It’s one of those classic Mom stories that keep getting better with age. In the Illinois farm country where actress and comedian Melissa McCarthy grew up, her mother, Sandy McCarthy, would sometimes discover an abandoned box of kittens and, without fail, would take in the whole litter as pets.
“On a farm it’s great,” Melissa says. “They live outside. You don’t have mice. And when someone comes to your house for the first time, 25 to 30 cats run toward the car like in a horror movie.”
Sandy laughs even though she knows that’s not the funny part. “Every night,” she adds, “I’d set out a big pan of cat food on our back stoop, and the kitties would gather around to eat and nuzzle up to me. One night it was dark. For some reason, I didn’t switch on the little light that’s out there. I’m petting one of the cats, but the rest are staying away. I go back to the house, turn on the light …”
“She’d been petting a skunk,” Melissa says.
Now they’re both howling.
“I’d been petting a skunk!” Sandy admits.
It’s been like this all day. Now, at McCarthy’s gorgeous office — which she designed and which overlooks the Warner Bros. back lot in Burbank, Calif. — mother and daughter trade family anecdotes, occasionally breaking for hee-hawing hysterics.
There was the time, around age 3 or 4, when Melissa scared her great-grandmother half to death by scissoring off her pigtails while Sandy was at work. “I come home to my grandmother sobbing at the kitchen table and Missy dancing around going, ‘Look how nice and neat I am!’ ” Sandy recalls. That reminds Melissa of her brief Goth/punk phase in high school, when she dyed her light brown hair raven blue-black, “expecting a standing ovation,” she says. “Instead, Mom just took a picture and was, like, ‘You’re going to laugh at this later,’ and now, of course, it’s the funniest thing ever.”
The older you are, the more interesting you are as a character.
At 47, McCarthy is among the highest-paid, most buzzed-about actresses working today, with successes ranging from the sitcom Mike & Molly, for which she won an Emmy, to her nervy breakout movie role in Bridesmaids, which earned her an Oscar nod. Then there was her gum-chewing, podium-pushing turn last year on Saturday Night Live as White House press secretary Sean Spicer, a caricature that cracked up the nation across party lines (“I think people just needed an outlet and a release and something to laugh at,” she says). She has a clothing line, too, for customers of all sizes, and a thriving production company that’s behind such projects as her new film comedy, Life of the Party — about a mother who enrolls at her daughter’s university — to be released on May 11.
That’s what McCarthy does. But you can tell that who she is has more to do with the kindly silver-haired lady who has just returned to the conversation with a plate of snacks and treats to share.
“You’ve got to try these deviled eggs,” Sandy, 74, offers. “Or maybe some of this guacamole bread?”
“I’ve learned so much from my mother,” says Melissa, “starting with the fact that the world’s a nicer, happier place if everybody has a sandwich.”
After an insightful (and, yes, sidesplitting) day with these two, it’s clear that even when you’re a big Hollywood star, even when you have a supportive husband and two kids of your own, even when you’re comedy queen Melissa McCarthy, you still look to Mom for truth and serious meaning in life. Here’s why Mother knows best.
You can go your own way
“She called me up one day and said, ‘Mom, I got a one-way ticket to New York,’ ” Sandy remembers. Melissa was 20, a bored, sometime college student living in Boulder, Colo., with bigger dreams — including a New York fashion career. “I just said, ‘Oh.’ ”