Suzanne Hanover/Universal

'We didn't want to wallow in grossness': An oral history of Bridesmaids

February 04, 2019 at 01:18 PM EST

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Bridesmaids had the bones of a most conventional rom-com: The plot moves from engagement to wedding. Girl gets the guy. Cheesy dance number closes things out. Yet the meat of Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig’s script — a wickedly, surreally hilarious ensemble romp, with a heartfelt depiction of female friendship at its core — was anything but. Produced by Judd Apatow, the 2011 film was a smash success, putting the nail in the are women funny? coffin as it grossed nearly $300 million worldwide and scored two Oscar nominations. We spoke to the people who brought Wiig, Mumolo, and Apatow’s vision to life, helping to create one of the funniest (and raunchiest) rom-coms of all time.

THE CASTING

WENDI MCLENDON-COVEY (Rita): I knew Kristen and Annie from the Groundlings. They told me they wrote a movie and the first table read was 2007. Not too many people were there.

PAUL FEIG (director): Judd contacted me in 2007 and said, “We’re going to do a reading of this script.” He likes to get [people] he trusts together to do a table read, so the writers can hear how it’s working and adjust from that. Melissa was there, a few others.

MELISSA MCCARTHY (Megan): I definitely didn’t read for Megan. And it was a very different script [from] what we ended up with.

FEIG: I checked in with Judd about it…. He made it sound like he might be gone. Then out of the blue in 2010, I found out the project was actually going to move forward. That was it. I was on it.

MCLENDON-COVEY: When I actually got the job [in 2010]? I was stunned. Stunned.

MAYA RUDOLPH (Lillian): Kristen and I were actual friends. I came in and did a chemistry read with her, late in the process. It was very clear to me that there was a desire to see a real relationship on-screen.

FEIG: I cast Maya because I wanted to cast someone who was actually Kristen’s best friend. There’s hardly any exposition in [the script] about how long [Annie and Lillian] have been friends. It’s like, clearly, they’ve been friends forever.

ELLIE KEMPER (Becca): I actually read for the part [of Megan]. I had to read that monologue with Kristen where Megan is [talking] about how she falls off a ship…and she looks in the eye of a [dolphin].

FEIG: The only comedy [Rose Byrne] had done before that was Get Him to the Greek. When we were putting [Bridesmaids] together, Judd was in postproduction on [Greek], and he was like, “You should go down and take a look at some of her dailies.” I looked at some of the scenes she had done and was like, “Wow, she’s hilarious.” In New York, we got her and Kristen to audition together. Just seeing the two of them together was so funny because they were so different.

MCCARTHY: I was super freaked-out that Judd and Paul were in the room, because I thought so much of both of them.

FEIG: We mixed and matched a lot. The Megan role was one of the last ones we cast. We saw a lot of people for every role, but that was the one that we saw a ton of people for.

MCCARTHY: I remember someone saying that [the part] wasn’t working out, so maybe they would just get rid of her!

FEIG: [Melissa] came in and auditioned in the way that she played it in the movie. I hadn’t seen it done that way. It took me about 15 seconds to realize it was funny…. I was like, “This is weird!” Then: “Oh my God.”

MCCARTHY: I was like, “What have I done? I went too weird!”

THE PREP

KEMPER: We each had lunch with Paul, to talk about our character. I brought all these emails from brides I’d been bridesmaids for. Brides can be a little over the top, so I brought some paper evidence. [Laughs] We built out the character from there.

FEIG: We did improv sessions [in rehearsal]. We’d talk about this, that — the trouble your kid is having in school, or what’s going on with your husband. Like, Wendi would list off a million antidepressants: She’s just talking about [everything] she was on and how she could get them for the other women. We leaned into that for her character.

RUDOLPH: I’ll be honest, I can’t remember what was scripted and what came out in improv anymore. It all sort of bled together.

MCCARTHY: In the rehearsal process, you really got to know everyone’s characters before you’re shooting. Even if you didn’t use the specific information, you’d start to build this backstory. We had this history as the characters. You’d get more and more comfortable with how [you were] going to play off of each other. I just remember thinking, “If this is what making movies is, this is mind-blowing.”

RUDOLPH: By the time we actually started shooting, we were all aware of the creative process: Come in, read the scenes, and then improvise. There was a stenographer who was typing everything that we were improvising. Then we’d come back and there’d be new pages.

Suzanne Hanover/Universal

MCLENDON-COVEY: The first thing we shot [as a group] was the engagement party at the country club. It was hotter than hell.

FEIG: The very first thing we shot with Rose was when she turns around with the giant gown and comes forward and has her first meeting with Annie. We shot tons of stuff of all these kinds of failed insults that Helen was doing: “Oh, look at your dress, did you just come from work?”…. When we were putting it together in the editing room, we realized it didn’t make the speech content as funny — you already knew that they were at odds. So we stripped out all of these really hilarious jokes. And then the aggression came out when they [were] actually doing the toasts.

