By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—With her star-making turn in “Bridesmaids,” an ongoing successful TV comedy series, “Mike & Molly” and a hit buddy comedy “Heat” under her belt, comedian Melissa McCarthy teams up with Oscar winner Susan Sarandon in another rib-tickler, “Tammy.”
The 43-year-old actress stars as a really unlucky fast food worker who loses her job, her car and her husband on the same day. Fed up with her life, the Midwesterner embarks on a road trip to Niagara Falls with her alcoholic, sassy and sex-crazed grandmother (!), played by Sarandon. When they get into trouble, the quirky duo call one of grandma’s old friends, Lenore (played by Oscar winner Kathy Bates) to help them out. Together they learn life lessons and enjoy a pretty smashing 4th of July celebration.
McCarthy co-wrote the screenplay for the comedy with her husband Ben Falcone, an actor who makes his feature film directing debut with “Tammy.” The couple has two young daughters, Vivien, 7, and Georgette, 4.
The actress recently spoke about the making “Tammy,” which is a dream project, literally. Falcone woke up with the idea one morning and the rest, as they say, is history.
Q: What inspired the story?
McCarthy: About six years ago, Ben came downstairs just having woken up and said, “I had a weird dream and I think I have to write it. You go on a road trip with your grandmother and she drinks and sleeps around so I’m going to write that movie.” I was like “Alright, go ahead.”
Q: In the film you hit a deer with your car and then try to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to it. Was that your idea, Melissa?
McCarthy: Yeah, I’m not very bright. I was like, “What if I tried…” We were talking about it and how if (my character) really hit a deer, she would feel horrible, and she would do whatever it takes. I said, “If she was really down there with it, she might actually try and resuscitate and would it work?” Then we had to get that close but that was my own weird idea.
Q: Since “Tammy’s” a road trip movie and you have Susan Sarandon as a co-star, did it remind you at all of “Thelma and Louise?” Were there any jokes about it during the filming?
McCarthy: I don’t think we thought of it. There was a whole baseball scene where she taught me how to play baseball but we ended up having to cut that. It’s early. I’ll get better.
Q: Was Susan on board from the get-go?
McCarthy: One of the very first questions during our first meeting on the phone, Susan asked, “Are you seeing a little old lady with glasses and a crocheted sweater and a up-do bun?” and I was like, “Oh God no! She has raging problems with alcohol and she sleeps around.” Then it was OK. We’d be fine.
Q: How did growing up in the Midwest inform your comedy?
McCarthy: Ben (Falcone) and I both grew up in Illinois. That’s why when we started writing it, he said, “I think this woman is from where we grew up,” which is also where I went to college. So we had to base it on people we know and what it’s like getting, if you feel stuck. There are people who love the comfort of their small town and those who feel stuck by it. So that was kind of our jumping off place. If you’re really stuck in this rut and stuck in this tiny world of things you don’t like, what do you have to do to jump out of your vicious cycle?
Q: Was this a long-cherished dream about making this with Ben? Was it something that just felt totally natural or was there a lot of stress associated with it considering that it’s a big summer movie? Did you think about what would happen to your relationship if it weren’t a success?
McCarthy: I didn’t think of that until you brought it up. Jeez! Yes to all those things, I think. We had been working on it for years. We just thought “What if?” and “Can you imagine?” I don’t know how concrete it was when we were going to make the next step but when it was happening, I think it all came in stages. When people started actually reading it, and I found out certain people had it. I physically was literally coming apart at the seams.
Q: Was it tough assembling such a respected cast?
McCarthy: I didn’t know if Kathy (Bates) was going read it but the fact that it was at her house was making me have weird breakdowns throughout.
Q: Kathy Bates plays a gay character that has a relationship with a younger woman played by Sandra Oh. Can you talk about that relationship and going to Kathy with that part?
McCarthy: We wanted to have somebody in Tammy and her grandmother’s lives that was kind the goal—someone who was in a great relationship. Lenore made it and became really successful. We needed somebody that wasn’t coming down on them or making them feel guilty. I loved all the stuff between Susan and Kathy so much because you know from Lenore’s character that she’s not making all these bad choices but she also not making Susan’s character feel guilty about it. I thought it was kind of necessary to have that in the film. I basically thought, “If I can get Kathy for this role…” Her and Sandra, it just seemed right. They did actually know each other. Ben had directed Sandra before. So when Kathy and Sandra were together, they were all comfy. It felt like that great couple you look at and go, “What’s that magic? They just look right together.”
Q: Has your family ever taken a road trip together?
McCarthy: We drove back from (“Tammy” location) Niagara Falls to Los Angeles with our kids. That was a doozy!
Q: At one point, Tammy compares herself to a Cheeto because you just can’t have enough of them. Do you see yourself as a Cheeto?
McCarthy: (she laughs) Don’t we all? One of the things I loved about Tammy is her confidence. Right or wrong, in her world, she believes it. I loved playing that. I don’t think someone has to be justified because her point of view is great. The fun of playing that character is that throughout the film she realizes she’s doing a lot of things poorly and you see her make this little shift so that she becomes the Cheeto she always thought she could be.
Q: What was your actual grandmother like and what felonies did she commit to inspire this?
McCarthy: She was nothing like Susan’s character in terms of the drinking and carousing. I loved that no matter what, she loved Tammy and she loved her daughter. I was not at odds with my grandmother but I knew that even if I got in trouble with her, I knew she loved me. That was a big part of it for me in the movie, that there was nothing that I could really do to make the love go away, even if we were at odds.
Q: What are you doing next?
McCarthy: Ben and I are currently writing a new movie for Universal. It will be rated PG-13 instead of R, so my kids will actually be able to see it. That’s exciting.