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While much of the attention following Bridesmaids’ unexpected, massive success centered on writer-star Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy’s breakout performance, and pointless debate about the viability of female comedies, the film also provided a welcome profile boost for co-star Wendi McLendon-Covey, who played a bored housewife saddled with three disgusting sons. Prior to that, McLendon-Covey was best known for Reno 911!, in which she played slutty deputy Clementine Johnson for five seasons. (She and fellow cast members Carlos Alazraqui and Mary Birdsong were let go before Reno’s sixth and final season.) After leaving Reno, McLendon-Covey spent a lot of time in indie films and doing guest appearances on TV shows—she appeared on The Office and is gearing up for another multi-episode arc on Rules Of Engagement—but nothing on the level of Bridesmaids. Just before the film’s DVD release on Sept. 20, McLendon-Covey spoke to The A.V. Club about auditioning for a role written for her, getting fired from Reno 911!, and a filthy Bridesmaids line she’s embarrassed to repeat.
The A.V. Club: The role of Rita in Bridesmaids was actually written with you in mind. What was your history with Kristen Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo?
Wendi McLendon-Covey: We both met at the Groundlings, the Groundling Theatre in Los Angeles. Here’s the weird thing: I met Kristen, Maya [Rudolph], and Melissa 10 years ago at a wedding shower.
WMC: [Laughs.] Yeah. It was for another Groundling girl. Kristen and I were just students in the company at that point, and neither one of us had anything going on. It was like, “Oh gosh, I hope we make it some day.”
AVC: What year was this?
WMC: That was 2001. Isn’t that crazy? I knew Kristen—we were in the main company at the Groundlings for a short time together before she got snatched up by Saturday Night Live. Annie and I were in the company as well, together. We all kind of were familiar with each other, and you’re always writing for other people in mind. I was at the first table read for Bridesmaids, which was, like, five years ago. It was a long process. They said then, “Oh we wrote this for you,” but I didn’t take that seriously, because you know how things happen—it can always be given to someone else, and I sure had to audition for it over and over. But they kept saying it in interviews, so I’ll take it at face value now that they meant that. [Laughs.]
AVC: What’s it like auditioning for a role that was ostensibly written for you?
WMC: When it was time to audition, they kinda had all the characters read the same lines, which were not even in the script. They just sort of wrote a generic scene and wanted to see what our take on it would be, and then they cast us accordingly. So when I went in, I knew I was reading for a bridesmaid, but I knew we were all reading the exact same material; it had nothing to do with the movie. But it was nerve-wracking, because Annie and Kristen were in the room, and it’s hard to audition in front of your friends. It’s hard enough to audition, let alone in front of your friends, because then you’re like, “Oh gosh, if I suck, they’re gonna be weird about it, or I’m gonna be weird about it.” It’s kind of creepy.
They brought in a lot of our friends to read, because you always want to give your friends a shot. I know some people were weird about it, calling them and saying, “How did I do? How did I do?” It’s like, “What are you doing? You can’t do that! It’s bad manners!” Whatever. [Laughs.]
AVC: But it wasn’t like you were sitting in a room with a bunch of people who look just like you, waiting to go in.
WMC: No, no. In fact, the second audition, we were sitting in a room with a bunch of other people who were way, way more famous. So it was like, “Well, this was fun. I’m glad I made it this far, but I don’t think there’s any way I will make it over so-and-so.” But I was sure thrilled when they gave me the call, and Kristen called me, so that made it all the better.
AVC: On the featurette on the DVD, Kristen Wiig praises your improvisational skills, saying that every time you opened your mouth, “it was a gift.” How much did you tweak what was on the page?
WMC: A lot, actually. We were encouraged to do that. We would film every scene the scripted way, and then they made sure we had lots of time to improvise. We did that for pretty much every scene, and then they just picked whatever was funny or whatever served the story better. A lot of what ended up in the movie was improvised. I couldn’t give you percentages, but they were very encouraging. They wanted us to do that.
AVC: The “cracking the blanket” line was improvised, right?
WMC: I said something much worse in a rehearsal. [Laughs.] They taped all our rehearsals so they could write transcripts of what we said and give them back to us if we ever needed them. I love to eavesdrop on people, and I had heard a woman say something so horrifying, and I thought, “Oh, that’s gross. I’m gonna say it someday.” [Laughs.]
AVC: What was it?
WMC: I don’t even know if I want to tell you, because you can’t unhear it. You can’t unhear it if I tell you!
