When it comes to making people laugh, no one does it better than Thunder Force star and comedy heroine Melissa McCarthy.
When it comes to making people laugh, no one does it better than Melissa McCarthy. After her scene-stealing role in Bridesmaids, she has been constantly in demand, delivering amazing performances in everything from TV series to Hollywood blockbusters. Yet
There are a handful of women in Hollywood who can headline a mainstream comedy: Melissa McCarthy, a true force of nature, is one of those few. She excels both in front of and behind the camera as star, writer and producer, and has two Academy Award nominations – Best Supporting Actress for her scene-stealing role in Bridesmaids, in 2011, and in 2016 she received a Best Actress nod for her starring role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? In person she’s as much fun as you’d hope she’d be. She laughs effortlessly, and with her infectious smile, comes across as a woman you could easily sit chatting to all day. Having reached the milestone of 50, she is the mother of two daughters, Vivian, 13, and Georgette, 11, with her husband of 15 years, Ben Falcone, her regular collaborator and partner-in-crime.
She’s now joining the superhero universe, in costume, in her new film Thunder Force, which for any other actress might be surprising news, but given that McCarthy succeeds wherever she turns her hand, it is not.
“I feel like one of the luckiest things about what I do for a living is that I get to spend a lot of time thinking about walking through life in somebody else’s shoes,” she says. “You get to see the world through other people’s eyes, which I’m hoping makes me more tolerant towards the people who I don’t understand. Learning to see someone’s flaws and still like them for it is a wonderful by-product.”
By all accounts, McCarthy is often described by her peers as ‘engaged’ and ‘a good listener’, and she doesn’t disagree. “I just hope that I’m empathetic to all different types of people, people that I agree with and don’t agree with because even when people are behaving in a way that I don’t like at all I try to always think, ‘What is it that scares them?’ If they’re angry it usually comes out of fear, it comes out of not feeling valued and I try very hard to take a breath and remember that.” Clearly, that attitude has served her well. WORKING DOWN UNDER
Speaking via Zoom from Byron Bay, NSW, where she’s been shooting the TV series Nine Perfect Strangers, she looks relaxed and happy. “Every day I get about 20 Hemsworth sightings!” she jokes. “No, seriously, Ben and I don’t even know how to describe how lucky we feel to be here. It’s so beautiful, and they’ve really welcomed us. Plus, it’s COVID free! Not a minute goes by where we don’t appreciate what that means. They are so safe here and it’s so nice to see people truly concerned and doing what it takes.”
She stars in the series with Nicole Kidman, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Shannon, and Luke Evans. “I feel incredibly fortunate.” She deadpans, “And Chris Hemsworth, if I need to go somewhere, he’s like my Uber here. Actually, I just call any of the Hemsworths. They pick me up and take me where I want to go.” She leans forward. “No, that’s a terrible joke, sorry. But listen, I’m so grateful to be here, happy to see my kids acting like kids again.”
After Nine Perfect Strangers she will also film the Netflix comedy series, God’s
Favourite Idiot in NSW with her husband. The show is about a mid-level tech support employee Clark Thompson (Falcone) who finds love with co-worker Amily Luck (McCarthy) at the same time he becomes the messenger of God. The series received a A$10 million grant from the Australian Federal Government as part of the location incentive program and is expected to employ more than 300 local cast and crew.
It’s been a meteoric ride for McCarthy, whose career breakthrough arrived when she landed a regular gig on the TV hit Gilmore Girls (2000-2007). After paying her dues with roles in such films as The Nines, opposite Ryan Reynolds (2007), and the indies Just Add Water and Pretty Ugly People (2008), she went on to play supporting roles in The Back-Up Plan and Life As We Know It (2010). And then a year later the surprise hit Bridesmaids exploded, and McCarthy’s life as she knew it was forever altered.
Numerous films followed, including This Is 40 (2012). The following year, she was Hollywood’s most ubiquitous star, appearing in The Hangover Part III and starring in Identity Thief, The Heat, and Tammy. Her later films include Spy (2015), The Boss (2016), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018), The Kitchen (2019), and last year’s Superintelligence.
