Getting Wiigy with it

<i>Bridesmaids</i> ... Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph), with (Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi ...

Bridesmaids ... Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph), with (Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey and Ellie Kemper) on a wild ride down the road to matrimony.

Braced against the chill on an unusually cold day in Los Angeles, in a fine jacket and slim-cut pants, shiny hair tousled and statement jewellery glinting in the animation studio's fluoro lights, Kristen Wiig looks effortlessly chic - that is until she opens her mouth, and out pours the comic actor's trademark offbeat monologue.

Asked to describe her role in the upcoming film Despicable Me 2, she fixes her eyes on the ceiling and ponders ''What else can I say about my character,'' then laughs uproariously before quieting to a psychotic mumble, ''I don't really know what else.''

And, when an earnest question about which animated films have personally affected her is posed, she replies, just as earnestly: ''Elmer Fudd, I definitely cried. He just wants the rabbit, but he can't get it, because that would be the end of Bugs Bunny, they wouldn't be able to do any more shows. But it's just … sad, every day.'' She stifles a teary sniffle. ''Haunting.''

Kristen Wiig arrives for the British Academy of Film and Arts (BAFTA) awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London.

Kristen Wiig arrives for the British Academy of Film and Arts (BAFTA) awards ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London.

It would be easy to say that she's just like her character, as there's a familiar tone that Wiig brings to each role, but as one of the finest character comics working today, is she ''just like'' the put-upon Annie from Bridesmaids, or any of her kaleidoscopic range of Saturday Night Live characters? Or is she more like the edgy Imogene from the upcoming low-budget drademy Girl Most Likely, that The Hollywood Reporter described as ''smart and brassy''?


In truth, she's like all of them and none of them at the same time. It's clear from spending even a short time in the 39-year-old actor's presence that her own personality informs much of her work, and it's that appealing deadpan eccentricity that has seen her catapulted into the comedy spotlight. Whether or not she feels comfortable there, front and centre, is another question entirely.

Born in Canandaigua, New York, to an artist mother and lake marina manager father, the school-aged Wiig hated speaking in public. ''I would miss school just so I didn't have to do it,'' she has said. She later attended the University of Arizona, where a teacher noticed her aptitude for performance during an acting elective, and encouraged her to pursue it. Dropping out of college and moving to California, she began her comedic journey with Los Angeles-based sketch and improv' comedy troupe The Groundlings in her early 20s, taking piecemeal work until she debuted on Saturday Night Live in 2005. When the show underwent drastic budget cuts the following year, Wiig survived the cull and joined the cast full time.

Melissa McCarthy  in the 2013 movie <i>Identity Thief</i>.

Melissa McCarthy in the 2013 movie Identity Thief.

She finished up in May, 2012, and has since returned as a guest host - a true mark of superstardom. The show's overlord Lorne Michaels has said he considers Wiig to be in the ''top four'' all-time great SNL cast-members - no faint praise considering it's the show that launched the careers of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Eddie Murphy, to name just a few.

To meet Wiig in person is to be somewhat surprised by her cool, if not entirely calm, persona. Like many famed character actors and comics, she has a detached quality that leads itself to total transformation when in front of a camera. Her fellow SNL alumna and comedy leading lady Fey is more or less Tina Fey all the time; but Wiig, on the other hand, seems to be lying in wait until the next character rolls around.

With SNL as a jumping off point, Wiig moved into film and excelled in the type of small roles that caused audiences to crane their necks as though to extend her moments on screen just a few more seconds. It was her incredible performance as a passive-aggressive E! network executive - ''It's a lot of work … can't wait to see what happens … It's gonna be tough'' - in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up in 2007 that would be her ticket to the big time.

Rebel Wilson onstage during the 2013 MTV Movie Awards.

Rebel Wilson onstage during the 2013 MTV Movie Awards.

''After I saw how much people loved it in the movie, I instantly asked her if she had any plans to write a script for herself,'' Judd Apatow said in 2011 of her performance.

That script turned out to be Bridesmaids, written with her pal Annie Mumolo. The film went on to prove it was viable to make female-fronted, big-budget comedies … sort of. It's true that it did make box-office history - taking in $288 million worldwide to become Apatow's most successful production yet - and was acclaimed by critics. But studio executives still seem loath to green-light similar projects. Even noted ''good guy'' Paul Feig, who directed Bridesmaids, told Marie Claire he was attracted to his next project - the Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy buddy cop flick, The Heat, written by Katie Dippold - because ''it's not women dealing with women's problems, which can be funny but can also feel limiting''. So much for throwing open the doors of Hollywood to usher in a brave new era.