AVC: Oh, come on. We’re part of The Onion.
WMC: Yeah, yeah. I forgot who I was talking to. She had said that she had to take her son’s underwear outside and beat it against the fence. Now isn’t that much more disgusting than the blanket?
AVC: That’s actually in the “Line-O-Rama” featurette.
WMC: It is? Wow! I haven’t seen all the stuff, the featurettes.
AVC: Was there anything that you shot where you were particularly sad that it didn’t make it into the final cut?
WMC: Oh gosh, there was a lot. There were a couple of scenes that I personally wasn’t in, but I wanted to see because they sounded funny. One was where Rose Byrne’s character goes into Annie’s jewelry store and tries to buy these diamond necklaces for the bridesmaids as little bridesmaids’ gifts. Annie, who needs the commission, will not sell them to her, so there’s this little stupid power play there that read really funny, and it sure sounded like it was going to be funny. That didn’t make it in. There was a thing that Ellie [Kemper] and I got into on the plane that was really funny, and I’m telling her how awful it is to have your first child, and how it really goes downhill. It was really sad and poignant. At that moment, you don’t hate Rita so much—you just feel sorry for her.
AVC: People hated Rita before that?
WMC: I kind of hoped they did, I don’t know. I would hate Rita. She’s filthy rich, she’s got a very nice life, there’s nothing really wrong with her. She’s like one of the Real Housewives Of Orange County, where she’s got everything going for her except a job, except a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And she could figure that out, but she doesn’t do it, so she’ll just complain to anyone who will listen. She’s constantly saying bad things about her husband—there’s nothing bad about her husband. In fact, my husband was played by Paul Feig, the director, and we did film bits of that at the wedding, him losing the car keys as we’re trying to leave the wedding, and drunken congratulations to the bride and groom. That didn’t go in. That’s another thing I wish would’ve gotten in. And the resolution of mine and Ellie’s kiss on the plane, I wish they would’ve put that in.
AVC: Oh really? What was that?
WMC: There were two versions of it. One was, “Hey, you know what? You’re a nice girl, and I don’t want to do this. Let’s just be friends! Good luck to you!” The other one was, [sternly] “It never happened.” One line like, “Do we understand each other? It never happened.” The other one was sort of friendly and like, “Let’s not do this again.”
AVC: There was a sense that there was more to that scene and more to your character in general that didn’t make it to the final cut.
WMC: Right, and a lot of stuff going on with Ellie’s character. On that plane, we just went for it. We had so much going on, and she was so funny. No one wants to see a four-hour version of Bridesmaids. That’s why I’m looking forward to seeing the deleted scenes.
AVC: You all mention that you were recording the commentary track a week before the movie opened, so you weren’t sure if there was going to be interest in the DVD. When did you have a sense that it was going to be a hit?
WMC: I was pretty excited at the première, when people really seemed to be getting it—and not only were they laughing at the right places, they were laughing at things we hadn’t even thought were funny.
AVC: Like what?
WMC: I can’t remember now, but it was just a really good energy. Then I thought, “Well, okay, it is a première audience. They might be drunk. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they were all just being nice.” So then when we hit No. 1 or No. 2 or whatever it was the first weekend, that was pretty amazing. Then we kept hanging on to that spot. I thought, “Oh wow. That doesn’t happen much anymore.” Then, when people were coming up to me saying, “I’ve seen it four times!” I thought, “Are you kidding me? What?” And the numbers just kept hanging. I was so proud. And now I get tweets or Facebook friendings or whatever from people all over the [world] who are saying, “Oh, it just opened here in Mexico! I love it!” or, “Oh, I’m your biggest Swedish fan!” It’s wild, absolutely wild.
AVC: You have a lot coming up: a seven-episode arc on Rules Of Engagement, you were cast in the new Fox comedy I Hate My Teenage Daughter and a bunch of movies. In a lot of these cases, you’re billed as “Bridesmaids’ Wendi McLendon-Covey.” Is it safe to say that Bridesmaids opened more doors for you?
WMC: I would say definitely, that’s a big part of it. I also switched management, and that’s another big part of it.
AVC: Did you switch management before Bridesmaids?
WMC: Nope, after the première, because we were doing press, and everybody had something else they were going to, and I had nothing—and that’s just laziness. I asked my team, “What have we got going on?” “Well, nothing yet, but we’re just feeling really positive.” “Huh, okay, well, I’m feeling positive I won’t ever be seeing you again. I feel positive that you’re lazy a-holes.” So we said our goodbyes, and that was pretty good. That was the best move I’ve made in a long time.
