Life of the Party Set Visit with Melissa McCarthy & More
In October of 2016, we traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to visit the location filming for the new comedy Life of the Party, starring comedy titan Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, Spy, Ghostbusters), who also co-wrote the script. She’s re-teaming with her husband/co-writer/fellow Groundlings alum Ben Falcone, who directs McCarthy for the third time after their box office success with Tammy and The Boss. Check out our report from the set and don’t miss an exclusive pic from the film in our gallery below!
The premise is a kind of sex-reversal, modern-day version of Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, wherein a dowdy mom named Deanna decides to enroll at the same college her daughter Maddy (Molly Gordon of the Animal Kingdom series) is going to in order to finally finish out her senior year in style.
“I loved her so much, because I thought she’s such an optimist,” McCarthy told us of her character, who was dressed in a pink sweater with the words “PROUD MOM” around a heart. “Ben came up with the original idea of going back to school with your daughter. Then we had a weird thing where four times in an eight-day period somebody said, ‘We’re not really restaurant people… We’re not really go out, movie people.’ People kept making these strange, sweeping statements, and I don’t know why but I had the weirdest reaction. I was like, you’re like 42, or 35. At 70, you can move to Portugal and raise goats. You don’t know what you’re going to. You may have 50 years left of your life, you’re not even at the halfway point. I went down a wormhole of people at way too early an age being like, ‘Well we’re done. It’s done. This is what it is. We can’t evolve anymore. We can’t change anything about ourselves.’ I find that so sad, and just a weird thing that you can buy into. That’s what this was all about, if you really could restart the clock. I think I’ve always been obsessed with the second chance thing, or fifth chance, or the sixth chance, and that’s kind of where we spun out from there.”
When we arrived on set, production was finishing up the scene right after Deanna and her husband Dan (Matt Walsh, founding member of Upright Citzens Brigade and co-star of the show Veep) finish dropping off their daughter at her sorority house. They get in the car and Deanna is already talking about the vacation they’re about to take, and before they drive away Dan drops the bomb that they’re not going on vacation, he’s having an affair with a real estate woman named Marcy, and he wants a divorce. Deanna goes from flummoxed to outraged.
“It’s like I fell off a cliff and found Marcy at the bottom,” Walsh says.
“I knew things weren’t great but I didn’t expect this,” McCarthy says before improving several ways to insult his penis.
“I’m not gonna take the bait,” Walsh responds. “My penis is pretty close to average. I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms and I’d say it’s a solid B-minus.”
Walsh then drops another bomb that Marcy is already selling their house, and that it’s all in his name.
“I let you put it in your name because I trusted you,” McCarthy says, emotionally destroyed.
“In retrospect that decision is going to get you a lot less money,” Walsh responds blandly. “We’re doing an open house on Thursday. Marcy has a great stager, you don’t have to clean anything. Let’s just give this a week before we tell Maddy.”
McCarthy begins to storm out of the car.
“Please don’t get out of the car!” he pleads, pathetically.
“Don’t touch me,” she yells, kicking the car.
Walsh says of the scene, “When the story starts – literally this is the second scene – my assumption is that they were happy and then he got to have sex with a beautiful woman (Julie Bowen) and now he thinks he’s a different man. Later in the movie I have an earring and I’m wearing True Religion jeans and I’m really – it’s like the mid-life crisis cliché a little bit. And I think in some he ways he probably justifies it like, ‘She was – that lifestyle was holding me back. This is who I am.’ You know when you hear people say that – ‘this is who I am’ – but I suspect that his new relationship will not last long.”
They set up to do another take, and McCarthy puts her writer’s cap on and pitches Walsh on doing a version where Dan has already sold the house, which Walsh recoils at slightly.
“I feel like I’ve won,” McCarthy says of Walsh’s distraught reaction to some of her suggestions for his character. “With Ben, I get really excited, if I yell something to Matt and he makes that weird sound, I feel like Walsh thinks that was pretty good. I just think he’s unbelievable at what he does, it’s kind of crazy. And he never does a bad take, which I find irritating. We’re like all right we get it, we get it Walsh.”
“If Melissa pitches a line two seconds before we’re rolling, you’re doing it,” Walsh says. “Then those things, when they stack up, that’s actually a different take on the whole scene if you follow it through logically. So it’s really fun to see and then ultimately, in the edit, we have such a variety it’ll be Ben’s responsibility to figure out what fits the story best.”
“Everything’s kind of easy with him,” McCarthy says of Falcone. “It’s just his personality, it’s why I’m married to him. (laughs) He’s kind of dreamy. He’s super mellow, super specific, but also if you’re like, ‘What about this?’ he’s like, ‘Well, yeah, what do I know?’ He’s like ‘do it.’ All the really lovely directors I work with know enough that in the editing room you want options. And Ben’s just fun, he runs a happy set. I think the hardest part is when we’re here long hours and are away from the kids, and when they do finally come, they’re not really here for us (laughs). They’re here for like, craft services. I threw a bunch of Sharpies in my trailer and that’s really what it’s about. They want something from craft service and Sharpies.”
Once McCarthy’s Deanna establishes herself with Maddy’s sorority and begins taking advantage of all that college has to offer, the other girls rally around her, including Helen (played by Gillian Jacobs of Community fame) who is also a bit older than she should be.
“She was in a coma for eight years, she’s in school again and having the time of her life,” says Jacobs of Helen. “I feel like she’s kind of an outlaw. She likes to take charge. I think they’re kind of confused by her, I think I’ve turned her into a strange girl, stranger than in the script. They seem to accept her or tolerate her. If they get annoyed by her she ignores them or is oblivious to it. It’s fun to be a dominant personality.”
We get to see Jacobs in action during a scene where she and some of the other Sorority girls want to invite Deanna to a party, and sit on the deck debating how to do it. While the girls (including Molly Gordon, Adria Arjona and Jessie Ennis) don’t have as improve-heavy a background as McCarthy and Walsh, they hold their own as Ben pitches them ideas for how to make the scene flow faster and funnier.
“I think the women in this film really reflect that camaraderie,” says McCarthy. “I certainly didn’t want to be like, ‘We’re sorority girls,’ not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not who I am. It’s not, ‘Can we get a boyfriend? Will we get a boyfriend?’ It’s just not the story we wrote. I just find these women to be strange and eccentric and really smart and very varied interesting backgrounds, and I think it’s why they fit the part so much. I thought all the people I hung out with were, they were strange, they were eccentric, they were smart, or not so smart, I just wanted to make it for more people that I would actually hang around with. And sometimes I don’t like that stereotypical like, ‘All guys in college act like this, all girls in college act like this.'”
“She’s incredible,” Jacobs says of her co-star McCarthy. “I think she’s fearless in her performances, but also has these eyes where you feel that charisma and the electric sparks of talent out of her eyeballs. It’s like pure charisma being in her presence, and I think that translates on screen somehow.”
Co-starring Julie Bowen, Maya Rudolph, Jacki Weaver, Stephen Root, Chris Parnell, Sarah Baker and Christina Aguilera (as herself), New Line Cinema will release Life of the Party on May 11, 2018.