Kristen Wiig Takes Her Comedy to a Bigger Screen
by Paul Fischer
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Described as one of the funniest women on TV’s Saturday Night Live, Kristen Wiig joined the hit show in its 31st season, as part of an energizing new “freshman” class of new cast members, including Bill Hader, Andy Samberg and Jason Sudeikis.
Wiig was born in Rochester, New York, and graduated from Brighton High School in 1991. She performed as part of the renowned Groundlings comedy troup in Los Angeles, which was also the stomping grounds of former SNL cast members Laraine Newman, Jon Lovitz and Will Ferrell. In 2003, she landed a role on Spike TV’s The Joe Schmo Show, playing the part of marriage counselor Patricia Lane, or “Dr. Pat the Quack.” Wiig also had bit parts on ABC’s The Drew Carey Show and the short-lived I’m with Her in 2004. She also competed on World Cup of Comedy that same year. She also had bit parts in indie films such as Life, Death & Mini-Golf, and June, also in 2004. She was set to appear in the NBC comedy pilot Thick and Thin, scheduled to debut in 2006, along with SNL co-star Chris Parnell.
In her 2005 debut on SNL, Wiig was an instant hit with memorable impressions of Judy Garland, Drew Barrymore and Megan Mullaly, all of which led to her being cast as the wife of Dewey Cox in the biopic parody Walk Hard. Wiig talked comedy to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: Is this a great year for women on SNL?
Kristen Wiig: I think so. I think Amy and Maya are unbelievable. I think we have a good group.
PF: I was going to say does it feel like your career is all of a sudden hitting the stratosphere because it seems like you’re involved with a lot of projects—a lot of stuff upcoming?
KW: It doesn’t feel that way to me maybe just because—I’m definitely grateful for everything and I’m surprised that I’m even like doing this. I don’t know. It’s all very surreal to me. It hasn’t quite hit me yet I don’t think.
PF: What’s the secret of playing a character like this in a movie like Walk Hard? Is it keeping it real and not be aware of the absurdity?
KW: Yeah, we tried—I think that’s one of the reasons why it worked—this movie—especially John. He’s so committed to being this guy. It’s almost like does Dewey Cox really exist? Is he a real person because he’s playing him so well? Because there’s so many absurd things in the movie I think we had to somewhat be kind of based in reality and have the music be really good just to make it make sense.
PF: You have a particular challenge I think of juggling babies while you were—
KW: Yeah, there were a lot of babies. A lot of babies and animals around. I’d never worked with one baby, let alone 50 that were flying around the set. Like coming out of cupboards and stuff. No, I was more nervous than I needed to be I think because I thought it was going to be like crying babies like crawling up my body. Like “Attack of the Babies”—because they made it seem like you’re going to have a million kids in this movie and you’re going to look terrible and you’re going to always be pregnant. Those were like the three things they told me. And I was like yeah, of course I’ll do it. They were sweet. The moms were right there and you know it was fine.
PF: How were the moms? We they very like hands-on?
KW: In a good way though. They would hold them until like the last minute and kind of like we’d get familiar with each other and hand them off, then I’d give them back.
PF: What about the fun part about this movie is one of your first scenes when you play a 12-year-old?
PF: Did you hark back to your own childhood?
KW: I looked at a lot of old pictures. No. Yeah, just some extra makeup and a ponytail and we can all look 12.
PF: No, I wouldn’t say exactly that.
KW: Well, you’d put your baseball hat on, like, crooked.
PF: The movie is about 90 minutes or so, and there was a lot of stuff that was cut. Was there any sequence that you were in that you were sad to see go?
KW: Only because there was a little injury. I was thinking that maybe that would make it in. We did a scene where it was just going to be part of a montage of Dewey and I fighting and beating each other up and then looking at each other with passion and then coming in and kissing each other. But we both went in really, really hard on the first take and like busted each other’s lips open. Like my lip was bleeding and we had an ice packs on and we just had to fake it after that and it didn’t make it in the movie after all that.
PF: And regarding this season at SNL, has there been a specific sketch or episode or moment this season that’s really, before the strike, that stood out for you? Something you really enjoyed?
KW: Oh my gosh. Like of anyone’s in the show?
