Melissa McCarthy: Fearless, Fierce and Funny

Popular on Rolling Stone

Often, Melissa McCarthy finds herself in an otherworldly fugue state. When this happens, she never knows what will happen. Anything could happen. It’s kind of wild. At one point a while back, she’d just spent seven great years on the CW’s Gilmore Girls, had recently been chosen to play the sensible half of the CBS show Mike & Molly, with the pilot already in the can, and yet she wanted more – like maybe a part in a movie to be called Bridesmaids, being produced by the great arbiter-of-all-things-comic Judd Apatow, directed by Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig and co-written by SNL comedian Kristen Wiig. What an awesome group! “God,” McCarthy and her husband would say to each other, “if you could just get in that world. If you could just get in that world and get even a line!” So, the way things go, an audition is arranged, the big day arrives, the trio’s in attendance, and McCarthy nearly bails out. “Yeah, I almost didn’t do it” – she was that nervous – “but then I said screw it, pulled my hair back, didn’t wear any makeup and went in.” And while there, fell into one of those fugue states.

She was in the middle of an improv moment with Wiig when she suddenly started babbling about having a crazy, mixed-up, species-bending sexual encounter with a dolphin. She eventually snapped out of it – “I came to” – but afterward, while driving home, all she could think was, “Well, you dumbass, you did it, you fucked that up. There’s not one thing you could have done to seem any stranger. Sex with a dolphin? Handplay with a dolphin! You just could not have been any weirder.” But that’s what happens when you aren’t really there. You do really weird stuff. And in the aftermath you think the worst of yourself. But leave it to a trio of great comic geniuses to know another one of their kind when they see it and to cast her as man-crazy bridesmaid Megan, so alpha that if she needs to crap in a sink, the sink better make room, enabling McCarthy to become all that she is today, just about the only comedian around who can almost single-handedly carry a movie to a $35 million opening.

Here she is now, three years into her run, 43 years old, the dolphin-loving girl herself, in Budapest, inside the glorious expanse of a Four Seasons hotel, far away from the pouring rain outside, dressed all in gauzy, night-colored, flowy, chiffony stuff, feet looking mighty dainty in ballet flats, eyes green as grapes, dimples in full dimple mode, very cheerfully willing to take a ride on a gondola if you want, despite the weather, but maybe not (“It really could get dicey out there on the old Danube”), and saying stuff like, “Have you had the rooster-testicle soup here yet? I don’t know if I need that in my life, but I’m awfully curious.”

She’s a bundle of energy. Even if she’s sitting calmly on a couch talking about stuff no one’s ever really heard before – her early days as a half-baked, dime-store shoplifter, or the time a teacher duct-taped her mouth shut, or her years in New York, where she spent many a club-hopping night dressed up as a drag queen known as Miss Y, or how most of the men she’s ever gone out with were probably gay (husband Ben Falcone, 40, very much excepted) – she always seems on the verge of movement. She’s not a tall woman, and she’s not a small woman, but she seems very light. It’s just an impression she gives off.

A thunderclap startles the room. “Holy smokies!” says McCarthy, eyes widening. “That’s some real rain out there.”

A blistering amount, actually, but in here it’s still all sunshine and smiles. So much has happened since Bridesmaids. The Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination in 2012 for how she portrayed Megan’s ballsy ways. After that, last year’s Identity Thief, with Jason Bateman, playing a super-loopy, quasi-violent con artist, and The Heat, with Sandra Bullock, playing a foul-mouthed, low-rent cop, both movies critical disappointments that McCarthy turned into hits, with a combined domestic take of nearly $300 million. Right now, she’s been in Budapest for about two months, making a movie called Spy, directed by Feig, co-starring, among others, Jason Statham (“delightful!”), Rose Byrne (“big saucer eyes!”) and 50 Cent (“lovely!”), in which she plays a bumbling CIA agent who rises to a world-saving occasion. Later in the year, she’ll star in St. Vincent, a black comedy with Bill Murray. But first there’s Tammy, in which she struts, stumbles and mopes around as a fast-food-joint-robbing, just-cheated-on mess who finally gets it together during a road trip with her booze-swilling grandmother (Susan Sarandon).