AVC: After Reno, it didn’t seem like you were around as much.
WMC: Yeah, I did a lot of guest-star stuff. Another thing is that I think people, when I show up to things, expect me to look like [Deputy Clementine Johnson]. If I show up on a show with dark hair or I’m not chubby, they don’t make the connection.
AVC: Or if your boobs aren’t hanging out.
WMC: Exactly. [Laughs.] When I wear a turtleneck, no one knows who I am. I actually worked quite a bit. I did a lot of indie films and a lot of guest-stars, like I said. But yeah, it wasn’t highly publicized stuff, and that’s fine.
AVC: The one that sticks out is your appearance on The Office. Rumor has it you found out you’d been let go from Reno while you were shooting The Office.
WMC: Yep. [Laughs.] Exactly how that happened. So that kind of pissed all over that experience for me, but it was still fun. And it was the right decision, I think.
AVC: For you, or for the show?
WMC: For me. I didn’t watch the show after that, so I don’t know what was going on. But I think five seasons on the show was pretty good, and about as much as you want to do, because I still, for a long time, couldn’t really shake that off. You don’t want to be associated with one character forever. I didn’t have much of a career at that point, so I didn’t want to just be typecast as that kind of person all the time. Not that it isn’t fun. It’s a blast. But you want to diversify and do other things—and there’s only so much I can put my mother through. [Laughs.]
WMC: Well, the way we shot that show, we didn’t go episode by episode; we went by location. We would always be shooting several episodes at once. I was at work every day and doing things, and eventually certain people were getting a lot of screen time. When the season came out, I thought, “Oh boy, that’s… interesting. Okay.” I was only contracted for five seasons; all of us were, in the beginning. But when they let the three of us go, the thing we had in common was that we were not represented by the same management company as the others, and they were also exec producers on the show. That happens all the time. I was annoyed for a long time, basically for the way I was told. But it’s all good, and Thomas Lennon just played my husband.
AVC: Right, for next year’s What To Expect When You’re Expecting. So you must have buried the hatchet, with him at least?
WMC: Yeah. Who wants to hang onto that bad feeling? It’s all good. Everyone’s trying to do the best they can. But it was the right thing, I think. Right? Wasn’t it, Kyle? Tell me! Tell me it was the right thing!
AVC: It seems like it. Looking at your IMDB page, it looks like it was even more right to get on Bridesmaids.
WMC: Yeah, I’m really lucky that I got to do that. It’s great for all of us.
AVC: What’s What To Expect When You’re Expecting like? That’s a strange book to adapt.
WMC: Yeah, I know. If you know what that book’s like, you think, “How are they ever going to make a movie about this?” It’s a funny movie. It’s being produced by the people who did Love, Actually, so what it is is a bunch of different storylines that converge in Atlanta. It’s just different ways that families get started. I’m in Jennifer Lopez’s segment, and she and the very yummy Rodrigo Santoro are trying to adopt a baby because she can’t get pregnant, so they’re trying to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. I play her friend who gives her the shower, and unfortunately has to lay her off from her job just as she’s spending all this money to adopt this baby. But it’s really sweet—it’ll put a lump in your throat. It’s not overly melancholy or anything; it’s genuinely funny. There’s lots of good people in it, and I think it’s gonna be pretty amazing. But I read the script and I thought, “This can’t possibly be any good, because how can you write a movie about this?” And it really was good. I wept! Okay? I’m gonna say that. I wept!
AVC: You’re also going to be in the Steven Soderbergh film about male strippers, Magic Mike. That’s a drama, right?
WMC: Yeah. Now, I am barely in that movie. I think I’m only in one or two scenes. They’ll be funny but… yeah, I just went for my fitting today. I haven’t been given the entire script yet. I look forward to seeing that.
What’s funny is that I didn’t know what Magic Mike was about until I read that press release. Until I saw, like, “Oh, this is floating around that you’re doing this.” I’m like, “Oh. Well, okay.” And then it kept coming my way and people kept sending me his links, and I’m like, “Oh, nothing’s going on in the world, I guess.” That’s how I found out what it was about. I know what I’m playing, but I had no idea—I thought it was like, “Oh, is he a magician? Is he some weird magician? Magic Mike?”