Movie Interviews
4:56 pm
Fri July 19, 2013

Kristen Wiig: That Loud, Strange Lady Isn't Me

Originally published on Fri July 19, 2013 6:12 pm

For seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, actress Kristen Wiig made us laugh — laugh hard — with her off-the-wall, over-the-top characters, from Sue, the woman who loved surprises a little too much, to the unnervingly exuberant Target Lady.

In 2011, Wiig had a breakout film role in the bawdy hit comedy Bridesmaids, which she co-wrote. She's back now in Girl Most Likely, as a failed Manhattan playwright who loses her job, her boyfriend and her apartment, and has no choice but to move back in with her embarrassingly free-spirited New Jersey mom, played by Annette Bening.

Wiig joins NPR's Melissa Block to talk about lost characters, loud characters, and what's coming up in her career.


Interview Highlights

On playing lost characters in low places

"I always like stories like that, where it starts off as this person has seemingly nothing, loses everything, and throughout the course of the movie, in getting her life back, finds something that she didn't really know about herself. I always gravitate towards things that have very specific, sometimes weird characters."

On the lessons of improv

"I had no acting experience really at all, and a friend of mine told me to go see the Groundlings. ... I don't know, something — I mean, I always wanted to perform, and I guess reading a script in front of people, and acting something out, was always very intimidating to me, because I felt like there was a right and wrong way to do it. And with improv it really is your personality; you make all the decisions, and so in some ways you really can't do it wrong."

On being a shy person playing big, loud characters

"I'm actually not very good at public speaking [or] talking in a big group — even socially — as myself. Playing a character is much safer to me. So getting up and someone telling me to do a monologue as a character, I could talk for 10 minutes. But if someone told me to get up and be myself and talk, I would have a much harder time with that. ...

"I think a lot of people assume that you are what you do. And that happens to me all the time when I do interviews, or even when I just, like, go to a dinner. I think people think I'm going to throw on a wig and start tap-dancing on the table."

On auditioning for Saturday Night Live

"It was the most terrifying thing I've ever done to this day. Because I knew it would just be me on stage for five minutes, and they were very clear that you had five minutes. And I bought I stopwatch when I got to New York so I could time my audition. Because I was afraid that a big curtain was going to fall down or something in five minutes."

On the story behind Target Lady

"She was something that I had done at the Groundlings. I liked how happy she was about pretty much everything. I was actually in a Target — I forget, somewhere in the Valley — and the woman who was at the register, she just said something in a voice that struck me. She didn't do the things that the Target Lady does. ... I kind of embellished a lot."

On her plans for the future

"I hope to direct. The last handful of things I've done have been pretty dramatic, which has been really fun for me. It's really fulfilling to me in a way I never expected — I think it's because I came into acting through comedy.

"[Takes a pause] I really want to, you know ... [puts on a goofy tone] spread my wings. ... I can't believe I just said that."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. For seven seasons on "Saturday Night Live," actress Kristen Wiig made us laugh hard with her off-the-wall, over-the-top characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

KRISTEN WIIG: (As Sue) Oh, my God!

(AUDIENCE LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) She's going to be so surprised.

WIIG: (As Sue) Oh, my God!

BLOCK: From Sue, the woman who loved surprises a little too much...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WIIG: (As Sue) I really love surprise parties. I'm so freaking excited!

BLOCK: ...to the Target Lady, the overexuberant cashier.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WIIG: (As Target Lady) You know what fertilizer is, right?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Excuse me?

WIIG: (As Target Lady) It's part dirt and part feces. It's my job to let you know what you're buying. I just thought you should know, you're buying a big bag of feces.

(AUDIENCE LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: In 2011, Wiig had her breakout starring role on film with the bawdy, hit comedy "Bridesmaids," which she co-wrote. And now, she's back on the big screen in a new comedy, titled "Girl Most Likely." Wiig's character, Imogene, is a failed playwright who loses her job, her boyfriend and her apartment. She's forced to move back in with her free-spirited mother, played by Annette Bening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GIRL MOST LIKELY")

WIIG: (As Imogene) Were you getting spanked last night?

ANNETTE BENING: (As Zelda) Why would you think that?

WIIG: (As Imogene) Because that's what it sounded like. Am I right?

BENING: (As Zelda) (Laughing) Oh, my God.

WIIG: (As Imogene) I'm right, aren't I?

BLOCK: And Kristen Wiig joins me now to talk about the movie and her career. Kristen, welcome to the program.

WIIG: Hi. Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here.

BLOCK: What was it that appealed to you about this character, Imogene - because she has fallen about as far as she can go.

(LAUGHTER)

WIIG: Yeah, yeah. I always like stories like that, where it starts off where this person, you know, seemingly has nothing, loses everything; and throughout the course of the movie, in getting her life back, finds something that she didn't really know about herself. I don't know. I always gravitate towards things that have very specific, sometimes weird characters. (Laughing) And this movie definitely have that.