There’s been some unfortunate stuff, too, of course, mainly a few dust-ups having to do with her weight, especially after movie reviewer Rex Reed called her “tractor-sized” (and much worse). On the other hand, she’ll always have her memories of the time she went to the Golden Globes, and “Brad and Angelina,” as she calls them, start waving in her direction. She turns around, no one’s there, so they must be waving at her. And they are. Up they stroll, then they’re all talking. Then McCarthy is saying, “Oh, shit, I haven’t heard anything you said. I need a minute to take this in because it’s a lot, visually. I was just looking.” And then Meryl Streep is tugging on her arm, saying very nice things, and the only thing McCarthy can think of to say back is, “Holy shit, you’re Meryl Streep!” Over and over again. But that’s all in the past. She’s here now. She’s not going away. And somewhere out there a steaming bowl of hot rooster-testicle soup is wondering just what she will decide about taking a taste.

Here’s one of the great things about McCarthy. When she commits, she commits like no other. 

And she’s been committing like this ever since she was a kid growing up on a farm in Illinois, where she’d flatten herself sideways on the chairs at the dining-room table, hiding herself from view, and wait for as long as it took for her dad to walk in so she could grab his leg and scare the bejesus out of him. Another instance: the end credits of Apatow’s This Is 40, during which McCarthy says to Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, “I would like to rear up and jackknife my legs and kick you both in the fucking jaw with my foot bone. That’s what I would fucking love. I wish my fucking foot would go right through your skull. This is what happens when you corner a rat. I will fucking kill you. You corner me, I’ll fucking chew through you,” and on and on, spitting out the words with such a grisly attachment to their reality that her co-stars can’t contain themselves. “When I saw that scene,” says McCarthy, “I really truly didn’t remember saying most of it.” And it ends up being far and away the most entertaining part of the movie. She goes places few people have even wanted to go before, and it always seems to work out in her favor.

In part, this is why audiences find her so appealing. She’s a plus-size winner. In fact, when was the last time we had a bona fide, A-list, plus-size female movie star in our midst? Have we ever? Sure, there’ve been lots of big-guy stars of the big screen; to name a few, Lou Costello, Jackie Gleason, John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Farley and Kevin James. But on the women’s side, McCarthy would seem to be totally ne plus ultra rare, and of a status now that she can even get pet projects off the ground, like she has with Tammy, which she and Falcone co-wrote and he directed. 

But there’s also something about the characters she’s chosen to play. On Gilmore Girls, 2000-2007, her longest-running TV gig, she was regular and likable (if flighty and easily embarrassed) as chef Sookie St. James. And in Mike & Molly, recently renewed for a fifth season, she’s good-natured and endearing (with a substantially beefed-up role this year, to take advantage of her newfound stardom). But in the movies, she’s not only all of these things but also an oddball outsider, in dress, speech and manner, of the most major proportions. A good bit of this is derived from her love of people-watching. “I really like to watch the bolder ones who are overly confident without anything to back it up,” she says. “I love the person in hot pants and a tube top that should not be wearing them that is just like, ‘I look fuckin’ good!’ I love that person! It’s somebody that’s somehow not bought into all the we-should and we-shouldn’t. They don’t give a shit. I have a real obsession with people who just do not care.” Which is why her characters never have an ounce of glamour to them. They’re willfully, shamelessly anti-glamour, with a take-no-prisoners attitude that seems to have struck a giddy nerve among the populace that no one knew existed before, leading to big-time cash-register action. Plus, her flicks rack up a “fuck” count not seen since Scarface. What’s not to like?

