Melissa McCarthy admits she was nervous to work opposite Bill Murray in St. Vincent.
“Is that not true for every human being?” she asks rhetorically, before adding she was intimidated, “in every possible way.
“He’s an icon. It’s less about him being one of the funniest human beings, and more about that he’s such a good actor. I thought this role was right in his wheelhouse because I knew he wasn’t going to overplay it. Then to see him do it so subtly and so underplayed, makes you love that character so much. It was a master class for me.”
The Bridesmaids star plays Maggie, a recent divorcee and mother of 10-year-old Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Her nursing job requires long hours and without daycare she is forced to leave the boy with her neighbour, the hard-drinking reprobate Vincent (Murray).
“I liked that she was stripped down,” she says. “There are no more tricks. She’s out of tricks. She’s just trying to survive.”
As Maggie, McCarthy takes a step away from her well established comedic persona to deliver a supporting role that has laughs but shows more of her range than we’re used to.
“I’ve played a lot of characters who are very vocal, very aggressive. It’s been what the character has called for, but even within those bombastic parts you still have to let that character touch down. Even in a bigger, straight comedy you always have that moment where something’s got to break. You see why they’re so loud. At least for the women I’ve played there is a reason why they are so ballsy and it is nice when you see the crack in the veneer and you realize, ‘It’s part of their insecurity. They stay loud so nobody yells at them.’ I think the same applies to this one, except that the character wasn’t putting on much of a facade. She was falling apart more openly and she had to buckle down and keep moving forward.”
St. Vincent is a character piece that showcases the actors — like co-star Naomi Watts as a plainspoken, pregnant hooker with an impenetrable accent and, if not exactly a heart of gold, an affection for things made of gold — but makes the point that families can be formed anywhere by anyone, even if one is a prostitute, one drinks too much and one spends too much time at work.
“It’s a lovely message that (director) Ted (Melfi) handled so beautifully, because it doesn’t feel sentimental,” says McCarthy. “It’s not like, ‘And now the message is …’ You just get the feeling in the pit of your stomach that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”