Seeing the movie, Lee definitely reads as a Melissa McCarthy character. She's one of these complex, unlikable women you often play. But is it different taking on her because she is a real person, as opposed to someone you just invented?
McCarthy: There was added pressure to that for sure. This is the first time I've done a real person. Other than something on SNL that I don't think counts.
McCarthy: Yeah. Lee is a person with a beating heart, so it's different. But I feel super protective of all my characters. Even when they are not real, they are real to me. Maybe that sounds crazy. They also usually stem from some woman I've seen. I'm a real intense people watcher, with love and admiration. I really love to watch people, especially fantastic women that just completely are on their own thing. Walk to their own beat, don't care, are in purple head to toe. There's something about that I am just immediately like, I love that. It makes me truly happy.
Even my characters usually stem from someone I've seen that I kind of daydream about. I get protective of all of them. With Lee, there's so little stuff to actually see in her. True to her character, she did not want people in her business. It wasn't about her. I had to, you know, glean stuff from her writing. Luckily, two of our producers knew her very well. Just hearing the stories they told about her that were kind of always like a dream. Amazing. She did something difficult and was causing problems, and at the end did something where you can't say it's not funny. She just always did something that was so bombastic and truly funny to me.
And then just how much she resisted people and how inflexible she was. At the worst point in her life, when she really was not surviving, certainly not thriving, she was about to lose her apartment, she was on welfare, she still could not be flexible. She couldn't just go out and get another job. She couldn't be anyone other than who she was. I kind of love her for the fact that she was like, 'Why do I have to be, why can't I just write? Why do I have to be dazzling? Can't I just do what I do?'
She's forging. She's impersonating other people. It's analogous to acting, in a way.
McCarthy: Totally. And it was really shortly before we start shooting I was like, 'She's such a different energy than me. She's so inward and protective.' Even all the other complicated, flawed women I've played, their defense mechanisms have been "distract." Like loud, showy, bombastic, different. And hers was almost, 'If I sit here still long enough, you'll probably go away.' It was a very different energy.
At first I was like, 'Oh it's such an interesting fun challenge to play so different.' And then I was struck suddenly by like, we're running exactly parallel lives. We're so similar. Other than my family, probably what means the most to me is my work, and the work meant everything to Lee.
I don't know if it's cowardly or what -- but I'm a character actress. I have to work through other people. I don't want to play me. I wouldn't know what to do. I would be so weird and awkward. I wouldn't even know how to approach it. But through someone else, I have a much more definite [idea]: I know how they walk in a room. I know what they order. I know what they say. I know how they look at someone. Suddenly it all becomes very clear. Right or wrong. I feel like I know it.
And then I thought: Well, Lee did not want to write her memoir. She did not want to play the game. She didn't want to be the celebrity author. She didn't want any of the light on her, she wanted it on her writing, which she really could only do through someone else. We both put up these veils of someone else, and then we can do our work. If it's just on us we're like, errr. All of a sudden, I was like, I think we're much more alike than I initially thought. I don't know if it's cowardly or if it's a device. But I thought that was certainly an interesting thing to realize before you start shooting that you're not playing your opposite so much.