The rain has stopped outside the Four Seasons, a pile of golden-brown macaroons rests deliciously on a table, and McCarthy is talking about the downside to the upside of all that swearing. Taking a swig of water, she says, “I mean, people expect me to walk through the door going, ‘How the fuck are you?’ I blame Paul Feig for this. During The Heat, he was like, ‘More fucks!’ I was like, ‘I’m saying seven a sentence! There’s no more in me!’ And in Tammy, I tend to call people dicks a lot. I think there’s something about the ‘ck’ at the end of the word that I like. Yes, dick’s a good one. But you know something? I’m nothing like I am in the movies.”

How so? “Well, for one thing, I feel awkward a little more than I put out,” she says. “Like, sometimes I just don’t know what to do or where to put my hands. That’s why I like pockets in my dresses. They give you somewhere to put your hands. They’re like a security blanket. Is that weird?”

She leans back into the couch. “And anyway,” she goes on, “I don’t think the cursing I do is raunchy. Raunchy is a random boob shot. I mean, once this reporter was like, ‘Why are your characters so disgusting?’ And I was like, ‘Jeez, what do you mean?’ He goes, ‘You know, they’re disgusting. Look how she swears.’ I said, ‘If a guy was swearing like that, would you call him disgusting? So now, you tell me what part of the movie I was disgusting in?’ He goes, ‘OK, not disgusting but very aggressive.’ I said, ‘Well, aggressive is wildly different from disgusting.’ You don’t see a lot of women being real in movies. They’re always polished, perfect and adorable. But everybody’s got this weird cousin or an aunt like that or a sister. And we’ve gone so long without seeing it onscreen, that when you do, it’s like, ‘Oh, this is a new thing!'”

Relatability, that’s also a big part of McCarthy’s appeal, and it’d be worth exploring further but for the fact that all you can think about now is her use of the word “jeez,” and her earlier “holy smokies” and her eventual “oh, goodness” and “holy cow.” They startle and disarm, and the more they trip off her tongue, the more you can’t help but think that McCarthy must simply be the sweetest thing that ever lived.

She’s a farm girl all right, born and bred. The town was little Plainfield, Illinois, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, where her father, Mike, a freight-railway arbitrator; her mom, Sandy, who worked for The World Book Encyclopedia; and her older sister, Margie, had moved from the city before she arrived to protect the girls from such elements as might trouble them there. McCarthy went to Catholic school. A grade-school teacher from that time once remembered her this way: “smart, tiny, short, bubbly, cute, chatty, funny, diminutive.” And while she may have been all those things, it was the chattiness for which she was most known. Nothing could shut her up. In second grade, for an offense no worse than talking out of turn, a lay teacher duct-taped her mouth shut. A year later, for a similarly benign offense, she says, “a teacher backhanded me and I went across the aisle and into another desk. I had a big handprint on me. Yeah, that put me off for a while.” Mostly, though, she’d do something like question the singular primacy of the Catholic faith and get sent to the principal, after which maybe another teacher would say to her, “You’re nothing like your sister,” and she’d say, “No, I’m a completely different human being,” which would require another walk down the hall.

During her early high school years, besides continuing to be a talker, she was also a civic-minded preppy-dressing jock whom everyone called Missy: a cheerleader, a student-council member, a fanatical tennis player, a big fan of polo shirts and Add-a-Bead necklaces. Then puberty hit, and she went to seed.

She traded in her bob for hair dyed blue-black, wore weirdo fishnet stuff on her arms, told her parents she was going to Beth Talbot’s house and instead snuck into Chicago, often to a club called Medusa’s, where she’d climb up the industrial scaffolding and dance, as she says, “like a lunatic.” She ran with a bunch of pals, drank a lot of wine coolers and cheap beer. “I turned slightly nuts,” she says. “I was pretty lame, though, and much more of a goody-two-shoes than I looked. Maybe occasionally I’d make out with some guy, but never anything further. I was usually the dork surrounded by a bunch of my gay friends. I was like, ‘Mom, I can’t be any safer. No one wants anything to do with me!’ It was really fun. I acted like a maniac and looked like a really angry, violent punk. But I was always too chatty to be really angry.”

