At first glance, Bridesmaids looks like the female version of a surprise hit movie from two summers ago about a group of guys at a drug and alcohol-fueled bachelor party in Las Vegas which has a sequel coming out next week.
But guess what? It’s not.
Certainly, the film has plenty of chances to go there. Thankfully, it doesn’t. On its own terms, Bridesmaids is a rollicking R-rated farce filled with sharp dialogue, memorable characters and hilarious moments. Directed by Paul Feig (creator of the beloved TV show Freaks and Geeks and director of many episodes of The Office and Arrested Development), the film has producer Judd Apatow’s magic touch of scurrilous and sweet.
It also has Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig in the lead, and, as evidenced on the big screen, it will make the woman who regularly plays “The Target Lady,” “Gilly,” Suze Orman and Nancy Pelosi a movie star. This is her first time to take center stage in a film after scene- stealing work in Knocked Up, Adventureland, Whip It and Paul, and she makes the most of it.
Wiig also co-wrote the script with Annie Mumolo, an old friend from The Groundlings, the L.A.-based improv group with whom she cut her comedy teeth.
In Bridesmaids, Wiig plays Annie, a woman going through a pre-midlife crisis after her boyfriend dumps her and her bakery goes bankrupt. Her invitation to become maid of honor at the wedding of gal pal Lillian (Maya Rudolph) brings the cash-strapped Annie into contact with the other bridesmaids, including snooty and wealthy Helen (Rose Byrne), loud-mouthed Megan (Melissa McCarthy), befuddled newlywed Becca (Ellie Kemper) and sassy Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey).
Wiig and McLendon-Covey (another former member of The Groundlings who is best known as sexually active Deputy Clementine Johnson on Reno 911!), recently made a quick stopover in Philadelphia. Wiig, dressed in leather pants with black Converse sneakers, and McLendon-Covey, wearing jeans, Nike running shoes and drinking Perrier water, spoke with MovieFanFare about Bridesmaids and their experience taking their humor to the big screen.
MovieFanFare: Kristen, what did you and your co-stars do to get the chemistry right in this film?
Kristen Wiig: Do you know the answer to this? Is this why you are asking?
KW: OK. It seemed like you did. Well, then…Maya (Rudolph), Melissa (McCarthy) and I were with The Groundlings. Ellie (Kemper) and Rose (Byrne) came in right away—it was instantly. But we did have a little bonding experience, which I thought you were talking about. Before we were starting shooting, Annie (co-writer Mumolo) thought we’d have a girls’ night out. So, we rented a party bus, filled it with booze and music and drove around L.A. and went to a male strip club for research and a bonding night. It was one of the most fun nights…
Wendy McLendon-Covey: We also rehearsed together for a few weeks. And we got to get into each other’s head space and how people wanted to play their characters. And by the end of rehearsals, we were like, “I love you…” So we had a really good chemistry.
KW: It (the strip club) is like a show. The guy comes out to Kenny Loggins’ Top Gun song (“DangerZone”). He’s got his Top Gun hat on. Girls are screaming and it’s like a theater show. All we did was scream and take pictures on our phones.
WMC: Pictures of of each other.
KW: It was like a fun theater show.
WMC: We bought Rose Byrne a lap dance and I’ve never seen anything so unsexy in my life. Basically, an oily man was sitting on top of Rose. And they were having a conversation. And I was saying, “Let’s get to it. This is her first one. You are boring her.”
MFF: Was it your goal to make a comedy that had a mostly female cast?
KW: It was great because other comedies are mostly men. I love working with women also, and when Annie and I wrote this movie, that that was our first priority. Let’s write a movie with a lot of funny ladies in it. Ladies that we know, people that we’d love to work with. You know, it’s rare, and it shouldn’t be. Now there is a movie poster with six women on it. Hopefully, that will change.
WMC: It shouldn’t be such a confounding thing.
KW: it wasn’t a response—like, “Now, it’s our turn.” The backdrop of a movie just brings out funny issues. But there was no agenda.
MFF: Can you talk about working with director Paul Feig?
