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Molly Shannon Reveals ‘SNL’ Character Mary Katherine Gallagher’s History

SNL Molly Shannon
Courtesy of NBC

Molly Shannon didn’t make it onto “Saturday Night Live” the first time she auditioned, but when she got her chance five years later, she didn’t let it get away. This was one of the many reveals at “An Afternoon With Molly Shannon” held at the Seattle International Film Festival on Sunday.

Shannon was at the festival with two films; “Miles,” which screened earlier in the day, and “Other People,” which screened immediately following the conversation between Shannon and Variety editor Jenelle Riley. “Miles,” in which Shannon plays the mother of a teen boy who joins the girls’ volleyball team in hopes of a scholarship, made its world premiere at SIFF. “Other People” premiered at Sundance earlier in the year, where Shannon earned raves as a woman dying of cancer whose son (Jesse Plemons) moves home to care for her.

Shannon noted that “Other People” might be her most challenging role to date; though it has humor, the majority of her scenes are dramatic. She added that she tends to approach comedy and drama in the same manner, looking for the “emotional truth” in every role. As a mother of two young children, the actress said she related to her character and the strength of a mother’s love.

The tribute to Shannon kicked off with an introduction by SIFF Festival Director and Chief Curator Carl Spence and a clip reel that featured many of her well-known roles, starting with Catholic schoolgirl Mary Katherine Gallagher from the 1999 movie “Superstar.” The character was first seen in Shannon’s stage show, then on “Saturday Night Live” beginning in 1995. Shannon revealed that the first time she was set to perform the character, in an episode hosted by Gabriel Byrne, the sketch was buried at the end of the show in dress rehearsal. “I felt like they didn’t really get it, it was hard to see on the written page,” Shannon recalled. “But we did it at the run-through and we were last. And after the run-through, we were moved to the top of the show!”

That success led to other memorable characters, such as 50-and-proud Sally O’Malley, a fan favorite. In fact, throughout the afternoon, many people tried to get Shannon to do Sally’s trademark kicks but she demurred, noting that she’d be up for it if she wasn’t wearing a dress.

The Seattle International Film Festival continues through June 12 and will feature premieres, Q&As, panels and keynote speakers. “A Tribute to Viggo Mortensen” will take place June 11, followed by a screening of his film “Captain Fantastic.”