When it comes to Irish heritage they don’t come much more Gaelic than Melissa McCarthy, the actress absolutely killing it with her imitation of Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer on "Saturday Night Live."
The Illinois actress, who grew up on a farm, has never been so much in the limelight, but the 46-year-old behind the Spicer sensation is no overnight success, however.
She takes nothing for granted given her hardscrabble background and unconventional career. “My grandmother and grandfather both came over from Ireland," she told IrishCentral recently. "They had a tough go of it. But family was important to them and they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and kept it intact and took each day at a time. I strongly relate to that.”
“Being Irish is part of the way I approach the world,” McCarthy adds. “Well, we’ve had a rough enough time you know? We’ve had a rough go of it, but I think there’s a sturdiness that comes from that too, and I think that there’s a really realistic way of looking at the world that comes from it.”
She expanded on that in an interview with our sister publication Irish America Magazine.
“There’s a scrappiness to the Irish that I can very much relate to,” Melissa said. “It’s a kind of working-class, not afraid to get your hands dirty, take care of a situation kind of thing. Being Irish means being self-sufficient and doing whatever is needed. My dad’s friends in Chicago were all Irish and we grew up thinking of ourselves as Irish. His dad was a Carty, but the name got changed to McCarthy when he emigrated. I’m truly a Carty.”
She and her husband Ben Falcone have visited Ireland a few times and are fans of Dublin. In 2015, she was given an Oscar Wilde award by the American Irish Alliance, but she lost her voice and wasn’t able to attend the party at JJ Abrams’s studio in Santa Monica.
“When I was awarded it, it made me think of my grandma and grandpa and the struggles they had, immigrating to a new country. It would have made them very proud and I thought about them a lot.”
She grew up on a farm in Illinois, living with her grandmother and parents and assorted aunts and uncles. There are three nuns in the family and she was educated at two Catholic convents. Her husband, Ben Falcone, whom she met in Los Angeles twelve years ago, when they were both part of the legendary Groundlings comedy troupe, is also of Irish descent. His parents lived in Galway for many years before Melissa and Ben met.
“I’ve got about a million Chicago Irish cops in my family, and if things hadn’t worked out for me as an actress, I could have seen myself as a teacher,” she told Irish America. Her close friend Octavia Spencer, who won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Actress (which Melissa was also nominated for), also broke into the big time in the past few years, and the two pals regularly pinch themselves at the way things have gone.
“It’s just a crazy thing. We’ve both struggled for over two decades and to have had such a fun, wild last few years has just been amazing for both of us. I think it’s been ten years overdue for her. We’re occasionally a little dumbfounded at what’s happening. We’re secure for about a minute and a half and then that goes away and we’re panicking and wondering if we’ll ever work again.”
She has definite opinions on Hollywood and stereotypes.
“No one knows anything in Hollywood. You’re told you’re too tall, or you’re not tall enough or you have the wrong accent. I find it all batty. I mean, I never want to watch just one visual. I think the point of us actors are that you should forget you’re watching actors. It should be like a slice of life – whether that’s a beautiful person or a regular Joe. When everybody starts to look alike, I tune out.
“I’d rather watch someone who’s like me, just to break up the monotony of every little thing being perfect at all times. And I think it’s not good for young girls to just see one visual all the time, that’s not realistic. I also don’t think everybody should be thin. I mean, come on, give us a little variety.”
McCarthy broke into the comedy scene just over two decades ago. “I went to New York when I was about 20, thinking I was going to make it big in fashion design. I had about $32 on me and I decided to take a limo from the airport – the first of a series of bad financial decisions! A friend of mine persuaded me to do stand-up and I dressed up like a crazy drag queen in gold lamé. I looked like a woman trying to be a man, looking like a woman in a crazy wig and shoes and I went to an open mic night and for the first time I thought, ‘This is fun, making a group of people laugh in a room,’ so I never went back to my fashion studies.”
She won the 2011 Emmy for best actress in a comedy for her TV sitcom show “Mike and Molly” in which she played Molly Flynn, a high school teacher.
One of her favorite on-screen roles was in the Judd Apatow movie “This is Forty,” which also starred Roscommon-born actor Chris O’Dowd.
“Bridesmaids” was the film that launched O’Dowd in Hollywood, and Melissa becomes positively joyful when his name comes up.
“He’s one of the most charming, funny men I’ve ever met, because I don’t think he’s trying to be anything other than what he is. He’s truly, wickedly funny and it’s just natural. He’s bigger than life to me. 'Bridesmaids' affected me and my career so much and, as well as Chris, it was wonderful working with such a nice and caring bunch of women. At some point in my 20s, I thought, ‘maybe I should be bitchier or a bigger smart-ass and that’ll do it.’ But I’ve learned, especially on 'Bridesmaids' that if you do it kindly and you do it smart, you can still get ahead. I feel like I’m still learning.”
Away from the public eye, Melissa told Irish America she’s blissfully happy at home in Los Angeles with her husband and the chaos of bringing up their two girls Vivian and Georgette.
“I am cuckoo for my husband Ben and my two little creatures. In our house, there’s always a dog barking and it's not a quiet house, but I love the chaos.
She rarely goes online and hardly ever uses email, partly because she doesn’t want to, and partly to protect herself from the noise of the critics in the blogosphere.
“I don’t read anything – that sounds like I’m not literate! I can read, but I don’t read random stuff online. I don’t use email. I worked a long time just to get someone to come and see me in a play or a show and now I’m really glad there’s someone there to give me a job and let me do what I do, so I don’t need to keep looking out for what strangers say about me.”
Given the fickleness of Hollywood, McCarthy continues to write and, although she’s enjoying success and visibility right now, she is under no illusion that it won’t all vanish.
“You create your own work. I started this at 20, when instead of moaning and thinking no one would ever hire me, I put on my own show. I played 65 at 20 and I thought, why not? There was an older woman’s play that I loved, so I did it. You can’t tell somebody who is generating their own work that they can’t work. They’re doing it themselves. So there!”
Now she has become a must-see actress-even Donald Trump tunes in to her performances as Spicer. In this strange and unsettling period in American life, Melissa McCarthy has provided a great antidote – a good laugh and it is priceless. Irrespective of your political leanings, the world agrees this is one funny lady.