In this new series “Oscar Spotlight” we take a look at four rising stars who have this year become Oscar nominees for the first time. In a year filled with incredible performances, only one of our chosen actors was a shoo-in. The other three were all (welcome) surprise nominees. Taken from each of the four acting categories, we present …
Melissa McCarthy And How The Academy Gained A Sense Of Humor
It’s rare for the Academy to nominate, let alone vote for, a comedy (it’s a known fact that if you put any of the following together – mental illness, the Holocaust, overcoming adversity or a biopic on Someone Important - you’re looking at a film jostling for an award). So when the crude laugh-out-loud film “Bridesmaids” began to gain serious traction on the awards circuit, and then garnered two Academy Award nominations including one for Best Supporting Actress, it was one of the biggest eyebrow-raising surprises of the morning.
For Melissa McCarthy, awards recognition has come suddenly, after a long and celebrated career on the small screen. Between 2000 and 2007, McCarthy played Sookie St James, the scatter-brained best friend of Lorelai Gilmore in The WB’s “Gilmore Girls”, but it wasn’t until 2011 that she won her first Emmy, as one half of CBS sitcom “Mike and Molly.”
And just a few months later, Oscar came calling too.
Spending several years in bit parts, taking on whatever she could between filming hiatuses, McCarthy was one of the last to be cast in “Bridesmaids”, which was written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo and directed by Paul Feig. “She came in and I had never worked with her before … She’s so inventive, and just a comedy director’s dream. Someone who brings you new stuff all the time, and surprises you,” said the director.
It showed on screen.
McCarthy’s performance as Megan was over the top, balls out comedy gold, taking the film in a new direction but never taking the spotlight away from the more serious and heartfelt aspects of the movie. McCarthy showed movie audiences what TV audiences had known for years – that she had impeccable comedic timing and wasn’t afraid to shock.
And at the same time McCarthy was doing something even bigger - as Melissa Silverstein at Women And Hollywood said, “The thing about McCarthy is that she is fat, and fat women never have fun in films. They might laugh but always when people are laughing at them. They are always the sad sacks waiting on the side watching the main characters and their happy lives. They also butched her up so that you would go right to the lesbian stereotype. They hit a lot of stereotypes but put a great spin on them … [McCarthy] shows a woman who is fun and sexual and raunchy and real and ready to beat the crap out of you on a moment’s notice.”
When the film was released in the summer of 2011, audiences and critics alike fell for the film, and for McCarthy in particular. As summer turned to fall, and talk turned to awards season, McCarthy’s name began to pop up. It was the Boston Society of Film Critics and then the New York Film Critics who were gutsy enough to nominate her for Best Supporting Actress first. McCarthy went on to win both. Then the Broadcast Film Critics nominated her too and it began to snowball. Chicago Film Critics Association, Online Film Critics Association, Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA … and then the announcement from Academy president Tom Sherak in January.
For McCarthy, breaking out in “Bridesmaids” has already reached beyond Oscar – Jason Bateman rewrote his script for “ID Theft” in order to cast McCarthy in the lead, Universal plan to cast McCarthy alongside Jon Hamm in “an unconventional love story” from Judd Apatow and Fieg, and they have also greenlit a comedy co-scripted by McCarthy, about a group of friends who decide to steal the Stanley Cup after one woman’s husband falls ill. And she’s not done with TV either: CBS has already bought a pilot script from her.
In the early days of the Academy Awards comedy was regularly featured, but it peaked in the 1930s in the era of screwball comedies. “The Artist” may be on track to sweep the Awards, but this year could be the year that comedy ends up back on the winners list, with Melissa McCarthy leading the way.