Melissa McCarthy: Big queen of comedy

Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).
Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).PHOTOS: 2014 WARNER BROS, 2011 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).
Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).PHOTOS: 2014 WARNER BROS, 2011 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).
Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).PHOTOS: 2014 WARNER BROS, 2011 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).
Funny girl: Actress Melissa McCarthy's comedies include Bridesmaids (top, in black bottoms), The Heat (far right) and the new Tammy (left).PHOTOS: 2014 WARNER BROS, 2011 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Comedienne Melissa McCarthy again plays another unlikeable character in a film she co-wrote

How big a star is Melissa McCarthy?

Big enough that the boss of a major movie studio bought the script for her new film Tammy before he had read a single word of it.

After her scene-stealing performances in blockbuster comedies such as Bridesmaids (2011) and The Heat (2013), the 43-year-old has become a Hollywood juggernaut by playing outrageously obnoxious characters.

The movies get laughs in part because of how ordinary she looks - something that makes her success all the more remarkable as one of the few A-list comediennes to get where she is without having done a bunch of romantic comedies first.

And sure enough, while speaking to Life! and other reporters about her new film in Los Angeles, McCarthy comes across as your average, all- American soccer mum, the sort who frets about renovating the house and then falls asleep in the car with the kids.

Except that this soccer mum happens to be starring in a major movie that she co-wrote and co-produced with her husband, Ben Falcone, and their own production company.

Tammy is about a woman trying to escape the mess she has made of her life by taking a road trip with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon), only to run into more problems along the way. It opens in Singapore tomorrow.

It marks a critical point for McCarthy.

Unlike previous projects in which she shared top billing with the likes of Sandra Bullock (The Heat) and Jason Bateman (Identity Thief, 2013), this one rests squarely on her shoulders and, to a lesser extent, those of Falcone, 40, who directed it.

Although he is nowhere nearly as famous as his wife, her fans will recognise him as the air marshall she aggressively seduces in Bridesmaids, her breakout movie, which earned her an Oscar nomination.

In Tammy, he has a small cameo playing the boss who fires her from her job at a fast-food restaurant.

Falcone was handed the reins on this picture despite having never directed a feature film before - another sign, perhaps, of McCarthy's star power.

The result of their collaboration is a dark comedy that sees the actress put aside her vanity even more than usual to play an especially brash, unlikeable character.

She and Falcone felt like they personally knew Tammy and the other people in this story, which is set in small-town Illinois, where both of them grew up. So they resented any attempts to exaggerate it to make it more commercially appealing.

"If somebody wanted a bigger scene or a bigger trailer moment, we'd go, 'Well, that person just wouldn't do that'," McCarthy says.

"It doesn't have to be bigger or flashier. It just has to stay in the right realm of the story. More eccentric characters can push it pretty far, but if you stand on the side of reality, I think it's always funnier. So we tried to keep it real. And hopefully the story has more impact that way."

Many industry watchers are predicting good things for the film at the American box office, where McCarthy has demonstrated that even horrific reviews cannot slow her down. The crime caper Identity Thief, for example, cleaned up in the United States, where it made US$134 million (S$167 million) despite being ripped to shreds by the critics.

Tammy was produced for a relatively small budget of US$20 million, so it should easily make its money back and then some - good news for its star, who decided to forgo her usual multi-million-dollar pay cheque for a slice of the back-end profits.

Impressively, McCarthy has managed to star in all these money-making movies while also filming the television sitcom Mike & Molly, for which she won an Emmy in 2011.

For this and other reasons, the entertainment website Vulture.com argues that the actress is Hollywood's top star right now because there is no one else "delivering as consistently, and in such great numbers, and with so little assistance".

Further proof of the industry's faith in her: Tammy is opening ahead of the all-important Independence Day holiday in the United States this week, where it will compete with the action blockbuster Transformers: Age Of Extinction.

As power couples go, McCarthy and Falcone are as down-to-earth and un-Hollywood as they come, their low-key style on display as they chatted to reporters about the film at the press conference in Beverly Hills last month.

Despite their success, the husband-and-wife team - who met in the 1990s when they were members of the improvisational comedy group the Groundlings - still have not moved out of their small house in Los Angeles, and say their family getaways are pretty low-maintenance as well.

Instead of taking a cushy holiday abroad after wrapping production on Tammy, they bundled their daughters Vivian, seven, and Georgette, four, into the car and drove 4,000km from coast to coast, from Niagara Falls back to LA.

They take turns to recount the story, finishing each other's sentences with perfect comic timing.

"That was a doozy..." she says.

"It was like six or seven days - long, long days," he continues. "I thought the kids would enjoy looking out the window at the country... They really didn't."

She pipes up: "We went to Mount Rushmore. And to a weird water park at nine o'clock at night..."

"The most dangerous water park I've ever seen in my life," he says.

"Big, high metal slides," she nods.

"It was one of those things where everything was very sharp..." he finishes.

When they are not making films, they say they are just like any other working parents trying to juggle a busy schedule.

"She falls asleep immediately when we get in the car," Falcone reveals. "Because she's no longer able to do all the stuff she wants to do. She's like, 'Oh my god, we've got to call the painters, we've got to paint our hallway'. And once the last person's been called, she's out. So I drive."

"I just go right out," McCarthy says sheepishly. "One time, I went, 'I'm driving this time, that'll keep me awake.' Before we got to the freeway, Ben went, 'Oh my god, you're swerving', and I had to pull over and we switched. So I'm super helpful."

The two still cannot quite believe they got this movie made at all, especially given how long it has taken since Falcone first got the idea for the story.

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

She adds of their professional partnership: "He just says things and I say, 'That sounds great.' I just agree with him and it all works out."

A reporter asks the pair whether making Tammy has been a dream come true or just plain stressful - and wonders, rather indelicately: "What will happen to your relationship if people don't like the movie?"

Falcone quips: "Well, I wasn't stressed until right now."

McCarthy admits the process has been "all of those things", adding that she still has to pinch herself to make sure it is real.

For instance, when she found out the script had been given to Oscar- and Emmy-winner Kathy Bates, who plays a relative of Tammy's, the actress began "literally, physically, coming apart at the seams".

"I didn't know if she was reading it, but the fact that she had it in her house was making me have weird breakdowns, all throughout the day.

"It's still dreamy to me."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Tammy opens in Singapore tomorrow and will be reviewed on Friday.

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