At just shy of five feet tall, Melissa Rauch is the perfect height to play a gymnast.
Indeed, her portrayal of a sort of Tonya Harding of the pommel horse in “The Bronze” is being hailed as a breakout role for the “Big Bang Theory” actress. A sex scene that finds her character, the aptly named Hope Ann Gregory (an all-American moniker if ever there was one), doing cartwheels and somersaults while engaging in some pretty vigorous coitus has been a highlight of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
That was the one area where Rauch’s, ahem, proportions proved problematic, particularly as she wasn’t going to be able to pull off the kind of erotic handstands and flips the sequence required.
“We needed to find a stunt double, and gymnasts don’t usually have a chest, so it required a lot of very awkward conversations,” said Rauch, who ultimately found a Cirque du Soleil performer to be her doppelgänger.
The filmmakers behind the low-budget film lucked out when it came to finding a location for the sequence. The motel room they used had handicap rings by the windows that provided the perfect way for the two doubles to stick the landing, as it were.
“I hope years from now people can go to that hotel room and rent it out on their anniversary,” said Rauch.
The sex sequence is so shocking that it’s threatened to overshadow the film itself. That’s no easy feat given that it’s a movie that also contains scenes of Rauch smoking pot and snorting decongestant, pleasuring herself to video of her Olympic medal win and delivering profane arias of insult.
These four-letter filled putdowns were crafted by “The Bronze” star and her husband, Winston Rauch, who collaborated on the script.
“I know that my wife is not playing the first female antihero in film,” said Winston Rauch. “I know there are precedents for that, but we were trying to push the envelope. This sort of thing is commonly accepted in male protagonists who are antiheroes. We wanted to be as honest in this character.”
Director Bryan Buckley argues that Hope Ann’s vulgarity masks a wounded heart. The film finds the former America’s Sweetheart living in her father’s basement, without a job, and engaging in all manner of hedonistic pleasures in an attempt to forget that her glory days are behind her.
“People might talk about the raunch, but we were very precise in the character development,” said Buckley. “She might be calling someone a bloated pussy, but it comes from an endearing place.”
Creating the character also required Rauch to don an Olympic team track suit and some of the most aggressive bangs ever curled for the screen.
“I always loved the tight ponytail with the tight roll of the bangs,” said Rauch. “I’m from New Jersey, so bangs are very important to me.”
Hope Ann Gregory is outrageous, but the filmmakers behind “The Bronze” struggled to ground her story of teenage success and adult disappointment in the real world. The blue-collar Ohio town in which she lives, with its strip malls and vinyl-sided cape houses, is as much a character as anyone else in the film.
“‘The Fighter’ to me was a template,” said Buckley. “Looking at that movie and the way it broke down a town and a character. When I went in to talk to these guys, I said I don’t see this as a comedy. It was designed to be very reality based and really get you into a small town and into that space.”
The recipe worked. “The Bronze” emerged as one of Sundance’s strongest titles, receiving an enthusiastic reception from audiences and, more importantly, securing a $3 million distribution deal from Relativity.
As for the Rauchs, they’re at work on a CBS comedy pilot called “If We’re Not Married by 30,” as well as a feature film script called “The Troop.” That latter project sounds like it mines the same layers of disappointment for comedy that “The Bronze” did. It’s about a crack girl-scout troop whose members grow up to become dissatisfied women and their efforts to put their lives on reset.
It’s a full slate for Rauch, who still has a day job playing a helium-voiced microbiologist on “The Big Bang Theory,” but the couple says they don’t need a lot of downtime.
“We started as writing partners,” said Winston Rauch. “It’s our favorite thing to do together. We don’t have any hobbies.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Winston Rauch’s name as Wilson.