Melissa uncovers the laughs behind a world of espionage

Melissa McCarthy in Spy
Melissa McCarthy in Spy
  • Step aside 007, Susan Cooper is here... Film Critic Tony Earnshaw welcomes comic Melissa McCarthy into the murky world of spies.
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There is something deliciously mischievous, almost malicious, in the punishment meted out on our favourite comedians, and certainly those who make their living via a healthy dose of slapstick.

Melissa McCarthy belongs to the same stable as Laurel and Hardy. The comedy is harsher; the punishment rather more violent in tone but the laughter comes from the same source.

McCarthy hurtled to prominence in Bridesmaids – the raucous, un-PC girls’ comedy that delved into the sexual politics of wedding preparations as two very different gals went to war over the forthcoming nuptials of their mutual pal – for which she was Oscar nominated as Best Supporting Actress.

In the four years since she’s been in a string of variable movies, teaming with Sandra Bullock for The Heat and with Susan Sarandon in Tammy. Now, in Spy, she’s paired with Jason Statham and Jude Law.

Invariably the films have one thing in common: a motor-mouthed, large proportioned shrew. The combination of size and comedy has become McCarthy’s shtick. Yet she’s also come in for some flak. Critics have made reference to her weight whilst audiences have attacked her for being painfully unfunny.

The 45-year-old has brushed it off. Yet the new McCarthy has allegedly dropped 50lbs. What’s more, following a hurtful review for Tammy, the film she made with husband Ben Falcone in which she deliberately sought to look trashy and harried, McCarthy met the reviewer responsible.

It seems he had reviewed her looks – and her size – rather than the movie. They had a heart-to-heart discussion that led to something of a rapprochement. “I said, ‘Do you ever say this to a man? Just know every time you write stuff every young girl in this country reads that and they just get a little bit chipped away.’ I think it’s a bad habit that we’ve gotten into. It’s 
not that people are malicious but it’s so easy to take a swipe.”

McCarthy has enjoyed a terrific rapport with Paul Feig, director of Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy and the forthcoming all-girl remake of Ghostbusters. Feig not only understands her brand of comedy but also writes what so many actresses cry out for: strong female characters.

“It’s more fun to watch a flawed, real woman,” says McCarthy. “It’s not as interesting to watch someone from whom you’ve taken away all the real personality traits; there are no quirks, tics, flaws. It’s like watching a still photograph.”

There are several flawed women in Spy. Or, rather, there are several real women whose ordinariness is based around their penchant for comedy. Naturally McCarthy gets the showy role as Susan Cooper, the CIA analyst who volunteers to be a real-life secret agent. But it’s good to see Miranda Hart in there, too.

In working with Hart, McCarthy revealed herself to be a huge fan of Call the Midwife. There was genuine chemistry between Hart and McCarthy, lots of gags and fun. Their shared language is comedy – that and an understanding and appreciation of each other’s love of pratfall physicality.

McCarthy is patently an actress getting used to her groove. Bridesmaids may have propelled her to the front line – and Tammy left her star status bruised and battered; it was described as “a disaster” – but right now she’s in a position where she can get anything made. And if it’s with Feig, so much the better.

• Spy (15) is on nationwide release.