Thursday, September 29, 2011

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Actress Melissa McCarthy brought a sugar-buzz sweetness to her turns as likable if occasionally over-excitable young women on series like "Gilmore Girls" (The WB/The CW, 2001-07), "Samantha Who?" (ABC, 2007-09) and "Mike and Molly" (CBS, 2010- ).

A veteran stand-up and improvisational comic, she burst onto the scene as Sookie St. James, best friend to Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) on "Gilmore," and played variants of the role in subsequent series and feature films like "The Back-Up Plan" (2010) and "Life as We Know It" (2010).
Her starring turn on "Molly" as a an overweight teacher who finds herself in a relationship with a similarly rotund policeman (Billy Gardell) was a fine showcase for her talents, and signaled the launch of her career as leading lady. Meanwhile, she continued to shine in a number of high-profile supporting roles, particularly in the hit female-driven comedy from Judd Apatow, "Bridesmaids" (2011), in which she displayed her exceptional gifts for physical comedy and demonstrated that when it came to scene-stealing, she had few comedic peers.

Born Aug. 26, 1970, in Plainfield, IL, Melissa McCarthy's cousin was Playmate-turned-actress and author Jenny McCarthy, who provide her with her first screen credit in an episode of her short-lived sketch comedy series, "The Jenny McCarthy Show" (MTV, 1997).
After graduating from Joliet Catholic Academy in Joliet, IL, she lit out for New York City, where she made a name for herself on the stand-up comedy circuit. While pursuing this career, she also studied dramatic acting at The Actors Studio, and made regular appearances in theater productions.
McCarthy eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she kept a hand in comedy by performing with the famous Groundlings troupe, while pursuing roles in films and television. A memorable performance as a young woman who enjoyed a gossipy phone relationship with the Lord in John August's film short "God" (1998) led to a supporting role in his indie drama "Go" (1999) which, amusingly enough, also featured her in a phone conversation.

The following year, McCarthy landed her breakthrough role as Sookie on "Gilmore Girls." In the show's original pilot, the role was played by comedian Alex Borstein of "Family Guy" (Fox, 1999-2002; 2005- ), but scheduling conflicts forced her to abandon the role, which lead to McCarthy's casting. As Sookie, McCarthy was able to flex both sides of her acting talent; though Sookie was scatterbrained and occasionally over-excited, she also served as a grounding force for Lauren Graham's Lorelei, especially in regard to her various romantic entanglements. Sookie also provided a healthy role model of the joys of a nuclear family through her relationship with Jackson (Jackson Douglas), her produce provider, whom she would later marry and have children with.

The exposure afforded by the popularity of "Gilmore Girls" led to a string of showy bit parts in major features like "Charlie's Angels" (2000), as well as more substantive roles in indies like "Pumpkin" (2002) and "The Third Wheel" (2002). In the former, she trod a fine line between heartbreak and humor as a bright but lovelorn young woman who is set up on a date with a mentally handicapped man (Hank Harris) by the shallow sorority girl (Christina Ricci) who mentored him, while in the latter, she charmed viewers as Ben Affleck's co-worker, who joined him in monitoring a disastrous date between Luke Wilson and Denise Richards. McCarthy's ebullient voice was also featured in several episodes of the animated series "Kim Possible" (Disney Channel, 2002-07) as DNAmy, a scientist and dedicated collected of stuffed animals who becomes obsessed with genetically altering real creatures to make them "cuter."

When "Gilmore Girls" left the air in 2007, McCarthy segued into another series, the light-hearted comedy "Samantha Who?" (ABC, 2007-09), with Christina Applegate as a woman who, after recovering from a coma, realizes that she has led a selfish life prior to the accident. The show revolved around her attempts to make things right with her family and friends, including her needy pal Dena (McCarthy).

Though a ratings hit in its first season, the network rescheduled the show to various time slots, which made it difficult for viewers to follow the program, and in turn, resulted in its cancellation. While working on "Samantha," McCarthy earned her biggest role to date in John August's "The Nines" (2007), an indie feature that explored the nature of God and alternate realities in pursuit of attaining the best of all possible worlds. She played three roles in the film: a public relations agent handling a trouble actor (Ryan Reynolds); a variation on herself as an actress who found herself replaced as the star of a series by a younger, more attractive performer; and the wife of a video game designer (also Reynolds). The film, shot on video and film, was seen by a limited audience but received glowing reviews.

McCarthy soon returned to steady work as a supporting player, albeit now in major releases like the Jennifer Lopez vehicle "The Back-Up Plan" (2010) and "Life As We Know It" (2010), a lightweight comedy with Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel. That same year, she finally received a starring vehicle on TV via "Mike and Molly." The sitcom, from producer Chuck Lorre, featured McCarthy as a grade school teacher who meets Billy Gardell's policeman at an Overeaters Anonymous gathering and begins a tentative relationship with him.

Though McCarthy and Gardell were praised for their effortlessly charming performances, the show was criticized for its dependence on "fat" jokes for its humor. Regardless, the casting of two actors who possessed figures more akin to the American norm versus a size zero, came as a refreshing change for audiences. Back on the big screen, McCarthy nearly stole the show from star Kristin Wiig in the rare female-driven, R-rated comedy, "Bridesmaids" (2011), in which she used her atypical size to great comedic affect, particularly in a scene where she wrestled Wiig. Almost immediately following the success of "Bridesmaids," McCarthy earned more good news when she received an Emmy Award nod for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her efforts on "Mike & Molly."


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