About the worst trouble she got in was the time her mother picked her up at a friend’s house, she was still blind drunk, her mom called her on it, she denied it fiercely, and then barfed all over the car.

That’s the worst trouble? Really? Nothing worse? What about shoplifting?

She takes a moment, then says something too softly to be heard.

What? What was that?

“Yes,” she says, whispering. “I had a friend with an older sister and she had us start stealing stuff.”

She was your stealing coach?

Again quietly. “Yes. She was there to steal too, and to coach. We’d wrap sweaters around ourselves and walk out. These big, long Esprit sweaters that we’d wrap flat around our waist and walk out with. I should have been shot for it.” She stops for a second and thinks. It’s all coming back to her now, her entire criminal history. “I also stole something when I was five. In a dime store. A Chunky. I was trying to pound it, when my dad came around the corner. I said I found it in my coat, but my mom knew better. She had me go up to the counter and say, ‘I stole a Chunky.’ The kid says, ‘It’s OK.’ My mom’s like, ‘It’s not OK. Take the money!’ I was bawling.” Pauses, goes on, “That taught me a good 10-year lesson, until I turned 15 and turned crazy. But then I got caught trying to take this old-lady picture frame. These tchotchkes. Even as I was doing it, I was thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ I was in a fugue state—” another fugue state; they’re piling up. “A security guard caught me. My mom was so disappointed. ‘You broke the law to get a picture frame?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know.'”

Well, there goes her bid to become America’s plus-size sweetheart. On the other hand, she didn’t lose her virginity until she was “moderately old” – in college. Crazy how it all evens out for her, in a good old-fashioned way.

She heads outside the hotel now, ducking under a mist-drenched umbrella for the two-step journey into an SUV, on her way to dinner at an Italian restaurant called Pomo D’oro. The streets are wet and shiny, and McCarthy has her head half turned to her window. Momentarily, she looks quite plain, like someone who should forever be handing out name tags at class reunions. Then she swivels around, facing a different direction, and an evening light collects in her dimples, making her look altogether new. Her dimples are the greatest, but they’re something she rarely thinks about. “Someone once told me they’re a muscle defect,” she says, and goes silent again.

When weight is an issue, no one wants to talk about it, but McCarthy seems resigned to it as a fact of her public life. She’d rather not, of course, but OK. “I do think I worried about weight too soon, when it was only little-kid weight,” she says. “I thought I battled weight throughout high school, but I look back at pictures of me as a cheerleader, doing sprints, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, playing tennis, and while I wasn’t reed-thin like some girls – we’re so fucked up in this country that somehow equates that with better – I was a size six the entire time. So what on Earth was I freaking out about? Like, I would kill, absolutely kill, to look like that now.” Big exasperated sigh. “It’s just a really weird, screwed-up thing.”

She stayed fairly slim until she moved to L.A. “I stopped walking and ate shitty food. I was in good shape, then suddenly I gained 25 pounds, like what the fuck? And then after my second kid” – Georgette is four now; her first is Vivian, seven – “I haven’t lost any, because I’ve been working every day of my life. But it wasn’t like I ever wanted to play the stunning-girl lead part who just says 17 dry lines. That didn’t seem like fun to me. But you go through everything, like maybe if I was taller, prettier, thinner, would I be going out on more auditions? But then in the back of my head, I didn’t want to do those parts. I still wanted to be taller, prettier and, you know, wealthier. Like, why not? I’m not nuts. Oh, I was always crying. I’d cry about not having any money, not getting any work, why aren’t I taller, prettier, thinner.” She kind of laughs. “And why am I not dating? And why is everyone I am dating most likely gay?”

