This article appeared in Gotham, published in July, 2010. Interview by Bill Keith.
Saturday Night Live MVP Kristen Wiig takes on action-comedy, orphans and the elusive hunt for a good cappuccino.
For me it was knowing that we were going to go for ‘super-hard-core-Rated-R.’” Kristen Wiig explains when asked how she decided to do MacGruber, this summer’s latest Saturday Night Live sketch-turned-feature film. She did, however, have one proviso before reprising her role opposite Will Forte’s bumbling bomb diffuser, a send-up of the ’80s TV action show MacGyver: “I wasn’t sure I could spend the whole summer in the wig I wore in the sketch. Thank God they changed my look to be a little more attractive for the movie,” she adds, referring to the more Farrah Fawcett-like appearance her character has taken on. “I still rock a high-waisted jean, though!”“Suze Orman loves it when I do her. She’s even given me things to put into sketches. She’s so sweet and of course was like, ‘Kristen, if you ever need any financial advice…’”
Wiig initially made her mark on SNL with off-kilter characters like the Target Lady, the consummateone-upper Penelope and the incorrigible Gilly, but lately it’s her ability to bring that twisted sensibility to impressions of real-life people that is getting the biggest laughs. “Nancy Pelosi isn’t exactly a crazy, wacky lady that’s easy to make superfunny and Kathie Lee Gifford isn’t actually insane, but I like the challenge,” she says. She has never met Gifford or Pelosi, but another favorite target may be her biggest fan: “Suze Orman loves it when I do her. She’s even given me things to put into sketches. She’s so sweet and of course was like, ‘Kristen, if you ever need any financial advice….’”
So perhaps playing MacGruber’s sidekick wasn’t the most obvious character for her to take to the big screen (in the 2009 SNL season she averaged six sketches per episode and appeared in nearly twice as many as any other woman on the show), but the five-year SNL vet is truly excited about the film. “There are so many ridiculous things in it, but rather than just make it a spoof, the writers were serious about it and turned it into a full-blown action-comedy,” she says. The film’s testosterone levels are ably amped up by performances from Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer and Powers Boothe, all of whom she says fit right in with the rest of the original SNL crew who created it.
Catching up with the 36-year-old during SNL season isn’t easy, and the multitasker managed to synchronize the delivery of her Fresh Direct order while doing this interview during a rare moment at home. Her workweek starts on Monday afternoons, when the show’s writers, producers and cast gather in Lorne Michaels’ office for a meet and greet with the guest host and to pitch ideas, though according to Wiig, there’s really no point at which you can tell how the live show on Saturday night will actually go. “Not even at the dress rehearsal,” she says.
On Tuesdays, everyone arrives at 30 Rock starting at 3 PM and they don’t leave until Wednesday morning, only to return again in the early afternoon to do a table read, often staying till 9 that night. Then it’s a full day of rehearsing on Thursdays and Fridays, with call times sometimes as early as 6 AM.
For that reason, Wiig’s New York isn’t one most Gothamites see, but it’s certainly no less interesting: “Most of my New York experience is earlymorning walks and the show’s afterparties, which start right after the show and go till 3 or 4, where people wind down somewhere nice. Then it’s on to the ‘after-afterparties’ at dark, seedy bars downtown that stay open until like 8 in the morning for us.”“[After parties] rotate between a handful of places with passwords that usually have to do with the host. I honestly don’t even know some of the names of them, because you just get taken there at 4 in the morning and they’re pretty nondescript.”
Wiig is discreet, however, when it comes to the address of the much-sought-after, afterhours debauchery: “They rotate between a handful of places with passwords that usually have to do with the host. I honestly don’t even know some of the names of them, because you just get taken there at 4 in the morning and they’re pretty nondescript.” Wiig’s off-work MO, though, is hardly the coke-fueled bingeing of SNL’s early years. On Sunday, her day off, she scours various neighborhoods for one thing: “A good cup of cappuccino.”
Though she claims walking the streets of New York is how she likes to spend her time off, she hasn’t given herself much of it lately. In addition to MacGruber, this July she can be heard as the voice of evil orphanage owner Miss Hattie in the animated feature Despicable Me, airing as two episodes of HBO’s Bored to Death, and she is about to shoot her first starring role in the as-yet-untitled film she co-wrote, which will be directed by The Office and Arrested Development’s Paul Feig.
The upstate New York native recently left the Upper West Side for lower Manhattan with her boyfriend, actor and producer Brian Petsos, and the duo is downtown’s answer to When Harry Met Sally, having met each other 21 years ago. “We dated a little bit in high school, went our own ways and always wondered what happened to the other person, and then much later on we found each other again. Is there a way not to make that sound cheesy?” she laughs.
Not really. And so for Wiig, life downtown is sweet, but you won’t find her tweeting about swilling martinis at the Crosby Street Hotel or devouring a delicious steak at Raoul’s, and it’s not just because she likes dive bars and prefers the veggie dogs at Better Burger. “I don’t do any of that Twitter stuff, but I did have a fake tweeter— and they made me sound like such a douche bag! It was like, ‘Hi, I’m going to 30 Rock and can’t wait! It’s going to be a hard week!’ and weird stuff like, ‘I went in my attic today and found my old guitar. Oh, man!’ and ‘If anyone dresses up as any of my characters for Halloween, send me pictures!’ It was so embarrassing. If they’d written crazy stuff, I wouldn’t have stopped them!”