From co-writer/director/producer Ben Falcone, the comedy Life of the Party follows Deanna (co-writer/producer star Melissa McCarthy), a newly single mother who, upon having her life turned upside down, decides to re-enroll in college and finally earn her degree. Having dropped out to raise her daughter (Molly Gordon), she now finds herself fully immersed in the college experience alongside her, and while mother and daughter get to know each other on a whole new level, Deanna also goes on her own adventure, making new friends and just having some fun.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Melissa McCarthy talked about how the story for Life of the Party evolved, having such a fun vibe on set, how they make the ultimate call on which jokes to choose, shooting the film’s ‘80s party, getting to sing with Christina Aguilera for her cameo, and that the scene where they got to trash a wedding reception was actually cathartic. She also talked about her next film with her husband, Superintelligence, which is a romantic comedy about A.I., and playing Lee Israel for the real-life story Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Collider: I enjoyed this movie so much! I thought it was so sweet and fun!
MELISSA McCARTHY: Oh, my gosh, that’s so nice to hear! I feel the same way. Ben originally came up with the idea for it while he was staring at my mom. She’s a very happy, sweet woman, and he said he had some strange thing happen, watching me at this age and my mom at her current age. He was just like, “What was Sandy like then? Could you appreciate, when you were 18, that she wasn’t just your mom and a wife, but that she was also a person?” And campus life is very near and dear to Ben’s heart ‘cause he grew up in a college town. He said, “Just staring at your mom, I suddenly was like, ‘What was she like in her 40s? What if she went to school with you?’ He just drifted off into this scenario that eventually became the movie. I’m really close to my mom, and I have a lot of friends that really are close to their parents. I think you always see these roles where the young woman is eye-rolling and hates her mom, and the mom is just a nightmare. I thought, “That’s not how it always is.” It may be sometimes, but there are also relationships where, even if it’s a little challenging, they still really love each other, and you never get to see that. And then, the thought of it never being too late, and for this woman to be like, “I know that I’m a mom and a wife, but who am I?,” is important for people to see. I think you get past a certain age and people think that it’s too late, but I don’t believe that. Being able to show that was really fun.
When I spoke to Ben about the movie, he had told me that when you have different versions of jokes to choose from for the final cut, and more than one of them is funny, and they’re a similar type of laugh, he leaves it up to you to choose which one you want left in, since it’s your performance. So, how do you make the ultimate call? Do you just go with your gut on that?
McCARTHY: I think it’s a group decision more than just me because I trust him, and I trust whoever we’re working with, as an editor. You also trust the audience. We test screen and sometimes there’s something that I just love, but it doesn’t land and I’m like, “No!” I’m even worse for other people, though. A lot of times, it’s just time ‘cause you can’t have the scene go for 12 minutes. Cutting other people’s lines when it’s made me really giggle, I’m like, “You can’t! You just can’t cut it!” And Ben’s like, “I’m a monster, but it has to be cut!” I am not good with that process, at all, because I get so attached to everything. With my stuff, if it works, great, let’s give it a try. Sadly, I’ll let it go, if it just doesn’t work with an audience.
Let’s about your costume for the ‘80s party. How did that look come about, and how did you feel about that look?
McCARTHY: I felt great! Are you kidding?! If I could pull off being in a sequin jumpsuit with shoulder epaulets, every day of my life, I’d be like, “Yes, I’ll wear that!” And with the hair and the make-up, I felt like I was on top of the world! Give me hair that big and I’m like, “I feel great!” We kept joking and saying, “Please give me Donna Mills eyes.” For anybody who doesn’t know, she was on Knot’s Landing in the ‘80s. It’s funny, for all the young women in it, I got all of their dresses on Etsy, one night. I found all these dresses and I loved them so much, and I was like, “The odds of them all working and fitting everybody is one in a billion.” And then, the day before we shot it, this big box showed up. I put them all out and every single young woman went to a different dress. They all just gravitated towards the one they ended up wearing. I felt like such a mom ‘cause I was like, “I bought you an ‘80s dress! You don’t have to wear it.” And then, they all ended up wearing it, and it was so fun. We were dancing and singing, at the top of our lungs, for a whole day of shooting. That’s not a bad day at work. It was so silly and fun. With Luke Benward’s pink linen suit, I was like, “I hope you wear that in your life.” I want to see him walking around somewhere in that suit.
Those outfits were amazing!
McCARTHY: They were really fun!
As someone who’s a fan of Christina Aguilera, what was it like to not only get to do scenes with her, but to also be there while she was singing and doing her thing?
McCARTHY: That was crazy! We wrote it for her, but I was like, “She’s not gonna do it. She’s Christina Aguilera. What are we doing? She’s not gonna do it.” And then, when she said yes, it was so fun. The real kicker was being on that stage with her, singing “Fighter,” which is such an anthem. I don’t care who you are, you know the words to that song and it’s such a bad-ass anthem. Everybody kept lifting up their arms to each other because we all kept getting goosebumps. We were dancing, and every time the camera would stop, we would be covered in goosebumps, singing with Christina Aguilera. She was so fun and just jumped in and couldn’t have been more of a blast to shoot with. It still always seems surreal to me when you meet someone who you’ve loved for so long, and then you’re just hanging out with them and singing their song. It’s like, “What’s happening?!” It was just great.
That’s awesome! It seems like this set was so much fun!
McCARTHY: It really was. Something magical just happened, that first day. All of these young actors, were just so fun, and they were truly excited to be working. They’d come in on days off, which just never happens. We had such a good time, and they made everybody happy. On days when the whole group wasn’t there, the crew was like, “Hmm, it’s so quiet,” and everybody was a little more mopey. I was like, “But I’m still here!” And they were like, “Yeah, we know. It’s just not the same.” I was like, “Yeah, I can’t argue with that. I know what you mean.”
One of the wildest sequences in Life of the Party is when you guys trash the wedding reception. What was that like to shoot, and how long did that take to shoot?
McCARTHY: That may have just been one day. We were on a tight schedule. I know Jessie Ennis kept yelling, “This is a dream come true!” I was like, “To trash a room?” And she was like, “Yes!” I don’t know of anyone who has actually flipped a whole table and just destroyed a cake, and I do have to say that it’s kind of cathartic. Once we started, we were unleashing the beast. There should be a way that you can do that, once a year, and just really work through some stuff.
When I talked to Ben, he also said that you would be doing Superintelligence together next, and that it would be a bit different thing for you guys. The way he described the film made it sound funny and terrifying, at the same time.
McCARTHY: Did he really?
Yeah, it sounded just a bit scary.
McCARTHY: I think it’s a cautionary tale, for sure. That’s very different, from us. We’ve told stories where you watch a character dive bomb a situation, but this one really is more of a global thing. I describe it as an apocalyptic romantic comedy. It’s the old kind of romantic comedy, where it truly is romantic, and A.I. takes over. It is truly, possibly the end of the world because humanity has lost the ability to be kind, and then this one very average woman saves the world and love wins. One of our best friends, Steve Mallory, wrote it, and the first time I read it I was like, “It’s so hopeful and terrifying!,” because this can happen. Did Ben tell you that we had lunch with Elon Musk?
Yeah, he did.
McCARTHY: That was one of the most incredible, surreal things. We were like, “Do you think this can happen?” And he was like, “Oh, it’s absolutely going to happen.” It just sent shivers. It truly was terrifying. He was like, “It’s inevitable. We’re literally building our own destroyer.” I’m a big fan of romantic comedies, especially when they’re truly romantic and truly funny, instead of just cutesy, and this one’s definitely not cutesy. I’m really excited to start it. We’ll shoot that one in Atlanta.