MCLENDON-COVEY: During the toasts, Paul let Kristen and Rose one-up each other for so long, it turned into The Gong Show. One would come in, take the mic from the other. That’s probably the time I laughed the hardest on set.

MCCARTHY: [Laughing] It went on forever. I just kept laughing. I remember thinking, “Oh, I’m going to have a hard time getting through this movie without ruining takes.”

THE FOOD POISONING SCENE

RUDOLPH: We were all downtown. I was told I’d have a stunt person which really made me laugh — like, “How intense is this going to be?”

KEMPER: I remember filming that very late in the night, and there was so much vomiting because we did a lot of different takes.

FEIG: We shot it over two days. We all realized this scene could be terrible…. We never wanted the audience to feel bad for the actors.

Suzanne Hanover/Universal

KEMPER: At one point I went outside to practice projectile vomiting to the wall. Paul was out there and he was like coaching me, like, That was great Ellie! Can you get it a little higher?

FEIG: We didn’t want to wallow in grossness.

KEMPER: There’s [a take] where I run into the [bridal boutique owner’s] office and spew vomit all over her own family photo. I remember feeling like, I got it! I hit it with my vomit. I was so proud.

FEIG: I’ve never heard a test audience laugh as hard as when Maya sinks down in the street.

RUDOLPH: My stunt person was Angelina Jolie’s stunt-person. I was like, “Stunt for what? What are we doing here, guys?” I had knee-pads on. It definitely wasn’t comfortable.

THE MILE HIGH CLUB

RUDOLPH: Initially we were all supposed to go to Vegas [for the bachelorette party].

FEIG: We did it pretty late in the process, but filming the airplane scene was my favorite day. We did it pretty late in the process. Annie and Kristen sent me 16 pages. I remember sitting there [reading], laughing so hard…. I was like, this is way funnier than anything we would’ve done in Vegas.

KEMPER: Everyone was improvising.

FEIG: I’ve never seen so much funny, different stuff come out of Kristen [than] when she first goes up to them like, “I’m ready to party.” I kept filming it because it was just so fun to watch.

MCCARTHY: She was like a machine.

Suzanne Hanover/Universal

MCLENDON-COVEY: Ellie and I had our own thing going on while everybody else was filming. We were just bullshitting back and forth.

FEIG: Working [Wendi and Ellie] towards having their kiss happening naturally, there was so much other stuff they could explore…. We just shot a ton of stuff with them.

MCLENDON-COVEY: Some of the stuff [Ellie] was saying makes me laugh to this day. It wasn’t appropriate. [Laughs]

MCCARTHY: Working with Ben [Falcone, McCarthy’s husband], I know when he’s about to laugh. Then you’d also hear Paul laughing at full volume three feet away in the corner. He’s laughing, Rose is laughing. You’re shoved onto this plane that’s sitting on the middle of some soundstage. I just loved watching everybody’s madness.

KEMPER: We literally had front-row seats: We’re sitting in chairs!

MCCARTHY: There was one joke — I can’t remember now. I had to get through the order of it for the joke to make sense. Every time I got to a certain point, Ben would start to giggle, and we couldn’t get it. We tried so many times to do it. Ben, do you remember what it was?

BEN FALCONE (Air Marshall Jon): Your foot’s in the doorway and you said, “Do you like this foot?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” And you’re like, “I’ve got another one like it. I can reach back above my head and comb my own goddamned hair.” And then you tried to do it with your foot — you tried to bring your foot all the way to comb your hair. That’s when I lost it. It was ruined.

SAYING GOODBYE

FEIG: I remember Melissa’s last day: We were in Downtown LA…. It was super sad. She was the first one leaving. She was crying, we were all crying — it was so emotional because we got so close.

MCLENDON-COVEY: I cried afterwards. It was such a fun experience. I didn’t want it to end. I loved those girls.

FEIG: This is how screwed up Hollywood is: It was a big deal we were making a studio movie with an all-female cast. There was this outside judgment on it, that it had to do well or women could never star in movies again!

MCLENDON-COVEY: People started labeling it The Hangover for women and it was like… no, it’s not.

RUDOLPH: By that point, I’d been so trained for disappointment in comedy that…it just didn’t occur to me that it would actually be a hit. But the feeling was we were all laughing at each other and we were all supporting each other. That’s kind of all that mattered. That is sort of the dream.

MCCARTHY: It was one of the most fun experiences I have ever had.

KEMPER: It felt like you were at camp. You were making a movie with your friends. I’m not saying that you can’t have a special bond with a man, but the female bond felt very unique. It felt powerful.

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