A moment later, she starts talking about an IMDB message board she once wound up on, where the topic was her. “What one post said was, ‘I hate that fat pig, and I hope she drops dead of a heart attack in front of her children.’ It was like from someplace in Ohio, at 3:43 a.m, and when I read it, all the air left my lungs. Like, wait a minute. My kids? Like who—? What kind of a—? I kind of wanted to go to Ohio and just be like, ‘Hey, I have two girls, I do my best, and you hope I die in front of them? Like, what the fuck?’ I mean, you can hate my movies, find me boring or over-the-top, whatever it is. But when you move into that realm of the world…” She shakes her head, apparently still feeling the loop she was thrown for. “Yeah,” she says, “that was a big one for me.”

Then the SUV comes to a halt, the doors open, no mist-shading umbrella is required this time, and into the restaurant McCarthy goes, to immediately be seated at a prime, nicely elevated table. The waiter suggests an “aperitif cocktail, with apricot liqueur, small bitters, a very small soda water and fresh strawberry.”

She says, “I think I’ll be boring and just have your very lovely Hungarian beer.”

“Just the small size or the bigger?”

“I’ll start small,” she says, smartly, “and see where that goes.”

After high school, McCarthy wanted to move to New York, to study fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but her parents deemed her “too nuts” for that, mainly because of her fondness for booze. “I wasn’t a great moderation drinker. I was always like, ‘This is the best night of my life! I’m going to have nine!’ Or, ‘I’m having fun now! Let’s see what three more gives me!’ I was like a dumb, high school drunk.” So she went to Southern Illinois University instead, lasted less than two years, moved to Boulder, Colorado, where she didn’t fit in (“The energy there was that I’m somehow the weird one. And I’ve always used deodorant”), and in 1990 finally moved to Manhattan, no more than $45 in her pocket. She was 20. She lived in Hell’s Kitchen, above Joe Allen’s on West 46th, in an apartment that was so tiny she had to share the bed with her roommate, who was one of her best gay friends from home, Brian Atwood, now a well-known shoe designer. (“We lived like animals,” she says.) And it was Atwood who insisted that she give stand-up comedy a try, which she did one night at Stand Up NY. Downed a shot at the bar and sailed on up.

“I was thinking, ‘How hard could it be?’ ” she says. “It was me there with my lovely gay guy friends and I was dressed like a big old drag queen. I went by Miss Y. I had a gold lamé swing coat on, a huge wig, big eyelashes. I talked about being incredibly wealthy and beautiful and living extravagantly, and the first night worked great. It was such a happy, good feeling, and it gave me such confidence.”

“When she did her comedy,” says Atwood, “she brought the house down. I had goose bumps the whole time, and I knew she was where she was supposed to be.”

So, for the next six months, she was Miss Y at night – both during her stand-up performances and afterward, at clubs where Deee-Lite was the groove of choice and Miss Y could drink and dance until all hours. “I really dressed to rival a drag queen, for sure. I didn’t have any money, so we’d try to hustle drinks, basically. ‘Hey, somebody else picked up my drink!’ ‘Uh, no, they didn’t, I saw you drink it.”Argg.'”

“It was the time of Lady Miss Kier, RuPaul and Lady Bunny, and Miss Y was Missy’s great alter ego,” says Atwood. “When we went to Wigstock at Tompkins Square Park, Miss Y was at her prime there. Full-on. That was her time. It was hilarious.”

Six months into her new career as a comic, however, she began to sour on it, mainly because of the constant barrage of heckling. “I was dressed as this character, but any time a woman is in good shape, and I was, you would walk up and it’d be like, ‘Show us your tits!’ And I was like, ‘What?!?’ And, so fuck that and fuck you.”

After that, she started producing and acting in the darkest, bleakest plays she could find – Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard – at theaters that were far away from even off-Broadway. By 1996, the kooky club scene had started to go under, with many of her friends leaving town, so she moved to Santa Monica, and into the bed of another guy pal in yet another tiny apartment. She worked at the Y and the Starbucks on Montana, became involved with the Groundlings comedy troupe in 1997, spent the next 12 years rising up the ranks there. She tried to get commercial acting work, but her ability to commit, and inability to not commit, sometimes proved problematic. Before trying out for a Taco Bell ad, she was told, “You’re holding this baby and you should be crying, and the more real it is, the funnier it will play.” She went into it sobbing and bawling, doing what she thought was a stellar job. “Afterward, they were like, ‘We just want to say that was amazing!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m actually going to get a job!’ ‘Just wonderful,’ they said, as they each individually held me and hugged me.” She pauses for effect. You know the rest.

