This article appeared in Violet Grey, published in May, 2015. Interview by Tim Robbins.
In an era of digital oversharing and all-access celebrity, Kristen Wiig is an aberration: She’s private. On screen, she is known for her kinetic, no-holds-barred performances (from a truly genius Liza Minnelli impression to her interpretive dance with pop star Sia at this year’s Grammy Awards), but when the cameras aren’t around, the 41-year-old Bridesmaids star and Saturday Night Live alumna is surprisingly reserved. You won’t find her on social media (and rarely in the tabloids), and she is not afraid to plead the Fifth when press questions get too nosey. Which is why VIOLET GREY took a different approach to Wiig’s cover story this month.
Always quick to champion a woman of mystery, we recruited Tim Robbins, Wiig’s friend and the co-star of her new film Welcome to Me, to engage her in easy conversation. Meanwhile, VIOLET GREY commissioned and creative directed photographer Ben Hassett to capture images that would play to the actress’s air of self-possession and enigmatic allure. Stepping onto the set in a sheer, black embroidered body suit with a crimson, matte lip, Wiig did not disappoint. Staring down Hassett’s camera, she smoldered with the sphinxlike appeal of a Helmut Newton model.
The irreverent interview and the shoot’s provocative tone are both in step with Wiig’s recent career choices. An art major who discovered her knack for comedy during an acting class at the University of Arizona, the New York–based actress seems ready to set aside her funnywoman mantle for a beat in favor of meatier, more complex roles. Last year, she starred alongside fellow SNL alum Bill Hader in the edgy Sundance hit The Skeleton Twins, where punch lines were relied on in the healing process as characters journeyed through suicide attempts and infidelity. Now comes Welcome to Me, a strange gem of a film that premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last fall and opens in theaters on May 1.
Co-starring Robbins, Wes Bentley and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Welcome to Me features Wiig as Alice Klieg, a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins millions in the lottery and uses the money to produce her own Oprah-esque talk show. Hilarity ensues, yes, but so do poignancy and pathos. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene is one in which Alice wanders stark naked and confused through a crowded casino. “It was the part and it felt right, so I did it,” explains Wiig of her decision to fully disrobe for the camera (yet another example of the juxtaposition between the actress’s professional daring and personal reserve). “Of course you’re nervous, and you know people are going to make comments, but if you care about that, your job instantly becomes more difficult. You have to do things for you.”
Below, Wiig and Robbins discuss their film, the charms of Rome (Wiig is currently there filming Zoolander 2) and the fact that famous people do laundry, too, even if they don’t tweet about it.
KRISTEN WIIG: Hi, Tim. What time is it there?
TIM ROBBINS: 10 A.M. I WENT TO BED WAY TOO LATE, LIKE 5 A.M. OR SOMETHING.
K.W.: Oh, Tim. How could you stay up so late if you knew you had this important interview?
T.R.: YOU KNOW, I’M AN IRRESPONSIBLE PERSON. THAT’S JUST THE BOTTOM LINE. I JUST DON’T PRIORITIZE.
K.W.: That’s all right. I owe you one. You’re so nice to do this.
T.R.: WHAT ARE YOU DOING OVER THERE IN ITALY? YOU’RE IN ROME, RIGHT?
K.W.: Yes. I’m here shooting Zoolander 2. I’ve never eaten so much salami.
T.R.: I’VE BEEN MEANING TO CALL AND TELL YOU PRIVATELY, BUT SINCE I HAVEN’T BECAUSE I LEAD AN IRRESPONSIBLE LIFE AND I DON’T DO THINGS LIKE THAT… I WANTED TO TELL YOU, UM, HOW FANTASTIC YOU ARE IN THE MOVIE.
K.W.: Aw, thank you. I wasn’t sure if you saw it.
