Melissa McCarthy a “girlfriend in your head” kind of celebrity. She’s the movie star we all want to laugh and shoot the shit with over beers. She just seems so normal! So chill! But I can’t imagine the burden that comes with being Melissa McCarthy. People like me think you’re their best friend before you’ve ever laid eyes on them. And while most of us experience a spectrum of emotions and moods every day, when you’re as likeable and entertaining as McCarthy, everyone must want you to be in full-comedian mode at all times. That’s why it’s important to keep your expectations in check when interviewing performers you love. “She’s just a working professional talking about her latest project,” I tell myself on the drive up to McCarthy’s Burbank, CA, office. “Melissa McCarthy is not my friend.”
Oh, but, wait guys—she kinda is! McCarthy, 45, is everything you’d want her to be and more. She is warm, she is genuine, her hair is perfect, and the energy in her office—where she runs her production company and clothing line—is welcoming and relaxed. When McCarthy comes out to greet me within minutes of my arrival, she’s the third person to offer me a beverage. When I tell her how much I loved her new comedy, The Boss (out April 8), she clasps her hands and beams, “Oh! That’s so nice to hear!”
It’s the truth. The Boss is a hilarious 90 minutes of our bestie doing the very thing that made her a superstar—being utterly ridiculous in the most hilarious way. McCarthy stars as Michelle Darnell, an extremely rich and ruthless mogul with little regard for anyone. When Michelle is convicted of insider trading and sent to prison, she loses everything. Once that stint behind bars is over, she tries to pick up the pieces and put her life back together, with no one to turn to but her mistreated former assistant (Kristen Bell) and her daughter. In an attempt to help her daughter’s Girl Scout-like troop and get her business mojo back, Michelle rebrands the ragtag crew as “Darnell’s Darlings” and lays the foundation for a brownie empire. But her path to redemption is as twisted as her megalomaniacal mind.
It’s a full circle moment for McCarthy, who moved to Los Angeles and joined the legendary comedy troupe the Groundlings 20 years ago. Although she was a fixture on TV and in film since 2000, when she was cast as Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls, McCarthy didn’t become a household name until her Oscar-nominated performance in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Since then, she’s been front and center in a string of high-profile projects, including six seasons of the TV show Mike & Molly and the films The Heat, Tammy, St. Vincent, and Spy. And now, with The Boss, she’s playing a character she created and began performing at the Groundlings. Her husband, Ben Falcone, directed the film. And the couple, who met at the Groundlings, wrote the screenplay with their friend Steve Mallory and produced it through their production company, On the Day.
Between the releases of Bridesmaids and The Boss, McCarthy has carved out a unique position for herself as a Hollywood power player who’s not only a box-office draw, but also a successful writer and producer. (Her 2014 film Tammy—a star vehicle for McCarthy that she wrote and produced with Falcone, and that Falcone directed—established the pair as a self-sufficient comedy filmmaking team.) It’s hard to think of another star who’s had this level of success in so many different areas of entertainment over the last five years. But as McCarthy walks around her bright, vividly decorated office smiling and chatting with her mostly-female staff, there’s no trace of the entitled attitude one would expect from someone who’s risen so far so fast. “I love it!” she exclaims when one young woman proudly shows off that she’s wearing a sweater from McCarthy’s new clothing line.
"I love to show women and girls uniting. I love showing that because I think so often in movies, you see women just fighting and not liking each other. That's not real life. That's not the norm."
Yes, on top of writing, producing, and starring in a dream film project that’s about to open, McCarthy has a clothing line, too. “Workload—it’s a lot,” says McCarthy, who refers to herself as a “dingbat” in her gently self-deprecating way while explaining how many things she has going on at once. “Sometimes,” she says, “I unscrew a bottle of water, and by the time I’m done unscrewing, I’m over there doing something else.” “But,” she adds, beaming, “this is what I’ve always wanted.” McCarthy takes particular joy in being at a stage of her career where she can see her ideas all the way through from initial concept to fruition. “[My husband and I have] written together for so many years, and at the end of it, you certainly don’t always get to make the movie that was in your imagination,” she says. “But now, we get to do that. It’s crazy. We get the grand prize!”
Ever since she started being able to craft and shape her own roles for herself, McCarthy has been drawn to characterizations that are by turns quirky, awkward, complicated, weird, and often downright difficult. These are qualities that she’s especially tuned into in real people, and that she uses to give even her most outlandish characters a ring of truth. “I have a real fascination with people who have that wall up,” says McCarthy. “Like, what put that up? I always wonder, ‘Oh boy, what’s on the other side of that?’ I never quite buy that sort of bluster. It always kinda breaks my heart.” What McCarthy says she’s learned from these kinds of challenging personalities, however, is that it’s better to play by your own rules. “There are just so many ‘shoulds’ in life,” she says. “You should do this, you should wear this, you should drink this, you should only be eating this. We spend so much of our lives trying to follow the checklist and there’s an appeal to just throwing that list out.”