In 2000, she promised herself that if she didn’t make some kind of career progress by her 30th birthday, that was it. What happened next is just the way it so often goes with her. A week before her 30th, a call came in to audition for Gilmore Girls, she went, got the part (no fugue state required) and stuck around, building a name for herself as adorable chef Sookie, until the show’s run ended seven years later. In 2010 came the tryout for Mike & Molly, no big deal, after which arrived the watershed split-mind dolphin-happy moment that led to Bridesmaids, which in turn led to her Oscar nomination and more tears than you can imagine: “When I heard that, I just bawled forever. People started calling and there’s more crying.” And even now, recalling the moment, she chokes up a little. She stops to gather herself, dabs at her eyes, smiles and says, “I probably cry every day. I’m a huge crier. I cry if I’m overwhelmed. I cry when I’m happy. Oh, God, I’ve cried over coffee commercials. I’m a crier!”

So, this is where she came from and how she got here. But there seem to be a few small holes in the narrative. For instance, where’s the angst that drives her to do what she does? Don’t all comics have that? She’s got to have that. It must be around here somewhere.

Early the next evening, after a long day shooting scenes for Spy – “At one point, I think I called Rose Byrne an asshole dick,” McCarthy reports, happily – she and Falcone are taking a leisurely gondola ride along the old Danube. Actually, it turns out not to be a gondola so much as a common water taxi. No matter. The weather is clear, the views spectacular. The massive spired turrets of the Parliament building firmly stake out the near horizon, while off in the distance looms the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is home to one of Hungary’s most prized possessions, the severed, embalmed right hand of St. Stephen himself. Inside the taxi, McCarthy takes off her scarf, a black filmy item with Rorschach-inkblot-looking butterflies on it. Falcone, who has a bushy mustache and wears a hipster’s porkpie-type hat, opens a bottle of wine and pours a few glasses.

McCarthy met him while both were at the Groundlings, and she knew right away that he was different from her other suitors. “Ben’s one of the few people that I’m like, ‘Nope, not a chance he’s gay,'” she says. “So I thought, ‘This is my first straight one. I’m going to keep him!'” In certain ways, they’re an unlikely couple, mainly because he’s reserved, while she’s anything but. Still, they seem to be quite a solid team, with him often making appearances in her movies. He was her lust object as the air marshal in Bridesmaids, and in Tammy, which he also co-wrote and directed, he plays her nebbishy fast-food-joint boss.

So, does his wife have any peculiar ways of behaving?

Falcone nods, vigorously. “She’s been known to tap on my teeth before she goes to bed. And then, before sleeping, she’ll say, ‘I just need to hook it,’ which means she has to jam her hand into my armpit,” he says with a sigh. “I’ll say, ‘Well, no, don’t put your hand there. It’s not comfortable.’ See, she wants to tickle me, and I don’t want her to do that. She’ll say, ‘I won’t move it. I won’t move it.’ And so finally I let her hook it – and then, of course, she tickles me.”

McCarthy puts down her wineglass. “I know it’s terrible. Oh, I’m a horrible human being. But it’s not the doing it that I want, it’s his reaction. It makes me laugh. I just think these are funny things to do to someone that you know drives them crazy.”

Falcone is smiling, sort of.

What else?

“She’s quickly combustible,” he goes on.

“I was chewing grapes once, and I was chewing them too loudly, and she lost her mind. We were on the couch, watching something on TV. She said, ‘Do you have to?’ And shot me this look. And I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ It escalated into one of our biggest arguments ever.”

