Melissa Rauch, best known for her long-running role as Bernadette Rostenkowski on the CBS hit series “The Big Bang Theory,” obviously wanted to create a character far different as she and husband Winston Rauch went about writing “The Bronze” (opening Friday).
In Chicago recently to promote the film, Rauch smiled slyly as she admitted, “It’s fun to play a character like Hope Ann Greggory, who is so opposite from me. I’m a bit of a people-pleaser. The fact that she doesn’t care what people think — at all! — was super fun to play.”
Yet, the actress did suggest that “appearances can be deceiving,” noting that while her Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory” may be “all sweet and girly and seemingly submissive on the outside, underneath it all she’s as tough as nails and knows exactly what she wants.
“Hope is so tough externally, but underneath all the bitchiness and mean comments she’s always dishing out, there is a soft underbelly, which we — and she — finally comes to discover.”
Making her so overtly mean “wasn’t something we initially set out to do,” she said. “We knew she’d be depressed and sad and bitter, but then we kept coming up with all of those nasty lines for her. It just seemed natural to make her a meanie as well.”
In the film, Hope is the biggest thing to ever have happened in her hometown of Amherst, Ohio. As a star gymnast she was well on her way to winning an international gold medal until taking a spill and breaking her foot. Heroically soldiering on, she won the bronze medal.
In the years since, Hope has been living off that moment of glory, becoming increasingly nasty as she lives with her father (Gary Cole) in her small hometown. She learns she could inherit $500,000 from the estate of her old gymnastics coach, but only on the condition she mentor a young gymnast who appears likely to supplant Hope as Amherst’s new heroine.
That underlying conflict — Hope’s jealousy toward her young potential successor — drives the storyline for much of the film.
The story was inspired by a real experience in Rauch’s own life.
“Winston and I were in New Jersey years ago. I had just had a little bit of success on TV on this VH1 show, and we went to the mall in my hometown. We went to a Wetzel’s Pretzels and the manager went on and on about how much he loved my show, and he gave me a free pretzel.
“Winston and I sat at a table in the food court savoring that pretzel. It was the first celebrity treatment I had got.
“Then the show was canceled, and a few months later we went back — and the manager acted like he didn’t know me. I paid my $3 for the pretzel and that was it.
“I was in a bit of a dark place at the time. I was out of work. I was at the unemployment office. I was waiting tables part time. So, not getting that pretzel kind of highlighted where I was in life — and it made me feel really bad. It was a good lesson on the fleeting aspect of fame.
“Winston and I started talking about comparing celebrityhood to your true passion. In my case it’s acting. Honestly, being famous was something I never factored in when I started doing this job. To me, whether I was doing theater in the back of a laundromat or doing the job I have now on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ — it’s all the same. The celebrity stuff is not important because I know it’s so fickle.”
She and her husband took that detail and factored it into “The Bronze” — and showed what that fading fame can do to a young girl’s psyche.
Since Rauch had never done gymnastics, she took lessons to prepare for the role, though she quickly credited “my amazing and wonderful stunt doubles who truly do all the hard work.”
She learned just enough basics to make her character appear realistic on screen. “The coach I was studying with was so confused. You could tell he kept wondering why was this thirtysomething woman starting gymnastics.
“The same went for all the kids in the gym too. You could just tell, they were all thinking, ‘What is this weird old lady doing?’ ”
Rauch knew that they needed to set “The Bronze” in America’s heartland, and settled on Ohio. “We googled ‘Smallest Town Ohio,’ and came up with Butler, Ohio, which is about an hour away from Amherst.
“As we were doing location scouting in the area, we found Amherst. In the script we had written that the town where Hope lived would be the kind of place where, when you drive by the local auto body shop on Main Street, the mechanic puts down whatever he’s doing — and waves.
“When we drove into Amherst, that exact thing happened. Winston and I looked at each other and said simultaneously, ‘This is the place!’ “