Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo Talk ‘Barb and Star’ Songs and the Controversy With the 2015 ‘Joy’ Script

Mumolo shares what happened after David O. Russell rewrote the script to "Joy." Listen below!

Kristen Wig as Star and Annie
Cate Cameron/Lionsgate

They’re more than friends, they’re family. That’s how Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, the writers and stars of “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” see not just their creative relationship but their connection that spans decades. “I think it’s like the lightning bolt of finding a marriage partner,” says Mumolo. “I feel lucky that I have Kristen in my life. When you find someone you can laugh like that with, it’s such a healing.”

No surprise, Wiig feels the same: “We always joke that we’re each other’s creative wives,” she says.

In this bonus episode of the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast, Mumolo and Wiig talk about their lead roles, creating the hilarious characters and their songwriting partnership, with the addition of Mark Jonathan Davis, (the Los Angeles staple and one-time KROQ vet better known as Richard Cheese), on their Oscar-submitted song, “I Love Boobies.” They also talk about Jamie Dornan singing “Edgar’s Prayer,” which they co-wrote and how Mumolo wants to host an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” Paging Lorne Michaels!

Mumolo also speaks about the controversy surrounding her original script for the film “Joy,” which was directed by David O. Russell and starred Jennifer Lawrence in 2015. In 2012, Mumolo was hired by Fox and producer John Davis to adapt the life of Miracle Mop creator Joy Mangano. Her screenwriting credit was removed after Russell rewrote the script.

Mumolo and Wiig received an Oscar nomination for 2011’s “Bridesmaids,” which grossed $169 million domestically and was the 12th highest-grossing film of the year. The film was nominated for best supporting actress for Melissa McCarthy.

Where were these two characters born in your mind?

Kristen Wiig: It was kind of a slow trickle. Annie and I have been doing sketch comedy together for years at the Groundlings. I would say 98% of the stuff we did were middle-aged women with some variation of done-up hair. I feel like we’ve always gravitated toward these type of women. And after that, it solidified when we were writing “Bridesmaids.” We were writing lots of scenes that you didn’t see in the movie, because it had nothing to do with the movie. Then we turned in the draft, and they were like, “What does this have to do with it?” [laughs]

I imagine that you both have many unmade, scripted comedy sketches hanging around your houses.

Mumolo: Well, we always have ideas written down. But I wouldn’t say it’s sketch comedy. It’s more like characters that we want to pursue in some way, asking each other, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we had a character that would be doing this?”

Wiig: Yeah, that’s where “Barb and Star” started. They were these characters, and we just kept talking like these women. And we thought, could we just write something for these people? And they were born.

Do your kids ever get annoyed that you two are speaking like these women all the time? 

Wiig: Oh yeah, when we’re writing it, for sure. “Can you guys just go rent a cabin somewhere and get this script done?”

Mumolo: Yes, my kids are just sick of all it [laughing]. I showed them so much content for this movie, asking, “What do you guys think is funnier?” And they just stare at the screen. My son’s teacher asked him yesterday, “Hey, my wife’s looking for something funny to watch. Does your mom have anything my wife should be watching soon?” And my son was like, “I don’t think so.” After all this stuff I’ve been like putting in his face for months.

Did you two ever have a conversation about directing the film since you wrote it?

Mumolo: It’s so much responsibility. I love writing, and I love playing the roles. It’s an already tremendous responsibility; I just want to show up and play what I’m told. Directing is a totally different animal. Josh [Greenbaum], our director, had some really challenging conditions when shooting, like people getting heatstroke. We were in the Caribbean in July. It was very, very hot. It was incredibly challenging. Josh was such a rock through the whole thing. I’ve never seen someone do something like what he endured, and never once raised his voice, lost his cool. He was always smiling, always laughing. I mean, shit was hitting the fan, with sweat pouring. We’d had times where the crane wasn’t working, and we would try things like 37 times. He was great.

Wiig: When we were writing it, I saw Josh Greenbaum’s recreations and mockumentaries, and it was so our sense of humor and style. I called Annie and told her he has to direct our movie.

How was it working with Richard Cheese?

Wiig: First of all, everyone should just go wherever you get your music and look up Richard Cheese because his music is amazing. I don’t know if people are familiar, but he takes a lot of pop songs, rap songs with explicit lyrics that are not appropriate for children. And he puts them in a lounge format, and it’s just really good. His voice is amazing, and he’s also just the sweetest person. I’m just so happy that he’s getting attention.

Mumolo: He’s the best.

How do you feel that you gave Jamie Dornan his most emotional singing moment on film ever, what I’m dubbing his Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” moment?