“I don’t like loud crunching,” McCarthy says.

Very interesting, but not exactly to the point. Let’s go somewhere else. It’s McCarthy’s turn again. When did she first learn about sex?

“I was pretty young, at a slumber party, and I vowed to my friends that my parents weren’t having sex, because I knew for a fact that neither one of them could do Chinese splits. I mean, I was really a pure farm girl. I literally thought the man and the woman had to do Chinese splits. I knew nothing about things moving. And then the girls went and got some book and I saw a penis up and I was just like, ‘Eww. What the—? What’s that thing doin’ up there?’ I didn’t understand it, I didn’t want to hear about it.”

And what did you think of the actual penis when you first saw it?

“Oh, boy,” says Falcone. 

“Oh, God,” says McCarthy. “I didn’t have a clue. I thought, ‘That can’t be right.’ How old was I? I’m trying to think. Sixteen, 17? No, probably college. Before that, I thought if I looked at it, it might steal my soul.”

Interesting. Any self-destructive habits?

“I could eat healthier, I could drink less,” she says. “I’m sounding like a lush, but, you know, I do what I can. I should be learning another language and working out more, but I’m just always saying, ‘Ah, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.’ “

When Satan sometimes whispers in her ear, what does he say?

“Have one more drink, and what’s one cigarette going to hurt?”

As a kid, any recurring nightmares? 

“Oh, Jesus,” says Falcone.

“Oh, yeah,” says McCarthy. “They were really scary. I had them for years. A train conductor in striped overalls and a denim shirt, and then he had a big pig head. Not a cartoon pig, but like one that would be roasted. And there was something about toothpicks. I would wake up hysterical and always saying, ‘The pigman had toothpicks!’ I was so upset, my mom could never get more out of me. I just wish I could do some kind of weird regression and maybe know more about what it was.”

This is good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Let’s go further.

If everyone can be said to be running from something, what would she be running from?

“I don’t know,” she says.

“I know,” Falcone says. 


There’s a moment’s hesitation. 


She bobs her head. “I don’t like to be bored. All this fun stuff could be over in a flash, so I’m constantly burning it as fast as I can. I have freaky energy.”

Yes, but what’s under the—

“I’m a doer! I’m a builder! I’m a worker bee!”


Yes, but under that, what’s going on down in the cauldron?

She blinks a few times, takes a sip of wine, doesn’t answer.

Falcone gives her a nudge. “Dig a bit deeper,” he says to her.

Yes, please. All these little numbers are out there in the open, begging to be added up. The fugues, the hand-play with the dolphin, the holy smokies, the constant chatting and the duct tape over her mouth, the pounded Chunky, the purloined Esprit sweaters around her waist, the girl who wanted to be a guy dressed as a drag queen known as Miss Y, the guys she dated before Falcone most likely being gay, the tapping of the teeth, the hook, the delight in another’s mild discomfort, the sobbing and bawling on occasions happy and sad, the deep-seated hatred of the sound of grapes crunched too loudly, the muscle-defect dimples, the round-the-clock surveillance against boredom. And finally there’s the pigman train conductor, the toothpicks and the unresolved question of what they might mean. All these small simplicities seem to be adding up to some kind of great big complexity, but as yet there is no final sum. Yes, dig a little deeper.

“What am I running from?” she asks. She blinks a few times more and says just what she said the first time. “I don’t know.” And she says it very lightly, like she’s not exactly sure what’s being asked of her and, quite frankly, doesn’t care. And why should she? As things stand now, she’s got it pretty great. It’s like how she says it was when she crawled into bed as a kid. Wasn’t she afraid of sleep because in sleep is where the pigman lives?

“For some reason, I never thought about it beforehand,” she says. “Not that I recall. I was never like, ‘I hope I don’t have that dream.'”

Falcone laughs. “That sounds just like McCarthy,” he says. “Jump in the door and worry about what’s behind it later.”

What a way to be. We should all be so lucky. And McCarthy just is.