’m just joshing you.” Everyone was like, “Why are you saying that?” I’m like, “I dunno, that’s how people talk where I’m from.”
GROHL: I was so happy when Bret Michaels got that big, popular TV show, because he has that Pennsylvania accent. [laughs]
WIIG: Oh, I watched all those!
GROHL: I have a soft spot for Bret Michaels in my heart. For the accent. You’re really good at doing those sorts of things on SNL. How do you do that? Is it just your ear? Is there a process?
WIIG: I don’t know. I think it’s just listening.
GROHL: How can you do it so well? It freaks people out. When they hear it coming out of your face, it’s a little fucking creepy.
WIIG: That’s such a compliment that it’s creepy.
GROHL: I have to say, I haven’t seen Bridesmaids yet. But I want to know what inspired you to make this movie.
WIIG: In the beginning, it was about what it is really like to be in a wedding. But then it turned into, you know, you’re a woman in your thirties, and maybe you don’t really know what you want to do with your life, but it seems like everyone else does, and your best friend gets married, and it forces you to look at yourself. I don’t know if I described that in a very funny way.
GROHL: Are you drawing from personal experience?
WIIG: I think I have a lot of similarities to my character. She’s involved with someone who is not really nice to her, and I think that’s something that a lot of women do for some reason or another. [laughs]
GROHL: Is that Jon Hamm?
WIIG: Yes, that’s Jon Hamm’s character.
GROHL: Is he super-snuggly and cozy, or what? I’d imagine in real life, he’s super-snuggly.
WIIG: He’s not really.
GROHL: His character on Mad Men is a little prickly . . . Maybe snuggly and prickly.
WIIG: A little bit. His character in the movie is the kind of person who gives mixed messages. “I like you so much . . . Ooh, but I really want you to leave.”
GROHL: Well, he’s a man.
WIIG: Yes. Exactly.
GROHL: Do you have any personal wedding horror stories? I have crazy wedding horror stories.
WIIG: I want to hear those.
GROHL: I mean, not crazy, but I got married in my backyard, so we found this person who married people, and we go to her house to talk about writing the vows, and the first thing she asks is if we want to do a Native American ceremony.
WIIG: And you said yes.
GROHL: Well, not really, because we’re not Native American. So we write up these really normal vows, and about a week before the wedding, she says, “You know, I don’t want to impose, but my son is a huge fan. Is there any way that I could bring him to the wedding?” It was 250 people or something. I thought, why not? We’ve got tons of food, and it should be fine. So at our wedding, instead of having a DJ, we had this Beatles tribute band called The Fab Four. They do costume changes. They start at Ed Sullivan, and by the end, Lennon has a beard. It was nuts. They went through the whole Sgt. Pepper phase, and, at one point, I heard the intro to Sgt. Pepper, and I run into the tent where they were playing, and the kid was doing crazy Widespread Panic dances. That motherfucker took acid at my wedding!
WIIG: He didn’t!
GROHL: I had to kick him out of my wedding while he was tripping, with the most awesome Beatles band ever right in your face. I mean, in a way he’s right. It was probably the best trip he’s ever had. But tripping by yourself is not…
WIIG: That’s not a good idea.
GROHL: No, that’s not cool. You need a guide.
WIIG: You need a guide! Not that I know.
GROHL: So in this movie, there has to be some bachelorette-party action, correct? I’ve got to be correct.
WIIG: Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know if I want to give it away. That’s part of the story.
GROHL: Because I think that men have this idea that bachelorette parties are all about, “Ooh, sex toys and let’s go see some Chippendales.” But I imagine bachelorette parties to be a little more hardcore than even a man’s bachelor party, like six women with penis popsi cles in a hotel lobby who want pictures and stuff.
WIIG: There’s definitely a difference between girls seeing a stripper and guys seeing a stripper. When a male stripper comes into a room of girls, they’re just laughing and screaming and giggling and embarrassed. It’s funny.
GROHL: It’s not a sexual thing at all?
WIIG: I guess for some women it might be. But no.
GROHL: So do women have bachelorette parties in hotel rooms where guys come over and dance alone in the middle of a bunch of ladies?