T.R.: I FINALLY SAW IT, LIKE, TWO WEEKS AGO. MY GOD, MAN. WHAT A COURAGEOUS PERFORMANCE. THERE’S A CERTAIN WAY TO PLAY A CHARACTER LIKE THAT. I MEAN, THERE’S A WAY TO PHONE THAT IN, BUT I FELT LIKE YOU TOOK IT SERIOUSLY AND REALLY STUDIED WHAT THAT ILLNESS IS ALL ABOUT AND HAD A DEEP RESPECT FOR IT.
K.W.: Wow. I’m so glad we got this all on tape! You know, ultimately I tried not to comment on it too much and just be the person that Eliot [Laurence, the screenwriter] wrote. But I didn’t want to make it too light. And that was hard because there are funny things in this movie, but I never wanted it to seem like I was making fun of her. I was more nervous about the comedy in the film than I was the drama for that reason. Are you there? Am I just talking to nobody?
T.R.: YES, I’M HERE.
K.W.: I’m like, “Wow, I really talked for a long time. He fell asleep.”
T.R.: WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN BAD SINCE I’M DRIVING.
K.W.: Oh, that’s great. I’m actually folding laundry.
T.R.: SO THIS IS THE REAL-WORLD INSIGHT INTO FAMOUS PEOPLE’S LIVES: THEY DRIVE AND THEY DO LAUNDRY.
T.R.: AS SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN IN SO MANY THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN FUNNY, DO YOU FIND THAT PEOPLE HAVE THIS EXPECTATION OF YOU TO ALWAYS BE FUNNY? WHAT WEAPON DO YOU USE TO REPEL THESE FORCES?
K.W.: I always say people know you how they know you, and I think people know me probably from SNL and Bridesmaids. I’ve done a couple of things that have been dramatic and sometimes I get frustrated because like…there was a scene I shot once where it was like, “Oh, this woman is so sad that she’s doing this thing,” and when we screened it people laughed. I was really nervous about that with this movie because I know that there’s some really dark moments and there’s some really funny moments, and it’s kind of up to the audience to interpret them. But, you know, you make a movie and you have just zero idea how it’s going to turn out and it never turns out the way that you think. Ever. It’s kind of scary. I don’t know why we put ourselves through this…
T.R.: YEAH, I KNOW THE FEELING. IT’S NOT YOUR PERFORMANCE, OF COURSE, BECAUSE YOU ARE ALWAYS BRILLIANT AND I’M ALWAYS BRILLIANT, YOU KNOW? I JUST WANT TO GET THAT STRAIGHT. IT’S THE OTHER PEOPLE THAT SCREW THINGS UP, RIGHT?
T.R.: IT’S ALWAYS THE OTHER PEOPLE! FREAKIN’ WRITERS, FREAKIN’ DIRECTORS! THE GUY BEHIND THE CAMERA! THE CATERING PERSON! THE LIGHTS…
K.W.: It’s always the lights.
T.R.: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LIFE. HOW ARE YOU? IS EVERYTHING GOOD?
K.W.: Everything’s great. I’m loving being away. I mean, I miss my dog, but I’m really enjoying being in the city and by myself. I have a little chunk of time off, and I’ve just been kind of exploring. It’s been a much-needed experience for me. Eating a lot and drawing and just running around…just running down the streets…the cobblestone streets.
T.R.: ARE YOU, LIKE, HIRING PEOPLE TO CHASE YOU LIKE IN THE FELLINI FILM?
K.W.: Yeah. And I’m on a bike and I just keep going around in circles.
T.R.: WEARING SUNGLASSES, I HOPE. REALLY GREAT, EUROPEAN OSTENTATIOUS SUNGLASSES.
K.W.: Huge sunglasses. At night, especially.
T.R.: LISTEN, I KNOW YOU HAVE TO GO, BUT I JUST WANT TO TELL YOU AGAIN THAT YOU DELIVERED A BEAUTIFUL PERFORMANCE IN THIS FILM. I’M HAPPY TO BE A PART OF IT, AND I’M LOOKING FORWARD TO THE NEXT ONE WE DO TOGETHER.
K.W.: I hope that I get to see you when I’m in L.A.! I love you.
T.R.: I LOVE YOU YOU, TOO, KRISTEN.