PF: Like maybe a sketch you were in or just a host?
KW: Brian Williams was a highlight for me. He was really, really funny. I knew him briefly before we did the show, but I also knew that so many people wanted to see how he was going to be as a host because he’s such a serious news guy. He was up for anything and he’s really, really funny. I was excited to see him do so well.
PF: And you’re in a few upcoming projects like Ghost Town with Ricky Gervais. You’re doing Adventureland. You have a lot of stuff. Could you talk a little bit about these upcoming roles?
KW: Sure. Well, Ghost Town is a small role, I play a surgeon that didn’t do very good surgery on Ricky Gervais and have a couple awkward conversations with him about that. And then Adventureland was written by Greg Mottola, who directed Superbad. Bill Hader and I play a husband and wife who run an amusement park, but not very well. It’s a trend. I’m doing these jobs, but not very well. Then another movie I really very proud of is called Pretty Bird that I just got into—it’s a competition film at Sundance. So I’m very excited about that.
PF: I wanted to know, could you talk a little bit about working with Paul in that film and also are you going to Sundance?
KW: Paul Giamatti or Snyder? I only worked with him one day and it was a scene where we’re all sitting there. He had to come in and yell at us. I was legitimately scared because he’s such an amazing actor and performer. He was like turning red and he was so angry. I was like in awe—like the crew. Everyone was watching that day. It was unbelievable. I’m such a huge fan of his.
PF: Are you going?
KW: I don’t know yet. It depends if we’re back at work at SNL or not if the strike ends.
PF: I was going to of course say were you a fan of Ricky Gervais?
KW: Oh, I’m like a nerd about him. Yeah, I’m a huge Office, Extras fan. I love him. Yeah.
PF: What’s been the experience been like of the non-aired SNL’s that have been happening during the strike. People getting together and—
KW: We just did one show at UCV in New York and it was really, really fun. Michael Cera was the host and yeah, it was like a real show. We had a musical guest and we had our cue cards and our stage manager was there. It was all sketches that had been written before that had never made it on the air and the writers could kind of submit the sketch that they wanted to do. It was really fun.
PF: Will you do it again?
KW: I don’t know. I think it depends with the strike—I don’t know how long—and yeah I don’t know. Everything’s kind of up in the air right now.
PF: What else are you doing during this downtime?
KW: Well, I shot the Ghost Town movie and came out here and organizing my bureau at home. Trying to go picket and yeah, just hoping it all comes together soon and we find a resolution.
PF: Do you think that the studios will come to their senses?
KW: Yes, I am. I am. I’m optimistic. I’m putting it out there. Yes.
PF: Is Pretty Bird a drama?
KW: It’s listed as a comedy but its at least a dark comedy.
PF: Is that a particular desire for you to work in drama after being in comedy for so long?
KW: Yes, definitely. I hope that people will give me a chance to do that. I would love to. Definitely would love to.
PF: What attracted you to that project? I know it’s about somebody who built a rocket belt.
KW: Rocket belt. Yeah. The script was one of the best scripts that I had read and I literally was like I will do the smallest part in this movie. I just loved it. I met with Paul and he’s just an amazing artist. He had this whole book of— kind of his vision of the movie and different scenes and how he wanted the feel to be and I just knew it was going to be an really incredible project. Plus Paul Giamatti and Billy Crudup you can’t go wrong with those.
PF: Who directed that?
KW: Paul Snyder.
PF: Is this your first film that you’ve been in that’s made it into Sundance?
KW: Yes. It’s a huge dream of mine, so I’m really excited about that.
PF: You’ve never been to Sundance before, I take it?
PF: And I wanted to know, could you talk a little bit about working with Billy Crudup because he’s so—he doesn’t do interviews. He’s a very private person. What was he like on set?
KW: Not particularly private. I mean, we’d joke around a lot and he was a normal kind of regular guy. He was really sweet. We had to kiss in the movie and it was the first time I really had to have an on-screen like moment of passion. He was very patient and good with me because I was nervous.
PF: And if we could jump back into Adventureland for a second. This is Mottola’s follow-up to Superbad. Could you just talk a little bit more about the film and what he was like directing? I know this was a passionate project for him.
