Don’t let those posters and lazy critics’ quotes fool you—Bridesmaids isn’t the female version of The Hangover. For starters, it’s much more streamlined than the 2009 record-breaking, R-rated comedy, but most importantly Bridesmaids isn’t all buffoonery and little complexity like Zach Galifianakis’ breakout hit. Starring, and co-written by, Saturday Night Live standout Kristen Wiig, the surprisingly raunchy all-female comedy (in theaters today) is just as intelligent as it is hilarious.
Joining Wiig in Bridesmaids is an ensemble of equally on-point funny women. While co-stars Rose Byrne and Maya Rudolph might get all of the mainstream love, we’re most fond of our favorite redhead hottie, Ellie Kemper. In the movie, the comedy writer turned actress, most known for her role as receptionist Erin on NBC’s The Office, plays Becca, the bubbly and chaste member of the soon-to-be-married Rudolph’s titular bridesmaids. And, unsurprisingly, she totally owns every one of her scenes.
Between her first major movie’s premiere and all of the hoopla engulfing The Office in light of Steve Carell’s much ballyhooed exit, Kemper’s on-the-rise career is, like the woman herself, red-hot. Hoping to catch some of the heat, Complex recently chatted with Kemper about the misconceptions surrounding Bridesmaids, the intricacies of handling poop on film, the future of her faux music group, Subtle Sexuality, and how she embarrassed herself during Steve Carell’s last day on set.
Complex: Congratulations on your first big, mainstream Hollywood movie. Do you have any pre-release nerves?
Ellie Kemper: You know what? I’m actually not nervous, because all of the nerve-wracking parts are over, thankfully. I’m completely excited at this point. The nerve-wracking parts, for me at least, all came while we were shooting the movie, because I was totally afraid of messing everything up. [Laughs.] I’m a pretty paranoid person, so my worry throughout was to not destroy it somehow.
Well, rest assured—you didn’t ruin the movie at all.
Ellie Kemper: That’s very nice of you, and feel free to expand upon that. [Laughs.] But I’m pretty sure that I messed up a couple of times. But the other nerve-wracking part is that once you’re done shooting a movie, you don’t know if your part will actually make it into the final movie or if you’re cut out. But my part stayed in! So I’m very excited.
Once you saw yourself on the poster, you must’ve thought, “I guess I made it into the movie!”
Ellie Kemper: [Laughs.] Yeah, that pretty much confirmed it.
I’m glad you brought up the concerns over your parts making it into the movie. At about the halfway point in Bridesmaids, your character falls back a bit, which was actually pretty disappointing.
Ellie Kemper: Was it? That’s so sweet. [Laughs.]
Hey, what can I say—you’re a funny gal. Did you film any more scenes that didn’t make it into the movie?
I’m not mad or anything. The scene changes the story between our two characters a little bit, but I’ll let you see for yourself whenever it gets released, because I know you and the rest of the world will be so anxious to see how their story turns out. [Laughs.] I’m totally happy with how the movie turned out, though, so it’s all great to me.
Interesting, because the last we see of your interactions with Rita, the two of you are making out—talk about a tease.
Ellie Kemper: [Laughs.] You’re hoping that their “relationship” will develop further, huh?
Now that you’ve said it, I wouldn’t be mad at that in the least.
Ellie Kemper: Once again, that’s so sweet of you. [Laughs.]
Let’s go back to the beginning—how’d you first get involved with Bridesmaids? Was it through the director, Paul Feig, and his experience with The Office?
Ellie Kemper: It was a combination of things. Yeah, Paul Feig is a producer and director on The Office, so I knew him from that, and then Allison Jones does casting for The Office, and she also did the casting for this movie. So I went in to audition, and it helped my nerves a whole lot that I knew them already. And then I met Kristen [Wiig] at the audition; we read together, and then shortly after that I got the part. I guess you can say it was a relatively painless audition process. I’m pretty lucky in that sense.
Pretty much all of the press surrounding the movie focuses on how it’s being called “the female Hangover,” and how there aren’t many, if any, female-driven comedies out there of this caliber. Was that something that struck you when you first read the script?
Ellie Kemper: Yeah, I do think that a female ensemble comedy is not something that you see very often. Certainly not recently—I can’t think of too many that have been entirely comprised of women. There are female leads in comedies, of course, but that was what was so cool about the script to me. It’s not about a woman pursuing a man, and it’s not a romantic comedy in the, I guess I’ll use the word “traditional,” sense. It really was more about the relationships between the women themselves.
Kristen and Annie [Mumolo] wrote it, and it was written in such a way that seemed to reflect how women actually talk and interact with each other. So I thought that was very cool, because I don’t see too many movies these days that feel like they were written to reflect the truths about women.