Wiig is circumspect when it comes to the topic of Bridesmaids as a cultural milestone or barrier-breaker. ''It's so hard for me to know the impact; I mean, ugh,'' she says, pausing and thinking, becoming uncharacteristically serious. ''I mean, I guess there have been more opportunities since then, but I don't know. That would be amazing. It's a shame that something has to be 'opened up' [for female actors] in the first place, it should just be there already, but I hope so.''

Of the films that came in Bridesmaids' wake, many were hampered by the media's inability to take them at face value, instead assessing each one with an air of ''is this the next Bridesmaids?'' The dark, ribald Bachelorette, for example, seemed to prove, in many critics' minds, that audiences are only prepared to go so far when it comes to women on screen doing everything their male equivalents regularly indulge in.

Still, Wiig's Despicable Me 2 co-star Steve Carell sees female comedians as a beacon of hope in a comedic landscape that has become increasingly barren. ''Kristen, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, I mean, they're a lot of really funny, talented people,'' he says. ''And they're doing inventive things, too. That's what's most exciting about all of this, to me, is to see people like Kristen and Amy and Tina who are doing things that you never have seen before. That, to me, is inspiring, because when you see the same thing over and over and over, you think, 'Well, that's it, that's the realm of modern comedy', and then you see something that completely surprises you, it's like a gift, it's exciting.''

Unlike her fellow SNL alums Fey and Poehler, however, Wiig seems a little uneasy about making the jump from ''funny woman to the left of shot'' to out-and-out stardom. In 2012, she was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People (''She never thought she was making a statement about women in comedy,'' Apatow said in a short essay for the list, ''[it was] just about making a movie she could be proud of''), and perhaps slightly less prestigiously, PETA's Sexiest Vegetarian of 2011, but she has remained low-key and self-effacing about any accolades she's received.

Her burgeoning fame has also led to increased interest in her private life. Her five-year marriage to fellow actor Hayes Hargrove ended in 2009, and she has dated the Strokes' drummer Fabrizio Moretti for the past year or so. She is only slowly letting her guard down when it comes to the media's prying. ''I am shyer than most people think,'' she told Marie Claire last year, but not before adding, ''I will say that I'm happier than I've ever been. Where I am now. Who he is. Those are the two big ones.''

If Moretti's name is familiar for non-musical reasons, it could be because he dated Drew Barrymore for five years in the early '00s. Barrymore, a friend of Wiig's (and one of the celebrity impressions Wiig took to her SNL audition), is thrilled about the pairing. ''It all seems so wacky and incestuous, but that's how life works,'' Barrymore told Allure. ''It seems fitting that they would find each other. I was like, 'right, of course, that makes perfect sense'.''

Wiig may be cautious about courting fame, but there is indeed a new guard of female comics who are breaking through the barriers of character comedy to become major stars. Coincidentally, two of them are Bridesmaids' supporting players.

McCarthy, whose hysterical performance as Megan stole the show and garnered her Academy Award, Critics' Choice and BAFTA nominations for best supporting actress, has so far taken top billing in Identity Thief and The Heat. Australia's own Rebel Wilson, another Bridesmaids scene-stealer as Wiig's odd room-mate, became a bona-fide star thanks to Pitch Perfect; and her comedy pilot Super Fun Night has been picked up by ABC.

The comedy tables have now been so comprehensively turned that, in a nod to Christopher Hitchens' notorious Vanity Fair essay of 2007 (subtly titled Why Women Aren't Funny), and perhaps in karmic penance for those comments about ''women dealing with women's problems'', Paul Feig wrote an essay for The Hollywood Reporter's recent comedy issue titled, you guessed it, Why Men Aren't Funny.

''Nature has provided humankind with two biological safeguards: 1) an intellectual anomaly that allows males to believe that they and their friends are funny, and 2) a survival instinct that impels women to laugh at men's jokes,'' Feig writes, tongue gently grazing his cheek. ''As long as the men feel good about themselves, no matter how delusionary those feelings may be, the tribe will continue to function. Is modern society now ready to transition away from the Myth of Male Hilarity?''

As for Wiig herself, her filmic slate is packed with upcoming projects including Girl Most Likely and Anchorman: The Legend Continues, and another voice-acting gig in the form of How To Train Your Dragon 2. The topic of Bridesmaids 2 remains up for debate, but she is heartened - albeit in a bittersweet way - that so many people see her as a comedy trailblazer.

''I have a mixed reaction in that it's sad to me that [films for women] haven't always been there, because there are so many funny women, for decades, that have been in this business,'' Wiig says. ''So it's kind of a weird thing. Yes, it's so wonderful that it's more on people's minds and that they're recognising it but, at the same time, it's like, well, shouldn't it have always been that way?''