KW: Yes, the script was really funny. He’s a very actor-friendly director. He kind of wants to hear your take on things and I would love to be able to work with him again. He was just an easy, laid back, never got frustrated kind of guy. And he’s super talented. There you go. I hope he hears that.
PF: When you make a parody movie there’s an inference that you don’t think highly of the movie that it parodied. How do you like things like Walk the Line?
KW: Oh, Walk the Line is one of my favorite movies of the year last year. Was it last year or two years ago?
PF: It was two years ago.
KW: Anyway, I really liked it. I love watching those movies. I think people like to see the lives of artists that are legends. They always go through the dark periods and I think just as humans we like to see that and them coming out of it. I love those kinds of movies.
PF: I think it’s a risk when you do parodies and the satire of Saturday Night Live is that people might assume you could be kind of a cynical person.
KW: Yeah, I think understanding that it’s not making fun of anything in particular but just taking a comedic look at things that most people think of as serious. I never think if I do an impression of someone, I’m never making fun of them. I think this movie is just taking the very typical storyline that a lot of those movies have of just them being discovered at a young age and getting married and having lovers and the drugs. I mean a lot of them really do follow that same storyline so I think that’s kind of what they took that and ran with it.
PF: Have you ever met anybody that you’ve impersonated?
KW: Yeah, I have. Drew Barrymore. I did an impression of her on the show, but I love Drew Barrymore and she had a great attitude about it of course. She thought it was funny. I think that’s it actually.
PF: You were in the biggest sketch that probably SNL has ever done which is “Dick in the Box.”
KW: Yes, you’re the first person to ask me about that.
PF: I’m curious when you were making it, did you know what it was and are you surprised by how many people—how that caught on?
KW: Yes and no. I knew when I just heard the song that this was going to be—people were going to like it and laugh and showing up on-set and just seeing everyone’s costumes and the crazy set that we had. I knew that I would think it was funny and you never expect the reaction that you really get. This was like huge. So many people were that for Halloween. It was crazy. So I did expect it because I knew it was funny, but you never expect the level to which it goes.
PF: Were you at a Halloween party where someone came in dressed like that?
KW: No, but I saw a lot of pictures of people. I think Nick Lachey was—wasn’t he one? Am I getting that wrong?
PF: Nick in the Box.
KW: Nick in the Box, that’s good. Yes.
PF: You were so good in Knocked Up and I was just wondering is Judd writing for you or do you go and read for him?
KW: Well, Knocked Up was the first time I ever worked with him so I auditioned for that role and Seth Rogen and I were improvising and they just told me to kind of do it a bunch of different ways and he hired me for that movie and then this movie I auditioned as well and went in and John was there. I think he likes to see the chemistry too between the actors because John C. Reilly was there and we improvised for like 15 minutes and it was really fun.
PF: Do you think that will be on the DVD?
KW: Oh God, I don’t know. Maybe.
PF: Are there any extra stuff that we’re going to see on the DVD that you remember? Because the first cut of this movie was like four hours long.
KW: Oh yeah I’m sure because there was a lot of improvising I’m sure the DVD is going to be like—you’d give yourself a couple of days to watch it.
PF: You’ve seen the movie, right?
KW: I have seen it, yes.
PF: Is there anything that was cut that you’d hope would make it on the DVD?
KW: Maybe when we bust each other’s lips open. Just seeing us go in and then recoil back and cover our mouths would be funny to see. I’m sure there are other things but I don’t remember.
PF: How close do you come on SNL to just breaking and losing it?
KW: I am determined not to do that. I try very hard. It’s really hard sometimes. Also I know me that when I start laughing I’m like gone and I can’t recover.
PF: Do you still have the fear when it’s about to start—that live TV—please don’t break?
KW: Yes, I do. There’s a lot of biting of the inner lip on the side of my mouth when something’s very funny. I just like bit the side of my mouth.
PF: Who’s the worst at doing that?
KW: Of breaking? I don’t know. We don’t really do it that much. We really try not to.
PF: Horatio Sanz used to break all the time. Jimmy Fallon was the worst. Who most often brings you to that point where you’re about to—?
KW: Will Forte hands down. I laugh. He just says one word and I laugh.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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