Funny girl gets se­ri­ous

McCarthy loves play­ing ‘ heroic and flawed’ char­ac­ter in Can You Ever For­give Me?


NEW YORK — With such scen­esteal­ing per­for­mances as the foul­mouthed Me­gan in Brides­maids and the brash Shan­non in The Heat, Melissa McCarthy knows you love it when she plays wildly comedic char­ac­ters.

But in her lat­est turn, the 48- yearold Os­car nom­i­nee is get­ting se­ri­ous. In Can You Ever For­give Me? she plays an acer­bic, down- on- her­luck crim­i­nal.

McCarthy plays Lee Is­rael, the real- life writer who made a name for her­self writ­ing bios for fa­mous women in­clud­ing Es­tee Lauder and Katharine Hep­burn. But un­able to get a new book con­tract, Lee turns to forgery, writ­ing fake let­ters by such fa­mous writ­ers as Noel Cow­ard and Dorothy Parker, then sell­ing them to col­lec­tors. Q Can You Ever For­give Me? and the role of Lee seem so dif­fer­ent from what we’re used to see­ing you play. Was it a big stretch for you?

A In my head it’s not, but I see what you mean. It cer­tainly has a dif­fer­ent tone and a dif­fer­ent type of en­ergy to it. But I read it and I just loved her. I found her heroic and flawed, and I knew that I was root­ing for her very early on when I read the script. I liked her so much, but I couldn’t pin­point any­thing she’d done that I should like. When I’m be­fud­dled by a char­ac­ter, I take that as a very good sign.

Q Lee’s not easy to like, but watch­ing this I was hop­ing she’d fig­ure out a way to be lik­able.

A She was ex­actly who she was. When you watch Lee nav­i­gate so­ci­ety, she was likely more ex­treme than many of us. But I think any­one can watch this and just think, ‘ Aw Lee, c’mon.’

There are so many in­stances where she could have had a dif­fer­ent kind of life. But she couldn’t bend and she couldn’t stop push­ing peo­ple away.

Q Au­di­ences have seen you do drama in 2014’ s St. Vin­cent, but you’ve mostly stuck to com­edy. Was this re­brand some­thing you were seek­ing to do?

A For me, I never think about what cat­e­gory some­thing is sup­posed to be in. When I get a script, I don’t ask about genre be­cause I don’t want to have a pre­con­ceived idea of what it will be. I read the script, and if I love the story and I’m re­ally grabbed by the char­ac­ter it makes no dif­fer­ence to me if it’s a com­edy or a drama. I’ve done come­dies on screen, but

I’ve prob­a­bly done more dra­mas when you in­clude all the ran­dom plays I did in New York when I was in my 20s.

Q Lee Is­rael died in 2014.

What do you think she’d say about your per­for­mance?

A I’ve of­ten won­dered if she’d find me an­noy­ing, which also tick­les me, weirdly. I think it’s not sen­ti­men­tal. That’s some­thing I don’t think she’d have wanted with this movie. It doesn’t paint her as pa­thetic when she’s down on her luck. She still main­tains who she is and I think that would be im­por­tant to her.

Q I was pretty good at forg­ing my par­ents’ sig­na­ture in high school. Were you a mas­ter of forgery by the end of shoot­ing this?

A I loved the ways that Lee does it. How she matched the pa­per and the pen ink. I don’t know if you can learn how to forge, but I have note­books of me re- cre­at­ing all th­ese sig­na­tures. I had to be able to do it for real. I have note­books of pages and pages of fake Noel Cow­ard sig­na­tures. Some­one’s go­ing to find that later and think, ‘ What’s the mat­ter with her?’

Q Lee is a per­son who strug­gled to find her way as a writer, but Melissa McCarthy the ac­tress has turned out to be some­one a lot of peo­ple love and ad­mire. I’m cu­ri­ous how your dreams of be­ing an ac­tor mea­sure up with where you are to­day?

A I don’t know that I knew ex­actly what I wanted. I liked the thought of do­ing some­thing where I felt I was mak­ing a vis­ceral con­nec­tion that peo­ple would re­act to. I re­mem­ber telling peo­ple sto­ries or hav­ing peo­ple laugh, and that spurred some­thing in me ( to act). I re­mem­ber grow­ing up around the din­ner ta­ble, ev­ery­one would talk about their day and we laughed a lot. We weren’t do­ing bits, but I re­mem­ber ev­ery­one was re­ally able to tell a story in a funny way ... So I started in standup and then I moved into dra­matic work on­stage. But with dra­mas, I’ve al­ways felt a need to show ( char­ac­ters), in a light that made peo­ple un­der­stand them bet­ter. Q You went from liv­ing on a farm in ru­ral Illi­nois to mov­ing to New York City at 20 with $ 35 in your pocket. Now you’re one of the most well- known ac­tresses in Hol­ly­wood. When was the mo­ment you felt,

‘ I’ve made it?’

A I’m al­ways com­fort­able when I’m work­ing. I’m very com­fort­able when I get to step into some­one else’s shoes. The other stuff is never some­thing I’m ever su­per com­fort­able talk­ing about. When peo­ple say to me, ‘ Let’s talk about what it means,’ I’m al­ways think­ing, ‘ Just give me a project.’ I don’t know what it means and I may never know what it means. All I know is I love act­ing and I love the fact that I get to do some­thing that I love from the bot­tom of my heart. Hav­ing peo­ple fall in love with a char­ac­ter they might not have liked ... I like be­ing able to do that.


Melissa McCarthy in a scene from Can You Ever For­give Me?


Ac­tor Melissa McCarthy.

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