Wiig: Oh, that is a good analogy. He brought it. I wish we had a recording of him in the sound booth singing his face off. I wish we had that. He can really sing, but that was a treat for all of us.

Mumolo: Another situation in which it was really hot outside. He was twirling, rolling, running, leaping, and climbing around the beach. And without one complaint. He was just so game. He’s the best.

Was your writing partnership natural, or was it something you really worked at?

Wiig: It was pretty instant. I mean, I wonder now that you’re asking us this question if it was easier for us because we started writing sketches and we didn’t jump in and say, “Let’s write a 120-page script.” We were writing seven-page scripts. When we first started writing with each other at the Groundlings, you put up sketches before putting the show together, and we would always just write together. Then jump to two years later, when we had the opportunity to write a movie, it was just like that, but we were doing a really long one. It’s always been like a second language. We have the same sense of humor and sensibility. When one person wants to try something, the other person is like, “Yeah, we should probably try it.” We don’t argue about anything.

Mumolo: It’s a lot of elements. It’s a lot of trust. It’s almost like the lightning bolt of finding a marriage partner. I feel lucky that I have Kristen in my life because it’s so much joy that we have. When you find someone you can laugh with like that, it’s such a healing. Life is hard, and when we’re working together, it’s always fun. It’s a rare thing to find with someone.

Do you want to talk about keeping your vision and art as your own, particularly with “Joy” and the events during that time, because I know you’ve never really spoken about it?

Mumolo: Oh boy. That was a toughie. It’s a tough business. Kristen and I have learned that if you can get in the position where you can produce your own stuff and have a voice…Everything that happened with “Joy” and the making of the actual movie is a movie in itself. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say.

Wiig: There are times when you write something for a producer or studio. Like a writer-for-hire, where you get your notes, and you are writing what they want. When it’s your project, you are dictating, and you hand it in and say, “This is what we want to make.” And they’re very different. Annie is an incredible writer. She deserves much more credit than she gets, and people want her to write for them. And sometimes, when you turn over that script, you’re not consulted a lot, and that’s true for many writers. When the movie gets made, if a director steps in, or the studio, I know personally, and from knowing many writers, it’s really hard when you hand it over.

Mumolo: In that case, it was more than that. Having worn both hats, the writer’s hat and the actor’s hat, they are such night and day experiences. As a writer, you’re treated very differently than you are as an actor, in almost every way. I feel like it’s exponentially harder for that reason alone. The “Joy” movie was a very heartbreaking experience for me, and I had to just sort of separate because of that aspect of things. When it was going in one direction, we got a phone call overnight that there’s a change happening. And then I was asked to do things that were against my morality, and it was very difficult. When I didn’t feel comfortable doing those things that were against my values, I was lambasted. I can’t say too much. I guess probably because I was living in fear.

It’s sort of a testament to the power of how in show business, people have a tremendous amount of power and what they can do with it and how they wield that power. Sometimes, the people who have so much power are people who shouldn’t, and in the normal world, they wouldn’t have that much power they’re being given. Judd Apatow told me, “‘Certain names,’ if they are studios, if it’s money and numbers, they don’t care what the behavior is. They just don’t.” And he said that’s a hard thing. He was a very big advocate for me back then. It was tremendously scary and a life lesson. It was a lot of upheavals, and it was just very strange. It’s something I never saw coming. Was that too long of an answer?

No, not at all.

Wiig: We haven’t talked about it in a while, and it’s all coming out.

Mumolo: I have such a love for Joy Mangano, the woman that the movie was about, so that still shines through for me. I just think she’s a tremendous human being, and she’s an inspiration. That’s what I took away from meeting her.

The original version of your script was beautiful, and what was released pales in comparison.

Mumolo: Oh my God, thank you so much. You almost can’t talk about certain things, which is sad as a writer because anytime you speak up for yourself, people warn you, “You better not do that, fake people won’t want to work with you,” and you’re just defending your basic human rights. I had many people approaching me at the time to come out and say things or talk about it. But then it was, “Oh no, you can’t because you won’t get hired. You might not get hired again because you’ll be perceived as being ‘difficult.'” I just kind of had to swallow it. It’s just one of those things about the writer’s position.

I know you two are working on a few things, but Annie, would you host “Saturday Night Live” before the end of the year, please? Would you say yes?

Wiig: Oh my God, wouldn’t she be amazing?! I would love to see Annie host.

Mumolo: Of course I would.

The Oscars are on April 25, and you could perform “I Love Boobies” on the telecast, and you can host SNL on April 24, creating an “Annie Mumolo Weekend” celebration.

Wiig: I love this idea.