When it comes to comedy, Melissa McCarthy admits she was “hit with a lucky stick.”
Growing up in Illinois, the actress says she was always surrounded by funny people, particularly women. “And a bunch of funny men who think women are really funny – I didn’t grow up with a sense that people thought any differently,” she says.
The actress and comedienne has gone on to become one of comedy’s brightest stars and will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on May 19. That’s the same week her movie “Spy” opens, a romp in which she plays a CIA agent who gets out from behind the desk for her first time to go undercover.
Kristen Wiig, who starred in “Bridesmaids” with McCarthy, says, “Working with Melissa doesn’t ever seem like work … at all. We always laugh so much and have the best time. She is so incredibly good at what she does and has such a unique voice, I find when I’m doing a scene with her I want to just watch!”
“Spy” is written and directed by Paul Feig, who cast McCarthy in her breakout role in 2011’s “Bridesmaids.” That film not only made $288 million worldwide, but also earned her an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress and launched McCarthy into a string of hit features, including “Identity Thief,” “The Heat” and “Tammy.”
The Feig-McCarthy collaborations have become something of a touchstone for supporters of gender parity in comedy. Feig has been vocal in his preference for female-driven humor. “Melissa can say ‘fuck’ a thousand times and it’s poetry,” Feig told Variety earlier this year. “A group of guys being bawdy and dirty and nuts, and a group of women being the same way, is a completely different feel.”
Lovable, go-for-broke characters were a staple of McCarthy’s early years in Los Angeles, where she trained and performed with the prestigious improv and sketch group the Groundlings, cradle of such comedy luminaries as Wiig and Will Ferrell.
Jim Rash, a fellow Groundling who worked on stage with McCarthy, tells Variety, “You just hope you can keep up.
“You just have to fight in the best possible way to be in this space because she’s hard not to watch. She’s not just funny, she’s specific, so you’re just hoping the audience sort of glances over at you for two seconds. And that’s the best possible person to be on stage with because it just makes you better.”
Success in films like “Go” and “Charlie’s Angels” followed, along with seven seasons on the WB program “The Gilmore Girls.”
When that series ended, McCarthy said she was interested in returning to TV. “But I wanted to do the lead in a half-hour comedy and I didn’t know what my options would be,” she says.
In 2010, Chuck Lorre created “Mike & Molly,” a romance between two people who meet in an Overeaters Anonymous group. McCarthy landed the title role of Molly and won an Emmy Award for it.
For now, audiences can catch McCarthy on the bigscreen, doing her best James Bond. “It was so incredibly fun,” she says of playing an action hero. “We had the freedom to do anything we wanted, full out, to never feel embarrassed or silly for trying it. It was truly a joy.”
WHAT: Melissa McCarthy receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
WHEN: 11 a.m., May 19
WHERE: 6927 Hollywood Blvd.