Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell had never met before landing the title roles on “Mike & Molly.” Five years later they’re thick as thieves. Variety’s Geoff Berkshire asked the stars to reflect on their journey together on the occasion of the show’s 100th episode (which McCarthy directed).
ON MEETING FOR THE FIRST TIME …
Melissa McCarthy: We had a great beginning, I felt like it was meant to be. The second we read (together) I think I audibly went, “Oh!”
Billy Gardell: I did the same thing. I walked out of there thinking, “If I have any shot, it’s because I read with her.”
McCarthy: Even when we did the pilot we felt like we were three years in, in a good way.
Gardell: We just trusted each other, I think that was the key. I don’t know why or how, maybe it’s a Midwest thing, but there was an immediate trust and I think that spread throughout the cast.
McCarthy: Was our photo shoot before the pilot?
Gardell: Yes, right before.
McCarthy: We had not shot anything yet and they said, “We’re gonna need to get you together for a photo shoot.” We both had intense flu.
Gardell: That’s the poster! We’re kissing and deathly sick.
McCarthy: Coughing up lungs, sneezing, blowing our noses and they’re like, “Can we get you to kiss and hold it for a minute?” We both sounded like seals. By the end of that day we were forever bonded, if we could get that and not care at all. It helps we both have kids.
Gardell: That’s where we knew (the flu) came from. And that became the picture up on Sunset Boulevard and Times Square.
McCarthy: It’s like a secret, it always makes me laugh to look at that and know we were fighting through it together.
COMMITTING TO THE SHOW — AND EACH OTHER …
Gardell: There was something that happened, I always attribute it to all of us being a little older when we got this, there was a level of grounding that has stayed with us through the five years.
McCarthy: Not that this happens to everybody, but I think when you don’t walk into your career so easily — most of us had had more years of fighting for it than we ever had on the flip side of success — I think you realize this doesn’t happen every day. People were like, “This is kind of great, let’s not muck it up or let anyone go crazy.”
Gardell: Let’s protect it. That was the mantra.
McCarthy: One of my favorite things was you had your (touring) calendar from 20 years on the road as a comic. That first year, every week we had a show you would cross out dates, “I’m not in Albuquerque today and I’m not going to Phoenix on Thursday!”
Gardell: Knocking those gigs off one at a time knowing we had a few more episodes was the most fantastic feeling. I’m incredibly grateful for my standup career, but I booked a bunch of gigs thinking, “We’ll get 13 episodes and then I have to go back.” When we got picked up, it was like, “OK, one more week, one more week.”
HOW THEY BUILT AN ON-SET FAMILY …
Gardell: I love the people I work with, they’ve made me such a good actor.
McCarthy: You came in as a good actor.
Gardell: I came in as a good comic, I know how to say something really funny and make the audience laugh. The emotional stuff was so much help from you. I could look at you and you were right there for me, always such a pro. I had the same experience with Rondi (Reed) and all the cast. There’s a trust in this group, we’ve got each other’s backs. Remember before the pilot started you invited all of us to your house?
McCarthy: We’re a bunch of dorks. We went to my house and ran lines to get off book. I love that we did it, it shows exactly who we are. But if we suggested that to another group it would probably be like, “What? Come over to your house and run lines on Saturday?”
Gardell: But we did that and that’s that Midwest work ethic. I think it pays off. We love each other and I think the friendships we’ve developed through the years really plays through the television.
McCarthy: You just feel it.
Gardell: We’re not good celebrities. You won’t catch us at Spago. But my 11-year- old played Captain Hook at school, and in rolls the entire cast of “Mike & Molly.” What did you call us?
McCarthy: A huddled mess.
Gardell: We really are.
CREATING LASTING MEMORIES, ONE SHOW AT A TIME …
McCarthy: I don’t think I ever dared to think about hitting 100 episodes, it’s almost impossible nowadays. We did it with “Gilmore Girls,” but to do that twice? Seeing (old episodes) now, it’s like a photo album.
Gardell: I watch them with real fondness. And I think about what was happening the moment before we did that scene, or we were in a panic and didn’t know how it was going to get done.
McCarthy: Five years with people, it’s nostalgic to me. I forget just how funny it was. It’s a nice walk down memory lane.
Gardell: (Syndication) is an incredible fraternity to belong to. And when you make it there, you pick up a new crowd.
McCarthy: People who didn’t hit it on the first wave. So many new people have come up to me who just discovered it, it’s really wild.
Gardell: And it doesn’t hurt that you’re a big movie star. People love to ask me if I feel bad she’s doing all these movies. I say, “Man, I will pick her up and drive her to set. That does nothing but help our show.” And you have not brought any crazy to our stage, none. (You’re) the same girl I met five years ago.