Funny Girl Melissa McCarthy
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Funny Girl Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy is giving women everywhere the confidence to embrace who they are.

What happens when a famous actress meets an even more famous actress? If you're Melissa McCarthy, you start babbling. A lot. "Like when I met Meryl Streep at this year's Golden Globes," says McCarthy. "I don't know what you're supposed to say to her. I wanted to say something smart and worthy, and what came out of my mouth was, 'Oh my God, you're Meryl Streep!' And then I said, 'I'm sorry I keep saying that. I know you know who you are.' And then: 'Oh my God, you're Meryl Streep.'"

These days a lot of people are saying, "Oh my God, you're Melissa McCarthy." Because 2011 was a very good year: She won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for the CBS sitcom Mike & Molly. She hosted Saturday Night Live, which got one of its biggest audiences of the year. And then, of course, there was her Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids. New Yorker critic David Denby described her performance as Megan, the bawdiest bridesmaid, this way: "She is a deadpan lewd comic, proud of her weight and alarmingly active at throwing herself at people. Loose cargo in a pearl necklace, McCarthy makes Roseanne Barr seem bashful."

Lucky for us, there's more of McCarthy's signature over-the-top humor on the way. This summer she will produce, and star in, Tammy, a road-trip movie she and her husband, actor Ben Falcone, dreamed up. And while there are no plans for a Bridesmaids sequel (boo!), she does hope to work with her costars again. "I'd do anything with that group of actresses," she says. "Say the word and I'm there."

Ladies' Home Journal spoke with McCarthy about her breakthrough year, all that has changed and the things that blessedly have not.

There's such a sense of confidence in your humor. Did you always think you would make it in Hollywood, even in the early days?

I guess I thought: I don't see why I wouldn't make it. I mean, I'm not right for everything, but I'm right for some things. I do remember one casting guy saying, "Well, she doesn't read like a neighbor." And I thought, Really? That's weird. Tell that to my neighbors. Apparently they didn't like the way I looked or whatever. But still, I always had friends and family who said, "You can do this." And I thought: Why not?

Is there anything at all that makes you nervous?

A still camera -- you know, just being myself. What am I supposed to do? Left to my own devices I look like this [she makes an insane frozen Cheshire cat grin], like the worst grade school photo ever. It's so much easier for me to play a character.

So is it difficult, now that the paparazzi have started following you around?

There's this one guy that photographs me coming out of my Pilates place, and he's there two or three mornings every week. I want to say, "Hey, it's the exact same picture!" It's me in my leggings with my hair in a bun, climbing into the same car. "So, is this working for you? Are you making money off this?"

On-screen you're fearless about your sexuality: that SNL sketch where you played Arlene, crazily hitting on her coworker...and of course, Bridesmaids.

One of my favorite things is playing someone who's utterly confident -- even if they're, just, like, wrong. They're off the beaten track. They're not polished or perfect, but they're so solid in their shoes. They're having the time of their life. And I always think, Now, that's someone who's interesting. They don't give a s--- what they're supposed to be, or how they're supposed to look. I find them mesmerizing. I think there's greatness in not caring what other people think.

Acting Was Plan B

I've heard that acting was actually plan B for you. What was plan A?

I thought I was going to do women's clothing. I'd move to New York, study at the Fashion Institute of Technology and start designing. When I got to New York I lived with my good friend, Brian Atwood, who is now a big fancy shoe designer. He made my Oscar shoes and inscribed them on the soles: "To my best friend Melissa McCarthy." They're really high. I'm only 5-foot-3. He said, "But aren't they beautiful?" And I said, "Yes, but you're trying to kill me. Please don't kill me."

Do you still have the urge to be a designer?

I'm in the early stages of designing my own clothing line. Trying to find stuff that's fashion-forward in my size is near impossible. But I have a pretty good sense of what works on me and what doesn't. And I love interior design. I've completely renovated three of my own houses -- my husband and I move a lot. Now Ben is like, "Stop making us move. Renovate somewhere else!" So I branched out. I just gutted [The Help] director Tate Taylor's bathroom. My husband said, "Oh, this is great. Go to somebody else's house and rip it apart. Tear it down to the studs!"

So how did you get into comedy?

It wasn't exactly my goal. One day Brian and I were standing in line at the grocery store and he saw an ad in the Village Voice for an open mike at a comedy club and said, "You're going to do stand-up."

What were most of your routines like? I tried to find you on YouTube but couldn't.

Yes, it was before we had to record every moment of our lives. Basically I stood up and told fantastical stories about myself. And I wore crazy outfits and big wigs, and I would tell stories about being beautiful and wealthy and tall and thin. I would just keep complimenting myself. And the compliments...uhhhh, they did not match who I was. People were like, What?! I looked so odd. But then I used to dress oddly in real life, too.

How so?

I dyed my hair blue-black and wore white Kabuki makeup and long black capes. It was just so ridiculous and fun.

Doing stand-up is a brave thing.

There's a lot of magic in it. But it can be horrible, too, when the audience is cantankerous. There's always that one guy in the audience who's had too much to drink yelling, "Take off your top!"

When you eventually moved to L.A. you joined the improv comedy troupe the Groundlings, where you met your husband, Ben. Was there an instant attraction?

Ben and I have been married seven years, but together for 12. He was one of my best friends. When we were at the Groundlings we'd all go out after a show and have a couple of beers. When other people would start to leave Ben and I would stay saying, "I'm going to have just one more beer." It was like we risked becoming raging alcoholics just to finally be like, "I really like you."

Do your kids [Georgette, 2, and Vivian, 5] have the performing gene?

The older one does not want anything to do with a camera. But they're both really funny and wild. We have big dance parties every morning. We wear out that Muppets soundtrack that I love so much. As far as what they're going to do when they grow up, it's a little early to tell, but I'll always say to them: Find what you love and what inspires you.

You seem to have that same freedom, living life on your own terms.

A lot of people like to see celebrities perfectly put together. What's more interesting to me is the woman at Walmart who's happy in her cat sweater -- someone who just doesn't follow the rules, but is like, "I love what I'm wearing. I love who I am." As I get older I hope that's me. I hope I'm the weird one in, say, a plaid jumpsuit in my 80s, just enjoying my life.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2012.