Part of throwing the list out is making the kinds of movies that she wants to see made. “Watching [women] become friends and then essentially become family, that’s the kind of thing I root for when I watch a movie,” says McCarthy. “I want to see that. I love to show women and girls uniting. I love showing that because I think so often in movies, you see women just fighting and not liking each other. That’s not real life. That’s not the norm.”
That’s not to say, however, that the female relationships McCarthy keeps bringing to the big screen are at all sweet, simple, or predictable. Just like in Bridesmaids, The Boss gets most of its laughs by showing women and girls behaving badly in hilarious ways. These girls are tough, inappropriate, and endearing—think Bad News Bears. And McCarthy says she really pushed the boundaries of what people would find acceptable. “I remember sitting in the conference room and saying, ‘What if there’s a brutal fight?’” she recalls. “It’s just so far-fetched that I thought, ‘Can there possibly be a Braveheart-style battle?’ We were all wondering, ‘Can adults fight kids?,’ and I’m like, ‘I think so! I want to windmill somebody!’ When Michelle curses at the kids, there are people who have said, ‘I truly didn’t like that.’ Well, you’re not supposed to like it!,” McCarthy says, laughing.
With both McCarthy and Falcone so deeply invested in creating their own brand of boundary-busting, female-centric comedy, it’s only natural that the couple’s two young daughters would be itching to get in on the act. In fact, their eldest daughter, eight-year-old Vivian, appears in The Boss as young Michelle Darnell. But she didn’t get the role without a fight. “We were very hesitant to do that,” says McCarthy about Vivian’s first film role. “By hesitant, I mean, we kept saying flat out no,” McCarthy explains. They told their daughter, “School plays? You can do that. You don’t need to be doing this as a job. You’re in school. That’s your job.” But Vivian didn’t give up, “She kept asking and asking. She knew there were kids in this movie,” says McCarthy. And then she hit her parents with this, “Am I not allowed to at least try?” McCarthy was impressed with her daughter’s argument. “I said yes,” McCarthy recalls. “‘Yes, you are of course allowed to try.’”
Vivian’s focus wowed her parents. “On the day she shot her scene, Ben was trying to joke around with her on the way to set. But she said something to the effect of, ‘Do you mind if we joke around after I’m done? I think she [Michelle] is probably pretty upset right now and when you make me laugh I don’t feel like her.’ Ben’s like, ‘I’m the director and I’m messing up my actress!’” McCarthy says, laughing. Although she’s very proud of her daughter’s performance, she’s not looking to make this a regular thing, “I said, ‘OK! Great job! Do it again when you’re 20!’” says McCarthy. Her younger daughter, six-year-old Georgette, makes an appearance, too, in a baby photo that appears as part of a montage.
For McCarthy, work is always a family affair. While so many of us struggle to find balance between career and personal life, McCarthy has made them one and the same with great results. “It’s my favorite thing,” McCarthy says of working so closely with her husband. “That’s how we met—working together at the Groundlings. We liked writing with each other. We liked being in the scenes together. It’s how we became best friends, it’s how we started dating, it’s how we ended up married.” It can’t hurt that, according to McCarthy, “Ben is the mellowest, kindest human being on the planet.” That calm energy apparently helps balance out McCarthy’s more easily distracted personality. “I’m nuts,” she says. “I don’t know how he can stand me. I’m like the hummingbird he’s got to try to focus. But together, it’s fun.”
Besides an obvious, enduring creative chemistry, working together also has very practical benefits for McCarthy and Falcone, who have been married since 2005. “We love working together, but if he’s directing something and I’m in it, we’re together all day and the kids can come to set. We can see them every day, too.” Seeing them every day is such a priority that the kids tag along virtually everywhere that work takes their parents. “The kids always travel with us. We don’t go anywhere without them,” says McCarthy, who typically puts her daughters in a local school whenever they’re on location. “I didn’t know at first if this would really mess with their sense of normalcy, but for them, it’s been so cool. I didn’t travel,” McCarthy says of her childhood growing up on a farm in Plainfield, Illinois. “When we shot [my 2015 movie] Spy, we all went to Budapest. My kids are seeing things that I’m just now seeing. We’re all seeing Budapest for the first time together, and I’m in my 40s.” McCarthy’s hope is that the nomadic lifestyle her family lives for about six months out of every year will help her daughters grow up to be adaptable and adventurous. “They’re so young, and moving around is already no big deal to them,” she says proudly. “They go to a new school in a new country and come home on the first day and are already referring to the other kids as their friends.”
"Why should we have to be shaped like boys to wear a jumper or an overall? Clothes should just be fun—for everyone."
