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COVER STORY

Breaking through the veil of the boys’ club

Kristen Wiig and castmates join Judd Apatow’s comical world of raunch

“We just sat down and wrote something that made us laugh . . . and that had a lot of women in it, which is rarer than it should be,’’ says Kristen Wiig (right, with Wendi McLendon-Covey) recently at the Liberty Hotel. “We just sat down and wrote something that made us laugh . . . and that had a lot of women in it, which is rarer than it should be,’’ says Kristen Wiig (right, with Wendi McLendon-Covey) recently at the Liberty Hotel. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Janice Page
Globe Staff / May 12, 2011

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You don’t think of Kristen Wiig as needing a wingman.

On stage and on film she seems astonishingly fearless, even for a late-night-TV comic. Her characters have included a deformed “Lawrence Welk Show’’ singer with itty-bitty doll hands (Dooneese), and a mischievous, ’fro-coiffed girl (Gilly) who might be the most irritating thing on television. She also cannily impersonates celebrities like money-manager Suze Orman, the second most irritating thing on television.

But that’s Wiig in the spotlight of “Saturday Night Live,’’ where she’s been a reliable creative force and the cast member to watch for the better part of six years. Off camera, in an interview situation such as this Boston publicity stop for her new film, “Bridesmaids’’ (opening tonight at midnight), the sketch comedian can’t hide behind her characters. Or she can, but chooses not to, which threatens to neutralize her comedy superpowers. That’s why she’s brought along Wendi McLendon-Covey, a fellow Groundlings improv veteran and “Bridesmaids’’ costar.

In a gal-pal pairing that mirrors their new movie, wherein Wiig plays insecure maid of honor Annie and McLendon-Covey (Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!’’) is a repressed live-wire bridesmaid named Rita, the two actresses support and play off each other as they field a reporter’s questions inside a Newbury Street wedding shop. They’re both candid and considered, though Wiig looks way more nervous. She’ll have to get over that if she’s to run off with the torch she’s being handed by the current Midas of movie comedies, Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up’’). Apatow produced “Bridesmaids,’’ and his proudly grubby fingerprints are all over the most outrageous parts of its screenplay, co-written by Wiig and her longtime friend Annie Mumolo. Particularly memorable is a scene set in an exclusive bridal boutique, where Annie’s engaged best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), goes dress shopping with her attendants, not knowing they’ve just been food-poisoned.

Directed by sitcom veteran Paul Feig, “Bridesmaids’’ is being marketed as a crossover chick flick larded with broad humor, but it spends just as much time sifting through the everyday details of Annie’s life, which completely derails as her friendship with Lillian threatens to be eclipsed by a devious maid-of-honor-wannabe (Rose Byrne). Need proof that the film takes female rites of passage seriously? Annie’s mom is played by feminist icon Jill Clayburgh in her last big-screen performance.

Wiig is making the most of her “SNL’’ hiatuses, building a movie resume that not surprisingly favors comedy (“Knocked Up,’’ “Whip It,’’ “MacGruber’’) but hints at a desire to get serious once in a while (“All Good Things’’). She’s already shopping another film, “Imogene,’’ that she hopes to produce and star in, with a darkly comic script by Michelle Morgan about a suicidal woman forced to move in with her mother. And no, the actress is not planning to leave her late-night TV gig any time soon, she says, though she is retiring Gilly and the hollowly boastful Penelope. Don’t worry. There are plenty more where they came from.

Q. I know everyone wants to label your movie “The Hangover’’ for women, but isn’t it sort of the antithesis of an off-the-chain bachelor-party fantasy? For most women, this film is — sad to say — reality only slightly amplified.

Wiig: Right. Most women have either been to a wedding, been in a wedding, or been married. So you kind of know that world. And you also know that female friendships change as you get older, especially when you’re so close to someone and you’ve been single with someone and that’s the person you go out with and all of a sudden they’re engaged. You feel a bit of a loss. And you’re happy for them, but all of a sudden you’re like [small and whiny voice] “What about me? What happens to me now?’’

Q. Are you surprised at the number and variety of bridezillas out there?

Wiig: I think people sometimes lose perspective. In our movie we point out some of the many ridiculous things that happen during the wedding, and we don’t even have the bridezilla.

McLendon-Covey: It’s not surprising. Because it’s a giant party that’s supposed to start off the rest of your life, but the divorce rate is, like, 8 out of 10. So it’s stressful. And does anyone really care that there’s a wedding-cake cookie on the place setting when you’re making them wait two hours while you take pictures after the ceremony?

Wiig: But I do get that women dream about their wedding day from when they’re young, and they want it all to be perfect. It’s just that ultimately, especially now, I feel like that part of it overshadows what it’s about.

Q. Did you watch wedding-themed movies for inspiration?

Wiig: Not really. The wedding’s kind of the backdrop. Even though it’s called “Bridesmaids’’ and we’re in bridesmaids dresses on the poster, Annie [Mumolo] and I don’t consider it a wedding movie. But I also have to say there’s nothing wrong with a wedding movie. All those movies have a place, and there are some good ones out there.

Q. Such as?

McLendon-Covey: “Four Weddings and a Funeral.’’

Wiig: “Father of the Bride’’ was sweet.

Q. Your movie’s sweet, but also impressively raunchy.

Wiig: Thanks. We didn’t set out to make any kind of movie. We weren’t like, “This hasn’t been done before, so let’s do this’’ or “This movie starred guys, so let’s make one that’s with girls.’’ We just sat down and wrote something that made us laugh, that we could hopefully put our friends in, and that had a lot of women in it, which is rarer than it should be. And as far as the raunch goes: Women swear. Women do things. We drink.

McLendon-Covey: Have we learned nothing from “Jersey Shore’’?

Q. Do you think you look at the world differently than most of us?

Wiig: I don’t think I do. If I hear something funny or see something that might make a good character I may make a note of it, but I’m not like searching for material, even unintentionally.

Q. This seems like a particularly good time for women in comedy. Is it because there are more female writers?

McLendon-Covey: I think so. We’re starting to open up. And women are interesting. I have to say, looking at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Sarah Silverman and some of the stronger women out there who have really taken no prisoners: Thank God for them, because they’ve raised the bar.

Q. Which of your “SNL’’ characters would make the easiest leap to the big screen?

Wiig: [Laughs] I honestly don’t think anyone would want to see any of my characters for two hours.

Q. Did you think people would want to see bridesmaids throw up?

Wiig: That was a scene that Judd [Apatow] and Paul [Feig] suggested. They wrote a version and then we kind of reworked it, and it was like: If this works, it works; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Let’s have fun.

McLendon-Covey: And we did. That scene went on [shooting] for so long, it was like a “Fantasia’’ of vomiting.

Q. Why do uncomfortable things make us laugh?

McLendon-Covey: Because opposites are funny. The threat of vomiting in an all-white room filled with expensive dresses is funny. And, back to what you were asking a while back about do [comics] walk through the world looking at things a little differently? [Kristen] doesn’t think she does, but she does. You have to.

Wiig: Yeah, probably. I know I’m an observant person, but I think it’s unconscious. Comedy is part of my personality, but not the whole thing.

Interview was condensed and edited. Janice Page can be reached at jpage@globe.com.

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