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Kristen Wiig, so weird on 'SNL,' goes (somewhat) normal for 'Bridesmaids'

Producer Judd Apatow says he had to convince her to take more of the jokes for herself. She co-wrote with Annie Mumolo.

May 08, 2011|By Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times

Her first notable film role came in 2006 as a slutty mom in a little-seen film Feig directed called "Unaccompanied Minors," but it was a small scene in "Knocked Up" in 2007 that won Wiig fans outside the "SNL" audience. As a passive-aggressive E! channel staffer, Wiig told Katherine Heigl's character, "We don't want you to lose weight, we just want you to be healthy, by eating less."

"It was a part that didn't really exist," Apatow said. "I just knew I wanted two people to play folks at E!. I had never seen anybody stronger with nothing. She created this amazing character and tore down the house." Apatow asked Wiig if she had any projects in the works, and she and Mumolo began working on the script that would become "Bridesmaids."

Wiig would go on to provide some of the most memorable laughs in the films "MacGruber," "Adventureland" and "Paul," and play a rare straight-woman role in the roller derby movie "Whip It." Between films and "SNL" seasons, she and Mumolo spent years honing their script.

Over time their friendship weathered the kind of potentially chasm-creating lifestyle changes the characters in "Bridesmaids" face — Wiig moved to New York and focused on her career, Mumolo stayed in L.A., got married and had two babies.

"We wanted to tell a friendship story and it really resonated with us," Mumolo said. "Our relationship survived a lot. Things that could easily tear two people apart. This process could really cause trouble between two people. You have to make big decisions together. Big ones. You have to consider the other person."

By the time they turned in their first draft, Wiig and Mumolo had carefully shaped Annie's emotional arc but neglected their leading lady's key asset, according to Apatow. "There were stages where I felt Kristen was writing herself as a straight person too much," Apatow said. "She was very comfortable giving others the joke. I had to convince her to give herself the joke."

Apatow and Feig added some of the movie's trailer-friendly set pieces — a food poisoning breakout in a bridal shop and Annie's pill-and-booze-addled meltdown on a plane.

When "Bridesmaids" began production in 2010, Feig and Apatow encouraged their cast — which includes many Groundlings veterans — to improvise. In an engagement party scene, Wiig's and Byrne's characters vie for status as the bride's primary friend with increasingly antagonistic toasts. "We kept saying, 'Do another toast, do another toast,' all night long," Apatow said. "Many of the great moments came from taking the handcuffs off of the women and seeing what else they could do."

Apatow, whose oeuvre has largely been devoted to the extended phase of twenty- and thirtysomething male adolescence, said he sees little difference between "Bridesmaids" and his other films, besides all the skirts.

"We said, 'We're gonna make a great, funny movie that stars primarily women,'" Apatow said. "If it works, men will come too."

Like her character in the film, Wiig is not married. But she has known her boyfriend, actor and producer Brian Petsos, since high school. "I relate to that ridiculous social pressure women have … that person we're supposed to be in our 30s — married, kids, house, dog," she said. "If we did have a message with the movie, we didn't want people to think that you have to be married, because you don't."

Her next film role is as a mom in "Friends With Kids," a movie written and directed by Hamm's girlfriend, "Kissing Jessica Stein" co-writer and star Jennifer Westfeldt. Eventually, Wiig said, she'd like to transition to more dramatic roles and try directing, citing "Wendy and Lucy," a contemplative drama starring Michelle Williams and directed by Kelly Reichardt, as an inspiration.

"A lot of comedians are big and broad and they hide their actual personalities," Apatow said. "Kristen's willing to expose her guts."

In the meantime, Wiig is content to inhabit the ridiculous for 90 minutes every Saturday night.

"Once you have the costume and the wig, it's easier to commit than not to," she said. "Two minutes later you're someone else, which is the best acting job you can have."

rebecca.keegan@latimes.com

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