WIIG: Yes. They do. But the guy is usually in a cop uniform and says, “Oh, I have a warrant…”
GROHL: Oh, Officer Friendly.
WIIG: You know what I mean? Officer Friendly. Or, “I work in the hotel and you ladies are being loud.”
GROHL: Fun. I was at a bachelor party once where the stripper came in and she had a broken leg.
WIIG: No! My friend was at a bachelorette party, and she said the male stripper had bruises all over his ass.
GROHL: When you’re working on a film with all of these people who are so brilliant and funny—coming from a place like SNL or a place where improv is important—do you let people go, or do you stick to what’s written?
WIIG: We definitely let people go. Especially working with Judd and Paul. They’re huge fans of improvisation. We usually did a few takes how it was written, plus we had a million outlines that were written beforehand that we wanted to try, and then we just let people go. I love when I’m on a set and a director lets me improvise a little bit.
GROHL: It’s a drag when you see funny people in movies who seem like they’re locked into what’s been written for them.
WIIG: We tried not to do that. There are so many funny ladies in the movie, and plus, we know so many women from the Groundlings, and people who are so talented who haven’t had the chance to do something like this.
GROHL: Is that where you started?
WIIG: Yeah. I saw a show there when I’d first come out to L.A. I’d never seen improv before. I didn’t even know what it was. But I was like, Ahhh, that’s what I want to do. I love that.
GROHL: So your whole life you hadn’t aspired to be the funniest person in the world?
WIIG: No, I didn’t. I never considered myself to be funny—maybe because socially I can be a little shy sometimes. I just didn’t think that you could be both.
GROHL: Have you ever tried to do stand-up?
WIIG: No, I haven’t.
GROHL: Is that terrifying to you?
WIIG: Definitely. I enjoy being characters rather than myself. If I had to get up and talk in front of a group of people just as myself, I would be terrified. I get a little anxious, I guess. But if I’m on stage in front of hundreds of people and I am a character doing a monologue, I’m totally fine.
GROHL: I would not imagine you to be like that at all.
WIIG: When I first started the show, I was still terrified to do Weekend Update because I never really did a lot of stuff by myself. It was usually in a group or in a sketch where you’re working off someone else. But after I started doing things on Update, I really started to like playing different characters. But I don’t have that desire to go on as myself.
GROHL: How the fuck did you and Fred [Armisen] come up with that songwriting duo [Garth and Kat]?
WIIG: We’d sing songs and try to sing the same thing. After a really long time of saying, “Yeah, we should write this,” one night we just wrote a stupid intro. It’s the most fun I have on the show, I swear, because it’s so freeing, and we don’t really do a lot of improvising on the live show, because of cameras, and cutting to different people, and cue cards and stuff.
GROHL: I was amazed the last time I was at the show. I got to be in one skit with Fred.
WIIG: Oh, that’s right!
GROHL: I’ve been on nine times, and I’ve watched every show we’ve ever been on, but being in a skit has an entirely different energy to it. In the rehearsals, it just seemed like everyone in the cast was so confident that they could pull it off. I had never done it before, so of course I was nervous. I ran offstage from doing a [Them] Crooked Vultures song straight into wardrobe, and I had one-and-a-half minutes, and there’s someone tugging at my underwear, and I run out, and I’m standing there, and as they say, “We’re live,” Lorne [Michaels] leans over to me and says, “There have been some cuts to the skit.”
WIIG: Yeah, it’s a well-oiled machine. And yes, sometimes you’re in sketches, and right before they say, “We’re going,” it’s like you can see people pulling cue cards out of the stack because they have to cut lines. Knock on wood, there haven’t been that many disasters.
GROHL: There was a Richie Sambora silence that I will never forget.
WIIG: Oh, yes! It was when [Jon] Bon Jovi was doing his monologue, right?
GROHL: Bon Jovi was the host, and we were the musical guest, and something must have gone wrong, because in rehearsals [Sambora] was two buttons down, and then in sound check he was three buttons, and by the time the show went live, I could see his navel.
WIIG: Is that a saying, “two buttons down?”