Is that frustrating for you, to have to watch so many movies that try to mimic how women really act and fail at that?
Ellie Kemper: Yeah, kind of. I understand the entertainment factor with those movies. But I love the fact that Bridesmaids doesn’t shy away from the fact that women are honest, and, yes, often times gross. [Laughs.] Just how they actually behave.
Yeah, I like to go and see romantic comedies, and quote-unquote “chick flicks.” I do like those, so I won’t shy away from the fact that I enjoy those kinds of movies. But this is a cool take on it, I think.
Ellie Kemper: Kind of. I like playing that sort of innocent, sweet-on-the-surface character. I think my character on The Office is similar to Becca, just in terms of them being inexperienced and wide-eyed. Also, they’re both sort of optimistic. Becca hasn’t had an extensive experience with dating and life, in general, so she has a very narrow view of marriage and life itself, which is really fun to play.
Characters like Becca and Erin [on the The Office] seem a little bit silly, and a little bit exaggerated. They don’t have the self-awareness yet to really understand that, and, as a result, some of the things that come out their mouths are just really funny. [Laughs.] I think sometimes the things that come out of my mouth are unintentionally funny as well, so I can definitely relate to that. But, also, I don’t like to consider myself naïve in real life. [Laughs.] Who does, right? But in some ways I am. So I can relate to that part of it, too.
In the screening I attended, one of the scenes that got the biggest reaction was the one inside the wedding dress shop. I won’t spoil anything here, but let’s just say that it involves an abnormal amount of bodily fluids and wastes for a female-driven movie.
Ellie Kemper: [Laughs.] Yeah, I think it’s so great that that scene is in there for precisely that reason. While we were shooting that, there was a sense of “How will this turn out?” Because if it came out too gross then it would turn people off, and I think that sort of physical, gross comedy can be perfect and hilarious, but sometimes it can also go wrong. In this case, it went completely right. I think the scene strikes the perfect balance of being funny without being turn-away disgusting.
I also like that because, you’re right, you don’t see that too much in comedies specifically involving women. Which isn’t to say that you must include that in a movie in order for it to be outrageously funny. It’s not gratuitous; it just happens to go that way because all of the characters get sick while eating at a restaurant with bad food. [Laughs.]
When you read that scene in the script, were you concerned at all about not going too far?
Ellie Kemper: Totally! Totally, yes. The first time I read that, I was like, “Oh, no!” And also, it was a little bit more elaborate in the script; I think there was a little bit more vomit and a little bit more poop. I only saw the movie for the first time about a week ago, and I thought the final version of that scene just nailed it completely. It was the perfect amount of vomit and the perfect amount of poop! [Laughs.]
Well, I didn’t upchuck my popcorn, so I’ll have to agree. Though I can’t imagine how much further it went in the script, because as I was watching the scene, I thought, “Wow, they’re really going for it.”
Ellie Kemper: Yeah! My favorite part of that is the cap on it when Maya [Rudolph] just sinks fully down onto the street and makes a poop. [Laughs.] I think she needs an award for that performance, how she slowly goes to the ground and waves the traffic on by. I thought that was really clever.
That whole scene definitely plays into what we talked about earlier, how Bridesmaids isn’t your typical “chick flick.” In all of the press, the word “womance” keeps coming up, in hopes of branding the movie as a woman’s bromance. What are your thoughts on the term “womance”?
Ellie Kemper: Yeah, I heard that “womance” one, too. And isn’t there another one?
I’ve also heard “fomance,” yeah.
Ellie Kemper: Yeah, and “femance,” or something like that. I don’t know. I don’t object to someone calling the movie a certain thing, but, really, this particular movie is just a comedy that also, luckily, happens to have a bunch of females as the leads. But I don’t really think of it in terms of a male or a female thing—it’s just a funny movie. Maybe that’s because I am a woman, though, and it’s easier for me to see it that way.
The movie is refreshing because it doesn’t really stylize the whole thing. It just shows the audience what really happens with women in real life.
All of that being said, another thing that makes Bridesmaids unique is that it’s a female-driven comedy that’s also totally cool for men. It’s a date movie, sure, but I could see myself going to see it with my boys and not thinking twice.
Ellie Kemper: Yeah, totally. Listen, when my guy friends hear the name “Judd Apatow,” they’re instantly excited because they love his movies. So I hope that carries through with Bridesmaids.
Judd just knows how to make good comedies, which I don’t necessarily know how to do, so I’m just glad that he hired me. [Laughs.] He wasn’t there all of the time, but when he was there.... What I think is so great about what he does, and I know he’s famous for doing this, is that he lets the camera keep going so that the actors can try things a number of different ways, and I think that’s a very nice luxury to have, to be able to try out different lines and try to take scenes in different directions. Then, you can pull all of the best parts together from that.
