This article appeared in Paper, published in December, 2011. Interview by Alexis Swerdloff.
She’s been making us laugh for quite a few years, but now it’s time to take Kristen Wiig seriously.
It’s a chilly morning in early November, and Kristen Wiig and I are both bundled up.
“Oh, you have an infinity scarf, too?” Wiig says, referring to our on-trend, circular neck-warmers. “We’re totally going to be best friends,” she jokes in a soft, sing-songy voice.
I play it cool, chuckling nervously (because being best friends with Kristen Wiig is something that I have actually — no joke — dreamed about) and am stopped short from blurting out “stars–they’re just like us,” when Wiig catches a glimpse of the tag: “Wait, yours is also Missoni? Well in that case, we’re definitely going to be best friends.”
“Yes, but — well, actually, mine’s Missoni… for Target.”
“Oh…” she trails off, smiling politely.
Wiig, the 38-year-old Saturday Night Live cast member and writer-star of this past summer’s Bridesmaids, is the type of celebrity your average New York girl in the media can have vaguely realistic dreams about being friends with. True, she is very skinny, her features are super symmetrical, her teeth incredibly white and her outfits fashion-forward, but she’s not hounded constantly by paparazzi when she leaves an airport and isn’t a regular on the step-and-repeat at Cinema Society after-parties.
Still, despite the relative “normal person” vibes she gives off, Wiig’s Missoni scarf was made by actual Italians and she most likely did not buy it on a flash-sale website. And as nice and relaxed as she is throughout our interview (and as reluctant as I am to admit it), Wiig is a star who is decidedly not just like us.
“She just completely stood out as this solid, unbelievably funny person. She instantly became somebody I wanted to be friends with.”– Maya Rudolph
This past summer, after six seasons chugging along and stealing the majority of scenes on Saturday Night Live, and several small but memorable roles in films likeKnocked Up and Adventureland, Wiig starred in, and wrote (with writing partner Annie Mumolo) the universally acclaimed smash-hit Bridesmaids. It made a whopping $287 million worldwide at the box office, becoming producer Judd Apatow’s highest-grossing film to date and propelling Wiig to Hollywood power-player status.
For the few who haven’t seen it, Bridesmaids, directed by longtime Apatow collaborator Paul Feig, follows a down-on-her-luck former pastry chef named Annie (Wiig), whose best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph), announces she’s getting married. As her maid of honor, Annie is charged with overseeing a ragtag band of bridesmaids, and one hysterical and bananas scene after the next ensues. Let’s just say, you will definitely never want to set foot in a Brazilian churrascaria again. The film also has its fair share of heartstring-tugging moments (Annie has a love interest, played by the charming Chris O’Dowd), but Bridesmaids‘ most poignant scenes have to do with the bonds of female friendship, and it refreshingly steers clear of run-of-the-mill, rom-com schmaltz.
“I’ve always seen it as a friendship movie,” Wiig says, “and not a wedding movie — which I think is hard for people to get because it’s called Bridesmaids.”
Rudolph, who is real-life best buds with Wiig (the two became close when they briefly overlapped on SNL), like this writer, also had friendship fantasies about the comedian. “When I was on maternity leave,” Rudolph recalls from the set of her new sitcom Up All Night, “I was watching the Christmas episode of SNL — which is always, if you’re laying in bed with your newborn, the episode that really makes you miss the show — and I hadn’t met her yet, but Kristen came on and did the “Two A-holes” sketch with Jason [Sudeikis]. She just completely stood out as this solid, unbelievably funny person. She instantly became somebody I wanted to be friends with. I kept thinking that I wanted to be back on the show to have fun with her… as weird as that sounds.”
Wiig met her other best friend, Mumolo, back in the early-aughts when the two were part of the Groundlings, L.A.’s famed comedy troupe. It was there that Wiig toiled in relative obscurity for most of her 20s, auditioning, working odd jobs and landing bit roles here and there, before Lorne Michaels scooped her up in 2005.“I definitely know how it feels to be the person walking in and doing an audition; in my experience, to like, say something awkward and then leave my bag in the room.”
“To really sit on the other side of that was really eye opening and weird,” Wiig recalls of the Bridesmaids audition process. “I definitely know how it feels to be the person walking in and doing an audition; in my experience, to like, say something awkward and then leave my bag in the room — it’s a nerve-racking thing. “Other than writing the part of Rita with former Reno 911! actress Wendi McLendon-Covey in mind (“we just couldn’t picture anyone else in that role”), everyone else was cast after the fact: Melissa McCarthy, whom Wiig and Mumolo knew from their Groundlings days; Rudolph, who was an obvious choice; and then all other cast members through a rigorous set of auditions. “Getting these relationships and chemistry down between the actors was really important, because that was the biggest part of the movie.”
