Bridesmaids may be the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2011, and not just because of its pedigree: Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, directed by Paul Feig, produced by Judd Apatow. This brash take on the romantic comedy has real heart but is also delightfully raunchy in its tale of the most underqualified bridesmaid (Wiig) and the misadventures leading up to her best friend’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding day. It helps that the movie is grounded by a fantastic female ensemble including Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, and Wendi McLendon-Covey.
We got to chat with McLendon-Covey, a veteran of Reno 911! who plays bitter housewife Rita. In a comedy about major life changes, she’s the example of what happens when your dreams don’t quite pan out, yet she plays the role with wryness and shocking (because they’re true) one-liners dissing her husband and kids. Bridesmaids took years to come together, for schedules to match up and the studio to take a chance on a decidedly different film. McLendon-Covey was at the original table read and herself auditioned a handful of times before snagging the role.
In other movies with a big female ensemble, you hear about the actresses getting to know each other behind-the-scenes, to better cement those relationships. Did the six of you have a process like that?
McLendon-Covey: Well, we had rehearsals before the movie started, so for about three weeks we would get together to talk about our characters and stuff. I knew Kristen, Maya, and Melissa from [LA improv comedy group] the Groundlings. And we met at a wedding shower, which was crazy. So I knew them pretty well, but Rose and Ellie I didn’t know at all. Just talking to them at rehearsals it was like, Oh yeah, we’re gonna get along just fine. ‘Cause they’re funny ladies and they have no vanity; they’ll go to the ugly places. They’re not afraid to be the butt of a joke. Since none of us are like that, it worked out perfectly. And there’s no overlap in the characters, so that made it really easy because we felt like, That person can have her moment, it’s not gonna infringe on my moment. There was no competition.
I know that Ellie has been on The Office, but she seems to have sort of a muted humor; and Rose has been in a lot of more dramatic roles. Did you, as the more experienced comediennes, give Rose or Ellie any sort of advice? Did they ask you for any?
McLendon-Covey: They didn’t need any. The only thing we gave Rose advice on was the whole wedding thing, ‘cause I guess in Australia they don’t have this bridesmaids nonsense. That was the only thing she needed clarification on. The rest of it, she just fell into it perfectly, she’s really funny. And Ellie is just a stitch. The thing with Ellie, though, is I wasn’t sure if shewas acting at first: She plays such a little prissy girl and I thought, Oh my gosh, is she improving right now or is she really like this? She’s hilarious, she’s just really good at what she does.
How much improv was in the movie? One thing I was delighted by was how in the trailer, a lot of the lines especially from that engagement party scene, didn’t end up in the final film. Was it a matter of you guys improving multiple takes and the producers chose what they wanted?
McLendon-Covey: Yeah, pretty much. We made sure to film every scene scripted, then we would do improv takes, and whatever was funniest won out. So that engagement scene especially that was a heavy improv day for us, and there were so may different takes on our different introductions. I hope they include them on the DVD, ‘cause theat’s just too much good stuff to lose. I was kind of surprised too when I saw the trailer and then the movie; none of that stuff is in there. That’s a change of pace; usually they put the movie’s funniest highligts in the trailer. With ours, the trailer has nothing to do with the movie.
Were there any other sequences that you used improv for?
McLendon-Covey: Oh yeah, the whole Brazilian restaurant where we were discussing shower names and all of that. The stuff on the plane was pretty much improved as well. Any time we were on-screen, we had the opportunity to improvise our stuff. Whatever was funniest, won out. That engagement scene stands out for me because it was the first day that we all got to be together and solidify everything at once.
You were talking before about all the ladies being unabashed and immodest. What struck me was that this movie it didn’t treat women as wilting flowers; like, Kristen’s character Annie had that energetic sex scene in the begining, and there’s the dress fitting scene, where you all are vomiting and pooping in the sink. What was it like shooting those scenes? Was there any embarassment or was it just “balls to the wall,” so to speak?
McLendon-Covey: When we first found out we were gonna be doing that it was like, “I don’t know about this.” But the thing that makes it not gratuitous, that we can make sense of it, is that it shows just what a bad decision maker the character of Annie is. She can’t even pick a place to go to lunch without it becoming a total disaster. [We had] that in mind and the fact that when women are trying not to do something it’s really funny. A woman trying not to burp or trying not to show that she has a run in her stockings, those things are funny. That kind of drove us through it. Once you commit, it’s like, if that’s what I’m doing for the day, I’m gonna do it 100 percent. I have to say, it was kind of fun being thrown up on. I don’t want to do it all the time! It was fun for the movie, and it turned out well. I’m very pleaed with the arc that I got with my fake vomit.
Could you tell us about your character, bored housewife Rita?
McLendon-Covey: Rita is a bitter mother of three. I think when she first got married she was Becca [Kemper’s character]: Very idealistic, she probably walked up to people and said “I’m married,” showed her ring, and was real obnoxious about the whole thing. And somewhere along the line she discovered “This is not what I want to be doing for the rest of my life.” And the way she talks about her kids is totally inappropriate… I have to tell you, a lot of the stuff I use—I eavesdrop on people all the time, and there was a woman talking about her sons in that way. I thought, You are disgusting! How dare you talk about your children like that! How damaging.
[Rita’s] in a prison of her own making. She could do something about it; she could go get a job. She’s just a complainer, and yeah, maybe things have not gone the way she wanted it to, but like with everybody else in the movie and anyone in life, you’re the problem, and you’re the solution. But I love that she feels like she needs to spread her pickle juice all over everybody and say, “You shouldn’t get married, it’s terrible, I hate it, this is the last time I’m ever gonna be a bridesmaid, we have to make it count.”
Do you find that you have a preference for projects that are more scripted and structured, or ones that give you the opportunity for improv? The Groundlings troupe is based on improv, right?
McLendon-Covey: Yeah, on improv and sketch. I don’t have a preference; the only thing that gets me is when projects are improvised just because the writer is lazy and doesn’t want to come up with anything, or wants you to do it for them. That’s frustrating. But that was not the case here. They wanted us to use the material and elevate the material. They didn’t want us to completely do an overhaul on the material; they already had very specific beats in mind and very specific story arcs. We were just there to service that.
What next projects are you working on?
McLendon-Covey: Well, I have a nice little recurring gig on Rules of Engagement; I’ve got a few more episodes to come out before [the season] ends. Just waiting for some projects to be greenlit, actually.
Would you be working as an actor or a writer in these? Are you looking to write more?
McLendon-Covey: I’m only interested in writing things for myself. I don’t want to write things for other people to do, so yeah, if it’s something I can do for myself and bring all my fun friends along, then yes.
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