NEW YORK — Her father grew up on the South Side but had enough of city life. He moved his wife and young children to a soybean farm in Plainfield, Illinois, but life with wide open spaces had a flaw.
It lacked the perfect orange chicken.
“One weekend, Dad took us to a Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago,” recalled actress Melissa McCarthy. “After the food, we decided to take a little tour. The minute we hit the Chicago city limits, it was like secret theme music went off in my mind.”
The city “was the most exotic thing I had seen in my entire life,” said McCarthy. “From that point on, I became a magnet to the city. By the time I was a teenager, my fascination with Chicago became almost unreasonable.”
At age 19, McCarthy was advised, however, to move to New York to get her acting career off the ground.
“The girl from the farm in Illinois arrived in New York with only $35 to her name. I didn’t really think it out. I just showed up thinking, ‘This should be easy.’ Then it became a case of, ‘Oh my God, I have no money.’ It morphed into, ‘If you shared a bagel a day with someone then you were doing just fine.’ ”
Cut to now. McCarthy is doing more than fine. Forbes listed her as No. 9 in the top paid actresses in Hollywood in 2018. And now there is Oscar buzz for her dramatic turn in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” (opening Friday).
“It’s just bananas,” said the actress, an Oscar nominee earlier for “Bridesmaids.”
Based on a true story set in the ‘90s, the movie focuses on celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who finds herself on hard times when her book on Fanny Brice is rejected by her agent and publisher. Forced to go on welfare, Israel is facing homelessness when she begins to forge letters of famous writers. All of a sudden, the cash pours in from collectors. Life is on the upswing until the FBI begins to investigate her for grifting and forgery.
“My husband Ben [Falcone] was originally doing the film, but it fell apart before they started filming as movies do,” McCarthy said.
“One day I read his script and said, ‘This is unbelievable. I love this woman. She shouldn’t be so endearing, but she is,’ ” the actress recalled. “I wasn’t even thinking about being in this movie. I just wanted to see this movie.
“Ben kept saying, ‘Honey, let it go. We don’t own this material.’
“Three weeks would go by and I would say out of the blue, ‘Someone should do that movie.’ Ben would remind me, ‘But we don’t own the script. Let it go.’ I was like a broken record. So, you could say I wormed my way into Ben’s movie.”
McCarthy wore a dowdy wig and heavy clothing to morph into Israel.
“One of my favorite things is when the clothes didn’t fit right. She wore things from 15 years ago. It shouldn’t fit,” she said. “Once I put on that heavy cashmere and tweed, it all clicked in. I said, ‘I know this gait. I know how she walks.’ Those clothes were her armor. I could feel the weight of her. Things felt heavy.”
McCarthy looks for roles that involve someone “not very similar to myself. I don’t have the skills to figure out what I would do on screen as me. I like to trip and fall through someone else. I’m much more powerful when I wear the cloak of someone else. I channel through people.”
When she’s not working, McCarthy lives with husband and their two daughters Vivian, 11, and Georgette, 8. “My goal on a Sunday is to stay in my PJs for as long as possible. It’s a good day if I hit past noon in the PJs,” she said. “The rest of the day involves drinking too much coffee and chasing my kids around.”
Her girls recently saw Mom act in old episodes of “The Gilmore Girls.”
“They said, ‘Mom, what’s the matter with your face?’ I said, ‘Kids, it’s called youth.’ “