I’m going to be super honest right now–sometimes it’s hard to be happy for people when they have success you want for yourself. As an actor, I run into this all of the time. But here’s the thing about a real deeply connected friendship: you are so happy for the other person’s success, even if you crave it for yourself.
This is how it is with Melissa Rauch, who plays Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory” with me. She co-wrote and is starring in her very own movie called “The Bronze,” and it comes out this Friday, March 18. It got huge rave reviews when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival–it is simply a powerhouse of a movie.
I excitedly interviewed Melissa about some of the things I wanted to know about the actual process of making a movie–particularly one about a former bronze-medal-winning gymnast who has to come to terms with her new life as a trainer of the next hot gymnast, with a chip on her shoulder and a potty-mouth that is as hysterical as it is startling.
Tell me in a nutshell what “The Bronze” is about.
“The Bronze” is about Hope Ann Greggory, a female gymnast who has been milking small town fame from her Bronze medal victory for way too long. She’s really stuck in a rut when we meet her: living in her father’s basement and unsure of how to move onto the next phase of her life. All of that changes, however, when she’s faced with the decision to either train a new rising star in town–or sabotage her in order to preserve her own legacy.
A lot of people may not know that in addition to being an actress, you have been writing for a long time. What kinds of stories are you interested in telling as a writer, and what in particular felt compelling about telling this story?
I’m most interested in writing the stories of flawed women (read: real), who are raw characters with layers that need to be peeled back. The attempt is always to ground their stories first, then crank up the comedy with the characters who inhabit that world. I like creating anything that helps me to contextualize an experience of life I’m struggling to understand personally.
One of these experiences is that of fame. It’s a weirdly magnetic and seductive force in American culture, yet it if you do attain it, it has literally no substance and it’s incredibly fickle. For example, early in my career, I suddenly had national weekly visibility working as a talking head comedian on Vh1’s “Best Week Ever.” During that time, I went to the food court of my local mall in New Jersey, and scored a free Wetzel Pretzel from being recognized, and this happened each time I went (in what became a bizarre, yet lovely ego-boosting ritual).
A year or so later, I was off the show and out of work, and the same kiosk manager who’d regularly gifted me the pretzel charged me full price. “The Bronze” is an exploration of a star’s rise and fall from a pedestal–a topic that has long been a source of fascination for me and my husband (who co-wrote the film and has witnessed all the peaks and valleys of my career).
You are known for your portrayal of “Bernadette” on our show, but this movie really lets you show a whole other set of acting skills and personality nuances. Did you always picture yourself playing this role? Was there ever a suggestion by anyone to cast someone else? How did that work?
The role I play in “The Bronze” was one that we specially wrote for me. When we first sent out the script, we were fortunate to get some interest from some highly accomplished producers who said they very much wanted to do it, but politely suggested the film would be easier to get made with another female actress in the part who was already more established in film. We thought, sure, selling a script would be wonderful, but how else am I going to become “more established in film” if I give away a role that was very much tailor-made for me to someone else?
I could not help but think of Sylvester Stallone and how he held onto “Rocky” when the same had been said to him. So, we held out and ended up finding the most incredible producer (Stephanie Langhoff of The Duplass Brothers), who believed in me from day one. In one of the highlights of my life, I was able to relay the Rocky inspiration to Mr. Stallone personally last year, and his response to me, without missing a beat was, “You had to! Trust me, you would have regretted it the rest of your life.” He then added, with a wry smile: “Feels good doesn’t it?” And I have to admit, it really does…
As you mentioned, your writing partner is your husband. How do you find a way to get past the normal exchange of opinions that writing partners go through alongside the marital dynamic?
We started out as writing partners before we were ever a couple. Our first major writing project, a one-woman show called “The Miss Education of Jenna Bush,” was written in a NYC apartment that was maybe 200 square feet. So, we started our writing careers in confined squalor, and now that we’re in LA, where space is less at a premium, anytime we sit down to write in a room bigger than that shoebox apartment, it feels absolutely palatial. It was the best boot camp for a work partnership, and we figure, if we didn’t kill each other over a script then, there’s no point in doing it now!
Plus, we really have a “best idea wins” motto when we work, which I like to carry into our marriage as well…(i.e. “I think it’s the best idea for YOU to take out the garbage, honey”).
You are the East Coast representation for our Tribe on the TBBT cast, hailing from far off New Jersey, while Simon and I are West Coast Jews. Bernadette’s voice tends towards the nasal New Jersey. Does the voice have a story?
The way you phrased that it makes it sound like we’re in an East Coast/West Coast rap war, Mayim! Wait, are we? Well, the story of the voice is that it’s very much the voice of my childhood, in that Bernadette is very close to my mom’s voice, but in a slightly higher register (sans my mother’s NJ accent).
I think every actor makes specific choices to bring a point of view to the characters they play, and when I read the audition material for Bernadette, she was this spitfire who beautifully bordered innocence and mischief, and the voice seemed to fit the way she was written.
Did you have a bat mitzvah with a theme? Mine was “water” since my name means “water.” We had submarine sandwiches, fishbowls on the tables, and everything was the color of the ocean. It was awesome. Please lay it on us: what was your bat mitzvah theme and how did that shake down?
My theme was “Melissa’s Comedy Club” and yes–t-shirts bearing the name were included. The shirts said, “I laughed my sides off at Melissa‘s Comedy Club.” I really wanted them to say “I laughed my ASS off at Melissa‘s Comedy Club,” but my parents decided it was too vulgar for a religious occasion’s party favor. The comedy club theme was really an excuse for me to use the platform to perform a stand-up set at the reception, as I had a captive audience. It was an awkward display of impersonations ranging from Ross Perot to Jackee from the TV show “227.”
Do you have any other projects we should know about?
I’m voicing one of the characters in the upcoming film “ICE AGE: Collision Course,” which I’m very excited about. And my husband and I are cooking up some new writing projects which we will be announcing within the next year. Meanwhile, I am loving working with an uber-talented wonderful cast on a little show called “The Big Bang Theory.”