GROHL: I just made it up. Does it make sense to you?
WIIG: No, I get it.
GROHL: They were almost pajamas. I don’t know if he was lost in the lights or what happened, but I just remember the hallways, those five or six seconds. It was like hiding under a desk before a nuclear bomb blows up. Where the hell else is that going to happen?
WIIG: I know. When things like that happen, people backstage are grabbing each other’s arms, like, “Oh, no, what’s happening?”
GROHL: But you’re also so supportive of each other. Is it like The Partridge Familywith you guys? Do you live in a cool, colorful bus together?
WIIG: I wish we did. I think Saturday Night Live has this horribly competitive, everyone’s-out-for-themselves reputation. But we genuinely find each other funny, and we happen to get along really, really well.
GROHL: What was your audition to get in?
WIIG: When I auditioned, they told me it had to be five minutes, and it couldn’t be over five minutes. I took that literally and bought a stopwatch. I remember rehearsing in my hotel and making sure it was five minutes exactly, because I literally thought they were going to shut the lights off. I did the Target Lady. I did Aunt Linda, that movie critic lady. I did Megan Mullally.
GROHL: You stuffed all that into five minutes?
WIIG: I did, like, nine things.
GROHL: So they thought you were fucking crazy.
WIIG: Probably. Because I just thought, I have five minutes—I want to get in as much as I can. But then I had to audition a second time, and they wanted to see new stuff as well, and in my mind I was like, “Oh, shit. I did everything that I possibly could do.” So I just had to think of new stuff. It was terrifying. Because, again, I don’t do stand-up, and it was really just me up there. To this day, it’s probably top-three most nervous I’ve ever been in my life.
GROHL: All right, what are the other top two?
WIIG: I knew you were going to ask that. Probably my first show. I don’t know what the other one would be. I just said “top three” because it sounded good.
GROHL: Do you play any instruments?
GROHL: You’d be a good drummer. The best drummers are the ones who play like they’re just joking.
WIIG: So that’s why I’d be good?
GROHL: Well, here’s the thing. As a drummer, my goal in life is to make people air-drum who have no idea how to play the drums. So, like, the drunk guy at the bar, listening to “Back in Black,” air-drumming like crazy—that’s a good drum track. I have a lot of respect for the fancy-pants drummers, like Buddy Rich, [John] Bonham, and [Keith] Moon. But to me, you set up a song, and then you kind of hit the accent like it’s a punch line, and it totally works. I think you’d be so good at it. And you can fuckin’ dance, Kristen. I’ve watched you on TV. I know that you can dance.
WIIG: And you have to know how to dance to be a good drummer, right?
GROHL: I cannot dance. I can sort of fake dance. Actually, I tried breakdancing when I was a kid.
WIIG: Are you kidding?
GROHL: Yeah, but it was like in the middle of my punk rock phase, and I was kind of confused. I was listening to, like, satanic death metal, but I wanted to learn how to spin on my head. I don’t know why.
WIIG: Do you listen to death metal now?
GROHL: Of course! Why not? Yeah!
WIIG: My boyfriend is into that right now.
GROHL: You imagine at some point in your life you’d grow out of silly phases like, I don’t know, satanic death metal, and “fuck you Ronald Reagan” punk rock music. But it never goes away.
WIIG: I went through a Dead Kennedys phase myself.
GROHL: Were you a punk rocker? WIIG: I was all over the place. I went through every phase you could possibly imagine. I went through a Grateful Dead phase.
GROHL: You were a Deadhead?
WIIG: For a little bit, I must admit. It was one of those things where everyone in my high school was getting into it. I didn’t own a lot of the music, but I would go to the shows.
GROHL: Now, did you go to the show, or did you just hang out in the parking lot?
WIIG: Oh, no. I went.
GROHL: I couldn’t do it. It’s like country music on acid. Hey, maybe I’ll send you a mix tape. Do you have a cassette player still?
WIIG: I would buy one. But I don’t even know if they make them anymore.
GROHL: I want to make a mix tape, glue it in a cassette player, and just give you the cassette player.
WIIG: And I’m going to take the tape of this interview and remix it to some funky beats.