Imbued with a hard-working Midwestern ethic and a never-ending reserve of blood, sweat and tears, she describes the release of each movie, particularly one in which she also serves as producer and co-writer, as akin to giving birth. Thunder Force is another family project, with Falcone taking writing, producing and directorial duties, and McCarthy as star and producer. She also enlists her good friend of 25 years, Octavia Spencer, to play Emily, a scientist who accidentally imbues McCarthy’s Lydia with superhuman abilities. In a world terrorised by super villains, these two women form the first crime-fighting superhero team.
FRIENDS AND SUPERHEROES
Spencer says, “I think, especially right now, people need to realise that everyone has it within them to be superheroes. Just by wearing a mask you’re being a superhero and saving someone’s life. And I have to admit, one of the things I was dying to do my whole career is play a superhero – and even better – I got to do it with one of my best friends,” she smiles triumphantly. Spencer and McCarthy agree – you’re never too old to be a superhero. “Superheroes aren’t all size 2, and they’re not all under
“I THINK THERE’S GREAT HUMILITY AND POWER IN ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS. WE ALL SCREW UP CONSTANTLY.”
McCarthy also won an Emmy for her work on Saturday Night Live.
30,” she chuckles. She may be making light of the prevalent culture of ageism and sexism, but even through the lens of a superhero movie, it sends a message.
McCarthy says enthusiastically, “Thunder Force was written and directed by my lovely husband. It’s a great world where someone decides to be a superhero, to right a wrong and to try and make the world a better place and it’s just a different way to tell that story. And I loved seeing two women that I certainly can relate to, not just because it’s me,” she laughs, “but to take charge of a situation and really defend the world because they believe they can make it better. That’s a very important thing these days.”
Evidently, working with Falcone has a calming influence on her. McCarthy nods. “Yeah, he’s a calming guy. He’s very funny but very calm. He is Even Steven, no matter what the situation is,” she laughs. “And I’m not. I’m like, ‘Aaaagh! What are we gonna do?’ I’m up and down and I’m big reactions and he’ll always like, ‘It’s okay. We’ll figure it out.’ I think the two of us together is a good pairing.”
While McCarthy has become a role model for many women, she talks about the woman who inspired her. “I’ve always been a huge fan, supporter and follower of RBG [Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late US Supreme Court Justice, who fought tirelessly for women’s rights]. She lived her life with such conviction, such dedication, such integrity.”
McCarthy wore an RBG T-shirt in her last film, Superintelligence. “I always thought the more people you can put her face in front of, the better. It makes them think about issues. Obviously, when we lost her, it was devastating,” she says. “We lost a huge force for good.
“And, it is someone that my two daughters and I talk about, especially what her legacy was about. I’m very proud that my girls know that she started a fight that we have to continue for equality,” she says, emphatically.
Born in Illinois, McCarthy was raised on a farm in a large Catholic family. Her career began in stand-up in clubs in Los Angeles and New York City. She is an alumna of The Groundlings improvisational comedy troupe, where she met her future husband, in 2005, and two years later they were parents to their firstborn. Somehow she manages to balance a hectic career with an equally demanding home life, all the while keeping the plates spinning. How does she look after herself and find the balance?
“I try very hard to be present. I think that’s the biggest thing I do, and I do Pilates. I try to be healthy, cut it off at two coffees, but all of that stuff I think pales in comparison to putting in a real effort to put down my devices. So, it means I’m harder to get in contact with,” she shrugs. “I put my phone in my purse and my purse goes in the closet when I get home. It’s hard in this age we live in not to confuse this with being ‘connected’ and with actually being heard and being seen. So my thing is, I want to come home at the end of the day and whether it’s Ben or if it’s the girls, if we have friends over I want to really, really, be present for them.”
In this polarising culture in which we live, where people are being called out and ‘cancelled’, McCarthy’s common sense and heartfelt words is a remedy for the harsh and relentless assault on our psyche. “I think there’s great humility and power in asking for forgiveness. We all screw up constantly. I do, at least,” she chuckles, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m constantly apologising to someone. When you screw up and ask for forgiveness, there’s great strength in that.” She pauses.
“The concept of always being right is unobtainable. We can’t live up to that and there’s such an obsession with being right and winning, but I’d much rather concentrate on being a good human,” she says. “I don’t have to win; I just have to try to do my best.”