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.