Someone just actually told me how many hours of unused footage there is; I think it’s like 200 or so hours of extra footage. I’m glad I wasn’t the editor. [Laughs.]
Ellie Kemper: Yeah, on The Office, they similarly allow for a lot of improvisation. Unfortunately, though, due to the schedules there just isn’t enough time to do that many takes, because if you have to finish an episode in a week. I think that’s what was so nice about working on the movie—there was that luxury of time on our side.
You know what, though? I still get scared to improvise on The Office, only because I still feel like I’m pretty new, and I don’t want to mess anything up. [Laughs.] And, also, the writing is so precise, so you don’t really need to improvise, though they definitely allow for that.
You’ve been on the show for a couple years now—you still feel like a rookie?
Ellie Kemper: Oh my gosh! Yeah, that’s my paranoia again. Like, I’m thinking at any moment, “They might let me go!” [Laughs.] You never know!
Oh, I’m sure you’re fine. Obviously, the major story concerning The Office is Steve Carell’s departure. During his final episode, the two of you had a really heartfelt moment, perhaps the most heartfelt of any of Michael Scott’s goodbyes. How was it filming that scene with Steve Carell?
Ellie Kemper: Oh my goodness! I had been crying for a week prior, and then a week prior to that, just thinking about him leaving. It was sad; he was very sad, and you could see that. I think sadness is contagious, like yawns, so the whole cast and crew was feeling sad.
But, anyway, that was just really me being sad in that scene; I can’t say there was much acting involved. Usually, really serious and sad moments are tough for me to play, but that was an easy one because I was actually sad.
Transitioning into happier Office-related topics...literally seconds before this interview began, I received my CD single copy of your fictional group Subtle Sexuality’s new single, “The Girl Next Door.”
Ellie Kemper: [Gasps] Oh, yes! I love it! I love that! I know you’re going to be playing that song all day long now.
Indeed, it’s a certified banger.
Ellie Kemper: [Laughs.] Yes! That makes me so happy.
How’d this new phase of Subtle Sexuality come about?
Ellie Kemper: Hey, listen—the fans have been clamoring for another video. [Laughs.] I think after the success of “Male Prima Donna”.... Listen to me, now I sound like I’m actually in a real band. They just decided that we should make another video, really. We shot that last fall, actually, and I’ve been waiting every day, wondering, “When is that coming out?”
Because I’m actually not a good dancer or singer, I love those videos. They allow me to live the fantasy out that I am an excellent singer and dancer. [Laughs.] It’s a lot of fun. I don’t say this to be vain, but I have both of Subtle Sexuality’s songs on my workout mix, because I think they’re really uplifting. I think the new one, “The Girl Next Door,” hits the Taylor Swift tone of it right on the nose—it’s perfect. [Laughs.]
Do you think you and Mindy Kaling [her fellow Office co-star and Subtle Sexuality band-mate] will ever do a full-length album, a la The Lonely Island?
Ellie Kemper: Oh, I tell you—I think that would literally be the highlight of my entire career if it ever happened. I’d love to do an album. I also want to go on a tour. I want to do it all! Yeah, I want to go on talk shows as our band, but, anyway…I don’t have the power to make that happen.
I could never perform music in any seriousness, because, unfortunately, I am not gifted in that way. But if people are in on the joke and know that it’s not serious, then I, in my head, can still believe that it’s real. [Laughs.] And that’s what I want!
Well, I look forward to someday hearing Subtle Sexuality take over the radio airwaves. Now that Steve Carell has officially left the show, where do you see the future of The Office heading?
Ellie Kemper: I don’t know who is going to take over as the boss, and I think that will, obviously, have a huge effect on where the show goes; the dynamics will eventually shift. I think it’ll be exciting to see how people’s roles within The Office itself change, you know?
I know with my own character, I kind of would like to see Erin grow up a little. I don’t know what her romantic life has in store, but I do think it would be nice to see her maybe struggle a little bit, if that doesn’t sound too masochistic. I just mean that in terms of growing up. So that’s what I would like to see, but I’m excited to see what will happen in the next season. It can go any number of ways, and it’s sad that Steve is gone. The bright side is, though, that the show is forced to go in new directions.
And you know what that could mean—room for more Subtle Sexuality!
Ellie Kemper: [Laughs.] You are…what is it? “Your mouth to God’s ears,” right? Yes, all I’m saying is that I echo your sentiment 100%. Subtle Sexuality should run The Office! Problem solved.