In addition to fast-tracking Wiig’s career and proving that a female-fronted comedy can actually make money, Bridesmaids raised the profiles of its other stars in a major way. An ensemble film in the truest sense, Bridesmaids introduced America at large to the genius that is McCarthy, McLendon-Covey, O’ Dowd and Ellie Kemper, while showing new sides of already-established actors like Rudolph, Rose Byrne and Jon Hamm. “That it would be an ensemble cast was kind of the first thing we knew when we sat down to write something,” Wiig says. Like most female comedians asked to speak about their roles as trailblazers in a mostly male-dominated field (see: Mindy Kaling’s new memoir), Wiig is hesitant to make any sweeping socio-cultural statements on the subject, and is uncomfortable with the idea of Bridesmaids as any sort of step forward for womankind: “It’s unfortunate that this is only now being talked about, because women have been present in comedy for so long. There have been tons of movies with lots of women in them before Bridesmaids. It’s just a confusing thing to me. But you know, if more movies are getting green-lit, and writers are getting a chance because of this movie, I couldn’t be happier. That’s such a great thing, because the fact that they weren’t is kind of awful.”
As awards season approaches, and buzz builds around potential writing nominations for Wiig and Mumolo (they’re also working on a new comedy together, but won’t say whether it’s a Bridesmaids sequel), the film’s success has led some to speculate that this might be Wiig’s last season on SNL. Her publicist squelches the rumors, and anyway, casting decisions aren’t made till the end of the season. “I love the cast. We’re like Melrose Place without the murder,” Wiig says.
She’s been a standout on the show almost from the get-go, with beloved, off-kilter characters like the Target Lady, Gilly, Penelope and Judy Grimes further proving that beneath her sensible pair of black ankle boots, Wiig is not like the rest of us, and clearly super-crazy. Much has been made of how “un-hilarious” Wiig is in interviews, and indeed, I have a hard time cracking her calm and cool shell (a delicate flick of the jazz hands, recalling her “Don’t Make Me Sing” character on SNL, is all she’ll give me). But watch any of her more memorable roles — from SNL stand-outs; to the underminer-y E! TV producer she played in Knocked Up; to Annie in Bridesmaids — and it’s clear that each unhinged and loopy lady comes from a person with a truly twisted and deranged sense of humor. For proof, look no further than Dooneese, the tiny-handed sister with the big forehead, who she plays on SNL‘s recurring Lawrence Welk Show sketch.
“Kristen came to SNL knowing who she was, which I really envy,” Rudolph says of Wiig’s early days on the show. “I was 27 when I got there, and not really fully formed, but she was an adult, and she immediately just sort of nailed it.”
While Rudolph says Wiig can certainly be shy, and a “girlie-girl,” when the two are together, their “sense of humor can get weird — and maybe also mildly annoying to others.” While working together on the forthcoming film Friends with Kids, “Our hair woman there later told us, ‘I miss being there and hearing your and Kristen’s songs.’ And we were both like, ‘What songs?’ and she said, ‘Whenever you talk about stuff you start singing.’ We weren’t even really that aware that we did that.”
In addition to finishing up this season of SNL, Wiig has a slew of projects in the works. The aforementioned Jennifer Westfeldt rom-com Friends with Kids had her reuniting with Bridesmaids costars Hamm, Rudolph and O’Dowd, but in different permutations. “It was weird seeing Maya with Chris, I was like, hey, he’s supposed to be with me!” Wiig says. She filmed Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s dark comedy Imogene over the summer, in which she plays Darren Criss’ older love interest, and it was recently announced that she’ll star opposite Robert De Niro in the Sean Penn-directed film The Comedian. Then there are her own projects: “I’m writing something by myself that’s not a comedy,” she says. “It’s just a smaller indie movie, which is the sort of thing I actually gravitate towards. I just wrote a big chunk on a plane ride. And then there’s another story idea that I want to write way down the line that’s probably not a comedy either. One of them I think I might act in, one of them I want to just direct, I’m not sure.”
When Wiig recalls the past several months, you get the sense that she could use a vacation — the last one she took was right after Bridesmaids wrapped up in the summer of 2010. “After Bridesmaids came out in May, we went right into press. Then I filmed Imogene, and the last day of the filming was the day before the Emmys. So I had to go get on a plane to L.A. for those, which was the day before we went back to SNL,” she recounts. In what little free time she has to truly veg out, she likes to hang out and get dinner with her SNL castmates, and spend time with her boyfriend of several years, filmmaker Brian Petsos. “I’m not ‘on the scene,’ or anything,” she says of her New York existence. She also likes reality TV (“I love the Real Housewives; as an actor and writer it’s nice to come home and watch reality TV, it helps my brain.”) and does her fair share of online shopping. “Can you shoot up crack? Whatever you do with crack, online shopping is better than shooting up crack.” While most women obsess over shoes or bags, Wiig has a thing for sweaters. “I’m totally a sweater person. I wear them all year long,” she says. “Leesa Evans, who helped on my costumes on Bridesmaids, told me ‘You have to stop buying sweaters.’ But I can’t help it. I like a sweater.”
I bet Missoni has some nice ones.