BLOCK: Can we talk about Imogene's wardrobe here because - I mean, the premise is, since you've been thrown out of your apartment, you don't have your clothes. And you go back home to your childhood home, and you rummage around in the basement - right? - and find clothes from, I don't know, what? - the late '80s maybe?

WIIG: Yeah. I think early '90s.

BLOCK: Really, really bad fashion.

WIIG: Really bad. A lot of floral denim miniskirts and...

BLOCK: Yeah, yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: And there's a moment when Imogene goes out on the town; and one of the young people whom she meets says something like, my mom had that vest.

(LAUGHTER)

WIIG: Yeah, the denim vest...

BLOCK: Yeah, the denim vest.

WIIG: ...the short, cropped denim vest, which I'm determined to bring back.

BLOCK: You rocked the denim vest.

WIIG: Thanks.

(LAUGHTER)

WIIG: If that's all you took away from the movie, then I am happy.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Then that's good enough? Let's go back to when you got your acting start; with the improv group The Groundlings, in LA. Talk about that time, and what you learned there. It was such a fertile ground for so many actors and comedians who came out of there.

WIIG: Yeah. I had no acting experience, really, at all. And a friend of mine told me to go see The Groundlings. And I saw an improv show and - I don't know, something - I mean, I always wanted to perform. And, I guess, reading a script in front of people and acting something out was always very intimidating to me because I felt like there was a right and wrong way to do it. And with improv, it really is your personality. You make all the decisions. And so in some ways, you can't really do it wrong. (Laughing) It was a lot that I learned.

BLOCK: It's just an interesting idea, though, that you would come - really, with no great background in acting - right? - really, no background at all; and have the gumption to say, you know what? I'm going to try this. I see this up there, and it's something that I really love. And why not? I'm going to give it a shot.

WIIG: Yeah. And for me, I am actually not very good at public speaking and talking in a big group, even socially, as myself. Playing a character is much safer for me. So getting up and someone telling me to do a monologue as a character, I could, you know, talk for 10 minutes. But if someone told me to just get up and be myself and talk, I would have a much harder time with that.

BLOCK: I'm talking with the actress and comedian Kristen Wiig. When you got called in to audition for "Saturday Night Live," it was 2005. What was that like? What was the experience?

WIIG: It was the most terrifying thing, I think, that I've ever done - to this day. Because I - it's - I knew it was going to be just me on stage for five minutes, and they were very clear that you had five minutes. And I bought a stopwatch when I got to New York, so I could time my audition because I was afraid like, a big curtain was going to fall down, or something, after five minutes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: And what did you do?

WIIG: I did the Target Lady. Aunt Linda was a character that I did on Update, that reviewed movies. I did her and...

BLOCK: So Target Lady was there from the start? You had her from then.

WIIG: Yeah. She was something that I had done at The Groundlings.

BLOCK: And where did she come from - because she's got this - at least on "Saturday Night Live," she has this bowl haircut, and that voice.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

WIIG: (As Target Lady) Is this for your pasty skin?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) No, I just want to look good for a wedding I'm going to.

WIIG: (As Target Lady) I love weddings. I get to sit at circle tables and listen to the hits of today, like "Single Lady."

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) That's great. Listen, I'm kind of...

WIIG: (As Target Lady) (Humming "Single Lady")

WIIG: I liked how happy she was about pretty much everything. I was actually in a Target and - I forget, somewhere in the Valley - and the woman who was at the register, she just said something in a voice that struck me. She didn't, you know, do the things that the Target Lady does - this woman - but I kind of embellished a lot.

BLOCK: You know, do you ever just sort of hear her voice in your head now, still? Is she still kind of lurking back there?

WIIG: Gosh. Without sounding crazy, I guess they all sort of...

BLOCK: Yeah?

WIIG: ...lurk around back there a little bit. And I think I still have a little voice in my head, or a muscle, that wants to find characters still.

BLOCK: It must be a noisy place back there...

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...with all those voices.

WIIG: It can be. I try not to spend a lot of time alone.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: So that they don't drown you out?

WIIG: Yes.

BLOCK: You know, I keep thinking about what you said earlier about being such a shy person. And I think people hearing that will say, you know, Kristen Wiig throws herself into these characters; puts herself out there, makes herself look really unattractiv. How could she be this quiet, retiring person that she's talking about and do this really over-the-top stuff? I mean, does it feel like a contradiction to you at all?

WIIG: Not to me. I think a lot of people assume that you are what you do. And that happens to me all the time, when I do interviews or even when I just like, go to a dinner. I think people think I'm going to...

(LAUGHTER)

WIIG: ...I don't know, throw on a wig and start tap dancing on the table.

BLOCK: Well, when you think forward about what you want to do now, are there other kinds of roles, other ways you want to stretch yourself, that you're looking forward to?

WIIG: Yes. I hope to direct. And the last handful of things I've done have been pretty dramatic, which has been really fun for me. I hope I have the opportunity to do both - and to do all. And I've enjoyed doing voice-over. And I really want to, you know, spread my wings.

(LAUGHTER)

WIIG: I can't believe I just said that.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: That's actress Kristen Wiig. Her new film is "Girl Most Likely." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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