STORY WRITTEN BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
More than 15 years ago, when Melissa McCarthy was still a member of the improv comedy troupe the Groundlings, she gave birth to one of her favorite characters: the relentlessly self-absorbed business whiz Michelle Darnell.
In the intervening years, McCarthy co-starred on “The Gilmore Girls” and enjoyed a big-screen breakthrough with “Bridesmaids,” for which she earned a Best Supporting Actress nod. More recently, she’s toplined the series “Mike and Molly” as well a handful of hit movies, including “The Heat,” “Identity Thief,” “This Is 40,” “Tammy” and “Spy.”
But the actress has always longed for a way to bring Michelle back to life. Cue “The Boss,” a new comedy which gives McCarthy the chance to play a character who spends most of the movie annoying her nearest and dearest.
In the film, opening April 8, McCarthy plays a wildly successful financial advisor who, after being busted for insider trading, is sent to prison. Once released, she tries to rebrand herself as America’s Sweetheart but winds up crashing on the couch of a former employee (Kristen Bell.)
Down but not out, Michelle figures that a good way to re-sharpen her business skills would be to start a brownie company. Her salespeople include Bell’s daughter and her pals who help hawk the baked goods, with a percentage going to their college funds.
“You know what? I just could never let Michelle Darnell go,” says McCarthy of the character. “I took that as a sign I wasn’t done with her. I just loved her so much, for all of her flaws and for all of her good and bad points. I just kept thinking about her.
“The more I thought about her, the more I realized I loved her unbridled confidence, that, ‘I’m going to wear what I want, do what I want, say what I want.’ We don’t get to see that a lot with female characters.”
After deciding to pen the screenplay, McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone (who also directed) decided to give Michelle a bittersweet backstory involving an orphanage and lots of rejection.
“For me, the joy of playing her was also to try to show why she is the way she is,” says the actress. “ I think she was hurt enough to build up a wall, and I think that’s [what happens] with most people like that.
“When people are just, like, ‘I’m the only one that exists. I don’t need anyone,”’ I always think, ‘Oh, God, I wonder what made them like that?’ I always want to know what makes someone build up that wall. There’s usually a pretty interesting story there. “
There was never any doubt in McCarthy’s mind that she’d help write the screenplay for “The Boss,” which she also produced.
“I think it’s incredibly important [to have women behind the scenes of movies],” McCarthy says. “I think the world has two sexes, and if no one behind the camera, no one running it can really speak to, ‘that’s not what a woman would say,’ or ‘that doesn’t feel right,’ you don’t have that whole point of view. You’re just limiting the scope. You’re limiting your credibility.
“I just think any time you mix it up, the world gets more interesting. You want to hear from somebody who’s a mom, somebody who’s 18 … if I get a group of people to listen to something and watch something, I certainly don’t want every single person to be the same exact type of person. You learn nothing from it because everybody has the same point of reference.”
Thanks to the fact that Michelle is so unapologetically brash and self-confident, some early reviewers have compared the character to Donald Trump. McCarthy says nothing could be further from the truth.
“A lot of people have asked about that, but again, Michelle has been with me 15, 16 years,” says the actress. “Her look was more Leona Helmsley back in the day, and that’s who I always kind of had in my head, and a little Suze Orman for sure.
“I love Suze, who was in my head, in terms of her confidence and her know-how. I wanted to make Michelle successful because she’s good at [what she does].
“She’s not doing a smoke and mirrors, crazy show. She’s good at what she does, and she does make people money and she’s made herself money, and she runs successful companies. So, to me, it’s not Trump-esque at all, because she’s actually doing something.”
McCarthy has been married to Falcone since 2005. Together they have two daughters — Vivian, 8, and Georgette, 6 — both of whom pop up in “The Boss.” Vivian plays Michelle as a seven year old while Georgette plays one of the young girls helping Michelle sell the brownies.
“You try to let them be exactly who they are, and you try to show a good example to them,” says the actress about parenting. “I want them to know it’s okay to like who you are, and it’s okay that everybody’s different.
“We’re not all supposed to be the same. I always say to my girls, ‘If we were all the same, we would all be robots.’ You would be bored out of your mind. So hopefully it’s working.”
Up next for the actress is “Ghostbusters,” the Paul Feig-directed reboot opening July 15. The ‘busters are played by McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones. Reprising their roles from the original films are Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson.
If all her movie work wasn’t enough to keep McCarthy busy, she’s also overseeing a clothing line called Seven7, which primarily caters to plus-size women.
“My clothing line is going great,” says McCarthy, 45. “I find it wildly creative and something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was probably in 6th grade. My grandmother was a seamstress … So it is fantastically rewarding, and I’m loving it. I’m loving every single minute of it. Every time I fight for a seam or better fabric or something, I think the fight’s worthwhile.”
A clothing line, a recently retired TV series, and nine movie roles in five years. Does McCarthy consider herself a workaholic?
“You know what? I’m from good, Midwestern stock,” she says. “I’m a really hard worker and I’ve worked since I was 15, and I’ve always liked it.
“My first job was in a nursing home, in the restaurant part of it, and I just liked it. My parents both worked and I think I just got that work ethic from them.
“I feel accomplished at the end of the day if I’ve done something. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t work. I’d drive everyone I know insane. I’d be organizing their closets and I’d be way up in their business.
“Everyone wants me to keep working.”