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Melissa McCarthy Stays True to ’Tammy’

by Fred Topel
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jul 2, 2014

In just three years, Melissa McCarthy has become a major box office force. After stealing "Bridesmaids" from Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph (in a supporting role that netted her an Oscar nom), McCarthy's vehicles, "Identity Thief" and "The Heat," were blockbusters on their own. This was while still headlining the CBS comedy "Mike & Molly."

Her current movie, "Tammy" is a passion project for McCarthy. It also marks the directorial debut of her husband, Ben Falcone (who has a featured role).

"We had been working on it for years. I think we just thought, 'What if? What if? Can you imagine?'" McCarthy recalled. "I don't know if we ever thought it could actually make the next step. It all came in stages; then when people started actually reading it, like when I found out certain people had it, like Kathy [Bates] I had a weird [reaction]. I physically, literally was coming apart at the seams. I was like, 'I don't know if she's ever going to read it, but the fact that it's in her house is like making me have weird breakdowns all throughout the day.' Every step of it. It's still dreamy to me."

A bad day

Melissa McCarthy is Tammy, a Midwestern woman who, on the same day, smacks her Toyota into a deer, loses her job at a fast food restaurant and catches her husband cheating on her. Needing a change, she hits the road with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) in tow. Falcone had the initial idea for the story.

"Ben came downstairs having literally just woken up and said, ’I had a weird dream and I think I have to write it. You go on a road trip with your grandmother and she drinks and she sleeps around. I’m going to write that movie.’ I thought, ’All right, why don’t you do that.’ That was about six years ago and it began the whole thing."

Tammy’s life may be falling apart but on the road she meets a number of good role models, including a lesbian couple played by Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh. "I think we wanted to have somebody to come into their lives. That was kind of the goal," McCarthy said. "We wanted somebody to be like Lenore (an owner of a chain of pet stores played by Bates) who had made it. We needed somebody to be the strong, successful one that wasn’t also coming down on anyone or making anyone feel guilty. I mean you know that Susan makes some bad choices, but Lenore never makes her feel guilty about them. I just though that was necessary to have this in the film. And then Kathy and Sandra, it just seemed right. Even right away when they got together... (I thought) how comfy... it all just felt right. You would look at this great couple and think, ’Oh, that’s magic because they just feel right together.’"

Taking a spill

In addition to McCarthy, Sarandon, Bates and Oh, "Tammy" has an ensemble cast of solid actors including Allison Janney, Dan Aykroyd, Gary Cole, Toni Collette, Nat Faxon, Mark Duplass and the scene-stealing Sarah Baker. McCarthy is of course front and center in the posters for "Tammy," but perhaps she shouldn’t be the only one carrying the movie. If marketing were up to her, McCarthy would spread the love around.

"We had tons of different options," she said. "I’m greedy. I wanted everybody on it. I don’t think this kind of grouping happens often. They said, ’There’s so many people,’ and I said, ’Put them all on!’ That was my suggestion."

Bates even earned a guest spot on "Mike & Molly" after her role in the movie. "I would have her do everything at all times every day," McCarthy said. "I’m hoping that keeps up. It can’t be anything one and done. It has to be part of the family so they come back because I’m greedy. Because why wouldn’t you? Everyone was so freaked out and happy to have her that it was really fun."

Tammy gives McCarthy plenty of opportunities for the physical comedy for which she has become known and revered. The movie opens with her giving mouth to mouth to a deer on the side of the road, and she shared some of the stunts during which she actually injured herself.

"Well, the worst fall I took during ’Tammy’ was when we weren’t even shooting; but I did a test run on the Jet-Ski. I had only been on one once before and that was like 10 years ago on our honeymoon. I was going 40 mph which now I realize maybe not the best thing for someone who doesn’t know how to drive one. And the lovely man that was helping me, teaching me, said, ’Really dig into it.’ And he meant at the end on the big wide turn once you slow down turn into it. I just heard ’turn into it’ so I cranked it up to 40 and I thought I was supposed to do these S-curves and I flipped myself off it so hard I lost my first wig. We had a tiny budget and they were like $7,000. I was in the water and I didn’t know I was off the Jet-Ski; it was that fast that I just flipped the whole thing. I was underwater and the first thing I went for was the wig. We were doing camera tests and I was in full costume. Once I figured out which way was up, I came up and I said, ’At least we got it!’ They said, ’We didn’t turn the camera on yet!’ I was like, ’Noooooo!’"

A special effect

The deer, fortunately, was just a special effect. "We were talking about it that if she really hit a deer she would feel horrible, like you would, and that she would do whatever it would take. I said, ’If she’s really down there with it, would she try to resuscitate it and would it work?’ Then we thought we wouldn’t get that close. It’s a digital deer. I did not actually run down a deer for ’Tammy.’ I promise."

Except for some of those outrageous comedy bits, ’Tammy’ is more grounded in real life than perhaps the buddy cop movie ’The Heat’ or the con artist romp of ’Identity Thief.’ "Ben and I both grew up in Illinois and that’s kind of why when we started writing it Ben said I think this woman is from where he grew up, and that’s also where I went to college. We based it on real people we know and what it is like if you feel stuck. I think there are people who really love the comfort of their small town and there are people that feel stuck by it. That kind of was our jumping-off place. If you’re really stuck in this rut and you’re just stuck in this whole little tiny world of things you don’t like, how hard do you have to get hit to bump you out of your vicious cycle."

A ’cheeto’

At one point Tammy compares herself to a ’cheeto’ to Duplass, a sweet man who becomes captivated with her zaniness and seeks her out. Tammy says that she is like a ’cheeto’ to him, meaning that he can’t only eat just one. He corrects her, by saying that would be Lay’s potato chip, but Tammy blithely ignores him.

"One of the things I loved about Tammy is that kind of confidence, right or wrong, in her world," McCarthy says. "She believes it. I always love playing that. I don’t think someone has to be justified. In her point of view, she was great. The fun of playing that character is that even she throughout the film realizes that, ’I’m perhaps doing a lot of things poorly.’ You see her make this little shift to maybe she becomes the ’cheeto’ she always thought she could be. There are a lot of cheeto references."

Keeping it real was how Falcone and McCarthy created the ensemble of characters for all these actors to play. "By the time we were ready to show people, we’d had it for years," McCarthy said. "We knew these people and we felt protective of them. It doesn’t have to be bigger or flashier, it just has to stay in the right realm of the story. For me, if you can walk that line of the ’more eccentric characters can push pretty far;’ but if you stay on the side of reality, I think it’s always funnier. We tried to let all of these people push as far as they could, but keep it real. Hopefully the story has more impact that way."

"Tammy" is in theaters.


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