KW: It’s so hard to describe him because there are so many nice adjectives that fit. He’s an actor’s director—I know that’s such a cheesy saying. He’s a dream. He’s so nice. Nurturing. If you have an idea about something, or you want to expand on something—I can’t say enough great things about him.
WMC: He’s collaborative. He’s funny. He’s a writer, so he knows what writers go through. He’s an improviser—he used to do to do the improv circuit back in the day. And he understands that as an actor you have to rev up a little bit, so he’ll give that to you. So if he doesn’t like what you’re doing, it never shows on his face. He’s always very encouraging: “Ok, we got that, so why don’t we try this.” He always makes you feel like you’re doing a good job. And a snappy dresser! Suits every day. Ties. Suits and tie everyday even if it was three in the morning.
KW: We had a “Paul Feig Day” on the set where everyone wore a tie and fedoras. People who didn’t have ties made them out of tape.
WMC: I will say this. He wanted to find a way into the heads of the ladies. He was interested in how we thought of things another way. During rehearsals, he was hearing things he thought were contrary to what he thought he knew. So we met one on one so we can discuss all of the characters. He took us out to breakfast and we made these elaborate backstories of our characters and he said, “Please call me or email me or text me if you have any ideas.” He really encouraged us to come up with our own stuff. We shot everything as written. Then we would improvise for a while. He’s all for that. All he wants to do is make the funniest movie possible. Judd Apatow, as well.
MFF: Well, since you mentioned Judd Apatow, tell us about his involvement.
KW: He asked me to write something after I did Knocked Up. He said whatever it is, just pitch an idea. You can write alone, you can write with a friend. I called Annie (Mumolo), who I worked with at The Groundlings. She had the idea. We pitched it to him and we started writing outlines and reading how to write screenplay books. Skyping and writing. She (Annie) was pregnant with her child during the writing of the first draft, and she was seven months pregnant with her second baby when the film began production.
WMC: It took a while to get this off the ground.
KW: We wrote the first draft over four years ago. He (Apatow) was the person we would send the script to. We would send it in and anxiously waited for his notes. He was make responding with questions like “What about…?” or “What if this happened…” or “See what happens if this character is actually like this…” It was very collaborative and “throw this against the wall and see if it sticks.” Even up to shooting. The dress shop scene (which is sure to be the film’s most talked-out sequence) wasn’t in any of our previous drafts. That’s something that was Judd and Paul’s idea. At first, you are like “What? Ok. Well, we’ll write it.” And he was, “Just try it. If it works, we’ll know it works and if it doesn’t work we’ll know if it doesn’t work, and we’ll lose it.” Why not? The movie’s going. We have the crew, we have the set. Let’s keep going. He’s very good about that. And we’re all like “What is this going to be like?” It seems like this (scene) is what people are really talking about.
MFF: You’ve both done TV and movies. Which one is more of a challenge?
KW: Each one has challenging days. I don’t know if one is any is more challenging. TV is more instant gratification, because you know immediately if it works. We shot this movie a year ago and you want it to come out and you are waiting and waiting. But that’s not challenging.
WMC: Having an audience is great, because you know immediately from an audience if you do something funny. You know immediately if it works. When you make a movie, you send your baby off to kindergarten and hope everybody likes her. But in TV in front of a live audience, it is fun and fast. You know that from SNL and I know that from my limited experience. You go from point A to Point B to wrap up in no time.
KW: And then… good night. But it’s nice to do all of them.
MFF: There is a scene where you are heading to Las Vegas on an airplane that is hilarious and lets us know more about the characters at the same time. Kristen, you were supposed to be inebriated in the scene. Were you?
KW: Well, I can’t promote drinking alcohol on the job (laughs). It was challenging when I did it, because I never really played comically drunk and high in front of 40 extras.
WMC: And one of them was her mother. Her mother was an extra in the plane scene. We spent five days shooting that scene.
KW: I said, “Mom, I’m going to be running up and down aisles. Don’t look at the camera. Just read this magazine.” Even when things were crazy around her, I think she just kept reading the magazine. She was supposed to look up, but she kept reading.