For the last six years, the family did have one anchor keeping them based in Southern California—McCarthy’s CBS sitcom Mike & Molly. In January, just ahead of the sixth season premiere, the network announced that this would be the show’s final season. “Our season was cut short,” laments McCarthy. “Mike & Molly did well. I just don’t understand.”
Many thought McCarthy would quickly outgrow the series after Bridesmaids catapulted her to stardom in 2011. But instead, McCarthy says she would’ve continued doing Mike & Molly “forever.” “We’re a very tight group and have been since the pilot,” she says of the show’s cast and crew. “We locked in and kinda arm-in-armed it, and that hasn’t changed in six years.” At the time of our chat, only a week had passed since the last taping. “The last few weeks were tough,” shares McCarthy. “People must’ve thought we were nuts. We were all openly crying. We’re so tight that you could almost feel someone getting upset, and then we’d all get upset. But after many tears, I thought, ‘At least I had it.’ We got six years with each other—that helped me get through it. We’re already plotting where we’re meeting and who’s cooking.” Vows McCarthy, “Those people are never getting rid of me.”
Post Mike & Molly, McCarthy has more than enough to keep her busy. One of her main focuses these days is her clothing line, Melissa McCarthy Seven7. Which brings me to another reason you want to be friends with McCarthy—her enviable closet. “This is Fall. I’m cuckoo for it,” says McCarthy as she giddily starts flipping through racks showing off her collection piece by piece and using keywords like “comfy,” “flattering,” and “easy.” These days, McCarthy wears her own clothes, “99.9 percent of the time. It’s why I created the line. I can’t be uncomfortable,” she says. “I get cranky because I’m thinking about getting home and taking my pants off.”
It’s quickly apparent that this is not a traditional “celebrity fashion line.” McCarthy, who attended New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology before turning her focus to acting, is actually designing these pieces herself. “I’ve dreamed of doing a clothing line since I was in grade school,” says McCarthy. “I can’t do the thing where you just put your name on something and say ‘Let me know how it works out!’ I truly don’t know how to do that. It’s not within my nature.” McCarthy’s collection, like McCarthy herself, is full of personality—lots of bold, colorful prints and soft, quality fabrics. Her goal is to improve the overall shopping experience for women of all sizes, and her line includes clothing from size 4 to size 28. The brand is also earning a reputation for nailing styles that are rarely successfully executed in plus sizes. “Why should we have to be shaped like boys to wear a jumper or an overall?” asks McCarthy, pointing out her one-piece creations that actually accommodate breasts and hips. “Clothes should just be fun—for everyone.” Like everything she does, McCarthy incorporated her family into this project, too. “There are a lot of personal touches,” she says. One example is a shirt with two young girls sitting on a crescent moon. McCarthy reveals that it’s not only an original image, but the two girls in the pic are both her mother—at two different ages. There’s also a top that includes words from a song Falcone and their daughters wrote for the couple’s 10th anniversary.
Next up, McCarthy co-stars with Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and Kristen Wiig in the much-anticipated Ghostbusters reboot out in July (she even got her own Lego character!). And although she took some flack from Gilmore Girls fans upset that Sookie is absent from the new Netflix revival, McCarthy tweeted in February that she hadn’t been asked to rejoin the cast. (Since then, the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, has said that she’d love to write McCarthy into a scene if her schedule allows.) As far as her own production company goes, “we’re on to the next thing,” says McCarthy. Falcone just finished writing a comedy that she’ll star in, but the project she is most excited to talk about is a dramatic film that the couple has been working on for some time. McCarthy says they’re almost ready to put the pedal to the metal on a movie adaptation of the novel The Memory of Running, written by her co-star in 2014’s St. Vincent, Ron McLarty. McCarthy calls the book—about a man trying to escape grief and loss by embarking on an unusual journey—“heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s really lovely and near and dear to our hearts.”
Her production company is also looking at a few different television projects to produce. “We’re so lucky. Coming up in the Groundlings, we’re friends with so many wildly, freakishly talented people,” says McCarthy of the prospect of producing shows created with some of her long-time pals. “We had two friends just give us a script and it might be the best, tightest thing I’ve ever read. Not because I love them or know them—it’s just a remarkable script. The fact that we’ve been hanging out for 20 years can only make for a fun set,” says McCarthy. “To me, it’s an embarrassment of riches.”
By Sabrina Ford
Photos by Michael Lavine
Stylist: Judy Swartz
Makeup: Kate Shorter
Hair: Robert Ramos @ Celestine
Top image credits: JACKET, PANTS, AND TOP: MELISSA MCCARTHY SEVEN7; EARRINGS AND BRACELETS: DANIELLE STEVENS JEWELRY; SHOES: MANOLO BLAHNIK
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2016 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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